The action focuses almost exclusively on Lula, a 30-year-old white woman, and Clay, a 20-year-old black male, who both ride the subway in New York City. Clay's name is symbolic of the malleability of black identity and black manhood. It is also symbolic of integrationist and assimilationist ideologies within the contemporary black civil rights movement. Lula boards the train eating an apple, an allusion to the Biblical Eve. The characters engage in a long, flirtatious conversation throughout the train ride.
Lula sits down next to Clay. She accuses him of staring at her buttocks. She ignores his denials and uses stereotypes to correctly guess where he lives, where he is going, what Clay's friend, Warren, looks and talks like. Lula correctly guesses that Clay tried to get his own sister to have sex with him when he was ten. Clay is shocked by her apparent knowledge of his past and says that she must be a friend of Warren.
Lula is glad that Clay is so easy to manipulate and puts her hand on his leg. She feeds him apples. She tells Clay to invite her out to the party he is going to. At this point, it is unclear whether Clay is really going to a party, but he tells her he really is. Lula vaugely alludes to having sex with Clay at her "apartment" after the "party." We don't know if these are real or conveniently made-up by Lula.
Clay is gladdened by Lula's apparent liking for him and maintains a hopeful attitude to having sex together. However, he does not push his hope onto her and waits for Lula to make the offer first.
Lula is angered by Clay's not falling for her manipulative tactics. She switches strategies and mocks Clay's Anglo-American speech, his college education and his three-button suit. She derides his being black and passive. She dances mockingly in an R&B style and tells Clay to join her and "do the nasty. Rub bellies".
Clay, who does not respond initially, eventually grabs her and throws her down. Clay accuses Lula...