Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
Mothers are the most perceptive human beings on this planet. They just know when things are wrong or not okay, even when there are no obvious signs.
My mother has always been this way and it made hiding things from her so much harder. Even after my divorce, it was so easy to keep things from her but somehow she would get me to tell her what’s going on in my life.
After my meeting with Adil’s parents and, later, his friends, I... how do I describe it..? I was in a pensive mood that was largely unlike me. There could have even been an air of melancholy surrounding me and I couldn’t find the cause.
I am getting married to a man I truly love and respect. A man who has treated me so, so kindly. He has only ever wanted the best for me and will without a doubt go to the end of the earth for me. The way I’m feeling doesn’t make sense. All I ever wanted was to feel secure. Affection and attention are just a bonus. Adil makes me feel secure.
What more can I ask for? I need to get these negative thoughts out of my head. I’m actually so lucky. Not only is this a time for me to have the wedding of my dreams, but it’s also the time to take my content on my social media to the next level.
Imagine all the outfit pictures and decor shoots! I could even have a ‘how to plan a wedding’ series. The content opportunities are endless!
I mean, I still need to sit and jot down my ideas to look at gaps where I can get brands to come in and sponsor parts of my wedding, but a part of me is avoiding that.
Before Adil proposed, I had this vision of how things would happen and how I’d have my Pinterest vision board ready for execution. The last time, I didn’t have a say even in the colour of the serviettes. This wedding is going to be planned to perfection.
I didn’t realise how low I’ve been feeling — anxious even — until my mother points it out to me on Friday after lunch.
“There’s something bothering you,” she says as she looks me dead straight in the eyes.
My mother knows how to unnerve you into honesty. It’s a gift she has that’s rather annoying.
“I don’t know. I have just been feeling a bit uneasy. I am not sure why…”
“Was it his family dynamic?” I had already told my mother about the absurdity of what I encountered when I met his parents for the first time. Ma even weighed in and detailed how crazy it was.
“No. I mean I knew he had a strange relationship with his parents. I just expected to be happier! I mean, look at this ring! It is stunning!”
“Are you unhappy?” my mother asks, and damn her for asking such deep questions. “No, I am not unhappy,” I say hoping this conversation will end and we can focus on her problems like the need to pack up her house and move her stuff to Johannesburg.
“Sometimes our subconscious is trying to tell us something and we just need to figure out what it is,” she says as I get up to wash the dishes and hopefully end this discussion.
Something is definitely making me feel uneasy, I just can’t figure out what.
Since the weekend when I met his parents, our routine was pretty much standard. At 6:15 he was outside to pick me up for the gym, we would do our thing in the gym then he would come in for breakfast with my mother and me and then leave for work.
My mother genuinely likes him and that means a lot to me.
This week showed that I can leave the two of them together when I go shower and they have enough to talk about. In the evenings, he calls me for a bit before he goes to bed which is new to our routine, but we don’t spend any extra time together.
Once I am done washing lunch dishes, I plop myself on my couch and call him. He answers immediately because we both know how weird it is for me to call him during that day.
“Hey, are you okay?” he answers.
“Yeah, I am good. I was just missing you.”
“Can I call you back in ten minutes?” is his ice-cold response.
We never really had a touchy-feely phase to our relationship but I suppose that is natural when you go from platonic friends to being engaged in under ten seconds.
A simple “I miss you too” to his fiancee would not kill him. I start mentally working myself up into a frenzy when eight minutes later — yes I counted — he returns my call.
“Sorry, Mar. I was with my lawyers,” he says.
“Is everything okay?” I ask, naturally concerned that he is meeting with lawyers on a Friday afternoon.
“Yeah... work stuff. What are you doing?”
“Nothing. I am just missing you,” I try again.
“I miss you more my baby.” I feel like a popsicle on a December day. I immediately melt into a pile of blushing mush.
“This is the first time you’ve called me baby,” I try to flirt.
“Shall I come pop by later after work?”
“Uhm... I was hoping we could go out?”
“Okay... I will wrap up work and then I will be by you at 7. It’s a date!”
“It’s our first date!” I say, and we both start laughing at the absurdity of it.
We’ve done funerals and looked at houses together but we are yet to have a fancy romantic date. I don’t even know what kind of date I like. I suppose dinner is our only option since I don’t have an attention span for the cinema. When last have I been on a proper date?
I suppose it was with Adil at the pizza place all those months ago. It wasn’t really a date. In hindsight, that non-date was the metaphor for the rest of our relationship — there but not there!
My mother chuckles when she sees me doing a full face of makeup, curl my hair to perfection and select the cutest outfit I own.
“Mum, I am not wasting this outfit, please take a cute picture,” I ask her and she shakes her head. “There is no free lunch. You’re going to have to take my pictures from now on,” I joke. She says if that’s the case then she’d much rather make her own lunch.
Adil is 30 minutes late and we get even more delayed when he comes in to talk to my mother. They hover over his iPad discussing floorplan options for an upcoming complex he is planning to develop.
I start walking to the door, hoping they get the hint that I just want to have some alone time with my husband-to-be.
Eventually, we get into the car and I am eager to find out what our plans for the night are.
“Is dinner at @Six okay?” he asks and I squeal like a teenage girl because I have been dying to try out this new trendy sushi place, but gosh it’s booked out months in advance. I even contacted their PR team to review it on my Instagram but they responded with a very polite “Who the heck are you?”
“You look pretty,” he turns and smiles at me as we pull into the parking lot.
“Thank you,” I say in a baby voice I didn’t think I had. Ok, what is wrong with me? No seriously, what is wrong with me? I am a whole 25-year-old that still thinks it’s cute to talk in a baby voice.
Adil is on his A-game like I have never seen before. He pulls out my chair for me, pours me water and even butters my roll for me. He is definitely a keeper! Well, I kinda have no choice but to keep him because your girl is not getting divorced twice.
“How did you get a reservation?” I ask and he laughs so hard he almost knocks down the olive oil.
“I have my ways,” he says with a smirk. It’s probably one of his famous friends.
Our first ‘date’ was everything I needed it to be, with hand-holding and him mouthing I love you when I walk back from the bathroom. I wish I could stay in this happy cocoon forever. He even remembered that I have a weak spot for crème brûlée and ordered one for us to share.
“This is amazing,” I say to him and he squeezes my hand.
“Is mum waiting for you? I have one more thing planned for us,” he says as he pays the bill and I ask a waiter to take a picture of me against their super famous lava wall. Content, honey!
“Do you know I don’t have a single picture of the two of us? Not even a selfie!” I tell Adil as we leave the restaurant.
He laughs and shakes his head, dead set against taking a selfie in the middle of @Six. “Don’t be such a prude. I won’t post it. I want to remember this moment,” I say, but Adil can barely respond before he runs into someone he appears to know.
I smile at the man who introduces himself as Thabo Mtshali, shake his hand and then edge away so that Adil and he can chat.
Almost instinctively, I look down at my phone and swipe through the pictures I have just taken in the restaurant. The lighting was so kind to me! These pictures have all my good sides!
As I rise from my moment of vanity, I hear Thabo Mtshali telling Adil something about the custody settlement hearing will be at 10am on Monday. Custody? I look at Adil, wondering what they are talking about and he looks like he has seen a ghost. In fact, he looks like a ghost, with all the colour drained from his face.
Again, I look at my phone and pretend to be interested in editing my pictures until Adil signals that he is ready to leave and Thabo walks away.
“Are you okay?” I ask him as his frown deepens.
He stays silent for a really long time and I just follow him to the car. As I get into the car he stands outside, saying he just needs to make a quick phone call and obviously doesn’t want me to hear the conversation.
It is almost 10pm on a Friday evening. Who is he calling?
I strain my ears and can only hear bits and pieces of what Adil is saying although I am sure I heard, “They need to stop playing games?” and “I am not going to give in like the last time”.
I am sure it’s just business stuff. He did tell me he was busy with his lawyer earlier this afternoon and last weekend his dad did say that he wanted to relinquish ownership of their family property business — or at least that’s what I understood him as saying.
Adil gets into the car and tries to smile at me, almost to indicate everything is fine, but his face is betraying him. There is no way everything is fine.
Whatever Thabo Mtshali told him, it’s haunting him right now.
“Are we going somewhere else?” I ask him once we hit the road but it takes him a while to respond.
“Do you want to go somewhere? I am tired. Can we go home please?” he says and I know he is lying about being tired. Adil is a night owl. I am the one who is in bed strictly at 9pm like a granny. But tonight I had planned to spend as much time as I possibly can with him.
While I silently debate whether to ask him what’s going on, Adil gets another call as he drives.
I decide to google Thabo Mtshali, just to get a sense of who he is because he looked like some high-flying lawyer. ‘Thabo Mtshali is a renowned family lawyer specialising in child law cases’, his LinkedIn profile reads.
I look at Adil and he is listening intently to whoever is on the other side of the call.
“But who leaked that information?” he asks and then listens intently for a while.
This definitely sounds serious. Too serious for me to demand answers immediately.
Adil lets out a sigh that bears the sound of defeat. He takes a moment to compose himself and then looks at me with a fake smile.
“I need to go to my office, can I make you a coffee there before I take you home?” he offers, clearly trying not to ruin the end of what was really a good night. Before we bumped into the lawyer, we were both really present and enjoying our date. He taught me how to eat edamame beans after I told him how I embarrassed myself at a function once and began chewing the peel of the beans and was forced to spit it out in my tissue. He ordered me a side portion of sashimi even though he hates it. It was a good night!
It was my first time at Adil’s offices which was obviously deserted because it was past 10pm on a Friday night. He makes me comfortable on the couch and switches on the fancy coffee machine before going into his office to print documents.
At first, I was irritated by the interruption to our romantic evening out but I now appreciate the effort he is making to be normal even though there is some crisis he is dealing with.
“Are you okay?” I ask him as he sits down next to me with our drinks.
Again, a deep sigh. This time it’s followed by a long hug that turns passionate.
He holds me tight and I can feel the tension in his body. He is clearly not okay.
“Adil... you can talk to me. I am here for you,” I say.
He stares at nothing before the situation visibly dawns on him.
“Mar. I don’t know how to tell you this. And I didn’t think I would have to tell you this tonight,” Adil says clearly perturbed.
If he cries, I will start crying. Too late. As much as I try to resist, the moment I see his eyes, my eyes start watering.
It feels like eternity passing on that couch as we sit there in silence, with only the noise of sniffing and wiping our tears.
I figured it out. I don’t know how but my gut and the result of the google search pieced together the entire evening.
“Adil, it’s okay. You will figure out the custody case,” I say as my stomach feels like it just survived a sucker-punch.
I secretly pray that it is not true. That my gut feeling that Adil has a secret child whose custody he was fighting for is just my imagination running wild. It can’t be. It really can’t be.
“Mar... I didn’t tell you because it was not a reality up until now. Nobody knows about this.”
It was my time to let out a guttural sigh. “If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s okay,” I say, unsure if I am ready to handle the truth.
“Well, I have no choice but to tell you... because the Sunday Times is printing the story on Sunday.
“I met Laura through Alicia like four years ago… One night at one of our buddies wedding stuff happened and... Uh... two months later she called me to say she was pregnant. I know. I am sorry. I am not proud of my past. We tried to make it work for the child but our relationship didn’t last and I have been fighting for joint custody of Hana for the past two years. I gave up before we met because I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere and my parents... you know... But the lawyers had changed tact now that Laura had moved to the US and left Hana with her mum. When we bumped into Thabo he confirmed that they have agreed to give me full custody of Hana if I pay an amount.”
Adil has a two-year-old child. And I agreed to marry him without knowing this.
I sit there, staring at the door, and replaying what he just told me over in my mind.
“You were dating Laura Menta?” I squeak out my gut feeling. Laura is a famous celebrity who used to be friends with Alicia Mdondo, Adil’s friend. She moved to New York to pursue her acting career there.
I have no idea how I pieced all of that together in 10 seconds.
“How..? Yes... It was just... Mar, I am so sorry.”
Again he cries and I cry. This time it takes us a while to compose ourselves.
I will never not trust my gut ever again.
“How? How…” I try to ask him how this could have happened..
“I have done really stupid things in my life, Mar. I can’t even begin to tell you how stupid and reckless I’ve been. I was with Laura at a stage in my life when I was partying like there was no tomorrow. It’s probably the reason why, as much as I liked you, I didn’t want to make a move on you because I was scared that the person I really am will eventually unravel.”
“Do your parents know?”
“They found out when Laura fell pregnant. That’s why my relationship with them has really soured. But they don’t know that I have been trying to seek sole custody of Hana,” he says, holding onto my hand.
“So what happens on Monday?” I ask, trying to wear my rational hat and not give in to my emotions.
“On Monday I have to appear in court to finalise the settlement agreement. Then they are expected to drop Hana off by the close of business.”
“Do you not think it’s unfair to take her away from her mother?”
“It is not fair Hana has been staying with her grandmother while Laura has been travelling nonstop. To be honest, Laura told Alicia that she didn’t want to be held back by a child and they only fought me for the money. I have been paying exorbitant maintenance without basic visitation rights. Before I met you... I was dead set that I wanted to raise my child,” he says looking straight into my eyes.
“And now? How do you feel?”
“I feel angry... angry that after I have given up hope on the custody process and I met you and after months of being too scared of telling you how I feel, I finally propose and now this. I feel really guilty for not telling you about this upfront. You are going to leave me now, aren't you?”
The thought of leaving Adil hadn’t even crossed my mind until now. I don’t respond.
“How do you feel? I know it’s a lot,” he says to me.
“I don’t know how to feel. I think I am just shocked.”
"I love you, Maariah. I really love you. I know this is a lot. We will figure it out," he says again as he hugs me and buries his head in my neck.
Imagine having to tell my mother that I found out that Adil has a secret child that he has just won custody of.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.