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The Little Handbook of White Lies

Amyn cringed when he saw the name that lit up his phone.


What would it be this time? Another text telling him that he needed to finish his schooling? After all, there was no harm in just finishing his education. Maybe it was another nudge letting him know that he had an open position for him at his law firm. His phone dinged again.


That was strange, they rarely texted him at the same time. Amyn took a fortifying breath. Dropping his spoon in the bowl of half-eaten Cheerios, he figured he might as well see what he had to deal with this time. Ignoring them would be worse than facing their hounding.

Father: Dinner tomorrow night at six, we will have guests.

Mother: Please do not be rude. We expect to see you.

Amyn groaned before cradling his head in his hands. Dinner with his family was bad enough, and now there were going to be guests to witness his supposed failures. Most likely it would be the Daher’s, he’d seen on social media that Rania had moved back to town now that her law degree was complete.

He could feign ignorance, tell them his phone died and he forgot to charge it. Maybe that he forgot to pay his phone bill. Any excuse would be better than facing his entire family and guests. He didn’t want to hear, yet again, that he was the black sheep, supposedly scared of success and wealth.

He wasn’t afraid of success or wealth, he just didn’t want to do it his family’s way. If only they could understand that. He had a talent and he wanted to use it for something other than doodling across his notes in boredom. He realized after his first year of law classes that he would have been a very ineffective lawyer. A knock at the door pulled him from his thoughts. The distraction was probably for the best since his thoughts could quickly spiral out of control. Amyn glanced down at his dinner and almost sighed. His Cheerios would be soggy by time he was done at the door, forcing him to throw out the honey-flavored rings; they just didn’t taste the same as when they still had a little bit of a crunch.

Pulling the door open, it took him a few seconds to process who was standing in the hallway of his apartment building.


“What are you doing here?” Amyn asked with stumbling grace.

“That is no way to greet an old friend,” Rania replied with a magnanimous smile.

His eyes jumped between staring at her mouth and eyes for several eternal seconds. He’d barely talked to Rania since she was sent to boarding school, but in a flash all of his childhood memories came flooding back. The explorations through trees and the adventures into the dark world of the basement; and, most strongly, the feelings he had before she was ripped from his life. They had both been about to start high school when her parents sent her to boarding school.

“Are you going to let me in?” Rania tilted her head, her smile turning amused.

“Oh, of course. Come in, please.”

He watched her as she took in the dated surroundings of his apartment. It was a far cry from what they both had as children. Amyn was proud of the small place, though. He worked and paid for this place on his own, and it allowed him to be completely independent of his parents.

“This is nicer than what your sister described to me. It’s not so bad.”

“You talked to Siti?”

“Yes, she helped me get the job at TransPacific. I’m a corporate lawyer,” she said.


Was he supposed to congratulate her? She had clearly followed in the path her parents had wanted. He must look like a complete failure in her eyes. Amyn stuffed his hands in his pockets, hunching his shoulders against her judgement.

“I didn’t want my return to the city to be a complete surprise to you tomorrow night,” Rania said as she turned to face him.

Amyn raised his eyes. “You know about the dinner?”

“Of course,” she said with a smile, “it is my parents and brother that are going. Didn’t you know?”

“No, I guessed, but dad and mom don’t tell me anything anymore.”

“Oh.” Rania’s smile dimmed. “Well, tomorrow is tomorrow. Let’s order in something and catch-up. Goodness knows we won’t have the time to get two words in with our families.”

Amyn desperately wanted to spend a few hours with his long-time friend, but the dinner was going to be difficult enough, and he wasn’t up for defending his life choices two nights in a row. He shoved a hand through his hair. “I was just about to go out with some other friends,” quickly he added, “plans I can’t cancel.”

It was a white lie, but this was Rania and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. He wasn’t planning on being with friends and he could have canceled, but his favorite show on Netflix had just dropped the final season. He was planning on binging at least half of the new episodes tonight.


This time her smile really did fade, and a twinge of guilt gnawed at his chest. This was Rania, she didn’t deserve his excuses. Just when he was about to back-pedal, she beat him to it.

“Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow night, Amyn. Let’s catch-up outside our family sometime, okay?”

“Okay.” There was little conviction to his agreement.

As he shut the door, his phone pinged again. He collapsed in on himself before shuffling his feet to his phone. To his surprise it wasn’t from anyone he knew. Opening the message it read:

This is SpeakSmart Tech and we want you to test out our new game! How long can you play before getting caught? Click the link to download!

Amyn had heard of the company. It was a fast growing start-up that his brother, Manu, had incessantly talked about for months. How did he get on their number list? Maybe he had signed up for a contest he forgot about? Shrugging, Amyn clicked the link and it took him to the download.

The Little Handbook of White Lies. Interesting name for a game.

Why not. It was verified on the app store so it was unlikely to cause any real problems for his phone. He punched all the buttons, not really reading any of the material. Most of the time this stuff was just standard lingo anyway. At least that was one thing he had learned in law school before changing his major. Finally, he got through to the main menu.

Welcome to the Little Handbook of White Lies. Are you ready to play?

He punched ‘Yes.’

Ask the phone a question and it will give you a response. How many white lies can you get away with before you’re caught?

So far, Amyn wasn’t impressed, but he’d give it a shot. “What do I tell someone when I don’t reply to their chain forward emails?”

A few dots appeared like a response in a text message.

Tell them that it must have gone to your spam folder. They don’t have access to your email so how can they check?

That was a good response and one he’d used, but he wanted to try another basic question before getting more specific. “What do I say to someone when I don’t want to talk to them on the phone anymore?”

There are two good responses to this inquiry. Either tell them your phone battery is about to die or that you are getting a phone call from someone else. It’s the easiest way to disconnect.

Amyn couldn’t disagree. Those were both valid responses, and he’d used them on his siblings more than once in his life. Now it was time to try something a little harder. “What should I tell my friend about meeting him for pizza?”

Tell him you caught one of those 24-hour viruses. By the time he thinks to check on you, you’ll already have recovered.

Amyn nodded his head. That wasn’t a bad white lie, but what would the suggestion be in regards to one of his students? “What do I tell a student that has done an unexpected rendition of an assignment?”

This time the three dots stayed on screen a little longer as the app formulated a reply.

You don’t want to hurt the little tykes feelings about their art project, so just tell them that their work was very interesting and you’ve never seen anything like it! However, you must also include that you’re looking forward to more from them. It’s what will sell your ‘interest’ convincingly.

The response was oddly specific to him as an art teacher. How did the app know that? Amyn shrugged, it’s not like he hid his career from social media. Everything was connected nowadays, it wasn’t unreasonable for the app to find the information online.

He asked a few other questions and received similar responses that were all good white lies, making the app a decent little handbook. He wasn’t totally sold, but he’d keep it for a little while and give it several test runs before making a final decision. A window popped up on the screen.

Can’t ask a direct question? Just keep the app open and we’ll listen in to your conversation to send you a notification on your phone for a response.

That was a really weird function, but he could also see the use of it. A yawn escaped his lips, and Amyn looked at the time only to see that several hours had gone by. So much for watching the new season of his show.

Sleep and work the next day passed more quickly than he liked and before he knew it he was pulling up to his parents house. He took a deep breath. This was not the first time he had faced his parents and it wouldn’t be the last. His thumb rubbed over the darkened screen of his phone. Maybe he should open that app so he could come up with other responses besides his standards. Amyn knew his parents wouldn’t appreciate being lied to, but he’d spent so many years shouldering their disappointment that their anger would be a welcome change. Making a split-second decision, he opened the app. Somehow he felt bolstered knowing The Little Handbook of White Lies would keep him from stumbling through excuses.

As he stepped out of the car, the front door opened to reveal Rania. It was easy to return her bright smile. Approaching, Amyn studied his old friend now that he had daylight. She had changed so much; once gangly and awkward, she had grown tall and confident, her rich long brown hair glittered with specks of gold from the sun, and manicured brows enhanced the caramel color of her eyes. Still, he could pick out the spark of mischievousness that lingered in her features.

It’s reassuring that schooling didn’t completely take that away from her.

“Amyn, everyone has been waiting for you!” She gently chided.

“Work kept me longer than expected.”

“You’re only a few minutes late, just ignore the complaints of our families. They live too much by a schedule anyway.”

He didn’t need to fake the smirk that crept across his lips. Rania’s remark endeared him to her when he thought he’d lost a good friend to social status expectations. It gave him hope that, if anyone would understand his desires, she might.

Rania pulled him around the corner into the dining room, only to be met with glowering faces. Amyn groaned internally at the spectacle. Everyone was still standing in the parlor drinking, it’s not like their food had been placed and was getting cold.

His mother was the first to approach to give him a light hug. “Let’s all make our way to the dining room, shall we?”

Amyn’s heart wrenched a little that his mother didn’t even say anything to him. The hug was a nice gesture, sure, but it was a small acknowledgement and rather degrading when he knew all of his other siblings had been greeted with more enthusiasm. He had accepted that he was the black sheep, but it still hurt to be purposefully pushed to the outside.

Rania took his arm. “Come, I made sure that we would sit together.”

Dinner started without any issues, and the family chef had gone out of his way to make a delicious roast lamb with tamiya, fatteh, mulukhiyah, mahshi, and a mountain of pita bread. The strong spices of the dish filled the room. Amyn’s mouth watered at the abundance of food that did not come from a box. Maybe he could convince Chef to give him an ample serving of leftovers.

Unfortunately, once the food was served, conversation started and that’s what Amyn dreaded more than anything. He kept quiet, only responding with minimal answers. Maybe if he could make himself small enough then everyone would forget he was there.

His luck was rotten.

“Amyn, how is your job?” his oldest sister, Alia, asked. She was the least cruel of his siblings, but it was still annoying that she had brought attention to it.

He swallowed preparing to speak when his phone buzzed. He glanced down to see the notification the app.

Tell her it is going well and you will be promoted to director soon.

Amyn hesitated for a moment until he saw the expectant faces around the table. “It’s good actually, I’ll be promoted soon.”

Heat flooded his neck. I’m a long way from that.

“What is it that you do?” Rania’s father asked.

He felt his phone buzz, but his occupation was not something he could lie about. He would use it except his parents had probably already said everything to the Dahers.

“I’m the arts leader for an after school program.”

“So you are a teacher then?” Rania’s mother asked.

“Not—” He glanced down.

Tell them you are encouraging future generations through creativity.

That was a reasonable response. “I encourage future generations through creativity,” Amyn replied.

Hassan snorted. Leaning closer to Rania’s brother as if to whisper, he said, “Don’t let his pretty words fool you, he’s a barely-paid babysitter because he couldn’t bear to finish school.”

Amyn clenched his jaw to keep from giving his brother a scathing remark. There were a lot of things he could say to his older brother about his career choice, but if he started a fight at the table his parents would blame him, and this evening was torturous enough.

Manu chimed in, “Amyn wants to be a comic book artist.” There was a hint of teasing disapproval to his statement.

I should have never confided that to him.

Mr. Daher said over the murmur, “That is unfortunate that you have such a position. We had been hoping to match you with Rania some day since the two of you were always good friends. I suppose we’ll have to look at other families.

Amyn slunk a little lower in his chair, and Rania, to his relief, looked horrified at her father’s statement. That was definitely one of the most degrading things that anyone had ever said about his decisions. Rania reached under the table to grasp his hand.

“I think that’s wonderful. You have always been talented at drawing,” Rania said. “We should do the things that make us happy.” Her last statement directed more at the table than him.

“Bassel, we tried to get him to change his mind many times. He would not listen to our council,” his father said, so matter-of-fact that the knife of shame in his chest burrowed deeper.

Rania came to his defense again, but he didn’t hear. Amyn just wished he could disappear. As if his body had actually heard his wish, the edges of his vision began to blur, darkening until he saw nothing but the plate in front of him. Then he began to shrink and wither, popping out of existence.


Amyn jolted, furiously patting his chest and examining his hands to make sure every part of him was still there. Once he was reassured that he had not, in fact, withered away, he looked around to the familiar comforts of his small apartment. The couch still smelled of old pizza—he had bought it well-used—and the grime on the floor was still a permanent addition to the laminate. He could have probably found a better apartment, but his teacher’s salary was not amazing and he was saving to buy a house, though he could take better strides to make it feel more like home.

Like starting with a new couch.

He scrubbed his hands across his face before resting his forehead to his fist. Amyn took a moment to analyze his dream. It seemed that no matter what he said, truth or not, it would always haunt him that he was never good enough in his parent’s eyes or someone else’s for that matter. Amyn knew he should stop caring what his parents thought about his career choice because he was happy. He’d found joy in being an art teacher, and he was a teacher, which his siblings didn’t seem to believe. He liked teaching because kids had this unbridled joy, and it was a daily reminder for him to stop fretting over every detail of life. He wrinkled his brow, and for that matter, why shouldn’t he draw comics on the side, hoping that his work would one day be popular? Why did his siblings always make it sound like he had useless aspirations?

A slow pulsing blue light on his phone pulled at his attention. He picked up the device, and after his weird dream, dreaded the potential messages harboring space on his phone. Two messages were from his mother letting him know that he needed to come to a family dinner, and one was from Rania Daher hoping that she had messaged the correct number. It felt almost like dejavu that his messages seemingly aligned with his weird dream. Maybe he had glanced at them before falling asleep?

Just to be sure he was truly awake, Amyn did a quick search on his phone for the app in his dream. Not finding it, he breathed out relief he’d been holding to his chest.

Clearing his nerves with a small shake, he responded to the messages, vowing that tomorrow at the dinner he would be honest with his family no matter what. If his dream told him anything clearly, it was that white lies were not helpful in any situation. After all, he ultimately had the power to allow shame from other’s statements. If his family didn’t understand why he did what he did, then they were the ones missing out on life—not him—and if Rania really was coming back into his life, then he was going to show his best self. As his former best friend, at the very least, she deserved his honesty and not some stupid little white lie.

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