But lover, you’re the one to blame, all that you’re doing Can you hear the violence? Megaphone to my chest
Female Age 26 The Capitol
”NILIMA RAO, DON’T YOU DARE,”the butler warned, standing on the bottom step of their extravagant winding staircase. The man looked as if he could turn purple at any moment. His cheeks were already verging on an angry red, amplified by his struggle to catch a breath as the child darted down the stairs.
The butler, the maid, the nanny – they all wielded her full name as a weapon. It was no easy task for them to wrangle a child who didn’t answer to anyone.
On that day, just like all others, Nil got her way. She darted off to the far corners of their Capitol mansion, giggling maniacally with a bright blue paintbrush tipped against the delicate woodwork of the paneled walls.
She loved creation and destruction.
The only daughter of a famous actress, Nilima Rao was born on a lazy Sunday. It’s said that her mother had a flurry of photographers just outside the bedroom door, a makeup artist on-hand, and all the fancy drugs a new mother could ever require. The butler said her mother was tranquil, disinterested, eyes beckoning for the door once the makeup was applied and the baby – deemed Nilima – took her first breaths.
It was a grand show, cameras flashing and teeth shining. Now, when Nilima looks back at the pictures, she sees her mother’s bouncy curls, the ever-present glint of stardom in her eye. Fame never really leaves you to rest, even after childbirth.
Unfortunately, fame also has a way of overshadowing the important things.
Nil learned early in life that she would be left alone to wander through childhood, and wander she did. She roamed the corridors of that mansion like the halls were a maze she couldn’t solve, but eventually the pieces of the puzzle made sense and she had to move on to the next adventure to keep her growing brain occupied. God knows her mother didn’t do much to entertain her; Jayashri Rao was a well-known name, and remaining in the spotlight – away from home – was the gig.
Looking back at the newspapers from those days is a daunting task. They’re all on record in a little room off the main staircase, tucked away like a secret obsession. One day when she was little, Nil found the door unlocked and ventured in, trying to find the next great hiding place from the ever-unhappy staff. She thought it was a broom closet or a decorative door leading to nowhere, but she was surprised to find the carefully organized drawers of tabloids and gossip magazines. She still remembers the first drawer she opened, full of pictures and writings from the week of her birth.
Even then, she looked like her mother. Dark hair, brown skin, big brown eyes verging on black. Of course, Young Nilima thought Baby Nilima looked like a toad, so she didn’t linger on those pictures. She spent her time in the hideaway poring over the photographs and headlines about her mother, trying to piece together the information that she lacked.
The headlines from that first week were about the woman’s career, speculation about the baby’s father, and misogynistic jabs that the actress couldn’t have it all. Surely she would fail! No woman can juggle all of that without a partner, or so the articles said.
Or maybe there was a partner; the headlines speculated about who he might be. Was it the butler? (No.) Was it the family photographer? (Also no.) Young Nilima laughed at all the bizarre options, but this was not one of her unsolved mysteries. When she was even younger still, she pestered her mother again and again for the answer, and eventually the woman grew tired of the annoyance and told her the truth: he was an anonymous donor, and she never knew his name. Of course, this would be scandalous if the news ever got out, but the Raos were familiar with keeping secrets.
Rao Secret #1: Jayashri Rao never had it all.
Oh, but she tried. It was in the trying that she failed, willing her success and happiness into existence with wealth and perfection and the smiling face of a beautiful baby girl. Jaya built that façade from the pressure of her youth and the lessons learned from her parents, all smiles and posture and charisma. The Rao family was always plagued by the drive for perfection; Jaya was keenly aware that if she ever faltered, all of the Capitol would be watching.
She couldn’t foresee that her child would grow up to be ornery and wild.
It didn’t take long after Nil learned her first words for her mother to drift away, shocked at the abhorrent behavior she couldn’t tame. Walls were painted, vases broken, foul words thrown out just for the hell of it. In truth, it never seemed like Jayashri actually liked her child, let alone loved her. At least, that’s how Nil felt. There was so much pressure to be unlike herself, to fit into a silent and presentable mold. She was an idea for the tabloids, proof that Jayashri Rao was becoming the mother the world – or at least the press – wanted her to be. So they fractured their existence into two separate parts: the visible flawlessness and the invisible reality.
In public, the Raos played their part with coy smiles and happy adventures to the park on the days when Jaya could stray away from the set.
In private, Nilima learned how to be herself, and there was absolutely nothing her mother could do about it. So long as Nil stayed presentable outside of their mansion, Jaya didn’t care what she did within it.
(Unfortunately for the staff.)
Boredom was her greatest enemy as a child. Rather than going to a school where the other children could find out how unruly she was negatively influence her, Nil was given a private tutor and made to do everything at home. Even in a grand mansion, it was no easy task to remain entertained. She did a good job of filling the silence. On any given day, the staff would hear her mumbling to stuffed animals, serenading the maids, and presenting grand monologues to the cat, whose name was Omelette1. The way she sees it, working through one’s thoughts is best done with words to anyone who will listen. And when listening to a yammering child is a part of your job description… well, it’s no surprise that Nilima still feels entitled to an audience whenever she speaks.
Another common pastime (when she wasn’t flirting with the maids) was creating her “art.” Her creativity is loosely defined at best, often tied with the destruction of something, be it a vase or a window or a quilt. Obsessed with presentation and imagery, Nil would craft bizarre works of art to keep her mind alive. The resulting work was, in a word, terrible… until it wasn’t. The whole mansion is filled with her creations, and it’s not uncommon to see her sculptures and paintings in the background of her mother’s sets.
The greatest challenge she faces is her own drive for perfection, instilled by Jayashri and the family before her. For Nilima, everything has to be exact and true to her vision. Her life, her art, the way she dresses…
If it’s not her own, if it’s not just right, then all hell breaks loose.
Of course, this caused some problems in the Rao household, especially when Jayashri began taking her daughter out for public appearances. It was always ”NO, I will NOT wear that,” and ”I don’t want to look like HER, I want to look like ME,” or – given no other option, during her ultra-troublesome teenage years – burning the clothes on the spot.
Needless to say, Nil gets her way.
And it’s not like she dresses terribly. She just likes to have a bit more variety, something to keep her from being bored. Growing up, she was not immune to Capitol trends, only to the gentle insistence of her mother that she dress more respectfully. Jayashri Rao built her personal brand off of simplicity and elegance, and was often displeased that her daughter’s look didn’t follow suit.
This was one of the only things Nil kept for herself in the public eye.
The other? Parties.
Nil was in her mid-teens when she first ventured out to some extravagant Capitol parties all on her own. Her mother didn’t exactly notice, not while she was working, and the staff long ago realized they couldn’t do much to suppress the girl’s wild behavior. So she ventured out, clad in bright colors and enough glitter to blind a man, and she let the nights fly by in a whirl of alcohol, flirting, and dancing.
She flirted with a lot of women, but knew what her mother would say if she brought any of them home. So she didn’t.
(This was, indeed, Rao Secret #2.)
Nilima quelled her loneliness and bitterness by keeping busy, trying to stave off the bad moods she sometimes found herself buried beneath. She spent her teenage years drinking, partying, flirting, creating, destroying – anything to keep her mind at ease.
At 18, a certain reality dawned.
What could she do next? What would her life be if not governed by her mother?
Exploration was key, so she spent those first few years as an intern for Warren Whip, living in a small apartment away from the suffocating halls of that mansion. Warren needed an intern, to be perfectly blunt – as the years wore on, so did his competence and mental health. She didn’t see him 90% of the time, but that was just fine. Soon the Gamemakers gave her more responsibility just to pick up the slack, and they appreciated her inherited flare for show business and her knack for destruction creativity. With that careful eye of hers, she made the arenas shine and kept the audiences on their toes.
After years of hiding herself from the world, this is the beginning of Nilima Rao.
1 Nilima stole Omelette the cat from her mother when she moved out. This didn’t seem to bother Jayashri much, for she never really noticed the cat was missing. It should be noted that Omelette is a genetically-modified feline, and has lived a total of twenty-one (21) years and counting due to her altered genes. Her birthday is February 14th. May she live a long, happy, and fluffy life.