Smoke & Mirrors
Written by Qaanitah Hunter and edited by Benazir Cassim
We are all messed up by some elements of our childhoods — some more than others. The reality of life is that we all have things we need to speak to a shrink about. You may find a child who’s had an easy life, with two kind and loving parents, still has a whole lot of issues as an adult. My childhood has given me the most obvious of the lot — abandonment issues — but that’s a discussion for another day.
Adil and Ayesha grew up relatively middle class, have both parents and have a grandmother that dotes on them. They are also successful professionally and are genuinely good people. They seem like they have no problems, but I’ve never met two people who have such a strained relationship with their mother. Even over the phone, it’s just curt and cordial.
I don’t truly understand why she chooses to work in London when Adil has made his father’s company pretty profitable, but maybe this allows for there to be peace between Adil’s father and his two kids. I don’t think she was or is Cruella de Vil but something must have happened that she shut herself down from emotionally connecting with them. At first I was angry at the fact that Adil could not demonstrate his emotions besides fixing problems, but I’m starting to see where his issues stem from.
The reality of growing up is that we can’t let our childhood hang-ups haunt us for the rest of our lives. We need to navigate past them, or at least find common ground with the people in our lives. So, although I insisted I pay my own way, I accepted the help Adil gave. I need independence, but he needs to show he loves me by helping me, say, sort out my cupboards.
Not much has changed since we’ve become ‘serious’ in terms of our relationship. To an outsider it probably seems platonic, and sometimes in moments of self-doubt I believe that I am truly the problem. How is it that first I marry someone who doesn’t love me and then I fall in love with someone who finds it difficult to articulate his feelings for me? It has to be me! I’ve got to be the problem.
There is nothing I can do. I much rather have a reticent Adil in my life than not have him at all. I don’t think I can change him. How do you make a man affectionate towards you in a way you need them to be? I suppose it’s best to just accept him for the way he is.
At the same time, I’ve noticed that he has become a lot more compromising in his insistence to do things for me. Like when I finally bought my car, instead of taking over the process, he just supported me. It sounds silly but doing it by myself enabled me to think properly about my finances and the fact that I’ve never owned a car before.
I decided to reach out to a dealership in Sandton that I previously worked with on a launch party and said I was looking for something budget friendly.
In no time I got a call from the marketing manager, Lilly, who offered me a deal where they sell me a VW Polo at a significantly reduced rate and all the extras free if I commit to giving them publicity. Hashtag influencer perks.
I ran it past Adil who called around for quotes to double check if I was getting a good deal and it turned out I saved about R100 000. Because of the savings Zayn left for me in his estate, I was able to buy the car cash. The only expenses I have to budget for was the monthly insurance and petrol.
I digress but you get the point. Instead of fighting it out, I’ve decided to communicate and articulate how I feel, like an adult.
(Sidenote: Adulting is overrated and independence is a trap.)
Instead of going in circles, I decide to be open and upfront and just say what’s on my mind. So, after agonising over it for three weeks, this morning on the treadmill at the gym, I start.
“Adil,” I say
“Yes Mar? What’s up?” he asks as he takes off his headphones and I hear that he is casually listening to a podcast on artificial intelligence. Who listens to a podcast about AI and the digital economy at 6:30 in the morning?
“When you think of marriage do you think about it in the near or distant future?”
“I am okay with anything.”
“I know... but what would you prefer? Being married soon or would you want to wait a bit?”
“I don’t care about being married,” he says as my heart sinks. Then he quickly adds, “I just want to live and be with you.”
“I get you. So you wouldn’t care if it’s just a nikaah in the mosque?”
“Yes! That suits me fine but I think a wedding is not about the man. It’s about the woman and she must plan it exactly how she imagines it.”
“What about marriage? What are your thoughts on marriage?”
“I think marriage is a lifelong partnership where husband and wife are equal partners. Where one falls short in one area, they make up in other areas. For me a marriage is a partnership. We have to have a common purpose and a shared vision.”
I take a moment to think about what he’s just said, but there’s something else I need to know too: “Are you ever going to romantically propose to me?”
“I don’t think so,” he says seriously, knowing that I understand what he means.
“Should I organise a small engagement now that my mother is out of her mourning period?”
“Yes, that would be nice,” he says with a slight frown.
If anyone was eavesdropping to our conversation at the gym, they would think we are dysfunctional. For the most part we are. We are talking about spending the rest of our lives together, but it seems like we’re setting up an outing with friends — like a casual trip to the movies.
“Did I tell you my parents are coming down this weekend?”
“Ma was saying they were thinking of coming soon but I didn’t know it was this weekend.”
“Yeah. I am coming to stay by you. I can’t deal.”
I just keep focusing on running on an incline and don’t respond.
“What are you doing after this?” he asks me as we leave the gym.
“I told Ma that I’ll bake for her,” I say.
“I swear you are my granny’s favourite grandchild!”
“I make time for her,” I say with a smile.
“Shall we go? I have an hour-long meeting. You can bake in that time ... then I will fetch you to go look for a ring?”
“Yes. Don’t you want a ring?”
“Like an engagement ring?”
“Yes! What did you think? Shall I come at 11?”
“Make it 12. I have a lot to bake.”
“Okay I will come at 11, and help you.”
I can’t help but laugh at Adil. It’s just who he is. Buying a ring is checking off a box in his mind. Would I have wanted flowers and candles and romance when he proposed? Of course! Imagine the content I could get out of that! But I guess I am just grateful to have him — the fact that he is buying me a ring is an added bonus.
Adil’s suggestion that he would come and help me bake is a recipe for disaster because him helping me means he will sit there for an hour convincing me that there’s a reason why bakeries exist and why the price of convenience is worth it.
But I understand why Ma loves home baked goods. While I am not as fancy as her other granddaughter, my baking is hearty and good. I learnt how to bake all the old-fashioned Indian delicacies from Ozayr’s mother.
There was a time in my life when I was addicted to Bollywood series on Zee TV so I would cook and bake like I was racing against time so I could get back to the TV to watch my series. In Ozayr’s house, there had to be baking every day but after my divorce, I didn’t bake for years. Gosh, I hardly cooked — I lived on canned tuna and chickpeas.
When I visit Ma I bake a bit for her in her kitchen, and gosh it’s a dream to bake in Adil’s house because they have every utensil and equipment fathomable. I once randomly found hazelnut praline paste in their pantry and asked Ma if I could make a cheesecake with it.
I also baked one day with Adil’s cousin Fatima who specialises in patisserie and she taught me to make some complicated tarts that you can’t just follow a recipe for. You probably have to sell a kidney for some of the ingredients, but it is so worth it!
I’ve been thinking of hosting a patisserie workshop with her in a professional kitchen. I must jot that down and remember to chat to her about it. For now, I am going to live stream my baking for beginners in my not-so-sophisticated kitchen.
I get home and it finally hits me. I am getting engaged today! Like for real. It doesn’t seem real. Adil said we are going to choose a ring which, in his world, means that he is going to propose formally today. I’m freaking out a little.
It takes so much effort to shift my focus and energy back to setting up. I need to be done baking before he comes to fetch me. I decided to make a chocolate mousse cake with a glazed top, a batch of nutty naan khatai biscuits, mini cheesecakes and I think I am going to make a caramel swiss roll, which I know for sure Adil will insist the Woolworths version is better and less effort.
I think I’m going to use the baking for some content.When I do it in a comedic way it always gets a ton of views.I’ll set up my tripod and do a live video on my Instagram called baking for beginners. Okay, that’s a plan!
“Hi guys! Today we are going to be baking. And by baking I don’t mean putting white setting powder at the bottom of our eyes which makes us look like ghosts. I mean actual real baking. You know? With flour and baking powder,” I say in my introduction for my live video.
I start with mixing the chocolate cake and put it in the oven while I start the naan khatai mixture.
“So, guys! Fancy baking is nice to look at but to be honest it never tastes as hearty as good ol’ homemade baked goods. Don’t stress to take down quantities, I will post recipes later,” I say to myself on camera.
Once the naan khatai is ready for the oven, I pause to take a few questions from people watching. A lot of it is just compliments, and I take a minute to acknowledge them and show my appreciation.
‘Are you married?’ is the most asked question on my Live, which I try to ignore as much as possible but it’s just getting ridiculous.
“I am not married,” I respond as I try to take the conversation back to baking.
Suddenly I see Nabs join my live video, and before I could process it, she comments, “She’s not married… she’s divorced” which unleashes a ton of questions. What the hell!
Usually, if this were a pre-recorded event I can curate what I respond to. Now I try to focus on fluffing my eggs for the swissroll, but it’s not working.
“With who do you stay?”
“Why don’t you stay with Nabs anymore?”
“When did you get divorced?”
“Guys, we are baking here. We will do a life update video sometime in the future,” I say but Nabs keeps posting nonsense.
“Lol what a has been” she says in the comments on the live video.
I can’t with this girl! I should’ve blocked her from my social media. I wasn’t expecting to have to defend my name while whisking eggs on a baking tutorial!
“Okay guys... since you are so interested in my life, here’s the deal. Yes, I am divorced. So what? I got divorced years ago. Why must I walk around with shame because of something a guy did wrong? Am I doomed to hell just because my marriage didn’t work? Grow up!”
This changed things dramatically.
“I’m divorced and living my life.”
“Why must there be shame!”
“Right, we are going to decorate everything really quickly and then I am going to log off this live chat,” I say definitively as I glaze the mousse cake, add gold to my mini naan khatai and top the swiss roll with fresh cream and an assortment of fresh berries.
“Okay guys, thanks for joining me here today. I will post the recipes a bit later, but this is how the end result looks,” I say and smile into the camera before ending the video.
I don’t know if Nabs is going through something in her life or I never saw her for what she truly is but it is so juvenile to come on to my Insta Live and leave rude and nasty comments! I mean, we are not in high school. Although, with all the shade and the cattiness I sometimes think the South African influencer space is a reincarnation of Mean Girls.
I quickly pack the baked goods in Tupperware and keep them ready to drop off at Adil’s house. As I start washing the dishes, he knocks on my door, having let himself in the gate with the spare remote he keeps.
“Maaarrrrr,” he shouts as he incessantly knocks on the door.
“Hey,” I say with a smile as I try to hug him but he is visibly too excited to show me something.
“So... our family friends own a jewellery store and I popped in to see what rings they have, and I found this one and I thought of you but if you don’t like it, we can change it. They don’t mind. And I don’t mind. And I don’t know if I don’t know you well enough, but this ring reminded me of you. And it’s beautiful and you are beautiful... and —”
“Show me the damn ring, Adil,” I say, laughing.
“Okay. But promise if you don’t like it you will tell me, and we can change it? Oh, and I guesstimated the size. If it doesn’t fit but you like it, they can also adjust it. But only if you like it.”
I’m going to kill this man!
Finally, he pulls out the ring which is white gold and with a simple one-carat diamond in the centre. For a moment before he showed it to me, I thought I was going to hate it.
It’s exactly my style: simple and elegant with a bit of extra-ness in the size of the diamond.
“What do you think?”
“I think you know me well!” I take the ring to fit it on. It truly is gorgeous.
“Do you like it?”
“I absolutely love it. It’s beautiful. Look, it fits perfectly,” I say.
“Okay let me call them to say I’m keeping it,” he says as he walks to the kitchen with his phone at his ear, mindlessly opening the Tupperwares on my counter to see what I made.
“Hey bru... I’m taking it. Yes… Yes, it fits perfectly. Ja, she loves it,” he says before coming back to double check it properly fits.
“Can I get a hug?” I ask him as soon as he ends the call.
“Oh! I forgot. Yes,” he says as he embraces me. We stand in this embrace for a while before he leans in to rest his head on my shoulder. His shoulders start to heave and I realise he’s crying. Adil, my Adil, the one who never shows any emotions — is crying. I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know if it’s tears of happiness or tears of sadness. I just stroke his shoulder, hoping he says something.
“Are you okay?” I ask after what feels like a whole five minutes. He pulls away from me, doesn’t say anything and walks straight to the bathroom. I just stare at the wall in front of me, unsure whether I should follow him or not. I decide to go to the fridge and pour him a glass of water instead.
When he walks out of the bathroom, he looks absolutely fine and is his normal old self again.
“Please remind me the next time I come here I must bring a screwdriver. The screws on that cabinet are loose,” he says nonchalantly as he sits on the couch while I stare at him in shock. What just happened?
“Do you want some water?” I ask.
“Yes please,” he says as he turns on the TV and scrolls through movies on Netflix.
I put the water next to him and turn to face him directly. I need to know what just happened.
“Ads, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay... I just need to make sure the cabinet door doesn’t fall off one day.”
“I am not asking about the cabinet and you know it!”
“Shall we watch a movie?” he asks knowing full well he is testing me, and as I am about to react, I decide to change tact.
“Adil, this ring is gorgeous. Thank you so much,” I say as I admire my hand.
“They told me if you need it to be shined in the future, I must just take it back to them and they will do it for free,” he says, actively trying to divert the conversation.
“What is it about this ring that made you think of me?”
“I don’t know... It’s just so beautiful.”
“Do you think I’m beautiful?”
“Forget about me, you have over 100 000 people that think you’re beautiful.”
“But do you?”
“Of course, Mar! You know that!”
“I don’t... you never say it.”
He doesn’t respond and instead he fiddles with the engagement ring on my finger.
“So, we are getting married?” I ask.
“Well, if you have second thoughts it’s too late. The ring is already on your finger,” he jokes.
“I love you,” I say, hoping to prompt a response but all I get is a shy smile. I try again. “Do you love me?”
“Mar! You know I do!”
“I need you to reassure me. To tell me five times a day.”
“Okay. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. Is that five?” he teases.
“Ads, I hope you don’t feel like I pushed you into this,” I say in a moment of heightened self-doubt. This keeps me up at night. What if he only agreed to marry me because I forced him to?
“Mar. The moment I saw you in my car that night in Melrose Arch I knew we had a connection. There was something about you and it wasn’t just your face.”
“What’s wrong with my face?” I laugh.
“It’s perfect and it’s intimidating and it’s soulful and trusting and endearing... But it’s not my favourite part of you. I love your heart and your character and your soul. You are the bravest person I know. You are also the most genuinely selfless person in the world. You take time for people and you listen. You have every right to be a diva, but you are not. You care so much, and your kindness is seen in the smallest things. I watch you when you interact with my granny; it’s amazing Mar. You genuinely make time for her and you listen when she repeats the same stories for the 100th time that week. I love how much you care for your mother and how she’s a priority in your life. I admire your work ethic and your commitment to your job. I love that you are positive even when there are a million reasons not to be. I just... I am happy you understand me, and you deal with my quirks and you bring out the best version in me. I love that you love me for me. Mar, I appreciate that I can talk to you about things even though I know you feel like I don’t talk to you enough. I love that you are patient even when I am stubborn...”
“Okay. We ARE getting married,” I say in between sniffles.
“Yes. We are getting married and we are doing this.”
“And you will learn to show real affection as you did just now?”
“You’re pushing it,” he jokes but I know he listens.
“So how are we going to do this? This marriage thing?”
“We are going to start by calling your mother. Then we are going to book a flight for her for tomorrow. Right now, we are going to go and give Ma her baking which, by the way, could’ve just been bought, you didn’t have to go through all the trouble. Then we will tell Ma and Ayesha that we are getting married. And then... me and you are going to go to the airport and elope before my parents get here,” he says and I laugh at the last bit.
“Okay we have a plan! Not the eloping bit. I want to meet your parents.”
“I wish we can skip this part,” he says.
This feels natural and right and when I tell my mother and hear her overwhelming excitement, it really gives me the assurance I need.
This is fiction
No, really. It is fiction. All characters are made up.