Like. Like. Like-like-like-like-like. 

Where are you in all this?

Aliyah Keshani asks us to look hard at the pixelated versions of ourselves we put online and wonders if perhaps, our best side is somewhere else entirely. An uplifting story about unlocking our hidden hopes and desires and showing our true selves. 

Aliyah Kim Keshani is a London-based writer who has had short stories and poetry published in various places. She was selected to feature in My Lot is a Sky (2018), a new international women’s poetry anthology. Last year, she won second place in the Wasafiri International Writing Prize for life writing, and was shortlisted for the Penguin WriteNow Novel Mentorship Programme. She is currently working on her first novel.

Transcript below:

Five o’clock, your work is done. You’re on a packed train, tucked under an armpit. Ignore the London damp creeping up your ankles. Salami breath hot in your ear. Turn your head. No eye contact. Sway through the tunnels till – suddenly! – open sky. Reception! Phone – unlock- Facebook!

There are weddings, concerts, meals. People hot-air ballooning over giraffes, eating macarons on Everest. Your jealousy throbs like toothache. Lol, you thumb, because you’re a good sport. Like. Like like like like like like like like like LIKE. LIKE. 

Where are you in this? Head tilted in every picture, that same damn smile – everyone knows their best side. But the more you look, the more you can’t help but see that this little pixelated face has no answers. Camera ready, she says nothing about anything to anyone.

Hey, this is your stop. Get up! Oh, no – after you, you say. Polite nod. Polite all day. Every day. So much agreeing – Yes, I do see what you mean. – No, I don’t mind. But it dogs you home, this…peace-keeping. You lie on your bed, face stiff, jaw aching and wonder what you are in this world. 

But there is a drawer in your room – sometimes you remember this. That second drawer, so full of notebooks it’s hard to open. But do. Take one out. Have a read. And, there, you see? There you are.

That unreadable scrawl gives like a trap door and you fall into the rhythm of your thoughts, the familiarity of your voice – and it is like breathing again. This media res of you: 12 years old and wearing a bra. That first kiss. GCSEs and penny sweets at Lord’s. Hangovers. Heartbreak. The baked potato you ate every day at work for a year. And that orange you saw last week, sat on the middle of the train tracks and how it made your day. And you pause for a moment because you remember it now exactly – the round absurd beauty of that orange – and, hell, it makes your day still. 

There are questions from your old selves, anxious requests to ‘write me back and let me know how it goes’. And so you do, sagely – a different pen, in the margins. ‘It will be OK,’ you print. ‘Don’t worry so much.’ And that hand of compassion that is so rarely there in the moment stretches out through space and time and does the miraculous. It writes you back and completes the circle.

This is your other life – your secret life, your inner life. Where you are honest. And who knew you had so much honesty in you? Polite, funny, yes. But, here, uncompromising and difficult too. You dislike. You make trouble. You howl and rage. There are tops and tails of stories, jokes, wisdom and smut. And this, here, this IS your best side. Sides. A kaleidoscope of selves, ever shifting and fluid. Spread through time, you find you are your own daughter, sister, mother, challenger, championer, friend.

Written or unwritten, it exists. This wonderful jumble of a life. There. Profoundly there. And yours. To the very end. Remember this.