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Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In July, we're reading Shirlene Obuobi's On Rotation, a bighearted novel about a Ghanaian American medical student navigating life and love. Read an excerpt from the novel below, then find out how to participate. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
The worst thing I ever did was grow an ass. It announced its presence loud and clear before the rest of my body could figure out what was happening; one day, I was skinny thighs and gangly arms and protruding belly button, and the next, my thighs were bursting the seams off my jeans and my ass was projecting out so far from my back that you could fit a pencil bag down the gap, fit an orange, fit an asshole thirteen-year-old boy’s hand. No belt could contain it, and spandex-polyester-blend “curvy”-fit Levi’s didn’t stand a chance. The Ass had taken over. It didn’t care that it was 2002 and asses were out of style. It didn’t care that it had robbed me of the chance to be that girl from the movies, the one scrutinizing her slim, toned body in her full-length mirror, peering over her shoulder and asking her bum of a boyfriend “Does this dress make my butt look big?” Because for me, the answer would always be yes, and it would be unjust to blame the dress.
Real men, the ones who existed off-screen, had no quarrel with the Ass. I knew what it meant to know that a guy was fucking you with his eyes before I knew what fucking was, knew enough to feel sticky-sick from their sleepy, half-lidded gazes and curled lips and damn, mamas. I learned to clutch my fists tightly over my barely budded chest and shuffle out of sight, legs clamped together to keep the Ass from jiggling too much, not that it helped. The Ass had tossed me into womanhood without my consent, thrown me out on a platter for consumption, and left me there to smile vapidly at the Uncle Who Was Just Visiting as his eyes went hooded and he said, “Ay! Angie! All grown up, I see.”
For a while, no man who wasn’t “hood” would ever fess up to being into ass, not until the time when ass came into style and every other Instagram post featured some skinny-waisted, big-bootied video vixen in a bodycon bandage dress. I would have given the Ass a pass for all the trouble it brought me if only it had remembered that I didn’t have the right phenotype. Big asses were glamour if you were Kim K or a light bright Dominicana, but on a dark-skinned nappy-headed ho like me they were too jungle, too much Saartjie Baartman and not enough Marilyn Monroe.
Frederick, my (first ever!) boyfriend of six months, loved the Ass. He liked to rest his hand on the small of my back and stroke down the satin-smooth skin until the high, round cut of it was cupped in his palm. Momma had always said I was lucky—my ass came from my back on a steady slope, not jutting out assertively like so many of my aunties’ did—and Frederick enjoyed that incline, resting his hand along it when we were watching Netflix or falling asleep on his double.
I think the Ass might have been the only thing he actually liked about me, in the end.
“I’m...not coming with you.”
I hoisted my duffel bag higher onto my shoulder, giving my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend an appraising look. Frederick looked sheepish, leaning against his perfectly-parallel-parked Lexus with his hands shoved into his pockets and his gaze directed determinedly into the distance. He was the kind of guy whose fashion sense swung dramatically between runway sharp and basement-dweller sloppy, and today, in his sun-bleached high school debate tee and raggedy sweats, he was flagrantly going for the latter. It was an outfit barely acceptable for bed, let alone for meeting my judgmental Ghanaian parents. I still remembered what he’d worn on our first date: a blue blazer, starched white button-down, gray slacks. That outfit, paired with his sculpted frame, even brown skin, and thick-rimmed glasses? He’d looked good enough to eat. I’d taken one look at him, thought, Oh, you’ll do.
I knew, with certainty, that he had specifically chosen this monstrosity of an outfit to signal to me that I would be driving to Naperville alone. He’d probably spent thirty minutes hunting down the rattiest tee in his dresser just to get the point across. He would’ve done better to spit at my feet.
“Clearly,” I said with a defeated sigh. “So. What are you doing here, then?”
We both knew the answer to that question. After all, Frederick had been playing the Nice Guy game for weeks now—the one little boys play when they want to break up with their perfectly fine girlfriends but don’t want to bear the responsibility of hurting her feelings, and so drag things out and misbehave until the girl loses patience and breaks it off first.
And my dumb ass had allowed it. I’d convinced myself that I was being oversensitive, that I needed to give him space, that he didn’t owe me the commitment he’d promised me. And because of my own negligence, Frederick was going to end us in the cruelest way possible. Not that he thought he was being cruel. Knowing Frederick, he probably figured that dumping a girl an hour and a half before meeting her parents was being magnanimous. I need to do it to her face, he’d probably told himself, that’s what a good guy would do. Even now, his expression was tortured, like someone was slowly driving a screw into his back. As if the burden of dumping me was one he was brave to bear.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I crossed my arms, waiting for him to gather his nerve. Frederick mirrored my stance, avoiding my gaze as the silence thickened. Eventually, he cleared his throat.
“You know, I really was touched when you asked me to come meet your parents,” he started. “It was nice to know that you wanted me to see you with your tribe.”
His delivery felt rehearsed, the heavy pause and pained swallow all part of a performance.
“But even then, I wasn’t sure,” he continued. “I said yes because I thought I should. It felt like the right thing to do. But—”
“Now it doesn’t,” I said, cutting his speech short. No need to hear his final arguments when I’d already accepted my verdict. “Okay, cool.”
I pulled out my keys and took a sharp left, marching toward my car. Not a second later, I heard the heavy footfall of his steps behind me.
“Come on, Angie,” Frederick tried. “Let’s talk for a bit. I feel like I owe you that much.”
I swung around to look at him one last time.
Yet again, I’d gotten ahead of myself. What about Frederick, aside from his nice car, his impressive CV, his swag, had convinced me that he could be the One? Sure, he checked off all the boxes, but every guy I’d fallen for checked the boxes too—except the one that required them to actually give a shit about me.
“You’re breaking up with me, right?” I said. When he didn’t answer, I nodded, understanding. I threw open my car door, tossed my bag in the back seat, and gave him my most beatific smile. “Don’t worry; you don’t owe me anything. We’re good. Have a nice life, Freddy.”
When I drove off, he was still standing where I’d left him, dumbstruck. I smirked. Small victories, Angie, I thought. You dated a lawyer and still managed to get the last word.
Adapted from On Rotation by Shirlene Obuobi. Copyright © 2022 by Shirlene Obuobi. Reprinted courtesy of Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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