Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
The internet is a trap.
I started out at ten tips to make new friend on a bogus website called ‘personalexcellence.com’ and ended up on ‘Is it a date or are you just hanging out? Here are 7 ways to tell’.
So according to Bustle.com, the first way of telling whether it’s a date or not is ‘determining how far a break it is from the norm.’
WHAT THE HELL IS THE NORM?! I scream back at the internet.
I’ve never been on a date with someone who isn’t my husband. And also, in the two years that we were married, we probably went out a total of six times by ourselves. Ozayr’s mother used to come with us everywhere. When I look back, I realise how strange it was, but at that moment, it seemed normal for me. Which brings me back to my point; normal is relative.
Number one is a fail. Let’s try number two.
2. How many nerves are involved?
I was not nervous. I was more confused. Adil asked me to get pizza with him casually. He didn’t seem nervous at all. Even when he came to pick me up, he was super chilled even though it was the second time we ever met. Moving on...
3. Talk to your mutual friends.
Uh, firstly we don’t have mutual friends. And secondly, the only people I know who know him are his sister and cousin — who I also just met.
4. What’s the activity?
The website believes dinner and drinks is a date. It says nothing about Sunday lunch pizza and Coke. I’m losing hope here, fam.
5. What’s the setting?
Uhm, a casual 24-hour pizza place where people usually come to binge on carbs and have no qualms going there in last night’s makeup or even pyjamas.
All hope is lost.
6. Pay attention to the conversation topics.
Uhm... We spoke about business for two hours. Is that a good topic or a boring topic? Help.
7. See how you feel after?
CONFUSED AS HELL! WHICH IS WHY I AM READING THIS UNHELPFUL ARTICLE!
Okay. Breathe, girl. Breathe.
I am about to google ‘What does it mean when he suggests we work out together’ but I resist the temptation. Instead, I decide to plan my workout outfit. I got a press drop recently with some workout wear from Astix Sports, and besides a pair of yoga pants, which I was paid to be photographed in, I haven’t worn anything else.
Athleisure brands are really having a moment and all the LA YouTubers I follow live in yoga pants and sports bras.
And if you go to the Benmore Centre on a random morning, it’s not unusual to see an aunty in cycling shorts doing her shopping.
For my gym session, I’ve decided that I am not in the mood to feel body conscious, so I am going to wear leggings and a hoodie. Pair that with neon running shoes and an untidy pony and I look like I am a middle-aged soccer mum who tries to chat up the coach.
At 6:30 on the dot, Adil rings the bell and Simmi screams immediately, “Some. Of. Us. Are. SLEEPING!”
She’s just a drama queen and moody in the mornings. She only gets home at like 9pm from work and then she sits up watching Netflix until 3am. Obviously she is going to struggle in the morning. Out of the three of us, she is the only one that works from an office so she can’t sleep in if she wants to. Despite that, her life is so dysfunctional.
I recently read an article in The New York Times that said most successful people wake up before 6am and exercise every morning. It’s never too late, apparently. Who knows, after this gym session I could be a successful hustler, giving TedX talks and signing copies of my best selling self-help book on how to be successful.
You never know...
“Hey,” Adil says.
“Hey... give me a second, let me just fetch my water,” I tell Adil as I scurry to the kitchen, grab my towel and a water bottle and rush to his car.
The gym is within walking distance from my house, but I was in no mood to walk there. I prefer walking on a treadmill in controlled temperature than trying to rough the streets. Adil is wearing shorts and a hoodie with similar trainers to mine.
“Look, our shoes are matching,” I say awkwardly. I am such a loser. I could have said “Look, the sky is blue” and it would have sounded cooler.
“Great minds think alike,” he chuckles. The last time I heard someone say that was in an English class in high school.
We get to the gym and head straight for the treadmills. The hardcore fitness freaks are already sprinting while I start with a slow walk and then gradually increase the pace to an incline.
Just from scanning the room, I figure there are four types of people who come to the gym at 6:30 in the morning.
Type one: the pesky girls with the perfect bodies who come with their yoga mats neatly wrapped under their arms.
Type two: the buff men who look like they just ate a 4kg steak for breakfast.
Type three: the ‘I’m just trying to stay fit’ group, which Adil and I belong to.
Type four: Those who come, exercise for 15 minutes and then sit in the sauna for the rest of the time.
Ironically, at 6:30am you won’t see any fat people in the gym or any really unfit people. I don’t know why. The world is weird. I don't have the answers.
Adil says we will walk for 30 minutes and do some cycling for 15 minutes. That seems easy enough. And he wasn’t joking about needing someone to talk to while he exercises.
“When I was an auditor, we used to have a running club and we would all go for a 5km run every other morning before work. Then we started doing races on weekends and half marathons”.
“Do you still run?”
“I got lazy once I left. I told you I get motivated by people.”
“I hope you’re not expecting to run marathons with me!” I joke.
“Why not? You are a lot fitter than you say,” he says.
“So how does training for a race work?” I ask as I try to keep up with him.
“Basically, if you get 5km in 30 minutes is a good pace. The goal is to get 10km in an hour”.
“And how many 10kms do you have to do before you can try a half marathon?”
“Quite a few... so my goal is to do 30 minutes on the treadmill Monday to Friday and then do a Parkrun on Saturdays.”
“Are Parkruns 5km?”
“Yes, but it’s different from the treadmill. It gives you a greater thrill.”
“And 10km races?”
“Maybe one Sunday a month...”
“That doesn’t sound bad.”
“Yep, we are going to run the Two Oceans next year”.
“We?” I ask cheekily, hoping he means me and him.
“Yes, you and me!”
“Gosh I am struggling barely 15 minutes in — and I’m just walking.”
“We can do it, don’t worry Maariah!”
I am not about to let a workout session not work for me by becoming cool content. So, I post snaps from my run on Insta Stories with dramatic effect. I google a picture of fitness hottie RushTush and post the picture with the caption, “How I think I look when I am training ...”. Then I post a picture of my untidy high pony and sweaty face with the caption: “This is actually how I look when I am attempting to train.”
I didn’t know Adil was watching my stories and he starts laughing so hard when he sees my post, he almost falls off the treadmill. I start laughing it when I see him almost tripping on his own feet and suddenly as my stomach hurts from laughter, I lose balance and get thrown off the treadmill and onto the floor.
WHY DO THESE THINGS HAPPEN TO ME?
“Maariah, are you okay?” Adil asks, half laughing, half concerned.
“I am okay. I am okay,” I say as I get up in a fit of laughter.
“You laughed at me! Now look at karma,” he jokes.
At least he is very witty and can laugh at himself.
“I’m done with this treadmill for today!” I tell him.
“No! You still have ten minutes to go!”
“Naah. I don’t trust it!”
“Okay, fine. Let’s go cycle,” Adil suggests as he leads the way.
The rest of the gym session is so relaxed and fun it’s almost as if I’ve known Adil my whole life.
“So last night I was reading comments on one of your pictures... how do you deal with the slew of hate comments?” he asks me.
“By binge eating macarons and crying myself to sleep,” I half-joke.
“No. I’m being serious.”
“Me too. It’s hard. Some days I have thick skin and other days I ugly cry.”
“I was watching a video the other day about cyberbullying... it’s ridiculous.”
“I think people think that because you share so much of your life, it’s okay if they spew venom on you.”
“But you’ve been very gracious about it.”
“Are you stalking me?”
“Yes,” he says casually as he ups the ante on his cycle.
Once we’re done at the gym, Adil drops me off at home.
“See you tomorrow,” he says.
I guess that means he was serious when he said we are going to the gym every single day. Just 45 minutes of basic cardio and I feel a lot better than I do on most mornings. It also gives me content to sustain my social media for half the day.
People love health-conscious content. It’s weird but I think because people live vicariously through influencers, they exercise and travel through us. My statistics show a significant increase in activity on my pages when I post health content.
I’ve read up on the explosion of people sharing their workouts and fitness journeys on social media and there are varying opinions why people do it and why people love to consume fitness content.
For many, it’s a case of ‘did it really happen if I didn’t share it?’. Those who are more serious about fitness believe filming themselves exercising helps them maintain good form.
For so many others, it’s about sharing a hobby.
There is, of course, narcissism that is central to why we share our fitness journeys online — it’s probably the same reason why we share anything online. And probably why the Kardashians post videos of their workouts — people love watching that. Although the difference between my exercise content and the Kardashians is that I don’t have a full glam squad to get me to perfect before I exercise. Besides that, there is no difference between me and the Kardashians.
At about 10am, Nabs and I meet for a content strategy meeting and a diary planning for the next two weeks. She’s going home to Cape Town for holiday and to try and have a few meetings while she’s there.
“People loved your gym content this morning,” she says.
“I actually had fun.”
“Who did you go with?”
“Do I know him?”
“I don’t think so... he’s a new friend”.
“Friend or boyfriend?”
“I don’t know hey ..”
“When did you guys meet?”
“We met on Friday and then we went for lunch yesterday”.
“And you guys are already gyming together?! He either thinks you’re fat or really likes your company.”
Nabs has no filter at all. She just says whatever comes to mind, which is why she always gets in trouble with her family. One day, her slimy old cousin bumped into us at the movies and was hitting on me in a super creepy way. She gave him a dirty look and said “Oh, she’s not your type — she actually has a brain,” and walked off.
Her razor-sharp tongue used to shock me but now I am a little more used to it.
“Okay... so I think this fitness thing is going to be great content. I am already in talks with a few fitness wear brands and I was talking to a PR company that’s doing work for Adidas. There’s good money in that space,” she says.
“That would be awesome!”
“It would be babe, but it also means you can’t give up after week two.”
We better monetise these gym sessions! I am not busting my ass, waking up early and filming myself while gyming for nothing.
I mean, I am doing it for fitness but some money will be good too.
“Adil won’t let me quit!” I say to Nabs and she laughs.
“Are you sure you guys just met? Because you’re speaking about him like you’ve been married for six and a half years”.
“Get out of here man! It’s a weird new friendship. You can’t be my only friend.”
“I will always be your first love boo... now, moving along!”
I got that ‘moving along’ habit from Nabs. It’s weird how when you live with someone you start picking up their habits. She used to cringe at my tuna suppers, now she happily makes it for the two of us. You know about my love affair with tuna. Maybe love affair is overstating it but I am not going to spend good moola on smoked salmon. I’d rather double up on schmancy salmon bagels and croissants at events I get invited to. That stuff is not cheap! Another cheap meal I eat all the time is canned chickpeas. They are also about R15 a pop and last me two lunches.
My weekly groceries cost me no more than R250 and on broke weeks, I can survive on less. It helps that I get lots of free snacks with press packs and Nabs and Simmi doesn’t mind sharing their veggies with me because they binge on my snacks.
The other day a chocolate brand sent me a massive bag full of mini chocolates to celebrate their 25-year anniversary and to promote new flavours.
It was so much chocolate; we filled all the jars we owned and stocked up our cupboards. Sometimes when haters say influencers are just people who like free things I want to respond and say, “You’re damn right!” and send pictures of the hundreds of free chocolates I get.
But then I also want to send a picture of my bank balance after I spend good money on expensive clothes I can’t afford, all in the name of slaying on the Gram.
I learned very quickly that you have to spend money to make money. At first, you have to spend tons of money to even begin to start seeing rewards. You have to spend on trendy facials and expensive makeup so that you attract brands and, in turn, they will start sending you free stuff. I’ve been around for over four years and I see that there are new influencers that pop up every day.
I can guarantee you that most of those girls are swiping their credit cards like there’s no tomorrow in an effort to get their profiles noticed. If I had access to a credit card, I would have done the same in the beginning. But because I was so broke, I would just use clothes, bags, and accessories from Icon and return it back to work after I shot enough pictures.
Then I started doing it with high-end brands. I would try on a shoe and take a picture in the store with a stupid caption like, “Deciding which baby I should take home...”
It really is about creating an illusion, for the most part. Although I learned in the last four years that in the midst of all this fake perfection online, people crave realness. They want to see you as an ordinary girl hustling like everyone else. Nabs was the first person to point this out to me. The more real I was, the more followers I got. Obviously, the ‘real’ that I and other influencers show the world is a curated realness but still, people connect more with that.
Like I took a selfie after I fell off the treadmill this morning and posted “When you’re trying to be fit but that means actually staying on the treadmill”.
It was my most liked picture all week.
Once Nabs and I are done with our content meeting, she leaves for the airport and I get ready for a store launch I am invited to in Sandton City. The theme is all white, which I am tired of because there are only so many all-white outfits you can wear without having to repeat clothes. I check my DMs throughout the day, but I don’t hear from Adil again.
When I left this morning, he just said ‘see you tomorrow,’ and nothing else. I just realise that he knows where I stay but doesn’t even have my number. This social media life has things all upside down. I decide to send him a DM.
“Hey. I just realised you don’t have my number... here it is in case I don’t hear the gate bell in the morning.”
Pretty smooth right? RIGHT?
Okay, breathe, girl. Breathe.
Let me subject myself to terribly uncomfortable heels, hair extensions that pull at my scalp and 3D lashes that make opening my eyes mission impossible. Oh, and not forgetting not eating all night because it’s not cute to have food stains on your all-white outfit!
So much for, ‘Join us to celebrate your inner beauty and strength.’
On day two of gyming with Adil, I find people around us get annoyed that we speak non-stop and don’t just plug in our headphones like everyone else.
By day three, people were actively moving away from us as Adil detailed his views on apartheid’s spatial planning and how it’s going to take decades to undo what apartheid did.
To be honest, my knowledge of the world and politics is non-existent, but I find myself enjoying and learning from my conversations with him.
Obviously, in school you learn about apartheid, but you don’t realise how it truly affected people’s lives Till today, housing is a huge issue in South Africa. And even though black and previously disadvantaged people are getting opportunities to work and study, white people still have privilege. You don’t realise or fully comprehend it until someone explains it.
Now that I think about what Adil speaks about, I realise why so many people at the gym walk away from us and give us dirty looks. One of the guys who works at the gym joked with us yesterday saying, “It’s too early to be this woke.” Adil just laughed it off and continued making his point about the need for inclusive areas with low-cost housing.
He was two ‘Amandlas’ short of making a cardio session a fully-fledged political rally.
I probably don’t know much about politics but I know one thing: If Adil ran for political office, I’d vote for him.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.