By Tara Raani
Nandini has been fucking Colin for the last eight weeks and shit is starting to get sweet. Sweet as in he lets her sleep at his multi-story loft and takes her to triple digit brunches at Gallow Green on Saturdays. Who knew there was a jungle rainforest on top of an abandoned hotel in Chelsea? Certainly not Nandini.
Colin is gangly, and he is a nerd at heart, but money and the loft make up for his lack of shoulders. He has a deep voice, but it cracks often, and he hides a lisp. Every time his voice cracks, Nandini realizes this is a 25-year-old boy, playing house. Three stories and six bedrooms, but the only furniture in the whole place is two beds and a couch. There are expensive skin and wash products in the bathroom; the packaging is well-designed, swank even. Colin only ever drinks water out of sealed glass bottles, and he wears shoes on the couch. Nandini is learning a lot about rich people things from Colin, or maybe this is just white culture. In any case, she has no right to pass judgment on Colin.
She’s doing all the things she wanted to do in the fast lane in NYC. Because of this skinny man with money that comes from something somewhere. He has mentioned ‘venture money’ a few times and seems to work pretty hard, but she doesn’t care to know more. When Colin starts talking about his work, Nandini dreams of all the shows and films she will make once she’s a famous director.
She’ll make films about females who go through abuse, triumph, and family drama, and she’ll only hire women of color and only dark-skinned women of color at that. Colin is the key to her dreams. Nandini’s office job pays the rent, but it’s not getting her where she needs to be: on the pulse of the creative scene. Colin takes her to all the coolest city spots and always seems to know everyone everywhere. She lets him guide their days and nights. Nandini knows little brown girls don’t get to make their dreams happen; they have to make a white guy think it was his dream.
Third grade was the year Nandini fell in love with television. The school news team picked her as the anchor, and she read the daily headlines over the monitors. Kids made fun of her, but she never noticed. She was proud of her work and loved feeling the mic wet under her lips.
“This one will be in Hollywood!” her mom used to tell the other desis in their town, but Nandini could never tell if her mom was being sarcastic. The desis would bob their heads side to side in response, to be polite.
Nandini and Colin lay in bed on their sides, checking their notifications before they get up. The apartment is freezing from the AC, but it’s nearly 90 degrees outside.
Colin asks Nandini what she wants to do today, so she puts on a pair of puppy eyes and says, “I want to go to a pool.” Immediately, Colin agrees, and Nandini wishes she cared about him. If she can’t fall in love with him in summertime, she knows she never will.
“Lit. Let’s go to The Jimmy. It’s fun,” Colin says, stroking the side of her thigh. He is a sweet boy, honored Nandini even breathes in his vicinity. He catches himself wondering what he did to deserve this bronzed goddess, who always smells like rosewater and baby powder.
As they walk to Soho, Nandini eats up every moment of NYC street fashion and wonders how the women here do it so effortlessly. Where she grew up in northern California, the women are uninventive. Their imagination starts and ends at tie-dye sweatshirts and UGGs.
Today, she wears the same thing that she’s been wearing since high school: a long floral print maxi dress and sandals with a single strap running up through the big toe. In NYC, no one ever asks her where she gets her dresses. Nandini has massive eyes, she’s tall, taller than Colin, and she has thick thighs and squishy arms. Her boobs hurt as they bounce around on the walk, only supported by a tiny black bikini under her dress. Colin’s hand feels bony in hers, so she lets go and dabs at the sweat under her curly bangs.
Once they arrive at The Jimmy, a man in an all-white server’s uniform ushers them to the elevator and they go up to the rooftop. The pool is the same size as a California household pool. Colin’s translucent skin almost blinds Nandini.
“Shit, I need sunscreen,” Colin says, squinting to Nandini.
“I need a drink,” she responds, noting down another tenet of white culture: always bring sunscreen. It’s time to get wet and wasted. She gets in the water, leaning against the pool wall with her drink on the edge. The sun buzzes overhead, and Nandini examines the scene like she’s behind an invisible wall in a focus group.
New York women are way too fresh. Every woman looks uniquely fly, and Nandini wonders why she hasn’t reached this level of aesthetic yet. Although each woman is unique, there are some rules they all seem to follow.
No one wears dresses or skirts as coverups. There are no tight pants in sight, just loose ones. There are no flip flops and no high heels; some of the women even have sneakers. And no one smokes cigarettes. There are a lot of beautiful brownskin baddies around. The white women hike up their bikini bottom straps to create the illusion of fatassery. No one is over a size 4, but no one looks emaciated. Maybe it’s the big pants that make the women look smaller in comparison. None of the women have big boobs. Nandini looks down at her big boobs and wonders when they went out of fashion.
To her right, there’s a lightskin sex kitten with three thin gold chains on her waist with a big ponytail of wavy thick hair at the top of her head, a few streaks bleached by the sun, or a very, very good colorist. She’s in a white bandeau with thick white straps on the ends and a matching white thong. Next to her is an olive-toned woman with a middle part and hair slicked into a low bun. This woman wears sunglasses with light blue lenses and thin white frames, and a pale blue bikini. The chain on her neck has tiny diamond butterflies placed half an inch apart. Every man who walks by bighair kitten stares at her, for a brief moment wondering what it’d be like to be inside of her. She must be an influencer.
Nandini turns to the wall to put her drink on the ledge and wade into the water. As she turns, lightbluelenses lady says, “Hi! I’m Anoush. What’s your name?”
Nandini stares dead into Anoush’s eyes, terrified, “Hi… I’m Nandini.”
“I love that name! This is Alisa,” Anoush says, gesturing to bighair kitten next to her, who smiles at Nandini. Anoush’s voice is sweet and happy like watermelon juice.
“I love your necklace! It’s Ganesh, right?” Alisa asks nodding towards Nandini’s gold chain. “Are you from the city?”
“No, I’m from California.”
“Oh shit, where? I used to live in Oakland,” Anoush says.
“Yeah I’m actually from near there. Fremont. Umm… What do you guys do?” Nandini asks. Anoush loses some of the enthusiasm in her face and Nandini immediately regrets asking the question.
Alisa chimes in, “I’m a PA, and I paint. Anoush is a data analyst and a DJ.”
“Oh, that’s so cool! I really wanna make films too. I’m trying to get PA jobs actually.” “No, not a production assistant. I’m a physician assistant,” Alisa responds with a kind smile.
“Oh, my bad.”
“You’re fine,” Alisa says, squeezing Nandini’s arm.
“Oh wait, don’t we know that one girl who’s a PA?” Alisa taps her chin as she tries to recall, “I forget her name, but yeah she’s like OD into it. She’s on student films like every other week and a stagehand for plays and then does stuff with indie producers. Anyway, I’m sure you’re already in that whole hustle. So impressive.”
“Yeah,” Nandini rubs her lips together before taking a sip of her drink. She can’t imagine telling anyone she worked for student films and random Brooklyn hipsters for years and years just to potentially never make it. Fuck that.
Anoush jumps back into the conversation, “I started this organization last year. It’s called Lime Riot. We’re an organization of women who want to promote justice among underrepresented women in NYC, and we do a lot of fun activities around wellness and spirituality too. I’ll add you.”
“Oh my god, that sounds amazing,” Nandini responds, intrigued.
Nandini gives Anoush her email address, and they all exchange Instagrams. Nandini goes through their pages and realizes a lot of the cool NYC filmmakers follow them. The women leave, and Nandini gets out of the pool to go back to Colin’s table. She has no use for him now; she’s climbed the next rung of the ladder toward her goals.
But ending it with him is next week’s work. She holds his small bicep and smiles at him because she read somewhere that men feel strong when you hold their bicep. They bake in the sun for a few more hours before heading back to Colin’s loft.
A few days later, Nandini gets an email from Lime Riot about an upcoming event: a boxing class. The class will be taught by professional female boxers who were also victims of domestic abuse. Nandini goes to her closet to pick out what she’ll wear, excited about her imminent ascendance into the fly girls club of NYC.
Over at Riis Beach, Gina sells margaritas in bottle-shaped pouches; she brings them all the way from her apartment in Brooklyn in a cooler. Any day she doesn’t book an audition, she makes it to the beach to work. She used to sell Xanax and oxy too, but her Xanax guy once gave her roofies instead of Xanax and she accidentally roofied a hundred beachgays on a single Saturday afternoon. Everyone survived, but Gina had to pivot her business to liquor-only.
Gina is tiny, but she drags her massive cooler around the beach like it’s air. She wears a loose cut-off tee and her brother’s basketball shorts, which makes her look even shorter. By the end of weekends, her money is literally longer than her. Her skin gets a little browner week by week, and some day it’ll be wrinkled like her abuela’s. Every day at the beach, she checks her phone right in front of the graffiti that says ‘SWIM DONUT’ on an abandoned building. The dilapidated building looks like a torture facility, but the beachgays still use it as a background for fruity IG pics.
Gina checks her phone for auditions on the online database, messages from agents, or responses from auditions. Although today is a weekday, Gina makes a fat wad of cash off anorexic gays on shrooms. Each margarita pouch is transparent pink, and she puts a white smiley face sticker on each one that says ‘Gina’s Margaritas’ inside the lips. Her recipe:
1⁄4 Cup Tequila
1⁄4 Cup Red Kool-Aid
1 Squirt Strawberry Syrup
4 Dried Strawberries
1⁄2 Cup Pink Lemonade
1⁄4 Cup Water
She has an Instagram account for her margaritas, but no one follows it. One time she met a girl who DM’ed her on it and Gina had sex with her in the abandoned building after selling her days’ worth of margaritas. Gina wished she’d saved two for them to drink after, but business comes before pussy these days.
Back at SWIM DONUT, Gina checks her phone; she got a callback for the character Leslie in a play entitled Purple Ferns, created by one of Brooklyn’s most acclaimed directors. Gina scrolls through the script to see what she’ll be reading. It’s a conversation between Leslie and her friend, Blake, about whether men who can’t spell are better at sex than their literate counterparts. She practices reading the lines all night and wakes up fresh the next day to head to the callback in Bushwick.
She walks into the audition room and stands in front of three women at a table, with the famous director nowhere in the room. Gina had only ever seen pictures of him on the back of theater pamphlets, and wishes he were here. But she was honored to be auditioning for his production nonetheless. The woman on one end of the table hands Gina a script, but it looks different than the one Gina read in the email. She pauses to read it. It’s the same dialogue, but it has a paragraph description of Leslie before the dialogue.
Leslie is a young spunky Black woman who serial dates men. She lives on a publisher’s salary so she’s always finding odds and ends with which to decorate her apartment. Her father died last year, but she has a sense of humor about it. She’s currently dating four different men, and goes to her friend Blake for advice.
Gina gulps as she reads the first line and opens her mouth to the directors to say, “I appreciate your consideration for this role, but… I’m not Black.”
The director stares blankly at Gina. Gina stares back, defiant. The director stares back. Gina stares back. The director stares back. Gina stares back. Finally, the director, without changing her face, says, “alrighty then, you can start reading now.”
Gina puts the script on the table silently and walks out. As she walks out, she wishes she’d held the woman by the sides of her head and screamed about how this audition was irresponsible. But that would kill Gina’s career. Every casting director knows, hates, and has sex with every other casting director in this city. Gina shudders at the thought of a casting director telling another casting director ‘never to cast Gina Roderick’ over a mediocre blowjob.
She checks her audition database app and applies to ten more productions. Next week is another week. She goes to the kitchen and begins to make tomorrow’s round of Gina’s Margaritas. After pouring herself a cup of tequila ft. pink lemonade, she preps. There are a million messages in her best friend groupchat, a text from a girl she met on Tinder, and a text in her Lime Riot groupchat. Ooh, an event this weekend: boxing with pro female boxers. It could feel good to punch out her angst from the audition.
On Saturday morning, Gina checks her email. She got rejected from two other auditions from last week, but oh! a callback for a production of Fefu and Her Friends, a classic. She has been waiting for a theater in NYC to produce this play, and this could be her moment.
A play about lady lovers with extra sensory perception? Yes please. Before the boxing event, Gina smokes half a joint and ashes it in her basil plant as she goes. It’s good for the soil, her roommate says. She puts on a muscle tee with basketball shorts and laces up her filthy Converse. At the boxing session, she greets Anoush with a tight hug.
One of the pro boxers helps Gina tape up her wrists and find the right pair of gloves. Gina can barely keep her mind from wandering; she dreams of big spooning this boxer lady and rubbing warm oil on her legs. What a divine being, she thinks to herself.
Before the session starts, the Lime Rioters form a circle around the boxer. She thanks everyone for coming and reminds them why they are all here today: to raise awareness for domestic abuse victims in NYC. She was physically abused by her boyfriend and her trainer and almost died fighting both. Then she transitions to how she rose up from that trauma by putting her energies into fighting professionally and ends with an enumeration of all the titles she won since then.
“You can do anything you put your fight into,” she tells the women. Gina nods, yells, and claps. Everyone breaks off in twos, and Gina looks around for a sparring partner. Her eyes meet another woman’s, and they bump fists over gloves.
Jab jab cross jab jab cross jab jab cross pop pop bang jab jab cross. Gina and Nandini hop around. Nandini has never boxed before, and her weak arms fall back every time Gina punches her hands. Gina eases up. After the first exercise, the pro boxers explain how to duck a punch, and the women practice slowly. Gina and Nandini come back together to practice ducking each other’s punches. They move slowly, practicing form while the pro boxers adjust their motions. They yell at the women to move faster and faster, to the beat of the song playing in the gym.
Nandini examines Gina. She wonders how Gina is so small, but her muscles are so big. She wants to know if she’s a lesbian or not. Gina has short hair and wears baggie clothes, but all the girls wear baggy clothes now, so does that mean she’s straight? Does pussy taste weird? Does it feel like shark fin? What do you do if there’s shit in it? She looks gay but she might not be.
Gina concentrates her focus. She’s here to get her sweat on and maybe impress this stallion pro boxer. Jab jab cross duck jab jab cross jab jab cross duck. Gina gets a good rhythm going and feels Nandini’s hands strengthen up, so she jabs harder and bounces on beat.
Nandini’s mind reels trying to keep up with Gina. She wonders how the fuck this tiny lesbian punches so hard. Is this lesbian into her? Pussy probably tastes like glue. Why would this girl wear such big shorts when she has such nice legs? Is it cause she’s gay or— ——-SMACK.
Technical Knock Out. Gina and the pro boxers stand over Nandini. “Oh my god, I didn’t realize– I didn’t think I was swinging that hard– I didn’t mean to,” Gina repeats.
Nandini blinks her eyes like she has honey for eyeshadow. Her mind goes blank and then pops back to somewhere near reality as thoughts run a relay through her mind: she doesn’t have any friends, she hasn’t booked a single PA job, no one loves her here, she will run out of money, Colin is an idiot who she hates, maybe she needs to leave New York City. The boxers sit with Nandini for a while as she comes to, and then she leaves.
At the end of her lease cycle, Nandini ghosts Colin, unsubscribes from Lime Riot, and moves back home. Her mom picks her up from SFO Airport and says, “béta, I knew you couldn’t do it. You’re not like these Americans. They are so savvy and hardworking.”
Tara Raani is a model, actress, and writer in NYC. She writes about queer desis, NYC, and radical visions of the future. She likes to eat spicy food, do nothing, and spoil her friends.