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Smoke and mirrors: Part four

The best news I had all damn week! A PR agency reached out to me! Cheetah Coms emailed me to say they’ve been following my work and would love to set up a meeting with me! Yaaaassss! Progress. Damn Progress! Apparently when a PR company reaches out to you, you know you doing something right. Ron told me that PR companies are on the prowl for influencers they can partner with. I am so excited I hardly know what to expect. All I know is that PR companies are looking for new and innovative ways of embedded advertising where they pay you to promote something in a way that doesn’t look like an advert.

It has become so popular to be honest, your favourite blogger that promotes a lipstick colour is rarely because they truly love it, they are paid to do the advert. Which is fine for them I guess. I on the other hand do NOT want to be a sucker for free things and shamelessly punt any type of product! Don’t get me wrong I would LOVE free stuff, however I prefer to maintain my authenticity. I follow enough influencers to know what type I don’t want to be. I hate bloggers who punt anything from socks to dandruff shampoo because they feel indebted to the brand that sent them stuff.

After receiving the email from Cheetah Coms, I start thinking about all kinds of things I am going to do which my first pay check as an influencer. It has to be travel. I need to travel. Maybe Zanzibar or Dubai but not Thailand. Thailand is very 2013. “Miss, sorry Miss? Could you please help me? ‘’An eager client snaps my broke ass out of daydreaming and forces me to be the help. I am giving myself a year at most to get on top of the game.  Okay! Back to Cheetah Coms, they asked for a meeting to be at a coffee shop in Rosebank- which thankfully, is not too out of the way for me. I just had to walk to the Gautrain station from my home and take the South line to Rosebank. When you don’t have a car, you have to constantly strategies how to get to and from places before you agree to a meeting.

The only snag is they want to meet during the morning for a quick brunch. And while I would lovvveeee to be about the brunch life, (to take more pics for the gram) I also have a day job that pays my bills. So that leaves me with two options, reschedule the meeting or don’t go to work.

First impressions last, so you bet I am going to be at that meeting and kill it.  The only way out is to take leave. Obviously, the retail space is modern slavery so we have to apply for annual leave two weeks in advance so that management can deal with the rosters. They are never going to give me a day off unless I am sick. Which… I mean I did have a slight fever the night before…it could have been the heavy blanket I was sleeping with… Ah, never mind, people call in sick all the time. In almost two years at Edge I have never called in sick. I only once left early from work because of unbearable stomach cramps.

So I text Zinhle, my manager: “Good morning, Zinhle. Hope you well, I am not feeling too great, I probably need to see a doctor and take a day or two off. Thanks”. I wait for her response a little nervously, as you may know managers can make your life extremely miserable – or so I heard. Zinhle has been nothing but kind to me ever since I joined Edge, but I don’t want to take that for granted. She responds after 30 minutes and said its okay and hoped I feel better soon! What a relief! I guess in retail, managers often have to deal with latecomers and truant employees, and in comparison I am an ace employee. You will never find me coming to work on a Monday hung over in yesterday’s clothes, I am always there before opening and leave well after I am ought to. I also often work on days I am meant to be off as overtime when no one else can work. So faking a little sick won’t harm anyone.

Okay, now with that out of the way, I can focus on the more pressing issue.  Agh. What do I wear? My mind turns to my meagre cupboard. No self-respecting blogger, actually… no self-respecting human being would go to a serious meeting in the type of clothes I own. My cupboard is filled with the most dated outfits and let me not get started on the sad state of my shoes. I agonise for a good few minutes before I decide to wear the black jeans and plain black top I wear to work every day. No, I don’t plan on going to the meeting in my Edge uniform but I can get away with buying a coat or jacket at the mall to throw over before my meeting. I also need to get a new pair of shoes because the sneakers I wear to work are giving up on me. Thankfully my hair is still decent from yesterday after Sally gave me a soft curl look. She tried a new product on my hair and for once I am actually impressed with the results. For makeup, I use the little testers I got from Moreen and decide to keep my makeup minimalist. Thanks to my piercing grey eyes I got from my father, a coat of foundation, some mascara and red lips is all I really need to look half decent.

I make it just about in time for the train to Rosebank even though I am sweaty and out of breath when I disembark. Time is not on my side so I had to rush the search for something to throw over my plain outfit that doubles up as a work uniform. I start my search in earnest but very quickly I realise there is nothing in my price range. A quick calculation showed that the most I can spend is R400 which is proving to be an unworkable budget. I trawl shop after shop until I find the most gorgeous pink silk bomber jacket which is the newest autumn trend. It has that pyjama embossed print but high end fashion feel to it. I absolutely adore it! But (why must there always be a BUT) it cost R1300. I spend less than that on my ENTIRE monthly groceries. I hold the jacket close to my chest like a lost kitten returned to its owner. I want this jacket! I need it! As I stand in the middle of the store and argue with myself, I realise that I now have 23 minutes to find a cheap but decent pair of shoes and still go to a makeup store to touch up my makeup and sneak a few squirts of perfume. Dosing myself in tester perfume is perhaps one of my favourite things to do. For today, I have my eye on some Carolina Herrera.

So on impulse I buy the jacket. And I have no regrets. Okay… maybe a little regret. What if I wear the coat only for the meeting and then immediately go back and return it? I won’t even keep it for a while. I will just say I don’t like the fit or something. Also, the tag is not really prominent so I can easily wear it and return it intact. I know this is dodgy and at Edge we can easily tell customers who do this but I really have no choice. WHY ARE YOU JUDGING ME? Okay, judge me. I am even judging myself. But seriously though, desperate times call for desperate dodgy measures. I quickly run to a budget friendly store and manage to find black tie up heels that are really poor quality but look similar to high end branded ones. At R160 a pop, I don’t think twice and buy it. Before going to the Ladies to change I dash into Dischem to use the tester makeup. I act like I am comparing mascaras and quickly apply a few coats before an overzealous sales assistant hovers close to ask if I need any help.

I try to lose Mr Hovering Sales Assistant and get to the perfume aisle quick enough to squirt perfume all over my body while faking interest in the ingredients of a bottle of perfume I don’t even like. I mean, who knows, I could be allergic to one of the obscure ingredients in the said bottle of perfume. Finally, I rush to the bathroom and put on my outrageously gorgeous bomber jacket that can only be described as the offspring of a guy’s bomber jacket that married a pyjama top. I used to love wearing guys jackets. Before I got married, when Imran and I were courting, he would offer his jacket and I would take it every time. After we got married I lived in his jackets during winter. I am still so confused and annoyed by that man. How do you casually reach out to your ex-wife two years after ruining her life and hope you can catch up over coffee?! Sometimes it takes being apart from a person to see their true character. I don’t know how I continuously felt sorry for him during the divorce period as if he was the victim of such an unfortunate tragedy. I think the only person that deserved pity in that ordeal was ME. But I have long licked my wounds and I am mostly healed. I have my eyes on the prize so bad that all I can see is the prize. I need to get out of my comfort zone, put on my chattiest self and try to woo these PR people. It won’t be easy but remember, nothing good ever comes out of your comfort zone. Or so I have read on a Tumblr quote.

Nabeela and Candy from Cheetah Coms make it to the coffee shop moments after I get there. They are the friendliest people I have ever met and they are not nearly as intimidating as I thought they would be. They make small chitchat as we decide what to order. “Shall we get you a matcha? I know how much you love them,” Candy tells me in reference to the pictures of matcha lattes dotted on my social media. Honestly, I have never tasted matcha in my life but it is trendy drink and somehow oozes sophistication. If there was a drink to symbolise someone who has their sh**t in order, it is matcha. I would love to try it but today is not the day. What if I hate it and need to spit it out in front of these two lovely girls who probably think I have a fresh matcha latte every other morning. I opt for a trusty old cappuccino instead, you can’t really go wrong with coffee. “Columbian or Rwandan?” Huh. What did Nabeela just ask me? “Do you want Columbian or Rwandan?” I have no idea what she’s talking about. Columbia and Rwanda? Those are countries that have nothing in common… Oh, wait. She wants to know if I prefer Columbian of Rwandan coffee beans. I have no clue. The only coffee I know is the instant type that comes in a tin. But, in the spirit of keeping it cool I extend my neck. “I am more an Ethiopian girl,” I say with as much flare as I could muster while I pray that there is such a thing as Ethiopian coffee.

The two girls seem really interested in my background and how I was able to produce “high quality content in such a short period of time”. I try to stay as close to the truth as possible… “I work in fashion and the retail space and I suppose while the business stuff is really important, I needed to find a creative outlet,” I say hoping to sound confident. I quickly learnt that in the influencer age there are a few words that if thrown around enough you can sound like you are the real deal. Its words like ‘collaboration’, ‘dynamic content’, ‘curated’ and ‘fashion forward’ that put the seal of a blogger or influencer all over me. Cheetah Coms represents a few face care brands and are looking to partner up with me and  a few other influencers for a campaign they want to call ‘perfectly imperfect’. So basically, they want to send me a bunch of free things to try out and to review on my platforms to create a hype about the launch. We will then be flown to Cape Town for an exclusive launch party that would serve as “amazing content” for our followers. In the entire conversation there is no mention of money. How do bloggers do this for a living?

The meeting went really well and I am just grateful I didn’t have to foot the bill for it. While I am in Rosebank, I decide to explore some of the nearby hotels. I read online that 54 on Bath has the most amazing roof top pool and pool side café and when I get there I realise it is not overrated at all. This type of settings is what I need to take my content too. While my social media and blog looks amazing, I have to start posing for pictures in places that hint at my lifestyle. The only stumbling block is the fact that I use clothing from Edge for most of my shoots and that’s why I have to shoot it in the store. But what if I don’t need the clothes from Edge? Maybe I could start buying clothes from different stores, use them for a shoot and then return them soon afterward? I know that sounds a little dodgy but I am sure models do that for shoots. They return all the clothes they use from brands once the shoots are done. It really won’t be any different. I decide to call Dylan to tell him what I have been up to and my idea to shoot outside of Edge. As I expected, he is very excited to be my personal photographer and we decide that we will meet in Rosebank on Sunday to shoot new content. Bloggers really overplay their jobs. This is so easy!

I decide to go back into the mall to return the pink bomber jacket to the store I bought it from before I head home. As much as I love it, there is no way I could keep it. I promise myself though that when I make my first real pay check from blogging I am going to buy this jacket. Thankfully, the lady at the store is very understanding and gives me a refund with no questions. On a sidenote: I believe that the way you dress and how you portray yourself often dictates how people react to you or your actions. If I had to turn up in my Edge uniform with a bare face, there was no way the teller would be so willing to refund me for the purchase I made just a few hours earlier. We all guilty of this, I guess. I am no different in the jewellery department at Edge. I can judge a person purely on how they look and decide within a few seconds whether they are a serious customer or not.

As I turn to my little backpack to put my purse in, I make awkward eye contact with the guy standing behind me. He could be in his late 20s and he definitely spends a lot of his day in the gym. I try to break the eye contact as soon as I realise what’s happening but it’s too late. “I am not in a hurry, take your time,” he volunteers. I just smile and try to scurry out of the store. Since I started working, I have become immune to overzealous male customers who try and flirt with me but I have become a pro at brushing them off. I very rarely think of the prospect of finding a guy and I am often put off by the thought of becoming so dependent on a man only for him to screw me over again. Instead, I try to focus my energy on becoming independent. That’s why I have to make a success of my blog even if it means a few white lies here and there. On my way to the Gautrain, I decide to treat myself to a quick snack before I head home. Today has been much better than I anticipated and I have a good feeling about Cheetah Coms. I also think I should try and become friends with Nabeela because it seemed like she had a big network base. I also need to start expanding my friendship circles beyond the people I work with. Nabeela seemed like a lovely girl and it helps that we both Muslim. Weirdly though, she didn’t realise I am Muslim until I made some inference to it during our conversation. I suppose on face value my name, Mariah Martin, doesn’t sound typically Muslim or Indian. Also, I inherited all my father’s genes and hopefully none of his bad habits so most people don’t realise that I am actually a Muslim. To be honest, it is a weird conversation to have when somebody doesn’t believe you actually Muslim. Note to self: post a few pictures with a scarf on. Not forgetting the hashtag #hijaabiGoals.

I have half an hour to spare before I can catch the train home so I pick an outside table to enjoy a brownie and mint tea. It is a bit of an indulgence but I think today is worth the celebration. One of my favourite things in life is people watching and today is no different. I love observing people’s behaviour and how they interact with others. I use people watching as a way to distract me from the cramped up taxi every morning. There is a woman sitting two tables in front of me who looks like she is on the verge of a mental breakdown. Shame, she looks like she’s carrying the world’s burdens on her shoulders. To her left is two ancient grannies in their running gear who look like they have just conquered the world. They look so fabulous even with their wrinkle covered bodies. I continue people watching until I feel a light tap on my shoulder and I jolt back to reality. The awkward eye contact guy is standing behind me with a weird smile on his face. What does he want from me?

“Hey, my name is Zaheer, with a double e”.

What the… who introduces themselves like that?!

“Uhm Assalamualaikum”.

“I recognised you in the store, you MeanMaria aren’t you?”

How the heck did a random person recognise me from Instagram?!

“Yes… my name is Mariah with no e,” I say trying to cover my shock.

“Nice to meet you. I follow you on Instagram and my sister is a huge fan of your work. She would die if I told her I met you and never got a picture with you”.

“This is… this is actually very awkward. This is the first time someone has identified me from my blog!”

“What? Can’t be. You are so famous. All the teeny boppers love you”.

Zaheer with the double ‘e’ seems like a nice person. I can’t tell much of his personality just yet but at least he isn’t a crazy psycho.

“Do you mind if I take a quick snap of you? Maybe you can give a little message to my sister Tasneem. She is 16 and absolutely adores you. Seriously, whatever you have she wants”.

My first instinct is to turn him down but I have to convince myself very quickly that this comes with a growing fan base. To be a real influencer you actually have to have an influence on people’s lives. So I dig out the biggest smile I could find within me and do a shout out video for Zaheer’s sister.

“I am probably going to get the big brother of the year award today!”

“Well I am glad I was able to assist in that award. You can send me half the trophy,” I joke.

He stands by my table for a few minutes after I record the snap video for him, trying to make small talk. But I glance at my phone and realise I had exactly six minutes to pay my bill and make it in time for the train.

“I am sorry to be rude but I have to get the bill and run,” I say.

“No problem. Thank you again for doing this. Also, I am going to have a quick coffee before gym so I am more than happy to pick up your bill as a small thank you”
“Uhm… no I can’t let you…”

“I insist. I can tell you are in hurry, so once again thanks”.

I thank Zaheer ‘with a double e’ and rush off to my train, praying that I make it in time. This is the last train before it gets dark and I am not in the mood to walk home from the station in the dark. Not after the fabulous and eventful day I had…

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