If we're Being Honest : Runners Up | Season 5

– Vhas

Honest (adj.)
free of deceit, truthful, and sincere.
“If I’m being honest, I never was.”

Age 5. Your Appa is dressing you, except the poor man accidentally put your pinafore under your dress shirt, buttoned you up all wrong, and is currently attempting to understand the mechanics of the jarring khaki vest. You see the world in shades of pale brown, sunlight filtering through the frosted glass window of a freshly occupied house, as a little boy stifles a squeaky laugh behind cherub-pink palms. The first time you lied was when you said you were 6 instead of 5 and told a girl you barely knew that you had spoken Tamil for years on end.

You give your Barbie doll the time of his or her life by attempting to saw through its plastic breasts with a kitchen knife and then chucking it into the freezer. You could never find cool boy dolls—technically, they would be called Kens, anyway—and all you wanted was to fit in. Fitting in entailed, but was never limited to singing words you didn’t know through the gaps of bunny teeth, saying that you understood the functioning of Nerf guns, and rolling your Rs like an aeroplane taking off, desperately trying to tear the Manchester twang in your voice to shreds. Your first word in Tamil was a curse word you heard when you drove a tricycle over your mother’s toes. Your second was your name, being parroted back without the wrong stressors. And your third: Amma.

You have never been good at lying. You cut your hair and throw the strands away from the balcony, in plain sight, and pretend that it was always that short, Amma! When she finds out, your first thought isn’t, as beautifully ideal as it may be, “I’ll never do it again.” It’s, “I wonder if I could get better at hiding it.”

Because you’ve always been a liar. You’ve never said something that you meant, and you don’t think you ever will. And though you’re a liar, they’re still stuck being proud of you, and they’re still stuck loving you, even when you give them grief. You want to stop filtering the truth through the gaps in your teeth, and you just want to tell people that you don’t know Tamil. You can’t read it, you can’t write it, and you always have a dictionary open to find a word you know means the same in English, but words are better when they’re spoken in the common tongues of Amma, Appa, and Thatha.

When you say something enough, you start to believe it. The first lie you tell yourself is that you would never be able to fit in, ever, and that you should stay unique because the minute you fit in, your lies become your reality. You refuse to learn Tamil, as much as it affects you, and you wrap the silks of your end around your wrists: tightly, now, don’t let them loosen (the voice that says this sounds like some prissy British receptionist).


Age 9. Another house was moved into recently. The walls still smell like chemicals and paint, and there are splashes of mauve all over your room. A man walks in, a friend of your grandfather’s; he’s taller than anyone could ever hope to be, square-jawed and doe-eyed. His face is punchable for any young boy who wants to experience the thrill of violence but is told that it isn’t ladylike. He squats (irritating and sweetly condescending, that’s what it is) and asks you, “Well, another doctor in the making? Just like your mother and father?” You want to say some colourful words to him in your foreign mother tongue, but you don’t.

Instead, you smile bitterly and respond, “No. I want to look at the stars. I want to be an astronaut.”
Another lie was conjured up recently. It’s still rough around the edges and is ever-so-frustrating to keep up with, especially when a boy grows into a woman, and he can’t remember the formula for velocity without shuddering at the blood in between his thighs every month, but he can remember what a period is, why only girls get it, and that it’s a blessing celebrated through stiff, silk sarees and heavy, weighted braids. Astronauts probably don’t give a flying fig about who’s bleeding where. But you’re an astronaut who does, and all you want to do is float up into space, take your helmet off, and let the Force take you.

A thousand lies are slipping out of your mouth, crawling from your molars and hanging from your canines, all worn teeth from trying to bite your way out of the shackles you’ve put yourself in. You lie, you cheat, you manipulate, and all of this makes you feel a little less like the person you’ve doomed yourself to be. You lie to get out of a lie and fall further; the ropes tighten, and you want to kick the stool under your feet away.


You want to stop lying at age 13. You rip yourself apart just because, and with shaking, delicate fingers, you try and try to stitch yourself back together. But you never bleed the same way twice, and your skin will never be as it was, so your stitches are always a few cells off, and it shows. There are no gnarled teeth to filter truths through, and you stay in this liminal space; you catch a lie the second it struggles past your lips, and you stop trying so hard to fit in.
When you let things be, they slide into place. (When you stop telling yourself that some things should be easier than they are, it’s less frustrating.)


The first time you say the truth is at age 14. You tell someone with the sun and planets in their eyes that you love them. You sound every word carefully and quietly, whispered into the air of the negative space between your end of the phone and theirs. I love you, you thought, and “I love you,” you said, and you keep it there: a pocket of your devotion. The mortifying ordeal of being known drives you off your nuts for the split second of silence, but when they say it back, you realize that truths and lies and all the other words everyone says are pure rubbish until they mean it.

Honesty leaves boys raw and bleeding. Honesty wants you to drive up the wall and hang from the ceiling. Honesty leaves boys raw and bleeding, bleeding, bleeding until boys stop being boys and start being men until they climb out of the pools of their dirt and step under a shower of scalding truths. Honesty leaves its men scarred and clotted, and you follow.

You always wished for honesty. You never wanted these lies stuck to your veins and cob-webbing the roof of your mouth. You always wished for honesty, but honesty is an elusive thing. Sometimes it’s better to lie, and most times, it isn’t. Honesty leaves boys a few words wiser and a few pegs down. If you were being honest, you want Amma and Appa to love you even when they find out how many people you’ve been. And when they do, you decide to stop trying to connect every lie to another, and you start living the truth in each one. Because when boys grow into women and men grow into men, they still want to be the mothers their mothers lost and the daughters their fathers prayed for.


Age 16. “If I’m being honest,” you say, a laugh behind your lips, “I never was.”
You live in disjointed spaces. At home, you’re one person, and everywhere else, you’re another, and the worst part is, both aren’t wrong, so you keep trying to make them connect. You stop lying at age 16. You embrace all your truths, and you are a hodgepodge of the hundreds of people you’ve ever tried to be, even for a fraction of a second. If you were never honest, you are now, almost to a fault. You do things in extremes, and so, sometimes, just sometimes, you wish you could shut your mouth.

There is no plan anymore. You’re just as normal as the next person: you’ve lived a life trying to be someone you’re not, and you found as much point to it as everyone else did (you never found a point, and that was the point). You wish your writing didn’t feel like you were slathering someone’s cheeks with blood, and you wish you were a little bit funnier, but now you’re being honest, and that’s why there’s blood. Because you bleed from all sorts of places once or twice every month, and that’s how honesty wants you to be.

It wants you to keep wishing because it knows you know what to wish for.

“And because we’re being honest,” you continue, “I always am.”

4 Responses

  1. Interesting and sensitive, it’s almost a delicious pleasure to disentangle what each sentence and paragraph means.

  2. one can feel the internal and external struggle of a human mind and body, for being accepted, cherished, and loved. it’s well written.

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