Faaiza had been wrong. She’d had no way of knowing it then, but Taskiya Mansoor was eerily similar to a boil in an unsightly place – annoying, painful to live with, and difficult to make budge.
She had the sense to avoid Faaiza herself but suddenly, she began to pop up everywhere and it was all Faaiza could do to keep her normally even temper in check.
Saeedah, who Faaiza had tried to confide in, had little sympathy for the annoyance. Faaiza knew that her old friend had been hurt by Faaiza suddenly becoming absorbed in a new friend, more so because Faaiza and Saeedah had begun to grow apart due to the crazy schedule Faaiza had set herself while fighting to get her book finished and released.
“You should have known better,” Saeedah kept saying. “She was so obviously fake and poisonous.”
Faaiza had stopped complaining and just sucked up the unpleasant sight of her husband’s ex-girlfriend. She knew that she’d been silly. She’d tried to blame it on the sleep deprivation, but the truth was that she’d enjoyed the flattery Taskiya had lavished on her.
She’d felt good and she’d let her guard down.
It still made her cringe sometimes.
Taahir had been comforting, reminding her that she was far from the only one to be taken in by a good, old fashioned dose of flattery.
It barely helped. She wanted to stick her head in the ground any time she thought about it. She knew better than to rail against the whole series of events, as Allah would never have brought Taskiya back into their lives without any good for the difficulty.
Her own actions though… they could have – should have – been a lot less silly.
“Mama, why are you telling me this?” Taahir asked, frowning. His sweet mother had just informed him, with a sweet smile on her face, that his ex-girlfriend’s life was falling apart.
Taahir felt a twinge of pity, not for her but for the poor messenger who’d be delivering her the bad news. Taskiya would lose her mind once she found out that her outrageous spending would need to be curtailed.
“How do you even know this, Mama?”
“Her bank card was declined at a shop a few days ago. She threw a bit of a fit,” a disapproving look crossed his mother’s face when she said this, “and it finally came out that there wasn’t enough money in her accounts to settle her credit card payments. Everyone is talking about it.”
Taahir shook his head. Taskiya had been rich as the Earth – what could have gone wrong?
Faaiza caught sight of the familiar, now hated figure and tried not to groan out loud. She couldn’t leave, she was meant to be teaching a beginner’s cooking class for the charity event being held in the hall Taskiya Mansoor had just entered.
Saeedah had come along to help Faaiza handle the logistics of these kinds of events; materials, recipes, equipment and, in the case of the truly unfortunate and clumsy, first aid. She snorted out a laugh at the exasperated look on Faaiza’s face. “Aren’t you overreacting a bit?”
“No!” Faaiza exclaimed. “She’s bad news.”
“Yeah, but it’s a charity event, Faaiza,” Saeedah pointed out. “She’s gotta have some sense.”
Faaiza wasn’t convinced. “Just keep her away from the knives,” she told her friend.
Saeedah rolled her eyes. “Drama queen.”
Faaiza ignored this. Inside, she soon forgot all about Taskiya, swept up in the introductory speeches being made. By the time the event’s organisers had begun to present the mission of the charity they’d chosen to support, Faaiza had tears in her eyes and she couldn’t have, for the life of her, answered a single question about what was going on between the attendees.
But something was going on. And something quite embarrassing too. It seemed that one of the attendees was having her car repossessed right outside in the parking lot. The news spread like wildfire amongst the audience and soon, the buzz in the hall had gotten so loud that Faaiza was shaken out of her reverie.
The presentation halted and the charity’s spokesperson, a stern woman in her late forties, stared them all down as she waited for silence. “Ladies, I should hope that you all know better than to gossip amongst yourselves. Yes, someone’s car is being repossessed outside. Yes, that individual is seated in this hall. There’s nothing funny or story-worthy about that. In fact, we should be making dua that Allah does not place us in the same situation.”
Faaiza sent up a silent dua, feeling horribly sad. How embarrassing for the poor person, whoever they were. And how would they get home, she wondered sadly. She made a mental note to look for anyone who seemed to be looking stranded after the class had finished.
With a few more pointed words, the matron had her captive audience back. And when it came time to pledge for the charity, the women – perhaps motivated by guilt – pledged generously and eagerly.
And then it was time to cook.
Faaiza was less adept at keeping control of a room but soon enough, her students were far too busy with their hissing to be engaging in idle chit chat. A productive hour later and all the one plate stoves had been turned off, the contents of the womens’ pans packed away to be taken home and enjoyed and Faaiza was, as she’d promised herself, watching the departures.
She kept one eye on the door as she packed away dirtied cookware and crockery into crates. It would be collected soon by a company she kept on retainer for this exact purpose so all Faaiza herself had to do was get everything stacked and crated properly.
She’d just bent to stow an armful of bowls away when she heard a shriek. Hurriedly, Faaiza dropped the dishes and lifted her head to look for the source of the noise – it sounded like someone in pain!
The sight that met her in the parking lot was more comical than tragic. Taskiya Mansoor, once again the centre of attention but clearly hating it for once, stood next to her shiny BMW with her hair in a disarray and her face bright red. “But you can’t!” she insisted shrilly. “This is my car.”
“Ma’am, this is the bank’s car,” a stocky man told her, over enunciating his words as though he thought she was deaf. “We have waited so that you may remove your belongings from inside but if you do not calm yourself, we will remove the car.”
The repo agent had clearly lost his patience. He ducked into the car’s backseat and brought out a handful of parcels which he dumped in front of Taskiya’s stilettos before unceremoniously getting into the driver’s seat and driving away.
Taskiya didn’t move.
Despite herself, Faaiza pitied the girl. She clearly had no idea what to do next. She was about to go up to Taskiya and offer her a lift home – and then the girl spoke.
Rather, she yelled. “What the FUCK are you all looking at? You think this matters? I could buy ALL of you if I wanted, you hear me? ALL OF YOU!” She stomped her foot on the ground and wobbled as the heel of her shoe stuck momentarily in a crack on the pavement.
Faaiza sighed and took her purse off her shoulder. She pulled out a bank note and then handed the bag to Saeedah along with her car keys. “Go sit,” she told her friend. “I’ll be back in a second.”
Saeedah bit her lip worriedly. “Don’t get too close to her,” she warned Faaiza. “Crazy gets violent easy.”
Faaiza had no intention of getting too close. She stopped a good foot away from the tantrum throwing girl and simply bent and stuck the two hundred rand note in the closest parcel. “I don’t know if you have cash on you to get home.”
Taskiya howled. “How dare you?! I don’t need your money, I have money!”
Faaiza was unimpressed. She couldn’t stop herself from comparing Taskiya to the little cousins she’d used to babysit who’d throw themselves to the floor and wail whenever things didn’t go their way. “It didn’t seem like it.”
She considered saying more, trying to explain to the girl that things would only get worse if she was so abrasive. Instead, she allowed herself to be selfish and turn away. She wasn’t a saint.
Taahir met her at the door that evening. “Finally,” he greeted. “I’ve been sitting here twiddling my thumbs all afternoon.”
“You were here?” Faaiza kissed his cheek and then slipped past to their bedroom, desperate to take off the clothes she’d been cooking in. They always got so filthy.
“I left early,” Taahir explained, following her. “Mama was being a bit… strange.”
Faaiza took her head out of the closet. “Strange how?”
Taahir shrugged. “Gossipy.” He looked vaguely uncomfortable.
Faaiza’s mouth dropped open. Her mother in law rarely gossiped, and never with her son. “Really?” She felt an urge to giggle deep in her belly.
“Yeah. It was weird, she was so pleased about it.”
Taahir saw her expression and immediately leapt to his mother’s defence. “It’s not like that.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Faaiza pointed out.
Taahir looked at his feet. “She was talking about Taskiya,” he explained. “So, it’s kind of understandable, I guess.”
Faaiza spared a moment of surprise at how fast the news had spread. “I never said it wasn’t,” she reminded Taahir gently.
She went into the bathroom and turned the shower on, then came back out to grab a towel, deciding to tell Taahir about what she’d witnessed.
“I saw Taskiya today,” she revealed,
Taahir motioned for her to go on.
Faaiza explained everything she’d witnessed. “It was kind of sad.”
“How the mighty fall,” Taahir commented.
Faaiza hummed thoughtfully. “Was she really that mighty?”
Taahir cocked his head to the side, thinking. “Not really,” he admitted. “Not really.”
A horrified look crossed his face. “Imagine if I’d married her.”
Faaiza giggled. “We need to give your Dad a really nice present, don’t we?” Her father in law had made a habit of reminding Taahir that Faaiza had been his own choice of daughter in law and it was now a running joke in the family.
Taahir rolled his eyes. “He gets enough of your cooking,” he grumbled.
“Something permanent, Taahir.”
“He’s been talking about getting a new watch,” Taahir mused. “We could get him one and engrave it?”
They talked over the spray as Faaiza stepped into her hot shower, Taahir scrolling through online stores on his laptop while they brainstormed and then let themselves get carried away into purchasing gifts for all four of the parents… and then a few for themselves.
Just like that, Taskiya Mansoor was forgotten. For good this time.
Years later, when their paths crossed for a final time, neither Faaiza nor Taahir would even be able to recognize the woman nor would they even realize who they’d walked past. But, that is a different story altogether.
Oh, look – I wrote something. As you may or may not know, I write exams in the next few days and this was the perfect way for me to procrastinate studying.
Masquerade will resume in December, after I’ve forced myself to study.