Shivani Manghnani was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i, and studied creative writing at Brown University and Columbia University, where she earned an MFA in fiction. Recently, she was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony and received funding to support the completion of her first book from the Urban Artist Initiative/NYC grant program. This fall, she will be a writer-in-residence at the Insituto Sacatar in Bahia, Brazil.
An excerpt from Fight Night, a novel:
Rishi hits the speed bag first, a little frantic. He moves to the heavy one, where Nimisha notices something sloppy in the way he thrusts his whole being into every punch. “Recognize this?” he says, almost out of breath. “It’s the Ali shuffle.” Nimisha aches to touch the bag, to see if she’s quick enough to battle the swinging weight. Instead, she does sit ups and leg stretches on big rubber balls, wishing she could roll roll roll off the face of the earth. She does poses she’s seen other women do: backbends and side stretches that make her look feline and feminine.
Eventually, Rishi lets her hold it. She presses her cheek against the vinyl before giving the bag a hard slap with her bare hand. He straps on her gloves. “Keep your hands by your chin,” he orders, showing her what to do. How to position her feet during an uppercut. How to twist her hips for a cross. Simple things she already knows and practiced alone, in another life.
“Sameer Khan has nothing on you!” he says and she giggles like a teenager, remembering her hero, the twenty-three-year-old, British Pakistani middleweight who has never lost a fight. Just thinking about Sameer makes Nimisha blush, her muscles clench. At difficult moments (when someone has cut in front of her in line, when she is walking on a particularly dark street corner or past the guy in a wheelchair who always tells her she’d look better if she smiled), Nimisha chants his name. On nights her ex-boyfriend Vikram insisted that she stay at home while he tried out every hookah bar on the LES, Nimisha used to pull out the small picture of her boxer from her wallet. She would smile and Sameer would smile back, his perfect teeth lined up like little white soldiers. Dimples in each of his cheeks, his black hair in a sweet curl of an s across his forehead. Too pretty to hit.
Pounding the bag Nimisha feels the return of old aches: the shock in her hips, the snap of her elbows. In the mirror she watches sweat fly off her skin like beads of glass. “Enough,” Rishi says, pulling off his gloves. He runs a damp finger over her bicep, his eyes widening. “Wow,” he says. “You got some guns.”
“Really?” Nimisha thought they had all but disappeared. She jabs him hard on the shoulder. It’s a joke until she sees the look on his face — surprise, terror, anger. And then she feels it — the forgotten thrill of a fight.