Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
The perfect storm. That’s the only way to describe Adil’s life right now and I happen to be in the eye of that storm. Today I woke up judging myself. Do I really love this man that much that I am willing to dive into his messy life?
Dysfunctional family? Check.
History of bad decisions? Check.
Emotionally unavailable? Check.
A secret child? Check.
Just my type!
Adil didn’t quite ask for space this week as he is dealing with the legal process of adoption but it is implied. I know that any effort to get his attention would be useless. A good night text has to suffice.
When I finally get down to telling my mother about the situation, she listens so attentively, it’s hard to read her thoughts.
I secretly hope she would freak out and tell me what to do. That way I don’t have to figure things out for myself.
If we get married now that Adil has full custody of his daughter, does that mean I have to raise a child? Does he expect that of me? Maybe the custody settlement means he isn’t serious about us getting married? Would I date him without marriage on the cards? This has to count for something.
My mother is less concerned about the logistics of the child than she is about the fact that he didn’t volunteer that critical information sooner.
What my mother doesn’t know is that I basically ambushed Adil into agreeing to marry me.
The longer Adil takes to figure his life out, the more anxious I feel. At some point last night, my throat constricted and my stomach dropped. At first, I assumed it was a bad case of indigestion but when my knees went weak, I figured it had to be a panic attack.
I just wish he would speak to me at least, even if he doesn’t want me to be there.
But life goes on. Today, I have a full day of shooting content planned with Simmi, so hopefully I am distracted enough not to overthink. My content has been really good recently, but I haven’t been passionate about it since Zayn passed away. The sparks I used to feel planning a shoot, scouting locations, writing captions and posting meticulously thought-out posts have disappeared.
Speaking in front of a camera has become tedious and sucks the energy from my soul. Worse is the petty social media drama among has-been South African influencers who are constantly passive-aggressive. Honey, it’s 2019 — even if women don’t support each other, we act like we do! Get with the times.
I asked Simmi if she could help me with this shoot because even though I use other freelancers since Nabs-gate, Simmi can get the job done. She and I have good chemistry when I am in front of the camera and she is behind. I trust her vision and she hasn’t let me down.
My plan is to shoot five different styles with three different makeup looks, so I get everything ready in my room. We are not going out on location to shoot today because, well, I can’t be bothered to scout for locations and we don’t have much time today.
Simmi arrives and is thrilled to meet my mother. They bond over their shared love of sudoku before she joins me in my room.
“So, we’re doing close-up makeup shots today?” she asks as she sets up while I am touching up my makeup. I am part of a lash campaign by a mascara brand and their brief is that my lashes have to be unrealistically full.
It’s probably a bit deceptive to stick individual fake lashes under my real ones to give the impression that my voluminous dark lashes are simply with the help of Xtreme mascara. Whatever. We will take on the makeup industry tomorrow.
“Uh... how’s your friend? The gym guy?” Simmi asks while I change my outfit, and I realise that I did not tell her that we are serious or that we are getting married. ARE we getting married? I don’t know.
“He is okay,” I opt to be noncommittal because the truth is Simmi never shares anything personal about her life. Even when I lived with her, I didn’t know what was really going on in her life outside of work.
“I was thinking of you last week because his name came up in our newsroom.”
I know where this is going. Oh god.
“My colleague... you know David Sithole the investigative reporter? He was investigating a government leasing tender where the government is paying hugely exorbitant rent for offices all over Johannesburg and your guy’s company came up. Is Moosa his father?”
Wait. This is not about the child with a celebrity?
“Yeah, that’s his father,” I respond hoping Simmi gets distracted and we can talk about something else.
“So apparently, they have been inflating rentals by 300% and giving politicians a cut. It’s been going on for years. Your friend is super buddy-buddy with the local politicians and apparently irregularly got a tender to develop low-cost housing for the provincial government. The thing is, the story was almost airtight, but it seems that the politicians got to the original whistleblower and that person is now denying everything.”
I don’t even know if I am hearing correctly but is Simmi saying Adil and his father were knee-deep in tender corruption? Great.
“Now it seems like Moosa has sold all his properties and business and is relocating. It’s very fishy.”
Can this shoot be over with?! I was not ready for more Adil drama today.
Simmi’s gossip made sense. When I met them for the first time, Adil and his father were arguing about selling his property interests and transferring others to his kids because he wanted a fresh start in Dubai. And months ago, when we were exercising, Adil said that he was trying to clean up and professionalise his father’s business. I wonder if he was referring to this.
By their flashy house alone, I should have guessed that ill-gotten wealth was involved.
Once we shoot my last outfit photos, Simmi rushes off to a work assignment. Do I take off my make-up or do I take a nap with double-stacked lashes?
Good skin is expensive. I take off my makeup and decide I needed to nap my problems away. While Simmi and I were shooting, my mother took a book and snacks to the pool area of my apartment complex and I know she won’t come back until her book is finished.
I need to calm down. Everything is going to be okay.
What if I just walk away? The thought of that sends me into a sweat-inducing panic. I am not ready to be alone again. Yes, our relationship is not perfect but at least I know there’s someone who has my back.
I wallow in self-pity all afternoon until my mother comes in from her reading marathon by the pool.
“Why are you in bed at this time?” my mother demands to know. Can she leave me to have one day of anxiety?! I just want to sleep and forget about social media and all its drama and I want to not think of Adil and his messy life.
“Adil’s grandmother called when I was outside. She is inviting us for supper tonight,” my mother says as she hypocritically gets in bed with me.
Oh great. I could never turn Ma down but I am seriously not in the mood to see or deal with Adil and his family. We have barely spoken since Monday. All I know is that the settlement went through and the court gave Laura’s mother a week to hand over the child to Adil.
Does his family even know by now? Also, I am not in the mood for his mother today.
But Ma would be heartbroken if I turned her down so I have to bring myself towards myself and decide what to bake to take along for supper.
Just as I begin making a cheat cheesecake, Adil calls.
“Mar, how are you?”
“I am okay and you?” Ag, I am not in the mood today.
“What’s wrong, my love?” he tries again and I melt at the sound of ‘my love’. I’ve never been called that before.
“I am all good. I just started baking.”
“So I am assuming you agreed to Ma’s invite?"
"Yeah she would be so upset if I said no.”
“You are Ma’s favourite grandchild, of course you can’t say no,” he teases me.
“How’re things with..?” I don’t finish my sentence but Adil knows what I am asking about.
“We just finalised everything today. They are going to drop off Hana on Saturday morning at 9am.”
“How are you feeling?” I ask him as I try to breathe through my anxiety.
“It has been a crazy week. We have been so busy at work and this just added to the stress. But I think I am ready and prepared for her,” he says, and I can’t stop thinking about what Simmi said earlier.
“Do your parents..?” Again, Adil doesn’t need me to finish.
“I first sat down with my dad and our lawyers and explained the whole situation to him. I guess he told my mum.”
“It is what it is…”
That’s probably the slogan of my life: it is what it is.
Adil offers to fetch my us for supper at his house and we agree on 6:30pm.
“Are you not getting done?” my mother asks me as I scroll through my phone and wait for my cheesecake to cool.
“I am going like this,” I say to my mother, and she is terrible at hiding her surprise.
I never go to Adil’s house without makeup and a cute outfit. It’s just who I am.
Today, I can’t be bothered. I am going barefaced with my hair in a bun.
I don’t have the emotional strength to put on makeup and keep up pretences.
Adil does a double-take of me when I get into his car with my mother in tow. He is not used to seeing me looking so casual outside of the gym. He, of course, is in his slacks and white shirt neatly folded to his elbows looking like a fine snack! I am still annoyed at how his silent treatment this week added to the anxiety of his parents and the upcoming ‘delivery’ of his child on Saturday.
I arrive to the biggest hug from Ma who knows how to squeeze all the pain from you. She is genuinely happy to see me and is thrilled that I baked her favourite dessert.
Adil’s mother is probably a poor poker player because she can barely hide her turned-up nose at how underdressed I am. Zeenat, on the other hand, has just had a fresh blowout and is wearing Balmain in the house. I want to be mean but her outfit is so cool, I find myself admiring it.
“Ayesha is out with her friends,” Ma says as we sit down for supper.
I wonder if Ayesha anticipated family drama and decided she would rather avoid it.
Whenever Adil is in a room with his parents there is drama. Although, he respects my mother too much to act up in front of her. I just want this dinner to be over so that I can get into bed and switch off!
As glum as I feel, Ma’s fish curry helps raise my spirits. “This is like a hug from the inside,” I tell Ma and my mother agrees.
“I never cook fish. Zayn used to be in charge of cooking fish,” my mother says and I feel a bolt of pain in my chest. I miss Zayn. I wish I had what they had. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for my mother.
Even in this situation with Adil and his child, I think of Zayn a lot. In some twisted irony of life, I am Zayn and Hana is me. I wonder if this family will even acknowledge the bombshell their son dropped on them earlier this week.
Adil and Uncle Moosa are uncharacteristically chummy over dinner — it feels a bit out of place. The last time I encountered Adil and his dad there were fireworks. Not tonight, apparently.
Even his mother is making an effort and is talking to my mother about Zayn. This won’t last long. I am gearing myself up for some drama.
I just found out today the man I love is a tendepreneur. Last week, I found out he had a baby.
I am ready for anything.
“So, have you two figured out when the big day is?” Adil’s dad asks and I cringe. Can we not talk about this right now?!
My mother saves the day. “She must first help me sort out my house before she thinks of getting married,” she teases, but the conversation pivots to her move.
Adil squeezes my hand under the table.
This night could have been worse.
“When are you guys leaving for London?” I hear my mother ask.
“We decided to stay through Christmas. Wrap everything up and go to Dubai in the new year,” Zeenat explains.
She obviously had to add that hasn’t been in South Africa during Christmas time for the last 16 years. When your husband steals taxpayer money of course you can afford trips to the Maldives.
Okay, I must not be so bitter.
Also, I don’t know if what Simmi said to me is true.
While everyone makes their way to the lounge for tea, Adil leads me to his now-empty room.
“What’s up?” I ask him.
“I just missed you so much!” he pulls me closer to him.
I should be more stoic. This man jumps between hot and cold. It’s a predictable cycle. He has no time for me, he pays some attention to me, I give in and move on.
“You look so pretty without makeup,” he says, caressing my face.
Do you blame me for caving?
By the time we rejoin the elders in the lounge for tea, Ayesha and her friend Sarah have arrived.
Ayesha gives me the warmest hug and kiss on the cheek but Sarah deliberately ignores me and greets Adil.
My problems are too many to be worrying about Sarah and her plethora of insecurities.
“I was telling your mother that you know we haven’t done the tradition of putting on the chain for our daughter-to-be,” Ma says to no one in particular.
The next thing I know, Adil’s mother comes out with a jewellery box and is “formally welcoming me to the family” by putting on a very ornate gold chain around my neck.
One moment I am sitting there in jeans and t-shirt and the next I have a heavy gold chain around my neck while Ma and my mum are teary-eyed.
This means I can’t change my mind about Adil.
It is what it is.
The gold chain seals the deal? I guess.
It doesn’t matter that there’s a child to figure out. I’m going to have to make this work.
When Adil drops us off, I ask him to come inside for a bit.
My mother leaves us and goes to her room to get ready for bed.
Adil sits on the couch and I lay into his physique while he plays with my hair.
“You are so gorgeous,” he says as he slowly strokes my head.
“Did you choose the chain?” Adil shakes his head. “I didn’t choose the chain but I chose you”.
He knows how to get me to forget a week’s worth of anxiety. As much as I want to forget about the world spinning around us, we have to talk.
“I didn’t like that you were so distant again this week,” I say.
“I’m sorry. My days have just been so hectic. Between lawyers dealing with Hana’s matter and my father’s issues I have not had time to think.”
“But it’s going to get worse when she arrives... you won’t have time for me”.
“Of course not love. Once my dad leaves, it’s going to be so much better. The company is completely mine — with fewer assets but at least I can do things the way I want to.”
“Are you excited for Hana arriving?”
“I wasn’t... Now I am.”
“How do you imagine your life?”
“Hmm... I imagine waking up to you every morning. Hana is in her room asleep. We exercise together at home, you go to make breakfast, I go to get done for work. Percy gets Hana done for school while you and I chat while you make lunch. I drop her off at school and I go to the office. At midday you do me a favour by fetching her from school. When I get home from work, we eat dinner that you so kindly prepared then we bath and change Hana and put her to bed. Then it’s our time,” he squeezes me at the end.
He has really thought about this.
“Our weekends include Friday night tradition at Ma’s. Saturday mornings we do a park run as a family then we do errands together, arguing whether fat-free milk is better. Then we leave Hana by your mum or Ayesha and we have Saturday nights to ourselves. Sunday’s a chill day and we watch movies together on the couch with Hana playing at our feet.”
This doesn’t sound half bad. I am ready to be a mummy blogger. Imagine the fun I will have packing cute lunches and organising parts of my fridge.
As Adil prepares to leave, I ask him if I’m seeing him tomorrow.
“I have work...”
“I just thought we could have one last day together. I need to do shopping.”
“Let me see how my day goes. I will call you after the mosque,” he says as he kisses my head.
If he can’t take me shopping he must at least give me money for some retail therapy.
As much as I used to fight Adil before, I’ve now decided that if I’m going to put up with all his drama, I may as well be a kept woman.
Where’s that car he offered? He can make it a Porsche.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.