The need for change creeps on you in the most unexpected ways. Before my coffee date with Nabeela and her friends, I had no intention to turn my relatively stable life on its head. Yes, I had a dream to live a big adventure through my blog but I never envisaged it to be this soon. It almost feels a little too soon. But I read somewhere that dreamers don’t go anywhere, doers are the ones that conquer the world. Also, since my divorce I have learnt that no vision is too big or too scary to become a reality. Remember how anxious I was when I posted my first set of pictures online?! Now, my pictures hit almost 30 000 likes in a few hours and my blog posts have blown up. At first, I literally told myself that I would be happy at 10 000 followers. Now, that seems like a silly dream. I am close to 100 000 followers on Instagram with a growing blog subscriber base. It can’t end here. I have to expand into Youtube. I believe effort always bears fruit of success but consistency is key.
So am I still a retail assistant? Yes. Do I over exaggerate the glamour of my life? Of course! But am I determined to dominate as an influencer? Hell yes! I was extremely insecure when Nabeelah asked me to move in with her and her flatmates. I have never lived with people outside from my family and my in laws. I don’t think I was unsure about whom I was moving in with, rather I was a little anxious of admitting who I really am; a low paid retail assistant. It is unnerving having to explain myself around the web of deceit I created. Yes, I am now in a much better financial position than, say, three months ago but I am by no means ballin’. I am still buying clothes, using it for shoots with the tags on and returning it the next day and I am still using public transport to get places. While I had a nagging feeling to keep things safe and live the way I am, I decide to take the plunge and move in with Nabeela. The worst that can happen is that I hate it and I find another place to live.
The first thing I need to consider before I confirm with Nabeela that I am moving in with her is to sort out my financials and budget. By the looks of it, my bills will be significantly be reduced but I am under no pretence that my lifestyle would stay the same. I would definitely be spending more. A look at my savings shows I now have R25 000 saved- a huge, huge feat on my small salary. Edge owed me R6000 in incentives and a transfer to Edge in Rosebank would see me earning R8000 a month. My monthly budget would include R2500 for rent, nothing for transport because I am now able to walk to work in Rosebank and contribute R200 to wifi, R250 to a helper and R1000 to groceries. Give or take, my monthly expenditure would be about R3500. Ads on my blog are making about R1500 a month but I need to increase that to R3000 and paid posts bring in about R1000 at the moment. For now, I only get a few but I am hoping to do at least two paid posts a week. My target is to reach at least R20 000 a month from my blog and increase my savings dramatically so I can buy a car. That is my short term goal but my long term goal is to travel the world.
With the finances out of the way, I have to sort out the logistics. I need to tell the Desai’s that I am moving and hope they don’t keep my deposit as a penalty for not affording them notice. Today after work I go to chat to Mrs Desai who can’t hide her relief that I am moving out. “It is no problem… you can move whenever you want”. It’s weird! It’s not like I was a rowdy tenant. If anything, I mind my own business and pay rent on time. “I am really appreciative of everything. Thank you,” I say. “No, we loved having you around… until,” she stops without going any further. I cannot think of a single reason why she would want me to leave. In fact she always tells me how glad she is that I spend time with her mother in law, who according to her is a senile old lady. If there is one person that could actually tell me what’s going on is Ma Desai. I wait for Mrs Desai to leave to visit her sister in the evening before I pop in the big house.
“Assalamualaikum Ma. How are you? Did you hear I have to move out?”
“Maria my child… I am so sad. You are such a good child”.
“I am sad to leave ma”.
“Life treated you so badly but never mind, you persevered and worked so hard. You not like these girls of today. I was telling Baboos wife what a good girl you are but she won’t listen”.
“What does Ma mean?”
“You know how my daughter in law is! She has all her airs and graces like she’s royalty because she comes from an upper class family. When Ismail Gora was here from university he was saying how much he likes you and I said never mind you were divorced you are a good girl… But you know that witch of a woman. She didn’t want to hear it. Wondering what the neighbours would say. But kayni… what you going to do? Look now you moving on”.
OH! MY! GOD! Now I know why Mrs Desai is so relieved that I am going, her prized possession, her Ismail, apparently likes me even though I have never really chatted to him alone. Now and then he will greet when he is around from university and I would strike up conversation but he always seem shy. Now I know why. He is not half bad actually and if life dealt me a different card I wouldn’t have been completely opposed to the idea. If I really wanted a guy I could just open my direct messages at any time. There is almost always a stream of guys flirting with me and complementing me on my beautiful features. I think I love money and independence more than guys. I know, I know. It sounds savage but remember the last man I let in my life. That didn’t end too well. Zaheer ‘with a double e’ has been trying to get my attention on all my social media platforms but I have been too busy to care. It is freaky sometimes because a few seconds after I post something online he is the first to comment. It has become so normal that some of my die hard fans tease him online about it.
I agree with Mrs D to move out on Sunday while Edge has already agreed that I can start in Rosebank on Monday. I don’t have too much to take with me and decide to purge a lot of my old clothes and shoes with the hope of getting ten fold more. That was something my mother always instilled in me. If you give, you will get 10 times more than what you gave. I ask Mrs Desai’s helper to help me pack my stuff while she is gone to her shop on Saturday morning and in return she can have all my old clothes and shoes. Grace is more than happy to help me out and is even more delighted that we are the same clothes and shoe size. I am just happy that I have someone to give my stuff to. As I sort out my things I start making a list of essentials that I need before my move. I think I am going to punt my minimalist lifestyle as a reason why I have so few clothes and shoes but there are a few things that I desperately need like underwear and socks. I also think that I am going to reach into my savings to make my new room fabulous so it can double up as place to film videos in. Its just an idea at this stage though.
Friday is my last day at Edge Sandton- my very first job. In my time here I learnt so many important lessons in life that has to a degree shaped the person I now am. Like the fact that people are only as kind to you as you are to them while at the same time not everyone wishes to see you prosper. Sally has been the meanest person to me ever since my blog took off. She has been monitoring everything I do online and gossiping about me to whoever would listen. At one point Moreen was convinced that Sally would rat me out to management about using Edge clothing for my blog and that’s why Dylan and I stopped doing that. I now use clothes that come in the mail from brands or purchase high end clothing and return them soon afterwards at a different branch of whatever store I bought it from. As my brand is growing more and more people want to work with me so soon I wont need to shoot with clothes I would return. Sally has gone out of her way to be nasty to me and is not shy to make snarky comments to me. Somehow I never felt the need to retaliate. She’s a bitter person and nothing I do or don’t do would change that.
Around midday, Zinhle called an impromptu staff meeting which turns out to be a surprise farewell tea for me. She really went out of her way to organise this little event and got me a cake, balloons and flowers. It’s heart warming to see that people care enough about me to want to wish me well for the future. I think it helps that I am leaving on a good note and will still remain in the Edge brand so I could always pop by. Moreen gives a little speech where she so kindly talks about how dedicated I have been to my little jewellery department and how I always change the conversation when someone start complaining about management. Its because I have always been so grateful that I have a job, any job, that I just feel that there are so many people worst off than us- regardless of what an idiot a manager can be. Ron, who has moved to Edge head office, also popped by to say goodbye. He is doing so well in the company that he now heads the creative division at Edge where he is responsible for all the creative concepts of in store layout and marketing.
After the little gathering, everyone has to rush to their sections before the afternoon rush when Zinhle calls me to her office.
“Miss… we are going to miss you around here,” she says.
“I think I will miss everyone too but I am not far away. I can always pop by”.
“We have just deposited your salary in your bank account. Obviously from next month it is increased. We also deposited your incentives of R10 000 into your account. HR reworked it and it was not R6000 it is actually R10 000 so you got yourself a bonus to spoil yourself”.
“Oh wow! Thank you so much. I need the extra cash now…”
“For your blog?”
Wait. How does Zinhle know about my blog?
“Yes. How do you know about it?”
“I have been an avid follower from your early days… It is really good. At first, when we found out that you were using Edge clothing and items to shoot, we had a managerial meeting which was almost certainly going to fire you”.
My heart sinks.
“But there was a lady from head office incidentally at the meeting who convinces us to change our mind. Apparently, in the last three months, their research shows that your blog helped sales by 20% on every item you promoted. Which is more than any other advertising model we are using”.
I don’t have any words. My mouth is dry and my tongue is quivering.
“We have noticed that lately you haven’t been using Edge products in your blogs and when you asked for the job in Rosebank someone from head office suggested that we set up a meeting with you to perhaps become a brand ambassador for Edge… They love your work and because you and employee they would prefer you over other influencers. My job is to just let you know and head office will take it forward with you. I hope you consider… from the day you walked in I knew you were far too smart and pretty to remain in retail,” Zinhle jokes.
My first brand ambassador gig! To be the one and only brand ambassador for Edge- a high end department stores with over 200 outlets across Africa. I always dreamt of being a brand ambassador but Edge never crossed my mind. What do you do if you are a brand ambassador? Do you get paid for it? I would have to get paid for it because I turned down so many offers for free items in lieu of endorsements on the basis of principle. I wonder what my job would require of me. Would I need an agent? I know I would need an agent at some point to facilitate other big deals for me. For now, I have an email address that acts like I have a management team when all I have is two inboxes. What is the moral of this story? Wait your turn honey, God has a plan for you.
I leave early from Sandton after my meeting with Zinhle and go straight home to pack up my things. I call Nabeela and she says she is happy for me to move tomorrow instead of Sunday. I don’t have too many things and I would much prefer to buy things and transport it directly to my new digs. I remember how conflicted I was the day I moved to Marlboro. It seems like a lifetime away. Imran has become a distant memory and the life we shared seems like a hazy dream. Its weird how during an awful time of your life you cant fathom getting over it and when you do it seems to natural to move pass it. I remember how I packed my stuff in Imran’s cousin’s car for the trek between Lenasia and Marlboro. Now the trek is much shorter- a quick 15 minute trip from Marlboro to Rosebank. I decide to take an Uber with all my belongings which is better than troubling someone to help me move. Also, the more I pack, the more I give away. So now I am left with two suitcases of clothes and personal items and a box of household items. I am lucky that the neighbour heard I am moving and offered to buy my little fridge and kitchen appliances that I bought over the months. I don’t need it in the new place because the kitchen is already all decked out. Also, the cash would be handy in decorating my new room. I am committed to making it #RoomGoals no matter how tiny it may be.
Finally, I greet the Desai’s and my Uber arrives. The driver is very impatient and grunts as he waits for me to load his boot. He murmurs under his breathe how he is not a moving company but I ignore him. It is two bags and two boxes- not nearly anything massive. For that I am going to give him one star! He deserves a low rating for his rudeness. The trip is unbearable as the driver complains non-stop for 15 minutes but thankfully we arrive at Nabeelah’s house quick enough. I asked her to wait outside for me to help with my stuff so I can get this driver out of my hair! With e-hailing taxi services like Uber, most of the time you will get lovely drivers but the one time you get a bad one he will be the most rotten of them all. As I take the last box inside the house it sinks in; I am living in a massive house with three amazing girls! It feels like I am living a chick flick!
Simmi- Sameera- and Nazia join Nabeela to take me on a proper tour of the house. Nabeela’s room is a stunning main bedroom that is straight out of Pinterest. It is all white with hues of grey and metal tones. Stunning is actually an understatement. “Well you can see who earns the most from all of us,” Nazia chirps. Her room is very funky and arty. She has old records on her walls and art posters every where in a cluttered but tasteful way. Simmi’s room is by far the worst- and I am by no means being mean. When you enter you can see she’s a journalist. There are books and newspaper everywhere! You can barely see the floor! On her desk there is a bunch of makeup and toiletries strewn between newspaper cuttings and accreditation tags. “This is why Simmi can never get married,” Nazia dramatically says. My room is small but not as small as I thought it would be. I could make it work for me. I love that it is painted fresh white with floors and a wall of book shelves. This used to be a study which they have now converted into an extra bedroom for additional rent.
The common space is the bathroom which three of us would have to share, the lounge area which has a comfortable old retro leather couch, a sleeper couch and a TV, the dinning room has six mismatched chairs that Nabeela picked up at an auction for dirt cheap but looks so funky and the kitchen which has ancient cupboards. The rules are, common areas have to be kept clean at all times, wash your own dishes and just inform the others if you are having guests past 9PM. That seems pretty reasonable. A helper comes on a Saturday to do laundry and give the bathrooms and kitchen a proper clean. If we want her to clean our rooms we have to arrange with her separately and pay her. It is fair I guess. Also, keeping my space clean has never been an issue for me but gosh I think Simmi needs a helper to tidy her room. Apparently she is never at home but I don’t believe that. How can you not have 10 spare minutes to tidy the floor at least?!
It all feels like a whirlwind that has over taken my life. From my meeting with Cheetah Coms where I first met Nabeela to now, so much has happened. I started getting paid work as an Influencer, I changed jobs, I moved house and now share a house with three other girls and I have become the new ambassador of Edge. Well not formally at least but close enough. Also, I have more money to my name than I have ever had and the cherry on the cake? A car company is willing to loan me a car for a month as long as it features in my posts. Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve all of this. Other times I feel like I am entitled to more. Its like I am swinging between gratitude and yearning for more. I think this milestone, actually all of these milestones, warrant a celebration and tonight we are going out to celebrate!
“Where do you want to go hun?” Nabeela asks.
“I don’t really know. Any suggestions?”
“Uhm… I am a bit bored with the Rosebank scene. What about Micaso?”
“Yes, Micaso is great,” Naazia adds while Simmi get done for work. She has to work on a Saturday night apparently. Who works on a Saturday night?
I don’t really know what Micaso is but I agree to go. Its probably some fancy restaurant type thing but I am too shy to ask. I spend the rest of the day unpacking, Nazia and her boyfriend Ahmed are watching TV in the lounge while Nabeela is busy on an event plan for a client which is due first thing Monday morning. It seems a little foreign for Nazia and Ahmed to be causally relaxing on the couch together but I let it go. I suppose I am a little conservative and not used to girls having boyfriends or living on their own where they hang out quite intimately without being married. I try to brush it off as to each its own. Finally, I am done unpacking my things which fit perfectly in the tiny closet. I message Dylan to say I am going to Micaso, what should I wear. “Something skimpy,” he responds and says nothing else. I think he is out on a shoot. Skimpy? What does he even mean?
I decide to pop out to see Nabeela getting done in her room and realise maybe Dylan is right. She is wearing a black t-shirt dress which is just above her knees with thigh high boots. Her hair is done in a sleek pony and her accessories are on point. This is no casual dinner for sure. I mull over what to wear for ten minutes before I take out a black dress I bought for a shoot which I am meant to return. I planned to shoot three different looks with the same dress- a day look with a denim jacket, leggings and sneakers (it also doubles as a modest look for my fans who are modest dressers. FYI modest dressing is a huge market), a day time dressy look with casual sandals and a big hat and a night time look with heels and classic jewellery. I had everything ready for the shoot with Dylan tomorrow and then I was mean to return all the pieces to the different stores straight after. The dress was expensive and I had no intention to keep it! But… I have nothing else to wear. And I can’t wear it with the tag as I would have done because the fabric is quite thin so the price tag would definitely be visible. I don’t think too hard. 1…2…3… I pull out the tag and slip the dress on. It is gorgeously simple. A plain mid-calf black dress that is elegant and classy. I pair it with the only outrageous pair of black heels that I have and leave my long hair straight and parted.
I have never left the house looking like this before- other than for shoots for my blog. Even when I was married I would wear jeans and long t-shirts. I lived in that. I feel a little self conscious in this outfit but through the amount of compliments that come my way, I know I look good. It turns out, Micaso is a restaurant that had a very big club feel to it. The ambiance is mellow but the music is very loud. Not ratchet loud but loud enough. This is my first time going to somewhere like this. This feels like a club to me. While we sit in the restaurant part of Micaso, other people are dancing nearby. I am glad its not rowdy and it seems that there are actually a lot of Muslims here too. Nabeela and I sit next to each other while Nazia and Ahmed sit across from us. He apparently hates it here because this is where his father and his new wife hangs out. “Maybe he will send us on another holiday like he did the last time we bumped into him,” Nazia teases.
This whole evening feels very surreal. Until a few weeks ago I had no friends. Now I have room mates and we are out at the hippest place in Jo’burg. To be honest, there is a part of me that feels a little guilty or even uneasy. There are many things that I have to make sense of. What is my real dress sense like outside of the blog? Is it okay for me to have a boy practically live in the house I am living in? What are my views about going to clubs? Because I got married so young I never had to really find myself. Since my divorce my focus has been survival and I never really decided what are my own morals and values and what is right and wrong according to me. Everyone has their own moral high ground that guides them in life and I am yet to figure mine out. Its almost like a proverbial line in the sand which we all draw for ourselves and are not willing to cross. For some religion guides it, others are guided by societal norms. I feel like a misfit. Not nearly as religious as I want to be but with no society I really belong to. Being an adult in the world is confusing.
I am deep in thought when a hand grabs hold of my right shoulder. I jilt in shock and turn around to see who it is. It is of course, Zaheer ‘with a double e’- the guy I met in Rosebank and who wanted a picture for his sister. I don’t know the guy but I first find it strange that he is in a place like Micaso. I can’t explain it but it feels weird. Obviously, he acts like we are old pals even though I have ignored him for weeks! “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming here?” he asks chirpily. Because we are not friends, I want to reply. Instead I laugh. He goes ahead and introduces himself to everyone at the table and casually pulls a seat next to me. It feels award. Weird even. Nabeela looks at me quizzically almost asking how do we know each other. Ahmed seems relieved that there is another guy on the table and Nazia is engrossed in a Twitter war she barely pays attention. He acts like we are the best of friends and I just try to be as kind as possible. Something feels odd. Zaheer ‘bumping into me’ doesn’t feel as random as it seems. It almost feels rehearsed. I hold on to that thought for a while… then it clicks. As soon as I arrived here at Micaso I posted a pictured on Instagram and my location tag was on. As the table chatted, I go to my Insta and click on the picture, no comment or like as usual. The picture was posted about an hour before he arrived here… I know this sounds crazy but I don’t think this encounter is as spontaneous and ‘meant to be’ as Zaheer made it out to be . He may be stalking me.