A few days passed. She still messaged Hardy but tried to keep things more distant. He kept asking her what was wrong, but she always told him nothing.
At the same time, Dikeledi and Alletta had set up a fake profile for a young woman called Carla De Beer who also lived in Joburg. Carla started chatting to Hardy too.
“He told Carla a different story from the one he told you,” Alletta said to her after a few days. “If he’s telling the truth, why are his stories different?”
“I don’t know.” Leila didn’t want to hear this.
“But one thing I can say, he told Carla he’s already seeing someone. That’s a good sign,” Alletta said.
Leila’s hopes rose. “Yes … yes that’s a good sign.”
“But I don’t think he lives in London. He told Carla he grew up on a farm in South Africa.”
Leila’s hopes fell again. Why would he say that? He told her he lived in London. It’s all true then: he’s just a liar and a scammer. She was devastated. After that, she ignored his messages even though it was hard. Because shutting off a heart was more difficult than Leila had anticipated.
A few nights later, just before Leila was about to go to sleep Hardy sent her a text.
I need to tell you something.
But not on text. Can we talk
on the phone?
Despite her resolve not too, Leila messaged back:
Won’t it be expensive? You’re in London.
She waited for him to reply. What was he going to say now?
Just can I phone you? It’s urgent.
Leila agreed and waited by the phone. It rang and she looked at it. She was afraid. What would she say to him? Her friends set him up and now she knew he was a catfish, a liar, just like they had warned her. But she knew she’d never be able to say that to him.
She picked up her phone. “Hello?”
“Lea? It’s me. Hardy.”
They were right. He had a South African accent. He had lied. She held back her tears though.
“Hello Hardy,” Leila said. “You sound South African.”
“I am South African,” Hardy said.
“Yes. I can hear it in your voice. Why did you not tell me? Why did you lie and say you lived in London?”
“I never lied to you,” Hardy said. “I do live in London. I’m at university here. My parents moved here when I was 16.”
“But why wouldn’t you say you were from South Africa?”
“I don’t know … it never came up. We talked about books and other things.”
He was mixing her up. Omission is lying too. Why would he not say he was from South Africa? Yes, they had talked about other things, but still? It proved he was a liar just as Alletta and Dikeledi had suspected.
“Why are you calling me, Hardy? What is it you want?” Leila tried to harden her voice so as not to let the emotions that she was feeling come through.
“I know you are Carla De Beer,” Hardy said.
Why would he say that? How would he even know?
“I knew straight away that Carla De Beer was fake,” he said. “I suspected it was you even if I hoped that it wasn’t. But I can’t deny that I’m very disappointed.”
“Me?” Leila said. “I would never do that! I’m not a catfish – you are!”
“Lea, why didn’t you just ask me? I would have explained everything, I would have answered any question you had. I was so hurt when I found out that the Carla De Beer messages were coming from the same public IP as yours. My tech friend checked for me.”
Leila couldn’t stop the tears now. They were tears of disappointment and also anger. Hardy thought she was the liar and that was so unfair.
“Why did you lie from the start?” Leila said. “Why did you say all of those nice things? Why did you tell me I was your girlfriend, when you knew you were just a liar?”
“I was honest with you. But you couldn’t be honest with me. Everything I said I meant. I love you, Lea. But I can’t love someone who is so sneaky and untrusting.”
He hung up before she could explain that it wasn’t her, that she was not Carla De Beer. She fell asleep crying.
Tell us: What should Leila do now?