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Ghosht Korma

Story by Tara Isabel Zambrano (Read author interview) May 11, 2015

Art by Paul Bilger

I dream about Ghosht Korma. Onion and garlic crescents shriveling in the fuming oil alongside turmeric and pepper-smeared chops. The old Hindi music swirling like gossip in the street. I wake up and see a stranger glancing at my naked thighs. The heat is gathering and so are clients. Our mustard-colored room lined with nylon curtains is filled with naked bodies and obscenities. Rubina is up against the wall and Ganja, a local mobster and a frequent visitor, is banging her hard. Her son, seven months old, is playing with the Housekeeper in the neighboring room. I’d like to talk to Rubina. But she isn’t ready to leave.


Streets filled with hawkers and pimps. Bargains and thefts. Bees buzzing in every corner, laden with pollen. The giggling chicks with mismatched nails and second-hand stilettos. It isn’t a cruel life, if you ask me. Although I haven’t had any clients in the past three hours. I listen to the splashing water—the flush and the shower, rooms filled with fog. I occasionally catch the lucid faces of men burning with alcohol, rims of white powder on their nostrils as they pass by the room. I stand topless by the window. And I realize it’s going to be another long day with no food. The Housekeeper always says, Earn your meals. My body gleams, my stomach hurts.


Yesterday, Julie mentioned strawberries. Hakim rubbed a few over her ass before fucking her. Solid stone without a beating heart. Julie is his favorite. He always rubs a pinch of cocaine on his teeth and hers after he is done. He never laughs, snickers with his eyes.  Reminds me of my mother. She rarely smiled. The creases under her eyes, her stubborn hair pulled by men she trusted. Her skin pale, a fading evening.


Diwali is approaching, the festival of lights. The triumph of Good over Evil. Last Diwali, we had a parade. I was dressed up like a monkey. Ganja made me walk on all fours all night long. The next evening he sent a silk sari and two cones of ice cream. Since I spent the entire day breathing in beedi fumes and taking care of Julie who had been throwing up like crazy after Hakim forced her to eat rotten leftovers, the ice cream was a rare treat. It almost made me forget that Ganja picked me up by the park outside my home when I was twelve.


Outside, children play and laugh. Rubina is walking with her son in her arms. It is a gambling night at the House. I have to clean the kitchen, sweep all the rooms and wash bed sheets. It is tiresome but works like magic. Smoothens my thoughts. It is time for the prayer call from the mosque. The Housekeeper says, Prayers are useless, and maybe they are. Rubina believes in God. I haven’t decided yet. Sometimes I try to recall the life I once had. And I don’t remember anything except my mother and her hands smeared with spices, preparing the best Ghosht Korma I ever had.

About the Author

Tara Isabel Zambrano works as a semiconductor chip designer. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, Slice, Triquarterly, Yemassee, Passages North and others. Her full-length flash collection, Death, Desire And Other Destinations, is out in Sept’2020 with OKAY Donkey Press. She lives in Texas.

About the Artist

Paul Bilger’s photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Eight

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