I once read a novel I borrowed from the library back home when I was in grade 10 about a girl who was stalked by the post man in their area. He would lurk around and just stare at from a distance until one day, no one was around and he managed to abduct her and keep her hostage. The stalker apparently met up in an accident 20 years before that and his wife died and his baby daughter disappeared from the crash scene.
For years they searched for the remains until the police officially called off the search. That’s when the stalker gave up his job as a CEO of a big company and became a postman. I remember getting goose bumps when I read that he took up the job so he could have the opportunity to go house to house with the hope of one day finding his missing daughter. Eventually he was convinced that the girl, who was 20 years old, was his daughter and stalked her for an entire year before he had the chance to abduct her. In the end the man did not know why he was searching for his daughter and instead began inflicting harm on the girl for all the pain he suffered thinking her disappearance was his fault. Crazy, right? Eventually he gets caught by the police and it turns out that the girl was not actually his daughter.
Besides, that bizarre story I never ever thought about stalkers. I mean, yes, to some degree we are all stalkers. In fact, if Instagram was the real world we could all be private investigators. There is an art to it, don’t be sloppy and leave a trace of stalking – by accidentally liking a picture from two years ago. ALWAYS look at the person’s mentions – those tags tell a whole story. You judging me? Common! Don’t act like you haven’t stalked someone online! I don’t think what we do is even considered stalking anymore. People share everything about their lives online anyways. I mean, my location is always on and I always pin my location to all my posts because I read somewhere that it helps in gaining a bigger following.
People know in real time where we are and what we are doing and to be honest, we all just want to be Kardashians with a camera following us everywhere besides the toilet. Voyeurism is now a career, if I don’t constantly show what I am doing or who I am with, people lose interest in me. And if I don’t have followers, I basically don’t have a paycheck. More about that later though!
Seeing Zaheer at Micaso that night was extremely unnerving. His story about how he randomly ran into me didn’t make sense and although he said he was meeting friends there, they never pitched. He just sat our table and made random conversation and weird references to things I have done and shared on my blog or social media and made a scene by insisting to pay the bill. Nazia is convinced that Zaheer should be my “next boo thang” or if I am not the commitment type “he can just be your blesser”.
One look at him would show that he is definitely moneyed. You can see deep pockets from a distance. It’s like there is a universal unspoken sign that just screams, hey I have money! But that needn’t last for long! Once he opened his mouth you would soon come to know that money is the only thing he speaks about. It’s fascinating at first. The gold-bar deals, the lucrative investment and many, many cars. But somehow something feels odd about him. He sat there the whole night and all I could think about was my suspicion that he was stalking me.
I ignore him for two weeks until today he happens to be shopping in Rosebank and ‘bumped’ into me as I was leaving Edge. Side note: Edge has signed me on as an ambassador and creative consultant and I have officially left my job as a jewellery assistant! When Drake sang about starting from the bottom he had me in mind! I literally started from the bottom, wiping display cabinets and dusting boxes. Okay, let me not get distracted! Zaheer comes up behind me and taps me on my shoulder like we long lost friends meeting up for a casual coffee. I shudder at his touch, thinking I am getting mugged! He feigns shock at the coincidence of the moment but I don’t buy it.
“What are you doing here? I am so glad to bump into you… I just came to get a few things,” he says.
“Oh. I am on my way home. I just came to Edge to fetch a few things for a shoot!”
“You live nearby, don’t you?”
“Yeah… not far from here…”
“Can I get you supper at least before you go home?”
Why is he asking me out for dinner so randomly? Didn’t he have things to buy? Actually, who comes to the mall 10 minutes past closing time? He also doesn’t have any packets in his hands which clearly means he did not come for shopping. He is trying really hard to be charm me and the push-over that I am is finding it really difficult to tell him no. I am so bad at saying no. You can ask me for all my money and I still couldn’t say no. My stomach feels uneasy and my breath is short. I try to say no but somehow I hear myself saying… yes. Dammit Maria! Note to self: practice saying NO in the mirror.
We walk silently to a pizza place nearby and Zaheer takes the extra effort to make it known that he is a frequent customer. In that I-have-money tone he asks for the manager and the best seat in the house. He is indulged on both his ridiculous requests. As we order I feel extremely uncomfortable. Do you know that feeling when you just know deep down that sometime is not going to end fine? I don’t know if I am being stupid. A decently looking, clearly wealthy man is basically taking me out on a date and I feel like my life is at risk. It sounds silly, I know. But I can’t shake this feeling. I force a smile, drink a whole jug of water and try to force my foot from not shaking. Something feels odd. Zaheer speak about his family and their recent trips abroad and tries really hard for me to open up about my background. I skirt around the questions and deflect back to him. My story is not interesting at all. I got married at 18, divorced soon after, worked my way up the retail space and now I am a successful blogger that launched my blogging career on bought followers and borrowed clothes. As he continues talking about nothing really, I feel his hand stroke my fingers. I pull back and dismiss it as a mistake. Five minutes later his feet brushes my feet. Something doesn’t feel right.
“I drank too much water, I just need to use the bathroom”.
I walk briskly to the restaurant toilets and take out my phone to call Nabeela.
“Nabs? Hey are you home?”
“Yes… I just got back from gym. Where are you?”
“I am at the mall… somehow I am having dinner with that Zaheer from the other night at the Pizza place. Can you come join us? I will explain later.”
“Is it getting weird? I am on my way…”
“Yeah kinda… Il see you soon”.
I take a deep breath and walk back to the table. Zaheer is deeply engrossed in his phone… I approach him from behind and he doesn’t notice me amidst the hustle of the restaurant. Somehow I peek at his phone. I see my name and my location on a map sort of thing. I don’t even know what he is looking at but somehow I just know that he is tracking my location somehow. I am a lot more nervous than I was before I left to go to the bathroom. Do I leave suddenly? Or do I wait for Nabeela to arrive? How do I explain why she’s here? This whole situation feels wrong and I don’t know why.
“I think I am going to leave,” I say.
“You can’t leave. I just booked us a spot at a place in Sandton for dessert. You can’t say no to dessert”.
Uhmm, yes I can! Creep!
“I really have to go…”
“No you don’t. You have nowhere to go,” he says with a little more authority than socially acceptable for someone I barely know.
“It’s getting late. I have to get home before it’s too late”.
“You stay with friends why are you in a rush? Sit for a bit,” he says while he pulls me to sit down with a slightly forceful tug.
“Uhm, I really have to go.”
“I take you out for dinner and this is how you thank me,” he says with a smile but still gripping on to my hand.
I try to pull my hand out of his grip but no luck.
“I just booked us dessert, babe… We will go and then I will drop you off at home if you insist on spending the night in your own bed.”
I am trying hard not to make it apparent that he is gripping my hand forcefully. I plead with him softly with a fake smile to let me go but he refuses. To any outsider, it may seem like a smitten guy refusing to let a pretty girl leave because he loves her company. This does not feel like that that. This feels like the moment I step into his car he will force himself on me. It’s a weird feeling. I don’t know if it is even justified or I am being unfair to him. But my gut is screaming that this is not right. I plead again softly to let me leave but now he is about to say something aggressive when Nabeela showed up.
“Hey Mari. How you babe! I am waiting for you at home. We have to go soon,” she says so perfectly in the moment.
He lets go of my hand abruptly. Says nothing. Opens his wallet, throws R500 on the table and bolts out the door.
My fingers are shaking. My knees are weak. My flatmate just saved me from something I cannot even conceive.
“I don’t know if I am over reacting,” I tell Nabeela.
“Girl! You are not! This guy is a freak. I noticed it from Micaso. There is something unstable about him. I believe you when you say you think he was stalking you. Let’s go home… but you need to switch off your location on all apps, don’t upload any short video content in real time and only post after the fact. It’s really for your own safety! There are some crazy people in the world and the fact that you are so damn beautiful doesn’t help your cause!”
“Thank you for being here for me hun”.
“Jeez. I am just glad I was home and able to come. I think he has been using your location settings to track your movements and stage these encounters with you. It is so scary! We need to rekindle our old habit of checking in on our flatmate group about where we are. I don’t think we have to give reasons why we are wherever we are but at least someone knows!”
If I ever doubted moving in with this girl… then all skepticism vanished in this moment. It feels good to have someone to have your back. Online, my world may be filled with skinny latte’s, gluten free treats and perfect make up. But when I wake up in the morning, I, like millions of other girls, wake up to a world where you are regarded as prey by virtue of being female. Where you are not worth anything unless you are attractive enough and if you are attractive, you exist at the pleasure of a man. We live in a world where a man with money holding you against your will is celebrated. I may have independence and command a loyal following, but to that man I was merely an asset to acquire. A commodity that could be owned. A prey that could be hunted and put on a long yet tight leash.
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