Subhash struggled to stay balanced while ignoring the pain swelling around his ankles.
“Move your hips,” Naima said, but Subhash eventually asked for another pair.
Naima found heels that were already worn out. Subhash slipped them on and crossed the room without tripping.
Naima cheered and they spent the rest of the morning trying on makeup. Subhash was applying lipstick when Grace Lee, Naima’s roommate, knocked and entered. Subhash rushed into Naima’s bed and pretended to sleep.
“My bad, was I interrupting?” Grace asked, and Naima, who was perched on the edge of the mattress, quickly asked, “How did your meeting with the Korean Student Association go?”
Grace shrugged and set her backpack on the desk.
“They’re anti-Iraq War but they still aren’t confident they want to be associated with our event.”
“It’s in two days…”
“Believe me, I repeated that to them. I also explained that they should join our group since we’re the ones representing students of color on-campus.”
“In a way, I can understand why this could be scary for them.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s the last time I hang with any of them by myself.”
“Did they want you to become their member?”
“Worse. One of them asked me for coffee.”
“Aw. That’s cute.”
“He smelled like garlic,” Grace said as she grabbed a bag of weed from a drawer and stuffed it into her bra.
After she left, Subhash tickled Naima, until they both were under the sheets, while music and voices from the other rooms reverberated.
. . .
At the Asian American Center, they discussed last-minute changes for the anti-war march that was scheduled for Sunday.
The majority of the stickers and posters with the name of their group, United Front, were finished.
“Did we hear anything from the professors?” Nathuram, their president, asked.
Maria, who was in charge of contacting faculty and alumni, admitted that it was only the professors from last year’s event who were interested in speaking.
Grace explained that not all the major Asian American organizations officially wanted to participate.
“But I know people in them who will still be at the rally,” she said.
Nathuram arched an eyebrow.
“It’s been weeks,” he replied.
“I warned you not to do this when finals would be just around the corner.”
“You can’t keep complaining about what’s in the past,” he told Grace, adding that he grew up with many of those in the Korean Students Association. “My cousin is on their board,” he said.
“It’s good to know you’re circle jerk buddies with them,” Grace remarked.
Emiliano, their treasurer, kept his head low since the beginning of the meeting, after updating everyone on the amount of money they needed to raise going forward. According to Emiliano, their membership had risen from a few dozen to over 100, although many weren’t paying dues consistently.
“You need to stop being so uptight.”
“I don’t have the patience to be lectured by a midget.”
Nathuram ordered everyone to calm down and reminded them of how important the rally was.
“This is our critical moment to show that we’re not some random organization but a solid participant in the politics of our university,” he said, hands folded and his shoulders arched.
“Naima, how are the speeches coming along?” Nathuram said.
“I’m done writing yours and am almost finished with Brandon’s,” Naima answered.
“Don’t forget to email them to me by tomorrow.”
“I won’t. I will also CC everyone else.”
“Good. And make sure there aren’t any typos.”
“Can’t you do a proof-read on your own?” Subhash asked.
David rolled his eyes as Emiliano chewed on his bottom lip.
Nathuram told Subhash he’d be too busy checking out the different streets and paths that were planned as their route for the march.
Subhash grinned. “So you’ll basically be walking around,” Subhash said, “And you literally live around the block from where we’ll be.”
Nathuram turned to the rest of the room, telling them to be in contact with one another and not to lose focus.
“Thanks for the advice Mahatma Gandhi,” Subhash commented, causing Grace and Maria to giggle.
Nathuram glowered and left, with David and Emiliano right behind him.
. . .
Naima read the back of the book before returning it to the shelf.
“What are you looking for?” Subhash asked.
“Not sure,” she answered.
“Is this about your presentation?”
“The professor told us a reporter from the Newark Star-Ledger is going to sit in for our last class.”
“Wow. How did that happen?”
“Apparently, they all know each other.”
“But are you worried? You’ve been getting A’s all semester and your topic for this one is perfect!”
“I just wonder if I should include myself in the story as well…”
“When do have to submit? What did he say when you tried doing it on the other assignment?”
“The article and presentation are due Tuesday. And I never actually tried.”
“I know. I know. Trust me, I wanted to. But that’s one of the rules that as reporters we can’t ever use ‘I’ and ‘Us’ in our articles, unless it’s an opinion piece.”
“Since you’re writing about the importance of diversity on-campus, your experiences on this would be super important. Look around. Who else can have a perspective like yours?”
“It’s not that simple…”
Students gathered at the tables on the main floor of the library, popping open cans of Red Bull. Subhash observed Naima’s expression as they navigated the crowd. Food trucks lined along the avenue, and they stopped at the coffee shop at the student center, surrounded by TV sets tuned onto MTV or the news.
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That night, they went to a fraternity for what was supposed to be a fundraiser. Naima held Subhash’s hand as they entered through the front door, the music turning the floor into rubber.
Subhash went to grab drinks and bumped into Jahlil, who he knew from their sociology class.
“Hey man! What are you doing here?” Subhash asked.
Jahlil wiped his glasses on his shirt. “Staying alive,” he said.
Subhash laughed. “Is Aisha here too?”
“Nope. I’m actually babysitting my brother,” Jahlil explained, “He somehow thinks this will be the highlight of his freshman year.”
“Have you been here for a long time?”
“Yep. What about you?”
“I’ve never been to one of these. So I just wanted to see what it was all about.”
“How’s the planning for the rally?”
“Are you guys ready for the rally?”
“It’s on Sunday!”
They gave up and tapped their red cups. Men began wrestling in the middle of the room.
Naima stayed by the wall, and Subhash handed her the cup. She took a sip. He kissed her on the cheek.
Groups gathered on street corners, as Subhash and Naima headed downtown. At the bodega, they bought bags of chips and soda, and returned to the parking garage right across from their dorm. They went to the rooftop with a clear view of the New Brunswick skyline.
“I have too much on my plate.”
“I love how you use phrases no one else does.”
“What? All I’m saying is you already talk like a professional.”
They chewed while people strolled below. Subhash nudged Naima, and then poured the soda on top of a man and his girlfriend. The man cursed, and Subhash and Naima ducked.
The floor where Naima lived was also packed with people. They shut the door and played God’s Son while finding their rhythm. The lights were on and the bed felt cool. Hearts raced and a tingling sensation filled their toes and hands. There was a knock. Naima rolled off and threw on a shirt, as Grace unlocked and poked her head inside. Subhash stayed wrapped under the sheets, as Grace, with a can in her hand, was singing at the top of her lungs. She collapsed into bed, and said there was an emergency meeting in the morning.
Before Naima could ask for more details, Grace was snoring.
Naima tucked Grace in, and took Subhash to the women’s bathroom, where they found an empty shower stall. They flipped on the water and pressed themselves into the far corner.