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Desi Contemporary Asian American

Did you know India looks nothing like the city in Aladdin? I discovered that just now, a minute ago, as the wheels of the plane clapped the tarmac and the pilot's staticky voice rumbled above our heads like God himself, welcoming us to Delhi. When I finally summoned the courage to raise the window shade and look outside, there was no bazaar waiting to greet me, no kleptomaniacal monkeys in fezzes running amok. Just disillusionment.


In my defense, my family emigrated from New Delhi to the United States when I was three, leaving me with nothing more than patchy afterimages of this country: the spicy scent of chicken tikka masala, the flowing fabric of a silk sari. Growing up, the only connection I had to this place was Aladdin—which I only now realize has nothing to do with India at all, despite my father's claims—and the Bollywood VHS tapes my mother kept stashed in her closet.


Grabbing my carry-on and preparing to disembark, I steal one last glance out the window, but it's just one never-ending strip of runway. Nothing more. On the way out, a flight attendant flashes a perfect smile and tells me to enjoy my stay.


The airport is teeming with people, some running to catch a flight, others gossiping over samosas. I glean only bits and pieces of conversations, most of which are spoken in Hindi, all of which are spoken too quickly. It occurs to me that maybe I shouldn't have waited until a few days ago to sign up for Duolingo.


Stationed at the terminal entrance, my father is impossible to miss, a collage of pastel colors and American clothes. His Hawaiian shirt is a size too big and his blue NYC Mets cap is tilted too far up, revealing his bald scalp. In his hands rests a fat rectangular sign with my name printed in black Sharpie: Hunar Patel. I wave meekly and he waves back, his face aglow, his arm moving so fast it looks like it might dislocate.


"Welcome home," he says in English, for my sake. His accent is thick, natural. I'm amazed at how easily he's been able to sand down the rough edges of his American pronunciation, the rise and fall of his vowels. When we embrace and he pats my back, I can feel the absence of his wedding band.


At the baggage claim, we watch strangers' luggage spin in circles like a merry-go-round, black duffel bags and blue suitcases. A blood-red valise is about to pass us for the fourth time when my father clears his throat. "I'm glad you came, son."


I'm not sure how to respond to that, given the circumstances, given my reason for being here. "You're welcome" is the answer my mouth settles on. I know it's the wrong thing to say.


He stares at me like maybe he's sizing me up, and I do a quick assessment of my own, noting the disappearance of his trademark mustache and his belly. His body is gaunt and his skin is cracked like sandpaper.


Finally, he nods his approval. "You've changed," he declares. "You look like a man now."


How he came to that conclusion is beyond me. I still have the same acne and peach fuzz that plagued me five years ago, back when we were all still living together in New York.


Before I can respond, my suitcase appears, overloaded with enough clothes and toiletries to make it through this week-long visit. "I got it," I say, but my father waves away my offer. He leans over the carousel, dangerously close to falling over, and reaches for my luggage. His underarm bears a sweat stain despite the air-conditioning pumping through the building.


Seeing him like that reminds me of the phone call that brought me here. I was in my dorm room, sitting on the edge of the bed with my girlfriend Megan, the two of us passing a joint back and forth like a love letter, when his call came. I put him on speakerphone, took the joint from Megan, toked. Not one to mince words, my father offered no hello. Instead, he immediately filled the quiet room with jagged phrases: 'heart tumor' and 'cardial sarcoma.' "They're not sure how much longer I have," he confessed, as the joint slipped from my grasp and I struggled to stop coughing.


With great effort, my father now hefts my suitcase from the conveyor and drops it unceremoniously at my feet. He claps his hands at a job well done.


"See? Your father's still capable of doing things," he says. And he laughs like it's funny. Like he's still young. Like he has all the time in the world.


***


Back home, everyone at the university calls me Hunter. Even Megan.


It started as an accident, a mispronunciation, a slip of the tongue. One day my stoner roommate introduced me to a group of his friends as "Hunter." I didn't bother to correct him, and the name stuck.


In fact, I prefer it.


Hunar is someone who spent his whole life ostracized, a rule-follower, going to college and joining the pre-med track in the hopes to be a cardiologist like his parents wanted.


Hunter is different. The name says it all.


He's someone who acts first and thinks later, hence the newfound penchant for weed. Hence Megan. Hence the trip home I took two Thanksgivings ago without telling my parents, only to find out that they separated without telling me.


Over dumplings my mother recounted the fight she and my father had, how he'd threatened to move back to India, how she had threatened to buy the plane ticket for him that night. In the end, they both kept up their halves of the bargain.


Distraught, my mother decided to sell our house altogether. She had a family friend in the next borough over who offered her a place to stay, a beautiful woman her age and build who I knew as Aunty Shyla growing up. I loved her as though she were my own biological aunt, and Aunty Shyla always lavished me with the best gifts on holidays and my birthday, hence the love. It was a cycle.


Maybe it was because of this, because I only heard things from my mother's perspective, that I decided not to talk to my father. And I hadn't, until he called last month and said what he said and I agreed to spend my Spring Break with him.


***


The days pass by in a blur. My father is constantly on the move. "Doctor's appointment today," he tells me every morning at the table over roti and mango juice. We haven't acknowledged his medical status beyond those three words. He shakes his head whenever I offer to accompany him. "No point in us both being miserable," he says with a weak smile. He encourages me to find something to do to occupy my time.


Mostly, I spend the week texting Megan in my father's flat. It's modest, sparsely-furnished. He doesn't even own a TV. There's a faux cashmere rug and a few old oil lamps and a coffee table with a cross-legged statuette of Shiva. Tacked on the wall is the needlepoint canvas that I declined taking with me to college, the one that has "Home Is Where the Heart Is" stitched in blue yarn.


Toward the end of the week, he offers to cook vindaloo for dinner. When I tell him I'm not particularly fond of vindaloo, he scoffs. "That's because you've only ever tried the American kind. You've never had the real deal."


It strikes me as ironic, my father denouncing the Americans while using one of their idioms, but I hold my tongue as he hands me a grocery list of ingredients. I'm amazed by the neatness of his letters, how his age has not ravaged his penmanship. "The market down the street opens in an hour," he tells me, and then he's off to another doctor's appointment.


That's how I find myself strolling through the rows of spices and chili peppers and vegetables at eight in the morning. The store is poorly-lit and smells suspiciously of flatbread. I'm standing there debating between two packages of chicken thighs when someone calls my name.


"Hunar? Is that you?"


It takes me a second to turn around, to remember that here, in this country, I'm not Hunter.


The woman staring back at me is older, probably close to my father's age, dressed in a cobalt kurti. Her hair, black with flecks of gray, flows past her shoulders. She's smiling as though she expects me to greet her just as enthusiastically.


I'm still trying to place her when she says, "You don't remember me, do you?" Like my father, she speaks in English, and it makes me wonder if there's something about me, about the way I look or dress, that makes the people here doubt my ability to carry on a conversation in Hindi.


But there's no malice in her voice, no hurt at not being recognized. Before I can respond, she adds, "It's okay. You were three the last time I saw you."


She introduces herself as Deepika Goel, tells me she's an old friend of my father's. I nod at the appropriate intervals. The packages of chicken chill my fingers, make my blood run cold.


"How did you know it was me?" I ask, a little embarrassed that my father told someone all about me but never revealed anything about his friends to help prepare me for an encounter like this.


Deepika smiles like it's the most obvious thing in the world. "Your father had to tell me over lunch on Wednesday. He showed me some of your pictures." She laughs, pats me on the arm. "My memory isn't so good anymore."


The store swells with noise—bags crinkling and items scanning and registers opening, so many sounds at once that it's hard to concentrate. I flip through the mental Rolodex of my father's doctor visits, their dates and times. Wednesday, lunchtime: chemotherapy, four-hour session. Something isn't adding up.


"Wednesday?" I repeat, because maybe the problem really is just Deepika's poor memory. "But he had an appointment."


She tilts her head, confusion knitting her brows together. "Appointment for what?"


It doesn't take long to realize that Deepika is being serious. And then I realize something else.


"My mistake," I tell her, dropping one of the chicken packages back in the freezer. "I must be confused." And I excuse myself to stand in line at the register. She seems taken aback when I walk away.


But as luck would have it, Deepika is one customer behind me in the checkout line, and when he goes to return a jar of fennel seeds, she advances a space.


"Oh, your father tells me you're leaving in two days," she says as the cashier scans my items. "The two of you simply must come to dinner tomorrow. It would be my honor. Prisha will be there, too." She says this like I'm supposed to know who Prisha is.


And maybe she knows I have no clue what she's talking about—if she does, she's doing a hell of a job not showing it. Either way, she retrieves her phone and shows me pictures of Prisha, her daughter. She's a year younger than me, with flawless mocha skin and wavy hair.


"She'd be happy to meet you, I'm sure," Deepika says in a way that makes me think they've already broached the subject. Maybe even with my father present.


I tell her we'll discuss it, then grab my things and leave. "It was nice seeing you again," she calls, but I'm already halfway out the store.


The sun roasts my skin on the way back to the flat. Children chase each other down the sidewalk. Someone waves in my direction, but I don't wave back. The street is alive with auto-rickshaws. This isn't Aladdin; there are no magic carpets here to whisk me away from this city, to take me back home. Just disillusionment.


After stuffing the spices in the kitchen rack and tucking the chicken thighs in the fridge, I grab my phone and slip back out the door, stepping into the sunlight and spending the rest of the day messaging Megan under the shade of a mahogany tree in the nearby park. There's a time zone gap, but she says she doesn't mind, that she misses me. We stay like that for a while, sending each other sweet nothings until the sun starts to fizzle and the moon takes its place and I'm pretty sure Megan has fallen asleep because my last "I Love You" was read twenty minutes ago but she still hasn't texted back.


***


The smell of vindaloo greets me when I return. The living room is dark, ensconced in the shroud of night, but a pale glow envelops the kitchen. My father is hunched over the stovetop. He smiles when he sees me standing there.


"Smell that, son?" he says, indicating the steam-covered pot on the stove. "Now that is how you make vindaloo."


He doesn't ask where I've been or why I'm just now coming home. But maybe it'd be easier if he did interrogate me, if we fought right now and put everything out in the open instead of ignoring it. I take a deep breath and cross the point of no return.


"You know, I saw someone today at the market," I say, trying to keep my voice as even as possible. "She said she was an old friend of yours. Said she knew me when I was a baby." I make him wait a few seconds before offering the name.


"Dee-pi-ka." That's how it comes out, as three separate words, as though my father is traveling through the annals of space and time in search of a face to match the name. Then, in a sudden moment of clarity, "Oh, yes, Deepika! I think I know who you mean."


When my father was still living in New York, he had a group of men come over to the house every month for poker night. He was the best player among them, unparalleled in the art of bluffing. You never knew what he was thinking until he slapped that royal flush on the table.


It's a lot like that now, trying to decipher whether or not he's picked up on where this conversation is headed. Even in his old age, his poker face is sublime.


"She said," I continue, because I'm only getting started, "that we should go over to their house for dinner before I leave. She insisted."


My father lifts the lid on the pot of vindaloo, releasing an inferno of steam. "Maybe we should," he says, nodding. "She has a daughter about your age now, you know. And come to think of it, I haven't seen Deepika Goel in quite some time."


I make a fist with my hand, just to feel something. "Quite some time? You mean like two days ago?" I say, and wait until he's looking at me to add, "Wednesday? Lunchtime? During chemo?"


His face is inscrutable. He says nothing. It seems like he's looking my way, but maybe he's staring at something behind me. I can't be sure.


"You're not really sick, are you?" I ask. It's a long shot, calling his bluff like that, but that's what I'm banking on.


Something flashes across his face, a look I've never seen before, something pitiable. A pinching of the eyes, a pursing of the lips. His poker face collapses like a house of cards. When he turns to the stove, I have my answer.


"Is that what this is about?" I say, embracing the heat of the kitchen. It's goading me, challenging me to rival its intensity. "Did you bring me here just so you could arrange my meeting with Prisha?"


"I just want you to be happy," my father says to the vindaloo, his voice a whisper. "To have a nice family of your own."


"I have a girlfriend already, you know. I don't need your help."


He cuts off the stove. "What's her name?" he asks, and when I tell him, he shakes his head. The motion is lightning fast, so imperceptible that if I hadn't seen it for myself, I wouldn't have known. Then he says, "That's not an Indian name."


"Because that whole arranged marriage thing turned out so well for you, right?" And now I can't stop myself. The dam has broken and everything is pouring out of me, twenty-two years of emotion. "You're living here alone and Mom is staying with a friend."


My father looks up, meets my gaze. His expression has changed. There's this faraway gleam in his eye, like he's somewhere else right now. In a low voice, he says, "You don't know what you're talking about, Hunar. You don't know anything."


It is the first time all week he's called me by my name and not "son." That's when I know something is wrong. My heart skips a beat. Then another. It feels like it's drifting away in search of a new home. I hit the light switch so we don't have to look at each other.


My father, bathed in shadow, says, "Do you really believe Aunty Shyla is just a friend to your mother?"


The words hang between us in the inky kitchen, heavy with meaning. A sliver of soft moonlight shines through the window above the sink, backlighting my father and the vindaloo and the oil lamp on the table. And maybe, if I rubbed that lamp hard enough, I could conjure up a genie. He'd offer me three wishes, and I'd use the first one to go back to my dorm, and the second to erase this godawful trip from my memory. Then, and only then, I'd use the third wish on whatever I wanted most in my heart.

May 28, 2022 03:01

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60 comments

Riel Rosehill
07:38 May 28, 2022

Zaddy! Oh wow 🤩 I see you have already received high praise from Suma (is all one can wish for, venturing into desi!) Congrats on successfully ticking off another genre tag! Onto the story: OMG when he met Deepika and started to suspect the lie I was like... No, no, no, surely you wouldn't, that's taking a lie too far! I was already so invested in the story of the dying father, and braced myself for the tears coming. The plot twist there..! And I was completely blindsided, did not see second plot twist coming at all! "Do you really believe...

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Zack Powell
06:01 May 29, 2022

LOL, I thought of you while I was writing the second plot twist. You know me too well and are always so good at guessing where my stories are going, so I was like "I bet she won't see THIS coming." 😈 Good to know it got a jaw drop of out of you! Confession: Not only have I never been to India, I've never been outside of the United States before. This was all, 100% research (or as much Googling as I could muster in 48 hours, since this story idea came to me on Wednesday). I cannot believe it's been so long since we were prompt twins. Two an...

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Riel Rosehill
09:12 May 29, 2022

LOL your evil plan worked and you got me the plot twist! Good to know I was targeted 🤣 So you did this with 48 hours research, that's brave! And again, I'm impressed how you totally managed to pull it off! On a side note, the US is massive and pretty cool (though, I haven't been yet I'll probs go visit within the next two years as a friend of mine is working in NYC now) so I suppose there are plenty of different places for all your holiday needs but for whatever reason I wouldn't have guessed you've never been outside of it! You know I ...

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Riel Rosehill
06:38 May 30, 2022

I had a feeling I'd see this on the Recommended list! 🏆 (This was the first thing I saw on my phone this morning thanks to the rec list stalkers on discord #hottopic Congrats! Xx)

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Zelda C. Thorne
06:03 May 30, 2022

Hey! This was so good! Loved the twists! Nice foreshadowing, and your prose is wonderful. First line was clever too. Everything about this immersed me in the world and the character. Good luck!

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Zack Powell
13:56 May 30, 2022

Thanks for the lovely comment, Rachel! Hope your other writing projects are going well, and I'm looking forward to seeing another Reedsy story from you in the future.

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Zelda C. Thorne
15:13 May 30, 2022

Thanks, Zack. I'm actually doing one this week (it's like a drug) and then I'll crawl back into my novel-writing cave 😂

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Sharon Hancock
01:49 May 30, 2022

Hey there! You had me at: “no kleptomaniacal monkeys in fezzes running amok. Just disillusionment.” (And now kleptomaniacal is my new favorite word so thank you for that!) I always forget I’m reading when I dive into one of your stories and this was no different. “Megan, the two of us passing a joint back and forth like a love letter” One of My other favorite sentences. Perfectly described.I almost feel like I’m there with them (We could really use some Cheetos about now.) I like the way you introduced the “aunt”. I recognized th...

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Zack Powell
02:26 May 30, 2022

Thanks, Sharon! Kleptomaniacal just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?🤣 Glad to "love letter" line hit - it might be my favorite in here (though now I'm kicking myself for not thinking to have Cheetos in the scene). You got just what I was going for, with his crisis for self-identity vs. his parents' paths. Thanks for your thoughtful commentary!

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J.C. Lovero
11:13 May 28, 2022

Pen pal! You do a very nice job of creating tension by leaving things out, but giving us just enough to wonder. This line especially with: I'm not sure how to respond to that, given the circumstances, given my reason for being here. Loved the foreshadowing you gave us with Aunty Shyla to have it come back at the end. Your stories always have important things spread throughout, so as the reader, I always want to make sure I don't miss a word! As others have said in the comments, nice twist at the end. I've learned over life that with the p...

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Zack Powell
05:53 May 29, 2022

My favorite local hermit! Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad the withholding of information comes across as tension-building. I always think people are gonna get annoyed that I'm playing coy. 😂And thanks for noticing the foreshadowing. I've really been trying to make every sentence count, whether it's with plot buildup or callbacks later, so it's nice to know that people are paying attention that intently. And Disney references are everything. #getintoit Love seeing your favorite lines, many of which are also my favorites. xoxo

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Suma Jayachandar
04:57 May 28, 2022

Hi Zack, This story got me invested in it from the word go! I am so thrilled that you chose the Desi genre :-) Welcome! The characterization of ABCD( American Born Confused Desi) Hunar, is very well done. He is thrust into a situation not to his liking and struggles to process the sensory and cultural overload. That was palpable. The father is a poker player all right, tricking his son like that! But the yearning to meet his son, and reestablish a connection with him felt so real. The gradual building up of tension leading to the shocking re...

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Zack Powell
05:21 May 28, 2022

Writing this story, I was most looking forward to YOUR feedback, Suma. It's no surprise you're the Reedsy expert in this genre. Desi is not my area of expertise whatsoever, so I was hoping you'd point out everything you noticed to help prepare me for writing more stories of this genre in the future. And you did just that. Gave me everything I needed to hear, and then some! So, before all else, thank you, thank you, thank you! I admit, I hadn't even questioned "flakes," but you're absolutely right that "flecks" is the superior word. Good call...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:28 May 28, 2022

Anytime, Zack. Anytime! You are an amazing writer, and desi genre could gain a lot from your writing :-)

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Suma Jayachandar
01:57 Jun 01, 2022

Congrats for getting on rec list!! Keeping my fingers crossed 😊

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Patrick Samuel
20:27 Jun 19, 2022

Another great story. It's a testament to the authenticity of the characters and the situation that you can leave so much unsaid and leave our subconscious to connect the dots, as in real life. When Hunar first mentioned Shyla, I couldn't help wonder if she wasn't "more than a friend". Maybe it's the fact that she was around all his life and showered him with presents - a behavior consistent with a "friend with benefits of the family." Or it could just be that the whole story rings so true, despite its twists, because every character, eac...

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Zack Powell
03:08 Jun 21, 2022

Thanks again, Patrick! I'm always thinking I leave TOO much unsaid, so I'm glad it comes across as positive and not negative when I don't spell everything out. Thanks for the reassurance about the conclusion too - I know ambiguous endings aren't everyone's cup of tea. Bonus points for catching onto the Shyla reveal! Writing this, I wondered if it people were going to guess it before I said it. You're a great reader for intuiting where that character's path was going.

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Katy Borobia
18:24 Jun 12, 2022

You have such a beautiful writing style and a gift for creating interesting plots. The characterization of a POC feeling alienated from both their country of origin and from their white acquaintances is excellent. I would perhaps point out that Aladdin is Middle Eastern, not Indian, but I don't know how you would extricate those details from the movie out of your Desi setting. Well done!

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Zack Powell
19:45 Jun 12, 2022

Thanks again, Katy. I love exploring characters who have that feeling of alienation/diaspora. Gotta get representation for these occurrences somehow, right? Totally fair and valid point with the Aladdin comment too - I think I got too in love with the movie references throughout, and by the time I stumbled upon that same Middle Eastern not Indian conclusion, it was too late. Always draft two, at least. Thanks again for reading.

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Scott Skinner
16:53 Jun 02, 2022

Wow! This was a helluva story - GREAT job. You set it up so nicely, and the twist at the end I didn't see coming; I thought the father was sick & I didn't question the mother's relationship w/ Aunty Shyla. However, when I reread the parts where she was mentioned, I see between the lines. It was a remarkable story and very well written. I think your verb choice is strong - like 'the plane clapped the tarmac ' and 'The store swells with noise' to name a few. The story also felt authentic to me because of how you described the different sens...

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Zack Powell
17:56 Jun 02, 2022

Thanks, Scott! Verbs are the #1 thing I'm trying to improve on, so it's nice to see which ones worked well for you. Thanks for reading this!

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Etya Krichmar
17:23 Jun 01, 2022

Just finished reading this story. Gripping, riveting, excellent writing, Zack.

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Zack Powell
17:41 Jun 01, 2022

Thank you, Etya!

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Aeris Walker
00:24 Jun 01, 2022

I struggle to write about my fellow countryman one state over, I wouldn’t even know where to begin with an endeavor like this! You wove in the details of landscape, culinary dishes, clothing, and customs so naturally and created 🎵*a whole newww world*🎵 … sorry, I couldn’t help it. I loved the depth of your characters, the father especially. You could FEEL how badly he wanted to reconnect with his son, but how awkward the whole visit was for both of them. Well done.

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Zack Powell
01:56 Jun 01, 2022

Thank you very much! Google and YouTube are godsends, let me tell ya. (Ugh, I'm kicking myself for not titling this after that song now.) Your story this week was gorgeous, so thanks for stopping by on this one.

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Aeris Walker
09:14 Jun 01, 2022

Haha your title is great nevertheless! And thanks! I love how this prompt sent people in so many different directions.

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Ace Quinnton
20:24 May 31, 2022

I love reading about places other than the place I live currently. The culture, the style, the FOOD... I love it all. It's amazing, really, how you brought this story to life. Life isn't like the movies, and the Hindi's are NOT Aladdin. There is no Agrabah, I have been LIED TO.

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Zack Powell
21:15 May 31, 2022

Thank you, Ace! Imagery is my weakness, so I'm glad this felt like it came to life for you. (Also, life would be a LOT more fun if it were like a Disney movie - I'll stand by that until the end of time.)

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Ace Quinnton
21:29 May 31, 2022

(Life is like a rougher version of Disney, containing more drama, government, economy issues, and social dilemmas.) The story imagery is so detailed, I could just see it all in my mind, after doing some research on the certain subjects of course. Good job, Zack! Keep up the good work.

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Bruce Friedman
15:58 May 31, 2022

Zack, great job on this. Wonderful plot twists, great tempo with short paragraphs. I suspected early on that this was not written by someone of Indian descent. Too much of an American English style. One very minor point: Should be cardiac sarcoma and not cardial sarcoma. Also, one of the rarest of all malignant tumors. Perhaps this was your intention, but I suspected that this was a false flag as soon as it appeared.

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Zack Powell
16:46 May 31, 2022

Thanks, Bruce! I am indeed American, and that's really cool that you could immediately pick up on that just from my prose. I'm impressed. Nice catch on the sarcoma line too - thanks for that! - and well done spotting the red flag early.

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Faith H
08:00 May 31, 2022

Hi! I really liked how you wove Aladdin references throughout your story, great job! Your story kept me interested the whole way through :) All the details were so vivid and engaging, I love it! One suggestion I have is for the ending! When his dad begins to tell Hunar the truth, I think you can add more details about his dad’s expression. It probably pains him to talk about his ex-wife, so I think you can add a few more details to convey this message! This is just my personal suggestion though. Overall, I really liked reading your story!!

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Zack Powell
16:14 May 31, 2022

Thanks, Faith! Great suggestion, too - that's definitely gonna get addressed in a second draft of this story now. Thanks for reading this.

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02:18 May 31, 2022

Just now the significance of the title hit me! "Tacked on the wall is the needlepoint canvas that I declined taking with me to college, that one that says 'Home is where the heart is' stitched in blue yarn." Subtle, but very telling. Love the choice of the title, Zack. One more thing I had to mention, sorry ;D

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02:08 May 31, 2022

I had to come back and mention one of my favorite sentences that really made the ending shine: "A sliver of soft moonlight shines through the window above the sink, backlighting my father and the vindaloo and the oil lamp on the table." Love that imagery. The moon shining its light on the back of the father (love that verb "backlighting" - interesting that it shone on his BACK and not on his face, as though to show his deceiving nature), also on the food and lamp on the table - key elements of the story.

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01:16 May 31, 2022

Ok, done reading your story. Now the comment: My first impression: "Wow, I had no idea Zack Powell is originally from India. And Zack Powell is a pen name! No wonder sounds so strong and glamorous - it's made up!" LOL! I had to read some of the comments to find out that you are NOT from India. But you fooled me alright. All the strategic details of food and spices and other ethnic bits and pieces you wove in the fabric of the story convinced me you were originally from Delhi :) The sari and kurti, the oil lamps, the Shiva statuette etc. Fab...

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Zack Powell
02:22 May 31, 2022

Sorry to say that I'm not from India, nor am I using a pseudonym, LOL. My parents will be happy to know they picked a good name for me, though. I didn't notice until you just said it, but the father really is kind of a piece of work, isn't he? When you realize that basically everything in this story is predicated on a pretty disgusting lie, it really shows you the lengths some people will go through to achieve their aims. Really glad the double twist and the Aladdin references and the ending worked for you. My stories tend to be more strai...

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Kelsey H
03:08 May 30, 2022

I wondered if you might do this prompt! I thought it seemed like one you would want to put your spin on. I love how you ran with the feeling of a movie with the rich descriptions and imagery, especially the opening when you really give a sense of what he senses as he arrives in India. It seemed like a longish opening by short story standards, and it worked really well to set up the characters situation and bring them come to life, as well as giving a sense of place. When the conversation with Deepika started I was like - oh great twist! Th...

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Zack Powell
05:32 May 30, 2022

It was a tough call between this prompt and the "waiting for the lights to come up at the movie theatre" one, but this story was screaming at me to write it. And I'm very glad the opening worked out - I also thought it was a tad longish. I was nervous about doing two twists in one story, given the 3k word limit, so it's a relief to hear that it didn't come across as rushed or random. And I hadn't even considered the comedic potential in the situation, but you're right, it was there. Maybe in a different version of this story - good food for...

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Michał Przywara
19:34 May 29, 2022

Hey Zack. Great story! Lots of great observations by other commenters too, so I'll try to stick to just my take. The double-twist is risky, but beautiful if you can pull it off. I suspected something was up when the mother sold her home to move in with a friend described as "a beautiful woman her age and build". That's a suspicious line. But then we had the Deepika revelations and I kind of forgot it until you brought it round again full circle. So, double-twist successful :) The story's about a malfunctioning family, but it's lovely in th...

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Zack Powell
21:05 May 29, 2022

Always love seeing your takes on things. Props to you for being immediately suspicious of Shyla when that line popped up. (I've said it before, but you're a great reader.) Glad to know the double-twist worked for you, too. You got it exactly right. Communication and identity were the themes I had in mind writing this, and you hit on both of them. Thanks as always for giving your interpretation, and congrats again on your big win!

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Michał Przywara
22:34 May 29, 2022

Thanks :D

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Andi Hyland
07:26 May 29, 2022

I loved this story. Great tension throughout and just enough to keep us wondering at the end.

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Zack Powell
16:30 May 29, 2022

Thanks, Andi! I had the same feeling reading your story.

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Rebecca Miles
19:52 May 28, 2022

Perfect imagery in this one; I could picture every scene. Loved the twist and how you made the Aladdin references "grow up" and fit your narrator's circumstances.

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Zack Powell
05:47 May 29, 2022

Thanks, Rebecca! Imagery is my weakness, so I'm glad it shone through here.

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