Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
The thing about fear is that it will stand in the way of so much opportunity without you even realising it. For the past two years, I’ve been thinking of holding a pop-up closet sale, but I have always been too afraid of doing it because of the age-old ‘what will people say?’.
I worried whether people would realise I am not as well off as I portray on social media. I stressed about whether anyone would even buy my stuff. Gosh, I was anxious whether anyone would show up for a meet and greet. I am not Lilly Singh where thousands of people queue to meet her. I am just Maariah, a fashion and lifestyle blogger in South Africa.
That’s what I thought until I drive to the pop-up venue in Melrose at 8am and there’s a queue of 80 people waiting to get in an hour before we are meant to start trading.
We still have a few odds and ends to do before people walk in, like set up the food and have all the exhibitors settled. Ayesha, my unofficial commander in chief, is running the staff. Adil is meant to be running the tills and I was told to smile and live my best life.
Which is why I woke up and prioritised my hair and makeup and then responded to social media comments about the event. The online support I got from other bloggers was unbelievable. It is the thing about paying it forward. Whenever a blogger or Instagrammer launches something or has something to promote, I always give them a shout out and I think the response to my closet sale is a reciprocation of that. I promise you; kindness begets kindness. If there is one thing I learned through social media, it’s that the only way to change the world is if you actively do not be an ass.
At first, Adil wanted to hire a catering company but then Ayesha convinced him to order all the eats from their cousin Fatima, who just started her confectionary business. When it comes to business, Adil doesn’t take shortcuts so it had to take a little convincing that paying Fatima would be a third of what it would cost a big catering company. Also, it will be a good platform for her to promote her business, so I didn’t feel too bad.
My only apprehension was that I had a distinct Insta-worthy concept of how the food would look and taste but when Ayesha said it should be Fatima, I just went with it. And thank God it worked out. Despite having reservations about Adil’s cousin, Fatima really came through with a spectacular spread that caters to both decadence and healthy. She had pan-seared watermelon with a goat’s cheese topping and ground pistachio in little squares. Then she made puff pastry Caprese, prawn tempura with a homemade sweet chili sauce and she even made a few types of different mini quiches. I loved that she also included old-fashioned things like samoosas but brought an artisanal touch to it by making the fillings sweet.
I’ve been to some really fancy functions and when you don’t drink alcohol, the food is really important. It must be a vision, but it must also have character and taste. I love that Fatima made an incredible harvest board of cheeses, crackers, strawberries, grapes and different types of nuts. Definitely my vibe. In her design she included a few snack boards with dried fruit, biltong and nuts contrasted against platters of macarons, handmade nougat and candied pecans.
It felt like a Cosmo party! This is really a dream come true!
Have you ever had a moment where you don’t know why God sent some people in your life at a particular time and why they are actually so kind to you? I’m having this moment five minutes before we open the doors.
“Okay, coffee guys; are you guys ready to start serving?” Ayesha asks.
“Chef Fatima, are we good to go? Dude! We don’t have the bottled water! Guys please unpack it quickly.”
Molly gives me a big hug as Adil opens the door and the first group of 30 people is let in. The first girl that walks in gets a goodie bag and a special R200 discount voucher, which I don’t know if she even needed because she already had screengrabs of the things she wanted from the snaps of sale items I uploaded on my Instagram.
I smile and make small talk, but I follow her around the area. She is a makeup ninja and leaves after ten minutes paying R2 000 in cash. As Adil jots down the sale, he looks over and gives me a smile. We got this.
In between selfies, small talk and posting Insta Stories, I hop over to taste some of Fatima’s food and everything just hits the spot. Her food is photo-worthy but also full of flavour. TBH I had my doubts.
I think people were quite surprised at our pricing model, but we want everything sold out by the end of the day. By 10am the house is at full capacity. Molly has about 15 people watching her do a makeup tutorial while Firdaus has about 40 people crammed in the little room upstairs watching her hijab tutorials. I’m a bit worried that the designer bags and accessories are not being touched so I ask Ayesha to help out there.
At around 11:30am a lady comes in and buys two designer bags and leaves. About thirty minutes later she is back with five of her friends to pick up more things. After the lunchtime rush, things died down a little, although by that time, all the items priced at R50 are sold out.
“Mar... I think you need to post a bit more now on Instagram. Maybe do a live video,” Ayesha says to me quietly.
Amazingly, Adil already has two serious prospective tenants for the units he developed. You only see the real value of social media when you put together an event in three days and dozens of people are streaming in to be there. I was genuinely surprised by the turnout and that it was a cross-section of all races and ages.
I even had some guys come to buy things as gifts and obviously I made a fuss over them on social media. There’s nothing like a “get you a guy who knows a good makeup deal” post to get people talking.
It’s 3pm now and we are mostly sold out. My jaw is aching from all the smiling for selfies. Note to self: learn how to smile more naturally. I am ready to call it a successful day but Ayesha insists that I must post individual pictures of what’s left in the sale.
It works. Half an hour later three women walk in asking for the specific items that I posted. Then just as we are about to wind up, a hilarious woman and her teenage daughter walk in, huffing and puffing, saying they ran from her car hoping we have not closed. Her options are not much but they grab what they find.
Ayesha comes to me and suggests that we tell the last guests that they are welcome to pack snacks to take home. Thankfully, this girl plans to perfection and had disposable containers ready so people could take stuff home. She asks everyone who took a box to share pictures on social media and tag me and Fatima’s business, Decadence By Fatima. This family is made up of business ninjas!
By 5pm there is a group of six girls desperate to get in and Adil tells them half-jokingly that they will only be allowed in if they help us clean up. “We would love to,” the loudmouth in the group says as they rush to the remaining table to see what they can get.
I notice they are a bit budget conscious, so I decide to give them the remaining goodie bags I kept aside for the crew, a pack of Fatima’s creations and whatever freebies the exhibitors had. “OMG! Now we have to help you guys,” one of the girls, Saeeda, says.
I insist that Adil’s joking but they are really a stubborn bunch who literally start folding tables and stacking chairs. Firdaus already left at about 3pm because her scarves were sold out and she was exhausted from her red-eye flight. Molly left around the same time, so it was just Adil’s six staff members, Percy, Adil, Ayesha, Fatima, and me.
Despite Sarah making big promises, she didn’t show up today and I am so glad that she stayed away. There’s something about her energy that makes me uneasy and although she has good intentions, she is not my friend. Ayesha and Firdaus are my friends... Adil is my... person.
With all the help, we begin packing what’s left and in 30 minutes the place is sparkling clean, Fatima has all her things neatly gathered and we are ready to leave. I realised that my followers dress quite modestly because, from all that was left, it was mostly swimwear and crop tops. It could also be a size thing, I guess.
Once we’re all cleaned up, Adil pays his staff members for the day’s overtime and gives them a box of food each and bits and bobs of leftover things. Fatima is exhausted after her first day as a chef and leaves soon after with Percy.
Adil, Ayesha and I are the last three standing. We prop ourselves on the couches, exhausted from the day and relieved that it’s all done. I really thought something was going to go wrong. And yes, we didn’t sell out, but we did have a steady flow of people who shopped up a storm. I mean there was one lady who was on a video call with her sisters in Durban and she shopped for them too.
Because we accepted both cash and cards, it made it a seamless shopping experience. There were obviously a few people who tried to negotiate prices but Ayesha quickly put them in their place before we closed up. As we sit and unwind, Firdaus calls me to say she has made the most from her scarf sales than any other pop-up she’s done. She says I don’t have to pay her at all for the appearance rate because she sold much more than she expected.
“I am booking my holiday now,” she jokes.
“Book one for me too!” Adil jokes in the background. I need a holiday too. But I should probably first get a place to live. That would be wise.
“I’ve been keeping a running tally, but we can double check it now,” Adil says to me once I put down the phone.
“What’s your total?” I ask him.
That is a crapload of money for one day of sales!
“First and foremost, Ayesha... How much do I owe you for everything you bought?”
“No, that’s from my side,” Adil chips in.
“It can’t be,” I say defensively.
“This was a business day for me too. I already have four people coming to view units this week,” he says in a no-nonsense tone.
I try to protest but it doesn’t work.
“Okay... so what’s Fatima’s amount?” I ask Ayesha pleadingly.
“We only have to pay Fatima for her ingredients. She said about R2 000, but I think we should give her R3 000.”
“That seems so little compared to her hard work,” I say.
“She has gained more than you think,” Adil says in his stupidly rational voice that I sometimes hate. Why must he always be so sensible and rational?!!
Sometimes we like drama, so allow us!
“So, if we do the maths, Mar, your profit from today is about R80K,” Ayesha says.
“How much did we allocate for the orphanage?”
“About R20 000... We can change their roofs and flooring with that money,” Adil says as he gets up to come to sit closer to me.
I lean into him and close my eyes, so immensely grateful for my life and this opportunity. Never in my life did I think I could have this much money to my name. For some, it’s not a lot of money but if you’re used to earning R5 500 a month at most, having R100 000 in your bank account is a jackpot. And I don’t feel so guilty because I took out a sizeable portion to give to charity.
As my eyes are closed, I sit down and calculate how I am going to divide that money up. I think I will give my mother R30 000 for their house. Then I have to figure out a living situation and pay my rent upfront for at least three months in case I struggle to make money from my blog on my own.
I know Nabs is badmouthing me to some PR companies, but I decide not to focus on the negative. She’s probably wondering how I managed to pull off this pop-up in a few days without any real capital. What I’ve learned in my short stint on this earth is that no one is indispensable. You will be replaced tomorrow! And that’s Nabs’s problem. She acted with impunity because she thought she was indispensable to me and the blog. That I could never make it without her.
“So are you going to take this money and blast it in Dubai?” Ayesha jokes.
“I wish,” I say as Adil squeezes my shoulders in the most affectionate way.
“We all need a holiday after this,” Ayesha says.
“Thank you guys, so much. I am so, so grateful for everything. Ayesha, you know you are my day one commander in chief,” I say.
“And what about me? Am I not your day one?” Adil asks, feigning offence.
“Compared to Ayesha? No ways!” I say, trying to hide my blushing smile.
“I think I want to go into corporate event coordination,” Ayesha says, quickly changing the conversation — almost as if she senses the chemistry between me and Adil.
“You are so good at it! You don’t even have to do it every day. If you get three or four big events a month you will be sorted!”
“And that law degree? Your mother will lose her mind,” Adil sarcastically says.
“Like you are using your degree at all,” she hits back at her brother as I laugh myself silly.
As we lay on the couches in the show house, I can’t help but be grateful again for these two coming into my life.
“Can I ask you guys a question? Why are you guys so helpful to random people?” I ask.
“You are not a random person, you are Ma’s Beti,” Ayesha jokes.
“Ma probably loves you more than she loves some of her grandchildren,” Adil says.
“It’s only because I make time to drink masala chai with her,” I say, and Adil smirks.
There is definitely a vibe.
“Guys, I am exhausted. Thank you again for today. I really appreciate it and I appreciate having you in my life.”
“It’s only a pleasure ... we love this”, says Ayesha.
“From the time we were little my parents were very isolated. I don’t know why or what it is, but they always kept to themselves and did their own thing. My mother has always put her career first. So, we grew up with Ma who always went out of her way for people. When I was on campus in Cape Town, Ma came to stay with me and would cook for me and all my friends. When it’s any of her grandkids birthdays she always goes out of her way to make it special. I think we may have picked this up from her. To this day, Ma cooks for all the guards and workers in the estate on Fridays. The neighbours were having a wedding, she volunteered to make the sweetmeats.”
I get it now.
“My friends always find our family dynamic weird” Ayesha says as she stares into the distance.
“Shall we go?” Adil asks and this time we get up, take a few odds and ends, switch off the lights and leave to go home.
“Mar, can I do this? Can I transfer you the amount I need to give you from today and keep the cash?” Adil asks on the way.
“Sure. But is it safe to keep so much cash?”
“Honey, Indian people and tax evasion belong to the same WhatsApp group,” Ayesha jokes. Oh.
I still can’t believe how successful today’s pop-up was. I love that the brands who partnered with me also recorded a success. It’s amazing that Firdaus’s hijab brand was so popular and Molly got a number of requests for bridal makeup. Fatima also messaged me earlier to say that she has six solid orders after the event today.
As soon as I get to the Airbnb I am staying at, I call my mother to report to her about today’s success.
“Maari,” she says as she answers.
“How you mum?”
“You don’t sound so well?”
“What happened, mum?”
“He is in hospital.”
“What?! Mum how could you not tell me? What happened?”
“He was struggling to breathe for a few days. Yesterday he was very sick so I took him to the doctor who said he must go to the hospital. It’s something to do with his lungs”.
“Oh, no mum! I am going to come first thing tomorrow morning,” I say.
“But how? There are no busses tomorrow. You still don’t have a car.”
“Mum I will find a way. Do you need anything?”
I don’t know why, but I immediately call Adil, who is driving home after dropping me off.
“Mar. What’s wrong?”
“Zayn... my... you know Zayn? He is in hospital.”
“They aren’t sure yet, but he is struggling to breathe.”
“Shall we leave in the morning for Nelspruit?” Adil offers.
“I can’t do that to you, Ads.”
“Why not?” his voice is stern.
“Okay... I would appreciate it. I have no other way of going. Thank you. I am so worried that my mum might be downplaying the whole situation. I haven’t been home in a few months and my mother has a tendency to underplaying what’s really wrong.”
“Don’t worry... can we leave at about 8am?”
“Okay. Thank you Adil. For everything. I feel like I am taking advantage of you.”
“It’s what friends are for,” he says.
We are officially back in the friend zone. Why am I even thinking about that?! Zayn is in the hospital and here I am obsessing about Adil! What is wrong with me?
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.