Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
Packing up your life in nine hours is a reality TV series idea that would top Survivor. It’s an extreme sport that tests your inner strength like nothing else does. And I only have one room!
I’ve barely had the time to digest the conversation I had with Nabs this morning before I had to start packing up my life.
As I start, I think of just relenting and calling her to beg for her forgiveness. But then the reality of it all dawned on me. I am stronger than I think. Hell, who would’ve thought that I started the day with under R1 000 and now have just over R80 000 in my bank account! I don’t think she believed that I would be out by 8pm. She probably expected me to grovel and make peace and then we would move on, on her terms.
Having Adil and Ayesha to rely on emboldens me a bit. This is obviously scary and I have no idea where I am going to stay or what I am going to do but I know that they will help me. I decide not to tell my mother until I have figured out my life. For now, I just need to sort out all my belongings and pack everything.
“Okay, guys,” Ayesha says like a field marshal, “we are rushing against time, so we have to do things at super speed. Mar, if you don’t mind, I am going to take over and we will work together to get everything out of here in no time”.
“So, my advice is to start transporting things as and when boxes are packed and not to wait until the end.”
“But I am not sure where I am going yet,” I say as a frog creeps into my throat and my eyes are about to betray me. Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Damit!
“Adil said we can store it in our garage until you sort out your situation,” she says.
“Are you sure?” I double check.
“Yeah. We have tons of space... Okay, so Sarah, you are on driving duty. You and Joseph will work together. Joe, you load the car and Sarah will drive up and down to offload. When you’re back, we’ll have more boxes ready for you. Let’s start with all the charity sale stuff because it’s already packed. Now Joseph, please handle this stuff with care and pack separately from everything else.”
She is a field marshal.
“Okay, Percy, you start assembling the boxes and keeping them ready. Mar, let’s start emptying one cupboard and rail at a time,” she says.
If this was not such a tense situation, I would have given her a salute. But now’s not the time for jokes. I need to sort my life out and the clock is ticking.
Joseph and Sarah scurry off, Percy starts folding all the boxes and Ayesha and I start folding my clothes at record speed.
“If we all work optimally, we can be done in two hours. You know what. I think my Ma can sacrifice her other helper for two hours. Let me get Thandi to come with Sarah,” she says as she dials without blinking.
I haven’t checked social media today. I haven’t responded to comments or emails. As I feel myself about to crash into a pile of emotions and craziness, I drag myself to the bathroom and give myself a pep talk. “You’ve been through worse!” I shout at myself in the mirror and take a deep breath to gather myself.
I can do this. I can do this. I am stronger than I think.
About one hour in and surprisingly, the pile of boxes is getting higher and the pile of things in my cupboards are getting much smaller.
I focus on removing the bedding from my bed and folding it. In terms of furniture, I have my bed, my two sets of drawers, my furry chair, two ottomans and a massive mirror that would have to be transported in a vehicle bigger than a car. I haven’t even thought about how we’re even going to get this to Adil’s house. I just hope he or Ayesha thought about it.
Speaking of Adil, as we loaded Ayesha’s car for the last time with boxes, he shows up in his work clothes, visibly concerned about me.
“Mar... are you okay?”
“Yeah. We’ve really done a lot”.
“So, just the big stuff then?”
“Yeah. Ayesha told me to pack a bag of stuff I need for the next week or so. I have done that; I just need to check the rest of the house to see if I’ve left anything else.”
“What about all the stuff in the kitchen?”
“I thought I should leave it.”
“Are you crazy? She is evicting you in a day, you shouldn’t leave a single thing. I can’t believe... Okay, let’s focus.”
“Maybe I should google removal companies?”
“No, I asked my guys to come help with a bakkie. They should be here by now or maybe they stopped to get cigarettes.”
“So Adil, we get them to take all the furniture, then Percy will start cleaning the room. In the meantime, Thandi and Joseph will go back home to make sure everything is neat and packed properly. Sarah, let’s go buy bin bags to throw the remainder of the trash in. Ads, you and Maariah start packing the foodstuff. Come, come! We have to be out of here asap!”
“Yes, Sergeant,” Adil says, taking the words out of my mouth. I start laughing but follow her instructions.
Four hours later, we are done packing up the last of my belongings and taking it to Adil’s house. I keep thinking about what he’s going to tell his parents when they find out all my things are in their garage?
“Maariahhhh!” Adil calls.
“You’re lost in your own thoughts. Can we pack all of this?” he asks and I nod.
We pack the remainder of the kitchen stuff in silence until Ayesha and Sarah come back.
“Okay, once Percy throws away the last trash... we will leave you guys. I want to check for myself if everything is stored neatly. We will find you at home,” she says in a half sergeant voice.
“Thank you, Ayesha... Thank you, Sarah. I really appreciate it,” I say.
They all leave and Adil forces me to sit on the couch and take a break.
“What happened?” he asks, facing me.
I can’t talk. I try to but I am physically unable. Then the floodgates open and nothing is stopping the tears from rolling down my cheeks.
“Hey... I am sorry.. I am sorry,” Adil says as he hugs me.
Sidenote: this is the first time he’s hugged me in all the time we know each other.
“When we were in Cape Town, I was speaking to Firdaus and then I realised that Nabs was actually ripping me off. All the other bloggers with my type of following were making so much more money than me and it turned out that she was undercutting me.”
“By a lot?”
“Yes! And when I confronted her in a straightforward way, things escalated.”
“Mar... I am sorry you had to go through this.”
“It’s a long story. Basically she paid me an amount and told me to move out. We are no longer working together.”
“You will be fine. I know that,” he says, comforting me.
“I know you are emotional and feel betrayed, but you can’t let your eye off the ball. Go onto your social media and remove all contacts for Nabs on your account. Change it to a generic email account you have and make sure people know you have new management, even though you don’t have it yet.”
I love how Adil thinks about things that don’t even cross my mind.
“What would I do without you?” I say half-jokingly to Adil, and he knows it’s true but just laughs in response.
“You’re going to be fine,” he says again.
“I just need a long nap. But I still need to figure out where I am going to stay tonight.”
“You’re staying with us, of course!”
“Are you mad?”
“No, I am serious. You’re not going to sleep in my room, obviously. You can sleep in Ayesha’s room or even the guest bedroom downstairs.”
“Adil, I can’t do that.”
“Why not? I mean, please just come stay the night with us at least.”
“Adil... my mother would die if she finds out I slept over at some random guy’s house”.
“I am not some random guy. Also you’re sleeping at Ayesha’s house. She’s your friend!”
“My mother would freak out,” I say, half lying because my mother trusts me, and she wouldn’t care if I slept at his house or not.
“Mar, you can tell your mother you are staying with Ayesha, and Sarah will also sleep over too. If you care so much, I will go stay over at a friend’s.”
“I can’t do that. You guys were already so kind. I think I am going to get a hotel for the night”.
“I think that’s more dangerous than staying at my house,” he insists.
“Adil. Listen... Adil. I can’t stay there. You have done so much.”
“It’s almost 5pm, Mar. Let’s go now. With traffic, we will get home by 6. Then you can sort out your stuff, we can eat dinner and then decide what’s going to happen."
I nod but I am really unsettled. Having him here, helping me, is so overwhelming.
As I am wiping a random counter, I burst out crying for no apparent reason. I feel angry at myself for being taken advantage of. I feel disappointed for allowing myself to have a repeat of my divorce. I also am angry that I had to rely so fully on Adil even though the parameters of our relationship — which is just a friendship — haven’t been defined.
“Come here,” he says as he hugs me.
“I’m sorry,” I say in between heaves of tears.
“Sshh. It’s okay. You will get through this. We will go and get you settled.”
I go to the bathroom to freshen up and get the courage to leave this house.
“Hey, are you okay?” Adil asks as I leave the bathroom.
“Yeah, I am okay. Let’s go. We can go to your house now. We will figure things out later.”
He nods and carries the final bags out of the place I called home for two years. I am going to miss this house and its charming high ceilings and hardwood floors. I am going to miss the morning light in my room.
There is a silver lining to this, compared to my divorce. I am older, wiser and with a bit more money in the bank than I had last time around.
Divorces are crappy but friend breakups hurt just as hard — trust me!
Although, if you go through divorce at my age, people often have this look of pity towards you. The former landlords of the back room I rented used to have that look towards me every time they sent leftover food.
You know the look! “Ag, shame. Poor thing.” I hate pity! I despise it. It is probably my greatest driver why I work so hard — so I could no longer attract that look.
I know now is not the time for pity demons to show up but it’s probably the main reason why as much as I appreciated Adil’s help, I am feeling so uneasy.
I think a part of me just wants him to make a move on me so his kindness and help makes sense. Then it’s not him and his sister pitying me. He actually cares for me.
Urgh, what the hell is wrong with me? I am homeless and probably soon without a career but here I am trying to corner a guy into saying he likes me and has feelings for me. I have officially reached rock bottom.
“Are you okay?” Adil asks me as we drive towards the highway on the way to his house.
“Are you sure?”
“I am trying to figure out what to do.”
“I think first, you have to email all your PR people to alert them that Nabs no longer represents you.”
“Agreed. But maybe I should focus on finding a place to stay first.”
“Don’t worry. I am here for you.”
“Why are you here for me?”
He doesn’t respond.
“I just... never mind.”
“You just what?”
“I just... I just can’t understand why you are so kind to someone you don’t even care for.”
Again, he doesn’t respond to my provocation. He looks straight ahead, stone faced. I can tell he is trying hard not to react.
Shit. What have I done? Dammit. What is wrong with me?
I am an emotional wreck. I don’t even know why I feel like crying. I just feel like my whole life is crashing around me. And I just want to be loved.
I can’t help but feel like a charity case to him. He probably gets a thrill from helping me out when I need him but that’s where it ends. Once he is done with his hero-complex, he goes back to his life.
It explains why he doesn’t message me unless he really has to and why he hasn’t made a move in all the time that we’ve been getting to know each other.
I used to think my life could be a movie, but at this point, all it looks like is a B-grade horror.
We get to Adil’s house and his granny is waiting for us by the door. I quickly clean up my face and try to find the biggest smile from the inner core of my being. It’s so hard to summon up my smile.
As we go inside, Ayesha and Sarah are busy setting the table. “I was wondering what took you guys so long, traffic? Wash up, we’re all starving,” Ayesha says in one breath.
Is Sarah always here? She never seems to ever be in her own home. Does she even work? I don’t know how she is always here. Adil probably noticed my hesitation, “Listen, Mar. Things are going to be okay. You’re not imposing,” he reaffirms.
I am on a downward spiral of self-sabotage, it seems. I am hell-bent on destroying my one and only true friend.
“Come Mar, Ma is waiting,” he says again, walking to the door.
Ma and her curry can wait! Okay, I don’t actually say that, but I think it. If I don’t have an ulcer in my stomach by now it would be a freaking miracle.
Dinner is too loud to focus on my thoughts or care much about what was happening around me.
At 25 I feel like I am 45. At some point I need to call my mother. Maybe she can help me make sense of this chaos that is my life because I seem hell-bent on making things worse.
“Have more, beti... have, have,” Ma says, forcing more food on my plate.
There goes my diet!
“You okay?” Adil asks me softly and I nod and eat the chicken curry and rice by hand.
There’s nothing like a good pot of curry for your soul. Whoever came up with the book title ‘Chicken Soup for The Soul’ really hasn’t had a good chicken curry. It warms up your heart and hugs you from the inside.
“Ma, you need to start cooking banting food,” Ayesha says, and Ma is not impressed.
“What’s this banting? Oh! I saw it on the eTV. It’s the one with the no carbs and high-fat diet? What nonsense. How can you put avocado in everything? How can you make avocado curry,” Ma says, and we all laugh.
“You never know, avocado curry might become a thing,” Adil says and I snort with laughter in the most unladylike way. He smiles, almost proud that he made me laugh on one of the toughest days of my life.
We wash up and I agree to stay the night in their guest bedroom which is next to Sarah’s room. I didn’t care to sit up and watch TV with everyone else because this day has been so emotionally exhausting.
I go to the room and immediately log on my laptop and look for an Airbnb I can move to. Maybe I should try to find something near Adil’s house? Never mind. I cannot afford R2 000 a night.
Eventually, I find a decent fully-furnished one-bedroom apartment for R8 500 for the month with uncapped WiFi. That is a steal in Johannesburg and it has a decent kitchen.
While I stay here, I can figure out where I could stay and how much I can afford.
The next morning, I wake up late, thanks to the world’s most comfortable bed and pillows! You don't know what you missing until you sleep on 800 thread count Egyptian cottin sheets. When I get done and go to the kitchen I find Adil on his computer and Ma sitting and cleaning herbs while they chat away. It’s cute.
He doesn’t seem to care that I booked an Airbnb for a month but offered to help me move my clothes there and store my furniture until I find a permanent place.
Adil seems to get how important it was for me to figure out my life and gives me space to do that. Thankfully, he hasn’t given up our gym routine, we just start going to the one closer to his house.
I really thought that I’d be better off this time because of the fact that I have money. But it seems like every single abandonment issue I housed in my head since I was born comes out after Nabs chucks me out of her house.
Having to start afresh twice in my short adult life has really screwed with me.
I don’t know if it’s the loneliness or depression but my feelings for Adil grow stronger gradually.
On the days we don’t hit the gym, he comes over after work for dinner and happily eats ‘tuna bowls’ in front of the TV.
It is a routine. Platonic. We don’t even sit on the same couch.
Our conversations are mostly about his work, his Ma and the programmes we watch together. Occasionally we talk about content I have shot or a random event I attend.
It goes on for two weeks and tonight is no different. Adil comes to the Airbnb with food his Ma cooked, which is a change from usual because either I cook or we order Uber Eats.
“Ma is quite sad that you’re staying in an Airbnb and not with us,” he says as he walks in and opens his top button, ready to get comfortable.
"I see where you get your character from," I tease and he grins.
In all this time I’ve spent with Adil I haven’t figured him out entirely. Maybe I am just really stupid. Which guy spends so much time with a girl if he is not romantically interested in her? It really escapes me.
“What do you do when you’re not with me?” I randomly ask him as we sit down to eat.
“I work,” he says looking at me quizzically.
“You don’t have friends?” I ask him again.
“How Mar? Of course, I have friends. I see them when I have time,” he says.
“What do you mean?” he says as his forehead crinkles.
“I think I am going to download Tinder," I say and Adil laughs.
“So I have a business proposal for you,” he successfully changes the topic.
“I thought you said you don’t believe in mixing business with pleasure,” I try to lighten the mood.
“Listen... I was thinking about the charity sale you were planning. I think that you should do it in the show house I have for the units I developed in Melrose.”
“You want me to host the sale at the show house?”
“Yeah, so I have it staged already. It will be a collaboration. I need the foot traffic into the development and you need a venue. Win-win.”
“That’s a great idea! It is called a trade exchange.”
For the next week, we abandon the gym and every evening he picks me up so we can plan my first ‘Shop My Closet’ sale at his house with Ayesha.
There was the social media plan, which I had mostly covered. It was the logistics that I needed help with. The final touches like the nice-to-have goodie bags and vouchers would be the last thing we worry about.
As soon as I posted that I will be having my very first shop my closet sale, people went crazy! I don’t interact too much with my followers and don’t do many ‘meet and greets’ so this would be a rare opportunity for people to hang out with me.
Also, the fact that I priced the goods really well made people so excited. It is rare to find makeup for R50 or R100.
The idea is to incentivise 100 people to be there by 9am by giving them each a freebie. Then to get them to buy, they will get a free gift for every purchase of R1 000.
Adil, who now has a notepad dedicated to the sale, suggests that I set up an area for a meet-and-greet and pictures with my followers. He also insisted that he provide the snacks as part of his end of the bargain to showcase the houses.
Firdaus, at the last minute, decides she too wants to help out. I think she feels bad for instigating the mess with Nabs. The more I think about it, the more grateful I am that she opened my eyes to what was happening right in front of me. Nabs was ripping me off and I was too stupid to see.
Firdaus plans to do two hijab tutorials and promote the sale on her social media. We haven’t spoken about it yet, but I do plan to pay her if the sale is successful. I also got Molly on board to do makeovers for a few random lucky people. At first I was hesitant to reach out to brands who would want to get involved but I am glad I did.
This is the first time I am dealing directly with PR people and brand managers. Before, Nabs would handle them and I would focus on content creation. But being nice to people at events pays off.
First, I asked Milora if they would like to come on board. They were so keen to use the sale to launch their new mobile coffee stands for parties and events. Having Milora there seemed true to brand because I’ve been stealing their WiFi and water for years!
The marketing manager offered to take the deal a step further by offering a 10% discount to all my followers, and in turn I get a percentage of the sales.
This was a dream come true!
Once that is sorted, I email BKZ makeup and ask if they would be able to sponsor 100 small gifts. They, surprisingly, agree to do 200 gift bags. I have to remind myself that it’s cheaper for them to put a product or two in a gift bag than pay for the amount of marketing they will be getting from this event. Still, it is super cool of them.
We have two days left before the event and slowly it is shaping up really well.
Once I get all the collaborations and sponsorship nailed down, we start transporting everything to the venue. Ayesha suggests that we price items as we unbox and set it up. We divide everything into four tables. One table for everything priced at R50 each, the second at R100, the third at R200 and the last one at R250.
If I was a shopper at my sale, I would freak out.
Eyeshadow palettes that cost R900 are going for R200. Besides the items I set aside for the sale, I decided to go through my personal things and pull out some of the stuff I’ve been hoarding but have never used. Not only do I need the money, but my eviction drama also taught me that I keep stuff I really don’t need or use.
As we are unpacking and categorising items, Adil sticks different coloured stickers as per the price code. Our four tables are already full of mostly makeup items and we still have boxes of accessories, clothes, and a ton of bags.
Adil suggests that we separate the ‘gently worn’ clothes from the stuff that still has tags on. I can’t believe I have so many things laying in my cupboard that still had tags on. The young girl who wore hand-me-downs but loved fashion is dying a little bit.
“I don’t think you should under-price these designer handbags,” Ayesha says in that commander voice of hers.
“We can do 30% of retail prices,” I respond.
“I think 60%. If they don’t sell, we can further reduce it. By the way, this brown leather satchel is mine!”
“You can have it,” I say instantly.
“No! Price it, then I will buy it on Saturday morning.”
“No. Please take it!” I insist, prompting a back and forth that eventually ends with Adil saying, “Can you guys get to work and sort out the bag situation later?”
While we are stuck on pricing things, Adil walks around making a list of what we need for the day of the sale. The show unit is absolutely spectacular. It’s big but not oversized, and modern but not extravagant. I absolutely love the finishes. When you enter, there’s a foyer with a sideboard perfect for entrance drinks.
In the lounge, there is enough seating for people to sit around and there would be snacks and sweets on the coffee table and the side tables.
In the dining room, we have the four makeup tables set up with a space for Molly on one side.
Then in the open-plan kitchen we will have the guys from Milora serving coffees with the snacks that Adil is arranging.
Upstairs in the pyjama lounge/foyer area, we will have all the sponsors exhibit their stuff. I decide to give Firdaus her own room, although it’s the smallest room that’s mostly empty, to exhibit her scarves and do her tutorials.
In the second bedroom, my bags, accessories, and clothes will be displayed because there are huge mirrors and a closet that can double up as a fitting room. I think we are going to leave the master bedroom as is. It’s the only room that’s fully furnished to show how it could look if someone moved in. It adds a sense of luxury to the area.
In terms of logistics, I need six people handling goods and two people handling money. I am going to be mostly floating around taking pictures. We will also need someone to make sure the place is constantly neat and clean.
Adil offers to get his staff from his office to work overtime. At first, I want to say no, but the truth is I don’t have anyone to help me. If Adil and Ayesha are busy with money, six of his staff members can just help the clients try out and fit on. As much as Sarah annoys me, she will also help oversee everything. I will also pay Percy to help keep the area clean.
“It’s a plan,” I say as we set up the last lot of stuff.
“It’s going to be good,” Adil says reassuringly.
“I’ve become so popular in my friend circle because I am helping out with Maariah Means’ first-ever pop-up,” Ayesha teases.
“I really appreciate you guys’ help,” I tell Ayesha and Adil again.
“I know this may be weird to you, but we love doing this,” Ayesha reassures me.
“I told her... we are just these people,” Adil smirks.
I noticed it for a while — Adil will randomly buy ice creams for the kids in his estate or Ayesha will go out of her way to order something for a friend.
After the long day of prepping, we drive to Adil’s house for his cousin Umar’s small birthday get-together. I don’t stay long, because I am exhausted, and Adil agrees to drop me off at my Airbnb just after the cake is cut and we sing for Umar.
Over the past few weeks, I have really felt part of this family. It’s the weird small stuff like Ma sending me a container of spices or Ayesha insisting that I should bring my laundry over for their helper to wash.
“So, how’s Tinder?” he randomly asks as he helps me carry stuff into the apartment and my stomach immediately flips.
“It’s not for me, hey," I reply, half laughing.
"Isn’t that how you millennials find love?"
"Do you have anyone to introduce me to?” I jab and his face falls into a frown.
“You don’t have a single friend?” I persist.
“Well I have a ton of friends, but none I can introduce you to,” he says as he packs the parcels neatly.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.