Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
Nobody gets married thinking of divorce.
Unless you were married before, then all you can think about is divorce. Kevin Hart jokes in his Netflix special that if your second marriage fails, you are definitely the problem.
I think the lived experience of divorce makes you smarter. You even get a little disillusioned in the fantasy of ‘happily ever after’ and more invested in the practicalities of marriage. I need a contingency. I don’t want to ever have to use that contingency but I need to know that if I ever have to crash land, there is a parachute ready.
Adil doesn’t get it. Obviously. He has never been divorced.
He believes the very notion of a prenuptial agreement is centred around mistrust and suspicion. For him, it plans for the end of a marriage even before it has begun.
I think he feels like I am unfairly throwing the baggage of my first marriage at him. So what? I would be an idiot not to have learned from that experience.
You don’t think you need a lifejacket until you start sinking. So why wait until that point?
He. Just. Won’t. Get. It.
Eventually, he sees that any effort to convince me that ‘marriage is nothing without trust’ is pointless and agrees to ask his company lawyers to draft up something for us. He is not convinced but he can see I am not budging. I am not going to start planning our wedding until there’s an agreement inked and signed.
In the meantime, our days are filled with Hana that leaves us both knackered by the end of the day, but with such a sense of fulfilment.
She can be so stubborn and frustrating, and just as we are about to give up she will do something so cute and heartwarming that makes us forget everything else. Adil has swapped his fancy work clothes for shorts and t-shirts as he plays with her outside for hours. I have not done my hair in a week!
By day five of having Hana, we are comfortable enough in taking her out and Adil finally gets down to strapping in the car seat.
I have a list of things we need in my little Hana notebook, listed in order of priority.
I make sure Hana is well fed before we leave the house for the mall and has enough toys for entertainment. If all else fails, she will get my phone to watch cartoons on YouTube.
I’ve seen horrific cases of toddlers throw massive tantrums in the middle of Sandton City mall. I refuse to be that parent. I don’t know what I would do!
“Should we start with her clothes and her food because it’s one store and then move on to toys and toiletries?” I ask Adil as he pushes the pram.
This is the first time we are out as the three of us. It feels normal. Having to focus on Hana is a good distraction from our unresolved issues.
I can see Adil is trying hard and is really appreciating my efforts, but the prenup contract is bothering him.
I am just anxious for the prenup to be signed so I can start realistic wedding planning. I don’t know if a wedding in December is possible to pull off in two weeks but what choice do I have?
As we shop, I am tempted to veer off my list and get random cute outfits that Hana will look adorable in. Like this pink tutu with yellow stars.
I throw it to Adil to make the choice and he totally falls for it.
“Won’t she look so cute in this?” I ask and he gushes.
“Yes! What size is that?”
I love that he is more present during this shopping trip than he was before. Sometimes Adil can be so disengaged and it really annoys me about him. This worried me when he disclosed the whole baby situation. I really don’t want me to be the one who is present and attentive because Adil is so aloof. Thankfully, he is proving me wrong as a parent.
To my relief, Hana falls asleep while we complete the shopping and Adil suggests that we go get a coffee before we leave for home.
“Mar,” he says as we sit down for coffee.
“I really don’t want to argue but to just explain my side of things. Getting married in community of property is impossible because of my father’s... because my father is transferring his business interests, they are currently in my name while we figure stuff out. So legally, it’s mine but technically it’s not. If we get married this way, you would be entitled to half of everything which makes no sense. I know nothing is going to happen and we are going to grow old together but it’s too risky. My lawyers have already advised how risky it would be for the business.”
“Can’t the agreement specify half of your personal assets?” I ask pretending I know a lot about this.
“Mar... if something happens to any of the businesses, you will be held accountable too,” he explains.
“So this doesn’t protect me if the investigation into tender fraud goes ahead?” I ask.
Why do I have such a big mouth sometimes?! Gosh!
“How do you know about this?” he asks, as hushed as possible.
“I don’t know... Ayesha I think,” I lie, and he is not convinced. I am not ratting out Simmi for telling me.
“I’ll tell you what Mar... What if we have an agreement in place that says in the unlikely event that the marriage does not work out, you will be compensated for each year of marriage,” he suggests. That actually sounds doable.
I just don’t want to be left without anything.
It’s tricky. I want our marriage to last. Damn, I am already so attached to Hana I can’t even imagine leaving her.
But... there is a part of me that is worried Adil won’t put in the work needed to sustain a marriage. And that fear alone has convinced me that I need an agreement in place.
“Okay, love,” I smile at him while he picks up his phone to text his lawyer.
“You are such a fierce cookie,” he eventually smiles at me.
Our first trip to the mall couldn’t have gone better. We got everything we need, Hana is well behaved and we even get to spend some quality time together.
This is until we go to validate our parking ticket and we run into Adil’s cousins. Oh man, we were not ready for this!
“Hey bro,” Umar greets Adil and Fatima hugs me, genuinely happy to run into us. I want to just shrivel up and die.
We make small talk until Hana wakes up and starts crying and no effort to pacify her works. Adil, hurry up!
“Can I walk you to the car?” Fatima asks me as Hana is clearly restless in her pram and I agree.
“Ayesha told me the good news! When is the big day?” I am not in the mood to talk about this today.
“We haven’t figured it out yet,” I say to her while I check if Hana’s nappy needs a change. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! I would have never imagined this to be my life.
“She is so beautiful. She looks just like you,” Fatima says and I laugh because Ayesha made the same comment on Sunday.
Eventually, Adil comes to the car and I am ready to escape his cousins. They are really lovely people, it’s just that I am not in the mood for mindless small talk.
“I’m so happy to have met your little one, Maariah,” Fatima says to me as we say goodbye..
What? MY little one?
“Does she think Hana’s my little one?”
Adil doesn’t say anything.
“It’s just so weird for them to draw that conclusion,” I say to him.
“But when we get married she will be your child! So what’s the issue?” He sounds irritated.
“I mean do they know that biologically she is your child with a different woman?”
It is a valid question, right?
“Wow! I didn’t think you would be this person. So these past few days have been an act? She’s just my bastard child then?”
How did he go from 0 to 100 in under five seconds?!
“For the rest of my life, I will be reminded that she is not your child?! Huh? Then why do this with me?”
“Adil, you’re scaring Hana. Please keep it down.”
“What do you care?! She’s not your biological child.”
“What I meant is that I am surprised your cousins don’t know the circumstances around Hana and just assumed...”
“But it’s none of their business. What matters is we are raising Hana together as a unit.”
“I know, but...” I try to explain myself, to no avail.
“There are no buts. You are either in or out!” He is furious at this point and as I turn to Hana I can see she’s about to start howling.
“Adil, enough,” I plead and Hana starts screaming and crying.
All efforts to pacify her don’t help and she screams the entire ride home. This is hell!
Adil parks aggressively and rushes to get her but she screams even louder.
“No daddy! No daddy! I hate you," she shouts and my heart breaks at the sound of fear in her voice.
This child has clearly witnessed so much dysfunction that any raised voice triggers her.
“Hana, let Maariah take you, baby,” I try to pacify her but cries so much her body shakes. As I hold her in my arms trying to stop her piercing cries, I can’t help but let out my own tears.
This baby did not ask to be born under these circumstances. She deserves to be loved. I hope when she’s my age she doesn’t walk around feeling less-than because of the choices of her parents.
My entire life, even though Zayn loved me with all his heart, I carried a level of shame. Even when my rational mind tells me I deserve better, I don’t believe it. I am attracted to men who are emotionally unavailable and consumed with issues because I believe that’s what I deserve.
I can’t be annoyed at how Adil takes me for granted when I barely respect myself. In all the time I have known him, I have felt that any bit of attention he has given him was him doing me a favour. I’ve never felt worthy of him. I still don’t. So we are not equals in this relationship. I don’t think we would ever be and it’s not his fault. It is my own insecurities and feelings of inferiority that would let me just accept his child from another relationship without any expression of my feelings. I sometimes blame my mother for how I am because there was this sense of acceptance of whatever came our way because we didn’t have the social capital to expect otherwise. Does that make sense?
When I married Ozayr it was a clear trade-off that his family would overlook the fact that I had a weird family construct and that we were ‘poor’ in comparison to them because I was a pretty innocent girl. I have grown up, lived life and yet still I walk around with that chip on my shoulder.
I feel like I can’t complain about being thrown in the deep end to look after Adil’s child, or the fact that he is emotionally unavailable, or the fact that he can’t communicate adequately because I have to be grateful that he is just even in my life.
I keep telling myself it could be worse. And it really could be worse. I could be staying in a backroom, eating tinned tuna every day and stealing WiFi from a coffee shop. So when I feel unhappy or irritated with what Adil does, I am plunged into guilt. It’s a terrible feeling.
I really hope Hana doesn’t grow up feeling this way. I hope she grows up believing that she is worthy. I hope that she doesn’t cringe every time someone calls her beautiful because she has the green eyes of a parent who didn’t want her and has never met. I hope she feels enough when she walks into any room. I hope she never settles on the life she wants because she feels undeserving.
“I wuv you Maari,” Hana says to me as we both calm down from our combined crying session. I kiss her cheek, feeling so much of myself in this little child. I didn’t know that in such a short space of time I could get so attached to this child who I didn’t know existed a month ago.
I carry her straight upstairs to change her nappy before I bring her down for some TV time and a snack.
“Elsa! Hana wants Elsa,” she demands and I sit her down, put a plate full of fruit in front of her and put on Frozen for the hundredth time.
“On Saturday, when she started screaming like that did Mr Adil shout at you or someone else?” I ask Percy in the kitchen.
“Not at me. On the phone. He was shouting someone on the phone,” she says.
That makes sense now.
The hysterical screaming is very different from tired or hungry crying, and it breaks my heart.
I leave Hana with Percy and go upstairs to pack my things. I really need to go back to my apartment and spend time with my mother, even though I also don’t want to leave Hana alone with Adil.
I just want to have our agreement in place so that I can marry him. Yes, there are things that really worry me about Adil but I know he will treat me well and will always look after me.
I do love him. Even with all his dysfunction and chaos.
“Hey,” he says while leaning on the doorframe. I turn and smile at him. I cried out all the anger I felt.
“Read this, love, and tell me what you think,” he hands me a stack of papers. It’s the agreement drafted by his lawyers. My heart drops when I see that the marriage will be out of community of property without accrual.
That’s everything I did not want! Dammit. This doesn’t leave me with anything.
“Read this,” he passes me a second set of documents which details that should the marriage end, Adil will pay me R200 000 for every year of marriage. I take a deep breath, unsure whether I should just scrap the idea of having a prenuptial agreement at all. But I have compromised on so much already.
“I will have to get a lawyer to read over this,” I say to Adil.
“Come on Mar! Seriously. What’s the issue?” he is irritated again.
“I just need to be certain.”
“Would I ever hoodwink you? I have agreed to this ridiculous idea of a contract. I hate that you are planning for our divorce”.
“Adil, I explained this to you over and over and over. I am not going anywhere. This is just a life jacket,” I say, tired of making the same point.
“Okay, how much for each year of marriage will suit you?”
“A million,” I say without thinking.
“What the hell is wrong with you?! This is not the Maariah I fell in love with.”
“The Adil I fell in love with didn’t lie to me!” It’s a screaming match again.
“So that’s the issue? I lied to you by not telling you upfront that I had a child even though there was a chance I wouldn’t get custody of her?”
“Yes! If you love someone you share these things.”
“If you love someone you don’t manipulate them into marriage and then charge for it. What’s next, you want me to weigh you and give you your body’s weight in gold?”
“I appreciate everything you have done for me but I cannot stand how guilty you make me feel,” he says.
“I don’t make you feel guilty. Your guilt about your life choices has nothing to do with me,” I hit back.
“So what was your plan? Make me fall for you and then swindle money from me?”
“You are being ridiculous! Everyone has prenups in place! If you didn’t have a dodgy business you would have done things normally.”
“So what? Are you going to leave me after a year? Two years?”
“That depends on whether or not you bring home another child!”
I instantly regret what I just said.
Adil sits down in an effort to control his anger. His jaw is clenched.
I can never understand his hot and cold behaviour. How he is mostly calm and cool until something triggers him and then he can’t help himself, he just loses it.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I offer, too tired and emotional to fight. It’s okay. Whatever he wants is fine.
He takes a deep breath and I prepare myself for the worse. Is it over? It probably is over.
“No, I’m sorry love. We are both just emotional and tired,” he puts his arm around me.
We sit in silence. It has been a hard few days.
“I am going to ask the guys to change the amount to a million per year,” he says quietly. Wow. I literally pulled the number from thin air, I never expected him to agree to it.
Adil is not an unreasonable man. He is level-headed and rational. But it really scares me how he can spiral out of control when he is emotional or angry.
It seems like this was normal in his house. In our home, my mother did not tolerate moods or shouting. It was an unwritten rule in our house that you talk through a problem or keep quiet.
In their house, fights and arguments are normal, but they pretend really well in public. Even their closest cousins don’t know what really happens in their home.
It wouldn’t surprise me if his mother created an impression that Hana is my child from a past divorce just so that they don’t have to explain the situation. It sounds crazy, but I don’t put it past her.
At this point I don’t care.
Right now, I am focused on moving forward. I don’t want history to repeat itself. I finally have the family and home I have always dreamed of. Yes, it didn’t come in the most conventional of ways not is it easy. But it will be worth it.
It has to be. Adil is all I have.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.