“The Lakshmi of Suburbia”—a story by Natasha Tynes

5 July, 2024
Can an internet influencer save a failing marriage?


Natasha Tynes


“You let yourself go.” 

Amani couldn’t escape the thought. Was it really her fault? Did she intentionally neglect herself? Or was it just middle age creeping in? 

Did the mix of motherhood and suburban banality forever tarnish her? Making her appear unattractive, a mom, undesirable, a human walking this earth with the sole purpose of raising and nurturing her sole child?

She was in bed, aimlessly scrolling Instagram, while Elias, her husband of more than five years, was sleeping in their son’s room. It started with him telling her he needed Rami, their three-year-old, to sleep, and it would be better if he were in his room. He told her that she had seemed exhausted and that he wanted to help. She loved that about him.

One year later, Elias was still sleeping in Rami’s room.

“You let yourself go,” her sister, who lived in California, told her over FaceTime.

She had called her earlier that day to chit-chat, and then she confessed when her sister suggested some home redesign tips.

“Our sleeping situation is a bit complicated. Elias has been sleeping in Rami’s room for a few months.” She lied. She didn’t want to say it had been over a year since they had shared a bed, a year since he had touched her.

She could see the horrified look of her sister Shireen on her iPhone screen when she told her. 

Shireen tilted her back and raised her eyebrows. “Did you say three months? Three whole months?”

“Well, you know, Rami has always been a bad sleeper, and Elias is just trying to help me put him to sleep. Nothing serious.”

“You know he’s sleeping around, don’t you?”

Amani felt a lump in her throat. “What? What are you talking about? Elias? Of course not!”

“A man can’t be without a woman for that long.”

Her sister and she had never said the word “sex” out loud to each other. It was just not proper, even among sisters; instead, they danced around it and replaced it with words like  “sleep” and “bed.” 

“It’s not like that,” Amani lied. Of course, it was about that. He had not touched her for way too long. 

Amani could hear her sister making a tsk sound. “I can’t believe you still don’t understand men. You have been married for how long now? Five years? You’re so naive.”

“We’re both working hard and tired all the time, and Rami has these massive temper tantrums. Elias and I love each other.” Another lie.

“Listen habibti, a man is a man. If he’s not near you, he’s getting it elsewhere. You have to do something about it.”

“You’re being overdramatic. All these Turkish soap operas you have been watching have messed with your head.”

“Oh, please, spare me your wisdom. This happens when women ignore themselves.”

Amani shook her head. “What do you mean?” 

Her sister rolled her eyes. “Do I have to spell it out?”

“Yes, say it,” Amani demanded.

“You let yourself go” 


“Look at you — messy hair. No makeup. You’re not even wearing earrings.”

Amani shook her head. “I’m home. Do you want me to wear earrings around the house?”

“Habibti, a man wants his woman pretty all the time, house or no house. That’s why God created women from the rib of men. We were created to please them.”

“I can’t believe you have been in the U.S. for years, and you still think this way,” Amani responded. “You’re turning into our grandmother.”

“Seriously, you think men change across oceans? Don’t be stupid, sister.”

Amani kept scrolling Instagram aimlessly, hoping to forget what Shireen had told her: that she had only herself to blame, that her husband’s aversion to her was a fault of her own, and that if she lost him, it was all on her.

Amani looked at Instagram reels of moms dancing and making light of their tiring lives with their toddlers. She saw videos of first-generation Arab immigrants making fun of their parents who were trying hard to assimilate into American culture. She scrolled and scrolled until she found her. Mira Lakshmi. She wore a black bikini and a white shirt loosely draped over her shoulders. Her hair was styled casually, with stray strands framing her face. Her arms were placed above her head as she looked away from the camera. Amani looked at Mira’s smooth olive skin. Every curve and line of her body was a harmonious blend of femininity and strength. Her posture radiated femininity — beauty in all its forms.

How old is this woman?  Isn’t she a model? Wasn’t she on that cooking show? Wasn’t she married to a famous author? She switched to Google.  

Mira Lakshmi is 53 years old. Damn!

How did she manage to look that good at her age? 

According to Google, Lakshmi, who was born in a small Indian village and had made it to the U.S. as an international model, was divorced with one child. How come she didn’t let herself go?  Was it merely the magic work of Photoshop, or maybe plastic surgery and a very expensive 24/7 personal trainer? 

Maybe she is taking some of these weight loss medicines, Ozempic or Wegovy or whatever.

Amani scrolled through Mira Lakshmi’s Instagram feed. There she was, leaning by a stovetop, wearing a strapless black top while stirring some vegetables in a wok. There was another one of her with her daughter by the pool. Another one showed her standing upside down, doing some sort of complicated yoga pose. One that Amani would never have the courage to try. Not now, not ever.


Fifty-three years, really?

Amani had a hard time sleeping that night, tossing and turning. Would she ever be as fit and beautiful as that Lakshmi woman? Or has her ship already sailed at 40? Is it even possible to look like that in your fifties? Was it all AI-generated? 

Amani eventually got out of bed, went downstairs to the kitchen, and grabbed a glass of water. The house was eerily silent. She wished Elias was sleeping next to her. Maybe he would have comforted her while she couldn’t sleep. She missed when she used to sleep on his chest all night. What happened to her? Why did she allow herself to disintegrate? A suburban mom with no touch of makeup, wandering around in flip flops, baggy pants, circles under her eyes, unkempt hair, shoulders hunched, back hunched, a belly protruding, fat muscles sagging from her shoulders. Has she allowed herself to be too sucked into the American suburbia where women go to Target in their PJs?

Has she let herself go to the point of no return?

She woke up groggy the following day. She quietly opened Rami’s room. Elias and Rami were both sound asleep next to each other. She smiled. They both looked so cute, so innocent when they were sleeping. She had an hour to get ready for work before they woke up. She walked to the kitchen and ran the coffee machine. While the coffee was brewing, she opened Instagram and looked at Mira Lakshmi’s page. She observed her jewelry: silver dangly earrings and a long bohemian-looking necklace composed of a series of round beads, alternating in teal and coral, strung together on a dark cord with a silver oval pendant. She switched to Amazon, searched for a “bohemian necklace,” and browsed until she found what she was looking for. Close enough. The difference was that the pendant on Amazon was crescent-shaped, and the beads were different colors. She ordered it. Next-day delivery. She smiled. 

The land of instant satisfaction never disappoints.

Over the following days, Amani embarked on a shopping spree, looking for one item after the other — items that would make her look less of a mom and more of a woman, more like Mira Lakshmi. 

Her next plan of action was changing her body. She needed to eat less and exercise. Maybe she could start by walking. A stroll around the block during her lunch break. It was just too hot outside. July in DC was hell. She missed Jordan’s summers, which were much nicer and milder, with no humidity and crisp evenings. 

She looked for the closest gym to her office so that she could go during her lunch break, or maybe early in the morning. She worked as a program assistant at an international development agency. The job was boring most of the time. It entailed emailing this and emailing that. Helping with proposals, and responding to anyone from the Middle East who preferred to speak Arabic over English.

She located a gym within walking distance of her office. She would start with classes, something fun, like Zumba or aerobics. Running or lifting weights were not for her — not yet.

Amani’s daily routine took a new form. She would wake up earlier than usual, prepare Rami’s lunch for daycare, and then drive to the metro station to take the train to her office in downtown DC, carrying both her gym bag and work purse.

She would arrive at the office at 7:30 a.m. when no one was there, leave her stuff, change into her gym clothes, and walk to the gym near her office. Sometimes, she would go during lunch if there was a class she liked. By the time she got home, she would be too exhausted to do anything else.

“Are you making dinner tonight?” Elias texted her occasionally as she was on the metro on her way home.

“Too exhausted, I went to an evening class after work.”

“I see. I’ll just get pizza.”

She tightened her jaw. Pizza for the third night in a row! “Can’t you make dinner for a change?” she texted back.

“You know I’m as exhausted as you are, and I need to pick up Rami. Not everything revolves around you, you know?”

Amani reread his text. When did he become so mean?

Two months after embarking on her own hero’s journey, Amani was being noticed — by her colleagues, her friends, and random people in the street. They looked at her, really looked at her, or maybe it was in her head. She didn’t care. She felt good and looked good. Even her gait had changed. More confident. Better posture. When she talked to people, she would stand up straight, pushing her shoulders back slightly and opening up her chest.

“You lost weight!” and “You look amazing,” became sentences that people would say to her frequently.

Even her sister Shireen noticed. ”I see it in your face. You lost weight,” she told her over FaceTime.

“I guess,” said Amani.

“Is Elias back in the room?”

“Oh, yeah,” she lied. “It was just a phase.”

“I told you. A man is a man. You just needed to look good again, and he would come back running.”

Ah, Elias, what happened to you? What happened to us? 

Amani couldn’t help but reminisce about a different time when he was drawn to her, or so she had thought.

Was he ever in love with me? 

They met online on one of these dating apps. He was already in the U.S., working for an architectural firm in DC. He got the job right after college. A friend referred him, and he was hired as a consultant; three years later, he got a job as a project manager. He excelled, got promoted, and eventually landed a green card and an American wife. A marriage that lasted a few years before he realized that a solid life partner should be one of his own kind.

When he returned to Jordan for a visit, he was determined to find a wife. He wanted a traditional life — scratch that, maybe not traditional, a practical one.

He wanted a wife, a family, and a house in the suburbs, and the timing was right. He was of age and had a fancy job and a failed marriage behind him.

When they first met on the app, they agreed to meet at a coffee shop on the outskirts of Amman, away from prying eyes.

Amani thought he was handsome. Tall, with hazel eyes, olive skin, and a black goatee, he wore dark-rimmed glasses. Elias was very successful and focused. He was a catch, especially for someone her age. She was already 35 when they met, and she didn’t think she had the privilege to be that selective. She knew she wouldn’t fall in love with him in that crazy way, like in the books and movies, but she didn’t care. 

He crossed all the boxes: a handsome, rich Jordanian Christian, a minority within a minority, just like her, and he provided an opportunity for her to live in America. What more did she want?

What is this crazy love anyway? She kept reminding herself. It was just the work of fiction and poetry. It was just not meant to last; it was your hormones messing with your head. He was perfect.

They got married a year later, and she moved to the U.S. with him six months afterwards, when her immigration papers were sorted out. They settled in the Maryland suburbs, ready to embark on their life. Amani couldn’t be happier. 

I can’t find a better man.

She was a virgin when they got married, a fact that she didn’t want to share with her American friends. What would they think of her? A 35-year-old virgin? A freak?

For Jordan, of course, you were expected to be a virgin at any age as long as you were not married. You would be a pariah if you crossed that line and did the unthinkable.

Amani couldn’t help but wonder sometimes how the definition of pariah could be reversed when you cross the Atlantic. A pariah if you were a virgin, and a pariah if you were not.

She wanted to make up for lost time, to discover herself with her new man, her first man, but she also wanted kids immediately, so she didn’t even bother with taking the pill (It messes with your hormones anyway, or at least that was what she was told).

At first, they had a lot of sex. They tried, and they tried. They saw doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist until she finally got pregnant with Rami at 38. One child was all that she could give her husband. That was what was written in the books for her. 

“At least you gave him a boy,” her sister Shireen told her over the phone when she called her crying after she had resigned to the fact that Rami would be an only child.

Amani had always wondered if Elias was too exhausted from dealing with her infertility dramas, and that was what had turned him off. Maybe he secretly resented her for giving him only one child.

At least I gave him a boy.

She exited the shower, steam still lingering in the air, and grabbed the towel hanging by the tub. She still showered in the evenings. Five years in the U.S., she didn’t have the habit of showering in the morning before work like most Americans do. The evening showers cleansed her of all the day’s venoms. Relaxed her. As she dried herself, she looked at herself in the mirror above the sink. She liked what she saw.

Her face was thinner. She ran her fingers across it and felt how smooth it was from all the skincare regimens (a five-step daily routine). She looked at her breasts and ran her hand across her belly. The Buddha bulge was still there but somehow was small and cute. She looked good. She had made definite progress. Her efforts were not for naught. As she kept staring, she slowly felt her jaw tighten, her hands clenched into fists as her nails dug into her palms.

How could he keep ignoring me? How could he ignore this?  

She wrapped herself with the towel, stormed out of the bathroom, and headed to his office. He was working late to catch up on some work (or so he said), as Rami played on his iPad while seated in a beanbag in the middle of the room. The faint smell of his cologne lingered in the air, the same scent that made her fall for him during the early days of their courtship.

She hated that room and avoided stepping in it as much as possible. It was supposed to be a guest room or a room for their second child, but that second child never came, and the guests hardly showed up. 

Now, this room is his man’s cave, a single man’s cave. Whenever he didn’t want to interact with her, he would just go there and say he was working. Besides a cheap desk from Amazon and a beanbag from IKEA, the place was pretty bare. Not a rug on the hardwood floor, and not even blinds on the window. He didn’t want her to decorate it. He liked it the way he liked it. Manly.

She had no grounds to complain, she kept reminding herself. He had a job, a good job that paid for their expensive American suburban lifestyle; from a mortgage to a pool membership to yearly trips to Jordan to an expensive preschool and Whole Foods hauls. Yes, she made money, but it saved for her — her shopping sprees, and the occasional gifts here and there, from Father’s Day to their anniversary to his birthday. She also used some money to support her family back in Jordan, and he never objected; he understood. Family was always a priority. He was a good man. He provided and more. She wouldn’t find a better one.

When she got to his office, he was staring at his computer screen, transfixed by what looked liked a video. Was he watching YouTube? 

Is this what he’s doing in this dump for an office? YouTube videos all day. 

She dropped her towel on the floor. Elias didn’t notice.  

Look at this,” she said, running her finger up and down her naked body. “Look what you’re missing.”

Elias lifted his head up from his computer’s screen as a look of terror formed on his face. He glanced at Rami, who was busily tapping on his iPad. “Please leave. I have to work. I have a deadline.”

“What deadline?” she lashed out. “The YouTube academy deadline!”

He let out a sigh. “Please close the door behind you.”

She stared out the window as she sat in a bus seat headed to New York. With her thumb and index finger, she twirled the necklace dangling from her neck. It was that necklace, the bohemian, colorful one, which reminded her of Mira’s. It was the one that started the chain of events: from buying and beautifying, to going to the gym and counting calories, to dyeing her grey roots to look as good as her. Mira Lakshmi.

She felt her phone buzz in her palm. She picked it up and found a WhatsApp message from her sister in the family group. It was a picture of her daughter Lily dressed in a tutu. “Ballet recital about to begin,” she wrote in Arabic.

Amani smiled and responded. “Soooo cute,” she typed back in English.

Amani thought about how wonderful it would have been if she had had a daughter. She would dress her up.Take care of her, and even exchange makeup tips when she would become a teenager.  She sighed. She was 41. Her dream of ever having a daughter was slim to zero.

She twirled the necklace and closed her eyes, thinking about the trip ahead. 

She had researched the hell out of Mira Lakshmi. She knew Mira lived in Manhattan, somewhere around the Trump Tower building, and was occasionally spotted walking by or going to one of the Starbucks in the area. Sometimes, her teenage daughter would be with her, looking just as beautiful and elegant as her.

Amani didn’t have a plan. She just wanted to see Mira Lakshmi to show her that she had inspired her to look good and become someone people would admire. That she had propelled her to put herself first, unlike what was exempted from her as a mom, as a wife.

She might say “hi” and introduce herself. She might tell her she was an immigrant, a brown woman, just like her, and that seeing her massive success had inspired her.

She wanted to thank her for existing, for putting herself out there, for showing other brown, accented women that the world could embrace them, that America could put them on a pedestal, that the world would notice.

Amani meticulously selected her outfit that day. It mirrored one of Mira’s in a Vogue interview. It was a one-shoulder dress with a textured pattern in shades of red and orange. Over the dress, she draped a light-colored, cozy-looking shawl. She paired the outfit with knee-high brown boots and gold circular dangly earrings. Her long black hair was down, covering her bare shoulder. She made sure to apply some anti-frizz cream before she left because sometimes her hair would take on a mind of its own if she didn’t tame it. She wanted it to look smooth and shiny, just like Mira’s. Before leaving on her trip, she grabbed the bohemian necklace. 

She had told Elias she was going to New York for the day. That her company was paying for her to take the fast train to attend a board meeting and help with the logistics. She told him she would be back a bit after midnight.

He fussed when he realized he would have to leave early to pick up Rami. “You know I’ll just pick up pizza. I won’t have time to make dinner,” he told her a few days earlier as they were both in the kitchen. She was stacking the dishwasher, and he was fumbling with the fridge ice machine. 

“That’s okay. Cheese, please. You know Rami doesn’t like pepperoni.”

Rami kept messing with the ice bucket, avoiding eye contact.

“You know, I don’t have a choice, right? It’s work. It’s not like I’m going sightseeing,” she said.

Amani didn’t have to lie much to cover her tracks or even bring her laptop to make her alleged business trip believable. She knew Elias wouldn’t care or even notice. He was deep into his head, thinking about his work and his son. The last thing on his mind was his marriage, his wife.

It took Amani years to realize that Elias had already made his choice. He learned early on that he couldn’t be a dad and a husband. That his male mind wouldn’t be able to multitask. To do good jobs at both. He had to choose, so he chose Rami. He chose to be a dad above anything else. Husband be damned.

Amani looked at the empty seat next to her. She wished someone was sitting next to her. Maybe she would make a new friend, someone who would share her admiration of Mira Lakshmi.

She rubbed her forehead with her fingers and let out a heavy sigh. 

Maybe Elias is right. Maybe I am just selfish.

Amani’s plan was to get off the bus at New York’s Penn Station and then take an Uber to the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and walk around looking gorgeous, looking for any glimpse of Mira Lakshmi. She would stop by restaurants, nearby parks, and coffee shops and just wander and hope.  

Amani let out a sigh and looked outside the window. They were now on the Jersey Turnpike, and they were getting close. She felt butterflies in her belly, like a teeanager in love, a feeling she had not had in a long time. She wondered what Shireen would think of her. A mother abandoning her husband and her child to stalk a celebrity. Would her sister notice more changes in her when they meet at her house on Christmas in a few months?

Amani sat at a table at Starbucks near the Trump Tower in Manhattan, sipping a hot latte. She didn’t even like latte, but she had to order something while she sat there, gathering her thoughts and refining the plan she had already been working on for over a week. She had to look like she belonged there, in Manhattan. She wanted to look and feel like one of them, a New Yorker. Just the way Mira did, turning her life around, from growing up in a small Indian village to becoming a famous celebrity roaming the streets of New York City. She pulled the notes app from her phone and looked at the sightings list of all the places Mira Lakshmi had been spotted. That very same Starbucks where Amani was sitting was one of them. She looked around, but there was no sight of her. She looked at the line of people waiting for the bathroom; Mira was not among them.

It’s okay. I’ll find her somehow. 

She looked at the sightings list; there were two more Starbucks. There was also an Indian restaurant and an Italian restaurant, and a small park neighborhood across the street where Mira had been seen drinking a hot beverage and chatting with a friend. There was also a fancy shopping store and Central Park, where she had been photographed jogging.  There was also a French restaurant in Soho and a fancy hotel in Greenwich Village. Amani sipped her coffee and decided to go to the closest spot next. The Italian restaurant. It was already lunchtime, and she was starving. She thought about what to order.  The cheapest thing on the menu. Maybe just plain pasta. Or you know fuck it, I will pamper myself. I’ll order what the hell I want to. I might even get some wine while I sit and wait for her. 

She stayed at the Italian place for over an hour. She drank two glasses of wine with her spaghetti Bolognese as she looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mira. She felt tipsy and full, so she decided to take a stroll in Central Park. It was October, and the weather couldn’t have been better. She put on her AirPods and started walking around the park. She wanted something to set the mood, so she picked her Fairuz playlist on Spotify. She took a deep breath then started walking. She looked around: bikers, children, lovers holding hands, homeless, lonely women, lonely men, women walking dogs, men walking dogs. 

She wondered about all these people walking in a park in the middle of the day in Manhattan. Don’t they have jobs? Do they all have trust funds, or maybe they were living off their early retirement savings? Did their partners ignore them? When was the last time they had sex or felt a warm body sleeping next to them in bed? She walked and looked and thought until she needed a break. Her phone buzzed. A phone call from Elias. She didn’t pick up. She didn’t want him to ruin her mood. He was probably calling to complain about the charges on the joint credit card. All these Amazon purchases. The jewelry, the clothes.  She should just create a separate Amazon account to spare herself the headache. 

She got out of the park and decided on her next stop. This time, she would be going to an Indian restaurant where Mira had been spotted twice. She would get a desert. She read somewhere that many celebrities like Mira pick weird times in the day to go to restaurants so that they won’t be spotted. Maybe Mira will be there sipping mango lassi. When Amani got in the cab, there was another missed call from Elias.

What if she was out of town, and I was wasting my time here looking for her? No, No, you have to think positively. Manifest and all of that. This is how things happen.

Amani was greeted by a wildly smiling young Indian waiter who showed her to her table. She was already feeling exhausted. She ordered a mango lassi and looked around. No sighting of her. She put on her AirPods and scrolled to Instagram. One reel after the other. She checked Mira’s Instagram page to see if she had missed any new updates. Nothing. She hadn’t posted in days. Maybe she was indeed out of town. Her phone buzzed, and two words texted from Elias. “Pick up.” She took a deep breath and called him back.

“Hey,” he said, she could hear Rami crying in the background.

“What’s going on? Why isn’t Rami at preschool?”

Rami’s cries became stronger.

“There’s been an accident,” he said.

“What? I can’t hear you? Why is Rami crying that much?”

Amani got out of her chair and walked to the restaurant’s bathroom.

“An accident,” repeated Elias.

“WhatWhat accident?”

“The preschool called. Rami fell off the seesaw. His face came down on a branch. He will need stitches around his eyes, and they are worried he might have scratched his cornea.”

“What?” Amani felt her heart drop. “What are you saying?” 

“I’m saying your son is injured, Amani. We’re at the emergency room. They just finished the stitches, but we’re waiting for the specialist to assess his eye injury.”

Amani felt acid move up to her throat. “He’s going to heal, right? He’s going to be all right, yes?”

“The first doctor thinks so, but they need to make sure that the scratch won’t cause vision loss, so we’re waiting for a test.”

Amani could feel her hands trembling.How’s he doing? Can I talk to him?”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea now. They promised him some popsicles, so he’s looking forward to that, but he is in pain.”

“I’m coming home,” she said.


“Now. I will take the next train.

“What about your board meeting? Are you done?”

“They’ll understand.”

“I got it handled here,” said Elias. “I just wanted to tell you. We’ll see you tonight. You don’t need to rush. We are just waiting here for more tests. He’ll be okay.”

“I’m not waiting. I’m coming home now.”

Amani picked up her things and ran outside. She didn’t know where she was running to. She had to go back to the station. Maybe she would find a cab to take her there and just wait at the station. Or perhaps she would find a ticket online. 

She was scheduled to leave at 20:00, and get back in Maryland by midnight. It was already 17:00. Was there even a bus before eight? Maybe she would pay double for the fast train.

She ran, the expensive black purse she had brought dangling on her shoulder. She saw an empty yellow cab. She hailed it and saw it slowly pull up to the curb where she was standing. 

She spotted a trash can on the corner as she was about to get in the cab. She let out a sigh and forcefully pulled off her necklace, breaking its clasp.  

She threw it in the trash.


Natasha Tynes is currently working on her second novel.

Natasha Tynes is a Jordanian-American author in Maryland and a regular contributor to publications, among them the Washington Post, Nature Magazine, Elle, and Esquire. Her short stories have appeared in Geometry, the Timberline Review, and Fjords. Her short story “Ustaz Ali” was a prize winner at the prestigious annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival in 2018. Tynes is the author of the speculative literary novel They Called Me Wyatt (Rare Bird Books, 2019). She hosts the podcast, Read and Write with Natasha, which features authors and publishers. She is a contributor to Stories from the Center of the World: New Middle East Fiction, edited by Jordan Elgrably (City Lights Books, 2024).


immigrant aspirationsimmigrant lifeinternet influencerJordanyummy mummy

1 comment

  1. I like it, so far. The rest should be good, too. Yup. I could identify with several parts of the story.

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