A pit in my stomach. There could be no worse feeling to wake up to but isolation. I can almost physically feel entrenched apprehension within my gut.
But I drag myself out of bed at 5am, just in time to pray my morning morning prayers.
10 minutes on my prayer mat before sunrise gives me a clear perspective to start the day.
But today that nagging feeling of isolation lingers.
As I prepare for my my 6am gym class, I can’t help but entertain the dark thoughts that overcome me.
I question everything.
But soon I exert myself on the treadmill in an effort to avoid any unkind emotions.
It’s a strategy Iv’e used for at least the last 10 years of my life. Exert yourself until you are numb to reality.
I did it when my relationship ended with Zain and when my mother passed away.
Today I don’t really know what is eating at me.
Compared to many people I know, I have nothing to be sad about.
I finally renovated my fully paid-up Sandton apartment to be exactly how I want it to be, I just traded in my old Audi A3 for the Audi Q7 SUV and I have a decent amount of savings to sustain me even if I didn’t work for a decade.
I have nothing to complain about. But that still doesn’t explain why I can barely face myself.
It is not really unhappiness. It is more a sense of isolation. Deep, cold isolation.
Perhaps loneliness is the inevitable price of success.
Something on the lines of the higher you climb the less friends you have. Was it Gandhi?
Oh well. But it now strikes true in my life more than ever.
I have always found it difficult to make friends and in the corporate world it is no different.
In fact, it is worse now what with the cut throat nature of office politics.
Firstly, due to my somewhat traditionally Indian up brining- I am not comfortable making friends with male colleagues.
And my female colleagues
As she concludes her 60 minute training session, I make my way to the gym changing rooms were I shower, changes into a well- tailored grey pants suit, applies makeup with precision and styles my hair into a neat but stylish bun.
My look screams success. I actually like it this way.
Your image screams more than your words.
As I make my way through Sandton’s already busy roads, I can’t seem to get rid of a feeling of hesitance.
Like something is about to happen.
But I brush it off and put up a pot of fresh Ethiopian coffee. I call it my happy beans.
While my Macbook Pro startsup, I take a quick glance at the morning newspapers.
Most papers are leading with President Jacob Zuma’s latest antics.
It is so hard to keep up.
But a headline in the Business Live, South Africa’s leading business newspaper, really catches her attention.
“Financial Service Board investigates controversial McLoyd investment arm”.
This was serious.
One of my biggest client Ryan McLoyd was being investigated for and alleged ponzi scheme.
He is a coulourful character to say the least with his dark shades won all day and bodyguards.
But a ponzi scheme?
I wonder why he didn’t come to me the moment he had a sniff of this investigation.
By the looks of things Business Live posed questions to him last Wednesday, a day after we had our scheduled monthly meetings.
So I decided to give McLoyd a call.
His PA answers and says he is busy.
I decide to email him and continue prepping for another merger case we are working on.
At 12 McLoyd shows up at my office unannounced.
“I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I was in the area.”
“How can I help you?”
“I am assuming you read the papers. Those idiots don’t know what they are talking about. They know nothing. Nothing. Nothing.”
“Okay, if they have nothing it would be easy for us to fight…”
“Oh… that is why I came here. You not representing me on this case.”
“What? Why? You have a three year contract signed with us…”
“I know… but I am getting another lawyer.”
“It is more complicated than a corporate law issue. I hired Ozayr Mohammed to take the case.”
“The criminal lawyer? Why are you getting one of Jo’burg’s most notorious criminal lawyers to represent you?”
“I made my decision already and I am sticking by it. I am still keeping you on. So if Mohammed needs any assistance- I don’t want to hear any complaints. I am paying you way too much!”
I heard about this attorney Mohammed in the corridors of court.
The junior lawyers apparently worship the ground he walks on.
He has something like a 89% success rate in some of the most crazy criminal cases.
And he doesn’t take on petty criminals.
He does white collar. I heard he represented one government director general who was accused of corruption.
Not only did he get the case thrown out of court, apparently he claimed damages from government.
This man must be a real snake.
It only takes a smooth, skilled liar to win so many criminal cases.
I am so not looking forward to working with him.
For those of you who are still enquiring about the Diary of a Guji Girl book launch- it is happening this Thursday at 5pm at Love Books in Melville (53 Rustenburg Rd, Melville, Johannesburg, 2092). Please be sure to email confirmation of your attendance to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, a reminder: Diary of a Guji Girl books can be bought at Cii stores in Lenasia, Al Huda in Mayfair, Love Books in Melville, Al Ansaar Bookstore in Durban, Iqra Agencies in Pretoria and Timbuktu Books in Cape Town.
In a cold turn of events, her mother’s cancer had relapsed and she was rushed into hospital.
Barely an hour after examining her, doctors came out to tell her family that she didn’t have long to live.
Standing there, without flinching, the doctors told Zahra that it was a matter of days for her mother to die.
She went cold.
She tried to mentally prepare herself but nothing could have prepared her for the moment when a prayer was read, the buzzing sounds of the machines went silent. And a heaviness descended around her mother’s hospital bed.
This was not the make-up clad woman with her scarf in place who would wait for her every day after school.
It was not her super-woman mum who sacrificed her life for her family. She was still, lifeless.
Her mother died. Just like that.
She left her alone. Her mother deserted her.
But quickly Zahra shelved her pain, instead planned her mother’s funeral and burial.
In muslim tradition, the deceased are buried quickly- up to a few hours after their death.
Numbed, Zahra mourned her mother in silence.
She looked at her once radiant mother shrouded in nothing but a white cloth.
It was an image Zahra would never seem to forget.
It would stay with her forever.
“You such a strong girl,” aunties would tell her.
Zahra felt the furthest away from strong. There was a physical pain that she couldn’t let go off, a pain only her mother would understand.
Breaking up with Zain was hard. Zahra first thought it would be the worst pain she would ever feel. But loosing a mother was something else.
It placed her in limbo. The world meant nothing anymore.
As the month’s went by, it got easier to deal with the passing of her mother.
She convinced herself that her mother was in a better place, that she was in heaven looking down on her daughter.
Although on her graduation day, she was like a lost soul with no purpose in life.
She didn’t want to go for her graduation but was forced to.
Her father would not hear any of it.
His daughter was graduating he would not miss her graduation.
Zahra cringed at the thought of seeing Zain.
She hadn’t thought of him in weeks as she mourned her mother’s passing.
Her life constantly felt like a winter’s day in Cape Town.
Dull and dreary.
She saw Zain and he looked at her with beady eyes, almost repentant.
She could never forgive him.
He broke her heart at a time when she needed him the most.
Zain betrayed her.
Zahra can’t remember what happened the day she graduated. It all passed like a surreal dream.
She went along the motions but her heart and mind was somewhere else.
Nothing seemed important after losing a parent.
And so after the graduation ceremony, Zain walked towards her.
But Zahra could not look at him in the face. She turned away on her heels and searched hurriedly for her father.
“Are you okay?” Zain managed to catch up with her and caught her by her shoulder.
She ignored him and scanned the room for her father.
“Are you okay Zagra? I heard about your mother…”
She whisked his hand off her shoulder and her body began to shake with anxiety.
“Zagra… are you okay?”
Her body trembled.
Where was her father?
“Seriously you don’t look okay. Are you fine?”
“No. I am not fine Zayn. I am not fine. You waltz in my life, made me trust you, asked me to marry you and then dumped me at a time I needed you the most. And then my mother died. So no, I am not fine.”
Zain just stared at the ground below him.
And Zahra walked away, relieved to have found her father.
She had decided at that moment to forsake the opportunity to work for Mario and Partners, Cape Town’s largest law firm.
Zahra would think about working there ever since she moved to Cape Town but could not face her ambition. She was too heart broken. Disillusioned even.
Instead she moved back to Durban for good, thinking, she would be closer to the memories of her mother and be there for her father.
She could not bear the thought of her father’s isolation.
Zahra felt sorry for him. She had to shelve her ambition- at least temporarily.
But it soon dawned on her that her father did not need her. He quickly remarried a woman, who it then emerged, was her father’s mistress for years.
Her mother knew about that relationship, she learnt. But opted to keep quiet about it.
This is when she started feeling rage at the memory of her mother.
How could her mother dupe her daughter to believe she was happy and healthy?
How could she pretend all was okay when it was not?
How could she make her daughter believe that her life was perfect?
Zahra would cry to sleep each night.
She was angry at her mother. Livid, in fact.
Life had to move on. Regardless of the constant feeling of sadness, Zahra admitted that she needed to make something of her life.
The hollowness could be ignored. It got easier with time but still a crater in her being.
Perhaps her mother would be proud of her career.
She could barely fulfil her mother’s wish of seeing her happily married before she died.
Zahra began her articles at a law firm of a family friend in Durban, and would emotionlessly go through the motions of her life.
Her cousins became more and more distant, her brother and sister in law moved to Australia and her father’s new wife wouldn’t have her staying in the only house she ever called home.
This was on top of aunties, questioning why was Zahra not getting married.
Her beauty was always the cause of envy amongst her friends and family.
Fair and flawless, thin but not too skinny with the richest hazel eyes.
Zahra didn’t really think she was pretty though.
Zahra craved for companionship but still had trust issues.
Zain betrayed her. That was not something she could easily recover from.
And her mother’s death was never easier to bear.
The deep, aching pain lingered. It throbbed.
Towards the end of her articles year, Zahra got a call from a law firm based in Johannesburg , saying she was recommended by her lecturer and they hoped she would consider working for them.
It came out of the blue and Zahra went on instinct.
She was moving to Jo’burg although she didn’t know a soul there.
She needed change. Her life was too dark for too long.
Zahra was too young to have given up all hope.
She needed a fresh start, a clean slate.
Her father showed some concern about her sudden move but was mostly encouraging.
Finally, his new wife would have his mansion to her self.
He renovated a flat for her in Sandton and organised a moving company. After that she was on her own.
Zahra fell in love with the apartment her father bought for her, it was spacious and the view was magnificent.
She had two weeks before she officially started work barely 600 meters from her apartment. The mall was a stone throw away and Zahra filled her day shopping and making her flat as homely as she could.
It all felt surreal.
Her life in Cape Town felt like decades ago.
The memory of Zain faded with each passing day.
She was hopeful again, optimistic even. Although she doubted her chances.
The two weeks was what she had to decide what kind of person she wanted to be.
Since her mother died, Zahra toyed with the idea of becoming more religious.
Of wearing a headscarf everyday as a symbol of modesty and faith- not only during prayer or religious occasions.
She thought about changing her dress style.
Of dressing modestly. Of praying with more enthusiasm.
She thought of the type of lawyer she wanted to be.
Whether she would ever want to get married.
With each day gone, she felt a renewed sense of purpose.
Until she started working for McLory and Associates. Jo’burg’s biggest corporate law firm.
It was a towering 16 story building in the Sandton CBD.
The epicentre of the rat race.
She was a figure. Trainee lawyer number 122.
It was cold and impersonal.
But Zahra convinced herself that it was just a short stint to gain experience before she would leave to focus on human rights law.
It was a small sacrifice, she would tell herself.
Until soon, her life became her corporate job.
She would enter the office shortly after dawn and leave a few hours short of midnight.
Zahra maintained that she needed to prove herself.
She worked like clock work while furthering her studies on weekends.
She made no friends and had no interpersonal relationships besides her weekly phone calls with her brother and father.
It was standard. Every Friday eve at 8pm she would call her dad.
The conversations were mostly brief, about her wellbeing, about his business and an awkward discussion over his new wife.
Zahra’s conversations with her brother was reassuring.
His attempts to cheer her up- even though it would be mostly lame jokes- was welcomed.
He always assured her that his house was open to her.
Only it wasn’t. He had a family and she wasn’t a student anymore.
Apart from those two weekly phonecalls, an odd text message conversation with a distant cousin and a random email with a colleague- Zahra filtered out the world.
Everything else didn’t matter besides her career.
If she was going to be a lawyer she might well be a top-notch one, she would think to herself.
And her hard work soon paid off.
Soon she would take lead on legal cases and within months she was given a team to manage.
Naturally, it came with a hefty promotion.
Her double digit increase was the centre of office gossip with sneaky side glances coming her way by clearly envious colleagues.
“I deserve it,” she told herself as she ironed out the creases in her pants suit.
She did deserve it. She was the youngest lawyer in her firm to have achieved such milestones.
It was not easy feat. She pushed herself until she had no option but succedd.
By 24 she was listed on the Mail and Guardian’s list of top 200 youth who are making a difference.
They warned that she was a lawyer who “no case would ever be too big for”.
By 25 she was winning almost every case she took on.
There was no doubt that it would only get bigger and brighter for her.
But does it?
Zahra gasped and clung on to a handful of grass as her mind tried to grasp what he just said.
She had no words.
“I just had to tell you. Its okay if you can’t reciprocate it. I feel like Ive known you forever. You brightened my life Zagra… that day when you picked me up in the rain… I prayed to Allah for hope as I walked in the rain. And you showed up. You were my hope.”
Again, she had no words.
“You are perfect. Sometimes I stare at you because your beauty is unbelievable. You are just perfect. Perfect. Your kindness… I could never ever show you the amount of happiness you bring into my life. You are just perfect.”
“You’re too kind…”
“I love you Zagra… I think Iv’e loved you from the time you opened your car door for me… and I wish I had the means to show you how much I love you. I wish I could buy you the world.”
She smiled but looked down.
“Zain… things don’t matter to me. Your presence is what matters to me. Iv’e never had a real friend in my life… I am always shy and reserved. But you forced me to open up with you and it was refreshing.”
He squeezed her hand tight.
“So what now..?” she asked.
“Let’s run away… get married and live happily ever after on love and fresh air.”
Zahra loved Zain too but was too shy to admit it.
Days went by and they would spend more and more time together.
Every Friday afternoon they would take a drive to the beach after campus and sit on the sand in silence.
Sometimes Zain would chase her around the sand until she fell over in a fit of giggles.
They would lay side by side and he would tell her about the struggles of his upbringing.
How he managed to survive in abject poverty.
How he vowed to break the poverty cycle.
How he abhorred drugs and the lifestyle it brings.
How he strove to be religious.
She would listen intently.
Then she would tell him about how she wanted to be a human rights lawyer.
How she wanted to start her own NGO to help people access legal aid.
How she loved reading the constitution.
How her mother was the most important thing to her.
They came from two different worlds but they found commonalities in being true to themselves.
Three months since they began dating and five months after meeting each other, Zain decided to ask Zahra to marry him.
It was at the end of their final exams, when Zain casually popped the question.
“Would you think about marrying me?”
“You don’t have to give me an answer now… but would you at least think about it? If you say no it will suck but its okay too.”
“Of course I’ll marry you,” she said boldly.
They embraced each other, drunk on adolescent love.
Zahra hurriedly dialed her mother to share the news.
“How are you my dear?”
“Zain asked me to marry him…”
“That’s wonderful. MashAllah. How exciting?!”
“You not going to ask if he is good enough for me?”
“I trust you Zahra,” her mother said.
“Would you come up to meet him and his family?”
“I really wish I could… maybe some other time… but we can plan the wedding so long. How about next month?”
Zahra was gobsmacked.
Something didn’t seem alright.
Her mother had no qualms jumping on a flight to Cape Town.
Zahra was concerned over her mother’s hesitance.
Also, the hurry.
But she didn’t give it much thought…
This was the happiest she ever felt in her life.
Zain wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
She didn’t worry about the intricate details, they would figure it out. Things would work out.
Next year, they would both be doing their articles at the same law firm.
A top firm which only opens up space for the top three graduates of UCT.
Coincidently, Zahra and Zain both qualified top of their class.
“This is not coincidence… this is destiny,” he told her one day.
“I know… do you want to meet my parents this weekend?”
“My mother is a bit rough… don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
She was both nervous and excited to meet her future in laws.
This was the rest of her life opening up for her.
She felt so fortunate to have someone who loved her so dearly.
But meeting his parents was not half as romantic as she anticipated it to be.
They were cold to her. Mean, even.
“So where are you going to even live?” they asked their son with contempt- seemingly disgusted with his idea to marry this ‘rich girl’.
“We will figure it out,” he said.
Zain’s parents were not convinced.
And Zahra left their house feeling disappointed and sad.
But the following day he explained why his parents acted the way they did.
“You see… they regret it till today that they left school in grade 10 and got married and had me. Their lives have not been easier. They really work hard and we can barely come by. They don’t want the same for their kids.”
“But we are both going to be working… I don’t need you to support me at first… in fact I could even help you support your parents.”
“You see… they don’t want pity. They hate that. I also hate that.”
Eventually the seriousness of their conversations subsided and the jubilation of blinding love kicked in.
With campus behind them, they would spend every evening together.
Until one Saturday morning, a week before Zahra was scheduled to fly home to Durban, when her father called her to say her mother was admitted to hospital and was in a serious condition.
Zahra’s mother had cancer. And it was getting worse.
She rushed home in a frenzy.
She felt as if her life had come tumbling on her, but she still had hope- that her mother would recover.
But she didn’t. The cancer ate her mother alive.
It was painful to say the least. And Zahra wanted to be there for her mother.
Her mother wanted Zahra to marry the love of her life while she was still alive.
She wanted to witness the marriage of her only daughter.
So Zahra called Zain one evening.
“Hows your mother?”
“Sick. But she wants us to get married while she’s still alive. Can we get married in two weeks?”
“Two weeks? I am not even prepared love.”
“She doesn’t have long left Zain.”
“I know but I couldn’t do that.”
“Why not?” she asked emotionally.
“Well for starters I don’t even have enough money to fly down to Durban let alone fly my parents.”
“That is so insignificant. We can book the tickets.”
“I don’t want your hand me outs.”
“Its not hand me outs! My mother is dying. She wants to see me happily married before she dies. That’s all. We will figure everything out.”
“Where will we stay? I share a room with three of my siblings. I can’t give you half the palace you live in.”
“But I don’t want that! I just want to be with you.”
“That’s what you say… but you will hate me for taking you away from your comfort.”
“So you don’t want to marry me any more Zain?”
“I do… but…”
“Since when there is a ‘but’ in our relationship?”
“Since we have to face reality. I love you Zagra. I really do. But I have to be honest with myself. I can barely look after myself let alone you.”
Zahra was silent. She could hear the fast rhythm of her heart.
“I don’t know… I think we just jumped into things too fast.”
“Too fast? You the one that asked me to marry you! You the one that said you loved me first! Now you chickening out.”
“Zagra… I am not chickening out… it is just too complicated.”
“Nothing is too complicated Zain. You either want to marry me or not. And it is clear you don’t want to,” Zahra said as she cut the call.
She was devastated.
Zain had become her everything.
And now it was all over.
What about all the plans they had?
Zahra walked into her mother’s room and laid next to her on the bed, careful not to interfere with any tube or bandage on her mother.
“What’s wrong my baby?” her frail mother asked.
“Zain called it off.”
Her mother didn’t say anything but patted her daughter affectionately.
She wept and wept.
“Its going to be okay… its going to be okay.”
Zahra could not fathom it being okay. It felt like a piece of her heart was physically ripped out.
But soon each day was easier to bear. And her mother steadily improved.
Her mother was walking again and talked more than she used to.
Zahra spent as much time as she could with her mother- perhaps overcompensating for the four years she was away.
“You know… I was engaged before I married your father?”
“I didn’t know that. What happened?”
“It just didn’t work out.”
“Were you not gutted?”
“I was. I was broken. But it gets easier. And you move on.”
“I don’t think I can move on.”
“Then maybe your love for each other will trump…”
That was the last time Zahra spoke to her mother about anything personal…
Dear loyal readers
I hope everyone is well and enjoying the new mini series.
Also, for those of you who have been buying the Diary of a Guji Girl novel in your numbers- thank you!
I am pleased now to invite you Jo’burg people and those from surrounding areas to our first book launch in the City of Gold.
I will be hosted by the lovely people at Love Books in Melville for the launch on Thursday, January 29 at 5.30 for 6.
I would love to see everyone there especially those who have been with this blog from the beginning.
Zahra couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that Zain lived in a tiny house, took the train each day and could barely afford to buy lunch yet he was so optimistic.
How could it be? How can one person have it so bad yet be so positive?
She went to campus secretly hoping to bump into him.
She didn’t know what it was about him that made his personality so magnetic.
It could very well be the fact that this was her first personal encounter with a male.
But it appeared to be more than that.
Zahra bumped into Zain in a morning lecture one Tuesday- which was a lot brighter than the day they met.
“Zahra… you just sommer ignore my messages.”
Messages? What messages, she thought.
She was so used to never receiving any messages of significance, therefore she ignored her phone besides the two calls she would have with her mother daily.
“I’m sorry. I am so used to ignoring my phone. I never get any messages any ways.”
“A pretty girl like you never gets any messages? I find that hard to believe.”
Was he flirting with her?
“So anyways… I wanted to thank you for the lift so I bought you a chocolate.”
She smiled when she saw a crinkled cheap replica of a KitKat chocolate.
It was really the tought that counted.
“You shouldn’t have… seriously. I told you it was only a pleasure.”
“So are you going to eat the chocolate or not?”
She smiled, opened the wrapper, broke it into two pieces and shared it with Zain.
Zahra didn’t even eat chocolate but the smile on his face was to warming to forsake.
Slowly she began opening up to hime and they began spending more and more time together.
She would share her lunch with him daily in their lunch hour.
It became a ritual.
Every day at 1:30 they would meet on the lawns near Senate House, where they would use his bag as a little table and share her lunch.
She would make sure to pack extra as she knew dinner for him would only be late at night.
She would also try to find out what was his favourite meals and prepare that for their lunch together. She didn’t know why she did that.
In lieu for the lunch, Zain would offer Zahra a cheap chewy sweet he would purchase with the change of his train fair on his route to campus.
Every time he gave her one, she would smile, open the wrapper, break it in half and share the little sweet with him.
“You musn’t share it with me. I get it for you,” he said while popping the sweet in his mouth anyways.
As weeks went by, they spent more and more time together.
First it was under the guise of preparing together for the looming final exam.
Then it was just because they really wanted to see each other.
Zahra learnt that Zain worked every weekend in a local retail store in the Cape Town CBD as a cashier.
That is why at every spare moment on campus, sans their lunch time, he would study.
She later found out that he worked every holiday and public holiday, to raise transport and stationary money for campus.
Zahra realised how easy she had it. Her privileges was something she always appreciated- even though she was immune to it.
One day, two months after they had met, Zain looked visibily perturbed at their lunch spot.
She kept silent for a few moments.
“You can tell me what’s wrong…”
“Why do you do this?” he asked stone-faced.
“Be nice to me…”
She had no answer.
“Seriously Zagra… Why are you nice to me? Why do you pack lunch for me every day? Why do you pretend to appreciate the 50 cents sweet I buy for you when you have bottles of imported sweets at home. Why do you help me? Why do you pretend to have an extra text book for me when we both know you bought it especially for me because you know I can’t afford it. Why do you hang out with me? I don’t understand…”
Again, she had no answer.
“Do you feel sorry for me?”
“No. I don’t,” she said quietly.
“Then it doesn’t make any sense.”
“What doesn’t make sense? Do you not want to hang out with me anymore?” she asked defensively.
“Of course I want to hang out with you. I want to hang out with you all the time. I want to spend the entire day with you and weekends too. I just don’t understand why a girl like you want to spend her time with a girl like me…”
Zahra paused for a moment.
“A girl like me?”
“Yes. A girl like you. Perfect.”
This was the first time he ever took her hand and stroked it.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me Zagra… you are so lovely… kind. You do all of these kind things for me. I don’t know… I am a looser by all accounts… why do you do this for me?”
“Zain, you not a looser. You are funny and kind and intelligent. And you teach me so much about life…”
“But I am still the poor kid you bring lunch for?”
“No! I bring you lunch because I like spending time with you. I love our conversations…”
Zain was silent for a good few minutes.
“I love you…”
Today is a better day for her. The anger has settled, mostly. And now she decides to submerge herself in work. Being a corporate lawyer is hard enough and worse so being isolated.
This is not how Zahra envisaged her life. At 28, she has a constant aching feeling of anger and sometimes guilt.
Her success means nothing, what in the constant rifts of her mind.
Things were fine for her once, around a decade ago before the cancer that ate her mother up alive.
She was in matric in Durban’s most prestigious private schools.
Her ponytail was always in place and she was party to every extra-mural the school offered.
She was team captain at Netball, leader of the debate society but, admittedly not that good at piano- she’d always come second.
But that could not be with out her dotting mother.
Rehana Paruk gave her life to her only daughter and miracle child.
Doctors were quite frank; “you could never have a child again”.
That was after a near death experience at the birth of her first born and only son, Ismaeel.
She accepted it grudgingly but quietly prayed for a daughter.
13 years later, her miracle was born.
And so she vowed to give her entirety to this child.
Maybe it was gratitude, but it could also have been a way to divorce herself from the reality of her souring marriage.
Rehana named her little miracle Zahra, a flower. A beautiful flower.
And she dedicated her life to her blooming bud.
Zahra was spoilt, but her mother would be there to caution her with love and tact.
When she was old enough to understand, her brother went to Cape Town to pursue a finance degree, her father was engulfed in his business. And money.
It was just her mother and her.
Zahra would wake up to the voice of her mother engaging the domestic worker on the chores of the day as she quickly prepared her daughter’s lunch and shouted for her to get done for school.
Her mother would drive her to school every single day- regardless of how ill or tired she was.
She would even stop for Zahra’s friends.
“Enjoy your day Zahra,” he mother would say to her each morning and she would acknowledge it in passing.
At promptly 14:25 her mother would show up in the school parking lot, ready with a snack for Zahra to eat quickly before she is whisked off to extra mural activities and then daily religious classes.
She had a full day from a young age, but her mother was there every step of the way.
Her mother had her back when she was bullied at primary school, when she menstruated for the first time and when she had to pick out bras for her newly transformed adolescent body.
She would hear of friends having fights with their parents, but that was alien to Zahra.
Yes, her mother would shout her for being late, or not successfully completing a task, but their relationship was close.
Or so she thought.
Now at 28 Zahra is angry at her mother. She has been for the last eight years.
But where did it all begin?
Her mother was diagnosed with cancer at the time Zahra was in her final year of school.
Her mother didn’t tell her, although she could see the signs.
She didn’t ask what was wrong either.
When Zahra successfully passed matric with an A+ average, she was whisked to Cape Town to live with her now married brother to study law.
The law always fascinated Zahra, although her passion was human rights.
A passion she gives with time.
Unbeknown to her, she was sent so far away so that she wouldn’t see her mother die, slowly.
Living in Cape Town came as a real shock to her.
There was no doting mother, dropping her off at campus or packing her lunch.
She hated it for the first year.
It was a culture shock too.
But her mother encouraged her to push on. Just like the time when Zahra wanted to quit hockey- now she has a gold medal in an international tournament.
Her brother Mohammed was barely supportive. In retrospect, their age gap didn’t contribute to having a close relationship with him. But they were civil at least. And his wife, Nuha, went the extra mile for her.
Her father merely ensured that her monthly stipend of R8000 was in her account, her petrol card was replenished and fees were payed.
Zahra was by all accounts a beautiful girl. She had it all. If she was to be cast in a movie she would have been the ‘it’ girl- by appearance alone.
She inherited hazel eyes from her mother, flawless skin from her paternal granny and a lean figure from her father.
Growing up rather more liberally than some of her Muslim friends, Zahra lived in tiny floral dresses that exposed her slender legs.
Her hair always styled to perfection, and her makeup always in tact.
But she was by no means had the personality associated with ‘it girls’.
Zahra was nonchalant, shy and if you really got to know her, she was witty.
She was studious too- aching every paper she wrote since first year.
Her life was her books, her mother and gym. Gym was her outlet. There were things she couldn’t express with words which she would let out on a punching bag.
She didn’t make many friends in Cape Town.
There were a few class mates who felt obliged to hang out with her.
Guys avoided her, although admired her from afar.
She was clearly out of their league.
Some even dubbed her snobbish, although she was just really shy.
Zahra liked her own company- she would sit on her bed, and watch the ocean for hours.
It was in her third year when she opened up a little. She made friends and would actually go out and experience Cape Town.
Suffice to say, the friends she made were surprised when they got to know her.
Their prejudgment of her personality was obviously wrong. She was the furthest away from being a party girl or snob.
She had a big heart and would go to end of the world to make others happy.
That is how her mother was, that is the only way she knew.
It was one miserable Winter day, in her final year when she was driving home from campus, when she saw a guy walking briskly in the rain.
She recognised him from class, and new his name; Zain Mujahid.
Zahra mulled over whether she should give him a lift as she didn’t really know him. But the rain persisted. Her guilt got the better of her.
“Hey… where are you going? Do you need a lift?”
“Salaams… If you don’t mind. I need a lift to the train station,” he said as his teeth clamoured out of the insane temprature of the day.
“Jump in,” she said as she reached over to open the passenger door of her VW Golf.
It was a present from her dad for her 21st birthday- although he thought it was a “guys car” and would much rather his daughter drive a Mini Cooper.
“You Zahra… right?”
“Erm… yes. Sorry I didn’t introduce myself. We in class together.”
“Yes… although you probably much smarter than I am. I am Zain by the way,” he said in a notable Cape Town accent.
“Erm, where do you stay?”
“I stay in Athlone, I take a train from the Civic Centre.”
It was passed 5pm at the time, and it was most likely that the trains would be down as a result of the weather.
“I could drop you off at home if you like,” Zahra said without realising what she had just offerred.
“I would have said no any other day, but today the weather is kak… and my text books are already soaked. Are you sure you don’t mind? Although I really hope you don’t,” he said.
Zahra laughed at his comic disposition.
This was the first time she had ever felt comfortable with a male- despite him being a stranger.
She somehow trusted him.
“So tell me Zahra… why are you so smart?”
Again she laughed softly.
“Seriously though, Ive admired your intelligence. It is incredible. Tjoh.”
She tried hard not to blush.
“So do you mind if I stop over at my flat to pray my Asr prayers and then I’ll drop you off?”
Zahra noticed the surprise on his face.
Her modern dressing always made people judge her for not being religious.
She was on all accounts not pious. Although her five daily prayers seemed to be more of a luxury to her; a time to reflect and ponder. She was punctual and tried not to miss it.
Zahra parked in the visitors parking of the loft she shared with her brother and sister in law.
Before she could say anything to Zain, he already jumped out the car and confidently strode to the front door.
“I will be quick.”
“Take your time. I am in no rush to get home. I would have reached home only after 9 if I had taken the train anyways,” he said.
Zahra opened the door, to find her brother and sister in law at home already.
They usually stayed clear of her and almost never interfered in her business.
The duo looked surprised that Zahra brought home a male friend but didn’t ask any questions.
She didn’t offer an explanation anyways.
“Have a seat in the lounge, I will be done soon,” she told her guest.
“Are you not going to give me a mat to pray too? You think because I look like a hipster I don’t pray… how do you think I get through law school?” he joked wryly again.
She laughed and offered him a prayer mat and left.
Zahra concluded her prayers and grabbed her keys, ready to drop off Zain.
She approached the lounge only to find him deep in conversation with her brother.
“What are they talking about?” she asked herself.
Zain smiled at her when he caught a glimpse of her approaching the lounge.
“Are you ready to leave?” she asked.
Her brother Mohammed chipped in; “You didn’t even offer your friend anything to eat.”
But he wasn’t her friend. She just picked him off the street.
Zahra never ever had any male friends.
“If you offering I would really do with a bite,” Zain said interfering her thoughts.
She couldn’t help but notice how candid he was, contrary to a sentiment amongst her friends and family in Durban never to be upfront or honest.
Mohammed motioned for Zain to follow her to the kitchen while he went to catch the news headlines on TV.
Zahra was a bit grumpy initially. How could this stranger take over her space?!
“Would you like some left over pasta? Or should I make you a sandwich?”
“The pasta is fine. Did you make it?”
Again, there was a look of shock on his face. Almost as if he couldn’t believe that a girl like Zahra was remotely domesticated.
Her mother taught her well.
“Can we have a moment of silence please?” Zain said after putting a morsel of food into his mouth.
Zahra raised her eyebrows quizically.
“This is the most amazing pasta Iv’e had in my entire life. And I make a mean pasta too,” he said.
She laughed quietly.
They sat opposite each other on the granite table top in silence.
The only sound heard was the clank of his fork against the porcelain plate.
He finished up and voluntarily washed his plate, thanked her for the food.
“I was hungry tjoh. It was a long day. Shukran so much,” Zain said.
Zahra fetched her keys and led the way to her car.
It was a good 30 minute drive to his suburb from her apartment.
The first few moments was silent. Then he broke the ice.
“You have a lovely home…”
“Its lekker spacious. And the design is very modern. Ag, you know how I wanted to become an architect but my grades were bad in school,” he said half laughing.
“But you doing well at law…”
“Not as well as you… and I have to… there is a lot of things riding on me passing.”
“Like what?” she asked rather boldly.
“Well for starters I am the only one in my family to have finished matric… and besides I am on a bursary- if I fail they’ll ditch my sorry ass.”
Zahra felt a stabbing feeling of sympathy for him.
They spoke casually as she pulled up in front of his home.
It was a match box really.
“Thank you so much Zagra… I appreciate it,” he said, changing the ‘H’ in her name to a ‘G’ in true Cape Town dialect.
“It is my pleasure,” she said quietly.
“Will you be okay driving back?”
“Yes I will be fine…”
“Okay… message me when you home,” he said as he rattled off his mobile number for her to save.
They greeted each other and she drove back home in silence.
That was by far the weirdest encounter of her life.
But it left her with a stranger feeling. Almost excited.
She arrived home to her brother and sister in law glancing quizzically at her.
“So how come you didn’t tell us you got a new friend?” her brother probed.
“He is not my friend. I just picked him up in the rain and offered him a lift.”
“Bringing strangers home… even I wasn’t that wild,” her sister in law jibed.
They laughed in unison.
Zahra remembered that Zain asked her to message him when she reached home.
She pulled out her iPhone and sent him a basic text message: “I am home. Thanks.”
Within seconds he responded.
“Well at least if anything had to happen to you on the way home, they wouldn’t hold me responsible now.”
Zahra couldn’t resist the urge to respond.
“If something happened to me you would have a case to answer☺.”
“I would never let anything bad happen to you. I would guard you with my life.”
She unwittingly grinned at her phone.
Her brother noticed.
“You smiling at your phone and you expect us to believe he was just a stranger…”
Zahra felt happy that night after a very long time.
It wasn’t that she was sad or depressed, she merely wasn’t happy.
That night she tossed and turned thinking about Zain.
Choices is a mini-series written by Qaanitah Hunter- author of Diary of a Guji Girl.
“The back story” will be divided into three parts after which a journal-like approach will follow.
Posts will be published twice a week.
Let us know what you think on twitter @QaanitahHunter and on Facebook www.facebook.com/diaryofagujigirl
By Zarina Hassem
Like many people I have been an avid reader of the blog ‘Diary of a Guji Girl’. Initially I was interested in reading the blog because of the huge hype that surrounded it, eventually though I found this to be an educational experience for me in many ways. So a few weeks ago I was delighted to have finally received my copy of the book based on the blog, and I set aside an evening just for reading this.( I must say as a side note that holding the book in my hands was so much better than reading the blog). Nonetheless, the book has marked the end of this story and like all stories I find myself at odds, there is closure, which is always a good thing, but for me the lessons derived from this story is far more important and it surpasses all the hype, the popularity and everything else that has come with this.
I admire the author Qaanitah Hunter for boldly discussing issues that no one else dare speak about, and I love that she has made such good use of satire and humour, there’s this nagging part of me though, a part that tells me that perhaps people didn’t take the messages from the book exactly in the way it was intended, that the characters were “glorified” by readers in ways that should not have happened and that the reflection of our society as portrayed in the story has not been concerning enough for people. Perhaps it’s just me over analysing things again, I don’t know, but in any case, I decided to mention the lessons that I have learnt and what I think we should be discussing after reading this story.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, the very basic summary is that this is a story of a first year university student, Amina, who leaves her home in the small town of Newcastle to come to the big and sometimes very unfriendly city of Johannesburg. On the way she meets new people, has different experiences, but it is mainly Amina’s obsessive quest for marriage that forms the basis of this story, and it is her “relationship” with the typical messed up, unstable, but very good looking, rich and popular guy that forms the central focus.
The biggest lesson that I derived from this blog/book is also the scariest one so I’ll begin with that. While reading this it dawned on me that the biggest threat to the religion of Islam in South Africa is cultural heritage. Now, before people jump down my throat, please allow me to explain. Diary of a Guji Girl has very perfectly depicted how Muslims in South African Indian society hold on strongly to their cultural heritage. This in its own is not an issue, but it becomes an issue when it is at the expense of the way in which Islam is practised. The problem of cultural heritage surpassing Islamic teachings is so evident in the story, for instance when Amina judges her Cousin Ayesha’s future husband because he is not from the same cultural background. Besides this very overt depiction of what I am talking about, the characters in the story all tend to hold on to cultural practices like it’s the law. There is no questioning the relevance of these practices and very often cultural practices surpass religious ones and people are judged when they decide to choose religious practices over cultural ones.
The reason for this being scary or worrying is that when people place more importance on their cultural heritage than anything else, this can cause division, racism and prejudice and it can be a huge hindrance to Islamic unity. I see this too often in the society in which we live, and coming from a mixed cultural background, I myself have been a recipient of the prejudice I allude to, and so reading about it in Diary of a Guji Girl just brought home this issue so aptly. But the scariest part of it all is that people don’t stop to think about the negative impact this may have and instead remain insistent that their particular culture is “the way things should be”. I personally think that Diary of a Guji Girl was an attempt to change this type of thinking, showing in a very satirical manner that maybe the way we have been thinking all the years is not always the right way. Whether readers actually took this message seriously however is another story.
The other issue that stood out for me was the overly obsessive pursuance of marriage. Now, I am not at all disputing the importance of marriage. Islam definitely does place emphasis on marriage and even regards it as “half of faith”. However, in this overly obsessive quest for marriage, we seem to have forgotten the true purpose of marriage in itself. Marriage is supposed to be a means to the end, not an end in itself. This Hollywood style search for happily ever after, (or in this case, the happily ever after in the smart Houghton house with the good looking, rich and popular man) can only lead to trouble. As Muslims the only happily ever after that we are supposed to be pursuing is the one we are promised in the Hereafter. If marriage is not going to make us better Muslims who are constantly trying to improve ourselves in our striving to reach closeness to Allah Almighty, then this means is not a very positive means to the ultimate end, now is it? With this crazy obsessive search for the perfect man and seemingly perfect life, it’s no wonder people get divorced so easily these days. May Allah guide and protect us all!
The last issue that I’ll mention here is the materialistic nature of people. As the protagonist in the story, Amina’s materialistic nature actually becomes so annoying that at some points you want to smack some sense into her. This is more evident in the blog posts than it is in the book, but nonetheless, it highlights the fact that many of us have lost the plot and we have become selfish and self-absorbed. I don’t know how other people feel, but for me spending R2000 rand on one shopping trip on nothing other than clothes is absurd. I love that the author made an attempt to bring Amina back to reality and make her realise that life is about responsibility and not being wasteful, and of course about sharing with others as well if you can afford to do so.
There is so much more that I can say about this story, so much more details to discuss about the issues brought about in it, that’s why I was disappointed when all people could focus on was the “love story”. Naturally this brought up a whole lot of other questions for me. Why do people love Moe and Amina together? What is it about the attraction of ‘good girls’ to the ‘bad boy’? Is life really all about finding love? What are our ideas of love even based on? Should young women really be putting themselves out there and doing whatever they can to secure a good marriage prospect? How much will parents overlook and give in so that their daughters end up marrying a good man? Is society’s viewpoint really that important? Has money and status really become so important to us that we are willing to compromise on our Islamic values? …
Yes, it is evident that there is much more that I can discuss about this story, but the story has ended so perhaps I should end my thoughts here as well. I would love to hear other thoughts on this though, perhaps someone else has good answers to all my many questions.
Update: Alhamdulilah, the first print of Diary of a Guji Girl is all sold out! We are so grateful for the immense support and loyalty.
For those who still didn’t get a copy, do not despair, the lovely publishers, Wordflute, has just dispatched the second print.
If you want a signed copy couriered to your door, email email@example.com
Otherwise you can purchase one at Al Ansaar bookstore in Durban, Al Huda in Mayfair, Cii Books in Lenasia, Iqra agencies in PTA and Timbuktu books in Cape Town.
So far we had two successful launches in Durban and a Jo’burg one is on the cards for the end of the month.
We will let you know details as soon as it is finalised.
Book: Diary of a Guji Girl
Author Qaanitah Hunter
Publisher: Wordflute, 2014
Reviewer: Fatima Haffejee
The phenomenon of online accessibility has become far reaching and the popularisation of the bloggersphere has made it a suitable platform for wanna-be writers. A blog, by definition is a website that contains a writer’s, or a group of writer’s, opinions and experiences.
Whilst most attempts at blogging reaches the borderline at some period or another, some continue to prosper. Diary of a Guji Girl a case in point.
I’ll be honest, at some point, I lost track of the storyline. I couldn’t handle Amina’s inability to get over herself and as an avid reader, I would rather contend with reading a book in its entirety than having to be frustrated with Amina on an almost everyday basis. Thousands of DOAGG (as it affectionately became known) readers could be seen seething in the comments section of the blog itself. Some, like me, wanted more depth from its main character, whilst others, with a limit to their patience and no concern for the writer’s personal life, demanded more regular posts (as if they were paying for the contents provided).
A year and some months later, Diary of a Guji Girl, has catapulted from a blog into a book. Having reached over 2 million views, this was probably deemed as inevitable.
For those who are not acquainted with the blog a break down of what the book is about follows.
What makes it additionally interesting was that the places featured in DOAGG are largely familiar many of us, making it a proudly South African read.
Amina, is a small-town girl, who pursues a career in teaching in, well, a big-town. Coalesced, big town ideals in a small town girl, results in an adulated love, scandalous gossip, a dozen (rather oily) samoosa runs, spiritual insight and a depth that was otherwise lacking is the denouement of a coup de grace.
Throw in handsome, rugged, rich, charismatic and dubious Moe, whose very existence is an oxymoron to Amina’s. Ayesha, the cousin who falls in love and then goes on to marry someone who is regarded as ‘unsuitable’, leaving a steady flow of gossip in her wake as a result. The gentle, kind, spiritually knowledgeable Suhail, an unlikely friend to Moe and Sumayya, the friend who concludes that the ‘M’ word is infact, blasphemy of sorts and you have yourself of pot of Biryani with more speed bumps (elachi) than you (or anyone else for that matter) can handle.
It had taken me all of three hours to read the book in its entirety and even though I had kept up with the blog for the most part, it all seemed relatively new. The pivotal aspect of any reading material for me is the ability to either relate or actualize the emotions relayed through-out. Qaanitah, the author, of Diary of a Guji Girl, has certainly managed to grasp the significant impact of certain key stereotypes that plague the psyche of the Indian populace and perhaps the Muslim community in general.
It is for this reason (amongst many others) that DOAGG has risen to popularity in such a short span of time. The social order to which we are expected to conform is not often addressed in such simple terms and it is easy to point out the areas of concern in Amina’s life.
As an avid reader it isn’t often that I come across a book whose conclusion leaves me contented. I like to be left reassured that the conclusion is as an off-set for the blunders that might have inadvertently occurred. And I was not to be disappointed, for the finale of DOAGG has made its publication into book-form a worthwhile one.
UPDATE: Diary of a Guji Girl has been SOLD OUT in all independent bookstores.
We have the last few books available exclusively for blog readers. If you still want a copy email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Ansaar is expected to receive a reprinted batch towards the end of the month. There is an exciting launch planned but I will tell you more about it closer to the time.
Major bookstores will iA stock Diary of a Guji Girl in the new year.
If you bought a copy and read it, let us know what you thought of it using the hastag #DiaryofaGujiGirl
On Monday night I was hosted by Ilm SA in Durban for the first official launch of Diary of a Guji Girl.
The only word I have to describe the evening is incredible.
The launch took place at Randerees Braai Ranch in Sherwood and had a very relaxed and informal atmosphere.
Ladies enjoyed dinner individually before the formal programme began.
A relaxed discussion ensued about the journey of writing the book.
I liked how the conversation flowed and that the audience was amazingly responsive.
Also, I enjoyed what a cosmopolitan crowd rocked up for the event- across the age group and social strata.
It was definitely a night to remember.
Most of the books were sold out very quickly and once again I am truly appreciative.
Quick update: Cii Stores in Lenasia is now sold out. Al Ansaar has a few left. You can still purchase from Timbuktu Books in Cape Town, Al Huda in Mayfair and Iqra Agencies in Pretoria.
For those who want it delivered to their door- the epurchase option is still open. You can email email@example.com.
Look out for updates on new launches.
Once again, I appreciate all the support.
On Sunday, the Diary of a Guji Girl team was hosted by the lovely ladies of Polokwane for the first unofficial launch of the book Diary of a Guji Girl.
Sales were opened and within minutes all allocated books were sold out.
It was a truly overwhelming to see how many people were so excited about the book.
As of Monday, the team began dispatching the online orders- for those who have ordered, your order will be dispatched sometime this week.
Also, independent book stores have already started sales.
Cii Stores in Lenasia, Al Huda in Mayfair, Timbuktu Books in Cape Town and Al Ansaar Book store in Durban all have books.
The retail price is R200.
In other good news, the first official launch has been confirmed for Durban next Monday.
Diary of a Guji Girl will be hosted by Ilm SA at Randerees Braai Ranch, 49 Collingham Road.
It is schuduled for R7:30 Pm and entry is free.
(Note from IlmSA: It would be appreciated if the audience supports Randerees by purchasing dinner. You can arrive early for Maghrib and dinner if you wish.”
A limited number of books will be on sale.
For those of you who have already received your copies of the book, let us know your thoughts.
Again, it has been an incredible journey. And it is just the beginning.
The time has finally arrived where we have begun the process of dispatching Diary of a Guji Girl books to you the loyal readers.
For those who want early copies delivered directly to your door, you can still email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are in Polokwane, you are in luck. The first unofficial launch will be hosted by Daarul Hikmah lil Banaat at thier Jalsa on Sunday November 30. For more information you can contact 0826460505. Proceeds from sales of the book will go towards the Madressah.
Our official launch as been confirmed for Durban on Monday, December 8 at 7pm.
Save the date, I will post more details on Monday.
Independent bookstores such as AlAnsaar Book store, Al Huda and Cii stores will be stocking the book soon.
Franchise and bigger book stores will start stocking copies in the new year only.
Once again, shukran for the support.