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Mokita: Little lies and love

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Senior Staff

MARCH 23, 2023

My mother asks me how her hair looks after returning from the salon, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that cool-toned blonde looks green on her. I ask my roommate how my makeup looks before going out, and she can’t bring herself to inform me that my concealer shade should have been left in the summer. 

We fill our days and relationships with these little lies, acting only in the interest of preserving peace. Slowly but surely, the instinct for untruthfulness seeps into the greater elements of conversation. There is no desire to prod past the surface of a loved one’s well-being, and slowly, we become strangers.

Long-distance friendships are my Achilles heel: I never know how to preserve them, but I can never just stop loving the other person. Such is the case with my childhood best friend, who completed her secondary education in our hometown of Krakow, Poland, and now studies in the Netherlands. Her bright eyes are the only pair that truly watched me grow up, taking in each avenue of my heart better than I ever could.

I don’t ask, and she never tells. She doesn’t question me, and I never divulge my hurt to her. We live in perfect symbiosis, wholly believing that the other is in a state of perpetual bliss. Though occasionally, we’ll exchange a few words about an issue one of us is having, but that too, we’ll bathe in lies. I conceal my wrongs when sharing conflicts I’m engaged in with her, and she absolves me of any faults. The little lies build up distance through distrust, and our friendship surrenders any semblance of authenticity.

“Mokita” is a word from the language of Kilivila, which is used by the Trobriand people of Papua New Guinea. The word is defined as a truth acknowledged but left unspoken, sometimes thought of as the “elephant in a room.” From the first moment I encountered the term, I began unwillingly observing it around every corner, in every relationship. 

I spent my last day in my home country entirely with her, welding shared armor in our final hours together. We sorted through old pictures and laughed at the sharp paper cuts that were beginning to decorate the tips of our fingers. Barely older than 14 and equally young in our clumsiness and love, we replayed the tapes of our childhood and watched it unfold before us. She smelled of summer and my favorite tea and it hit me that we only had a few more moments such as this for the rest of our lives. Time cast its hateful spell over us, and before we were ready to brace the world from separate continents, we were pulled apart. 

During the first few months, we diligently called each other every few days, sacrificing sleep to time zone differences. As the months dragged into years, our conversations widened to allow the little lies to participate. I pretended not to notice how she was pulling away from all the color in the world, and she didn’t investigate why my voice shook on certain memories. She said nothing when I let truths slip through the cracks, and I cheered her on through relationships I would never have supported otherwise. We exchanged stories of friends and lives that in no way intersected, and she didn’t even mention what her current boyfriend’s name was. The physical distance made me feel that I had no authority to actively participate in her life or influence it. 

The memory of our childhood was the one thing left now that linked us, as we both felt foreign in the backdrop of each other’s life. Who was I to be honest with her, when I haven’t witnessed firsthand the life she is lying before me? 

As we plunged into another conversation soaked in “mokita,” I realized I no longer knew my best friend. We used to be 11 years old and rule the world, toothy grins confidently bracing the future. Eternally honest, basking in childhood innocence, she used to lightly poke fun at my faults and I at hers. 

What had we become? 

As I shared updates on my American life, and she on her Dutch one, I felt the rusted chains of “mokita” pressing on my chest. I couldn’t breathe and for the first time, I realized I wanted them to break. On my end, we were so deep into the night that it had nearly folded over in the morning, and through sleepy breaths, I pushed against the cracks of “mokita.” I gave her an offering of truth, softly questioning her conviction. She reciprocated, welcoming my opinion and offering some of her own, slipping in a few jokes at my sillier faults. Our words composed the first genuine conversation we had had in perhaps a year, and the fears that had seemed to be an uproar proved to, at most, amount to faint whispers. 

The morning sun bathed my room, and she said she had to go. She bid me goodnight, and I wished her a good day. As always, I told her I love her, and, for the first time since we were girls, I knew who I was saying it to.

Miriam Klaczynska writes the Thursday column on words that can't be translated into English. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

APRIL 10, 2023