Shades of the Departed

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash.
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash.

Habib bin Habib Al-Fulan awoke one night shaking, disheveled, and spinning like a top because of a dream about chubby, black bombs falling over Miami. His heart beat so fast and his fear was so great that he made a decision, right then and there, to move to Norway. He knew a man that lived in Oslo.

That man’s name was Jon Voorten. Habib met him while on vacation in New York City in December of 2001. They spoke for the first time in an empty sub shop, as they sat across each other, one table away from each other, both hungry for friendship. What was said in the beginning is not important. Jon Voorten was staying at a hostel in Amsterdam Avenue with his sister. Habib was staying with a Dominican girl in Sugar Hill. At that particular moment in both their lives, they were two boys lost in the city.

That night, they touched on many subjects, ranging from their own life goals to Eastern Philosophy. Later they moved their conversation to a Starbucks up the street where they tried to better explain their opinions about the world and everything in it.

By the middle of their discussion the subject took an abrupt turn to the nature of evil. Habib said that as far as he was concerned, in the big picture, it didn’t matter if a person was good or bad. The only thing that matters is conviction, Habib said. I don’t think the universe cares about good or evil. Take Hitler for example, he said, here was a guy that was a nobody before 1913. No one had even heard of him because he was a failed artist – one of the most authentic professions a person can choose . But Hitler later found his true calling, or what he was naturally talented at, which was rhetoric. That can be considered the first part of success, then he became a man of action, which of course, is the second part of success. The universe allowed Hitler to commit atrocities at the same time as he was  discovering his true nature — a nature of pure, unrivaled evil. But that amount of depravity, is not even a blip in the universe.

Jon Voorten paid close attention to every word. To Habib, his new friend kind of looked like a rough, homeless blue-eyed Adonis with long, blond hair. He was also very tall and had large bony hands.

When Habib noticed that he was sounding like a philosophy Major going over the same tired subjects that had been discussed for hundreds of years, he quickly changed the topic to music and watched Jon Voorten suddenly perk up.

I am a singer, Jon Voorten said, or at least, I aspire to have a singing career. My favorite singer is Billy Joel. Jon then went on an inspired rant about Billy Joel’s music and career. He analyzed every album, and his best live shows. His excitement was so contagious that Habib thought about buying a Billy Joel CD when he got back to Florida.

Jon was going to stay in New York City for three more days, and they decided to spend them together exploring the city. During the day, they went to the MOMA or Museum of Natural History and at night, they hit the bars. For two of those nights, they ended the night at McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village, chatting up the other tourists and the Irish bartenders like they were best friends with a long history together.

When their time together was up, Habib and his girlfriend escorted Jon and his sister to Grand Central Terminal. They were on their way to see a friend in Chicago, and then catch a flight to Norway after six months of travel.

And while riding on the 4th line, as they made their way to Grand Central Terminal, Jon Voorten smiled at Habib and without hesitating began to sing New York State of Mind in a Capella. The subway car was empty and Jon Voorten’s voice rose and fell like a seagull in the open sea. It was a performance Habib would never forget.

When they said their goodbyes at the terminal, Jon Voorten told Habib that he was always welcomed at his home in Norway. As time passed, they kept in-touch via e-mail and once, even came close to meeting up when Jon returned to the States for a brief stopover.

Habib eventually e-mailed Jon about the dream with the bombs. Come to Oslo, Jon Voorten wrote back, I await you. I have a two-bedroom apartment and you can stay with me. I can help you find a job at my father’s art gallery. You will love it here in my country of Norway.

With that, Habib was more confident about his decision. The only thing left for him to do now was to convince his family and friends to come to Oslo with him. He decided to start with his best friend Sebastian Montes. Sebastian was the one friend that  was still not married with kids or living with a girlfriend. Sebastian was born in New York City but raised in Miami. His parents were from South America via Spain. Habib thought that he would be the easiest to convince because he was a traveler.

And one Thursday evening when they were lounging around Sebastian’s apartment in downtown Miami drinking Merlot and smoking Marijuana, Habib told Sebastian about his dream with the bombs.

What bombs? Sebastian asked. The bombs that are going to fall over Miami, the bombs from my dream, Habib said. I don’t know about those bombs. I only know about the bombs in your face, Sebastian said, laughing. Habib smiled and took a toke of the joint. They drank and smoked more and then Habib asked him if he would move to Oslo with him. I would rather go to Brazil, Sebastian said. I’d go to Oslo for vacation but not to live there. I’m going to Sao Paulo and get me a sweet, beautiful mulatta.

As the early evening wore on, they decided to go bar hopping in Coconut Grove. They went to four bars. At the first bar, they had a pitcher of beer. They sipped their beer slowly  surrounded by UM kids who glowed the way all white people from up north glow and it made Habib think that he could never be as happy as those kids.

The second bar had a mechanical bull that was ridden mostly by girls as the guys cheered them on. There were lakes of blond girls in almost every corner, with pockets of male resistance in between. At that second bar, they shared a bison burger with goat cheese and had another pitcher of beer, followed by two rum and cokes. That was the place where they spent the most time, because they had been infatuated with a group of girls at the end of the bar whom they never bothered to approach.

The third bar was in the style of an English pub and that’s where they met up with a friend who was working as manager. At that bar, they had two more rum and cokes and a shot of Jagger each. Habib also spent one dollar on the jukebox. He selected a Rage Against the Machine track. They talked about how the pub reminded them of their trip to Amsterdam the year before. It made them nostalgic and their spirits were up.

At the fourth bar they ran into a man that Sebastian had  gotten drunk with on a previous occasion. The man had a shaved head and he was already drunk. Habib watched them have a 100mph conversation in drunk speech only they could understand. In that  bar, they each had a shot of tequila and a beer because that was the special. A shot and beer for $7.

At 1:30am the three of them decided to go to the man’s condominium in Biscayne. The man needed a ride, telling Sebastian that he had some good cocaine and they could order a hooker on the way. Two birds with one stone baby, he said beaming with liquid confidence. Two birds with one stone.

On the car ride to the Condominium in Biscayne, the man sat in the back seat as Habib drove and Sebastian rode in the passenger seat. The man read the hooker ads in the free weekly out loud trying to get them pumped up.

When they got to the man’s place, which was the penthouse suite, they wasted no time in snorting most of his cocaine and ordering prostitutes. They only ordered two girls because Habib wasn’t interested in spending money.

But when the escorts arrived, their host said that he didn’t  have any money and started begging Sebastian to pay for him, saying things like he was ‘good for it’ and ‘don’t be an ass.’ Sebastian refused to give him any money and the escorts left. After that, their once gracious host got really angry and kicked them out. You snort my cocaine and you drink my drinks, the man said, and you can’t let me borrow a little money – well get the fuck out!

And while driving to Sebastian’s apartment in Downtown, Habib was now in the mood for illegal sex and Oslo was on his mind. He thought about tricking Sebastian for an Oslo trip pretending it would only be a vacation. Then after a week of being in Norway and seeing all the blond beauties he would decide to stay. And we’ll continue to have our crazy adventures, thought Habib, but in Norway.

When they got to Sebastian’s apartment, they called an escort service and decided on a pretty blond with a skinny body and big breasts. She was the girl with the biggest picture in the ad. Her name was Natalia.

As Habib tried to explain what they wanted to the person at the end of the line, he made sure to emphasize that they wanted the blond Natalia, the girl that was in the front of the ad. I want you to send me Natalia, Habib said, the blond girl in your ad. Yes, said the man on the phone, of course, yes, Natalia, she’s one of our most popular girls. We will send her to you, yes, the blond. Does she exist? Habib asked. Does she exist? Sebastian repeated as he played with his fat orange cat on the black leather couch. Excuse me, said the man. Does she exist? Habib asked again, raising the tone of his voice. Is she real? Yes, said the man. Because I want the blond Natalia with the big boobs. Is she Norwegian? No, the man said, she’s from Pompano. Send her to us, Habib said. She will be at your address in 30 minutes or less. Habib hung up the phone and the boys smiled.

After receiving a call from the escort’s driver, they went down stairs to let the girl up. When the girl got out of the car, it was clear that she wasn’t the one they had ordered. What stood in front of them was a brunette with an extremely curvaceous body in a short black dress. When she smiled, the boys smiled.

Bait and switch, Habib said, making a fist. Bait and switch, repeated Sebastian hopping up and down. Habib approached the driver and told him that this wasn’t the girl they ordered, that they ordered Natalia, the girl from Pompano. Habib kept repeating they wanted the blond from the ad, pointing out to the driver the photo in the ad. We want her, he said. The bait and switch ain’t cool, Sebastian said, standing beside him. Where is the blond? Habib asked. I understand, the driver said. Do you? Yes, you wanted Natalia, the blond girl. You don’t like this one? She is Brazilian, the driver said. The boys looked at her. I will have to call the office, the driver said. It will take about 45 minutes to an hour because she is with another client.

The boys looked at each other and decided to take the girl the man had brought. I will give you a discount, the driver said, smiling. Charge them only 140, the driver told the girl.

They took the girl up to the apartment and Habib went first, because he wanted to go home soon as his father would be up waiting for him. For a second, while having sex with this beautiful Brazilian woman, Habib felt like he was in Rio De Janeiro but he wanted to feel like he was entering a Norwegian goddess instead. The prostitute was very passionate and loving, and she laughed and said, “oops” when Habib broke the condom inside her.

When they finished having sex, Habib put his clothes back on and thanked the girl for her services. He stood before her with his melancholy presence, trying not to be sad. She blew him a kiss that made his whole body shake. He came out to the living room with a smile. Sebastian smiled. You’re up, Habib said. I’m calling it a night. See you later, said Sebastian as he ran into the bedroom and jumped in the bed.

While driving home, Habib was pulled over by a police officer by the name of Jose M. Fernandez. He failed the road side test and he refused to take an alcohol blood level test. He was arrested and taken to the local police station to be processed. On the ride to the police station, while sitting in the back, Habib asked the police officer what the M in his name stood for, and the officer said Maria.

After being processed at the police station, Habib was taken by another officer to a prison where his photo was taken and he was allowed one phone call. Habib called Sebastian because he didn’t want to worry his father. Sebastian’s cell went to voice mail and he left a message.

He was then put into a glass cell with eight other inmates. After about 20 minutes, all the inmates were shackled in twos and put in a gray, rusty bus and taken to another prison in downtown Miami where, ironically, his journey had begun.

Habib was shackled next to a short Hispanic kid who couldn’t have been older than 21. As they rode in the bus, a horrible feeling came over him as if they were all being taken to a slaughter house. As he watched the sun rise above the earth in the very early morning, he tried to think about anything else but his own present situation, and when he thought about his father, an even greater fear engulfed him very much like the one from the dream about the bombs. And what about Oslo now? he thought to himself.

When the bus arrived at the prison, they were all led by armed guards to a big cell in the second floor that could hold about fifty men. Each couple was unshackled before entering the cell. Once inside, as new inmates, each one had to go and claim a bunk but Habib sat at a picnic table by the front instead. He sat next to a fat guy with glasses who was shaking uncontrollably.

There were two rows of bunk beds going down the cell, and the farther down you followed the bunks, the more hardened the faces became. Some inmates wore bright orange uniforms, and someone said that those were the ones that stayed locked up for months or years. There were inmates doing push-ups in the back, others just sat around talking and some read brightly colored paperbacks.

It was Habib’s first time in prison and he could see just from first impressions that all the information on the inside was hearsay. The guards told the inmates what they wanted to hear but it wasn’t necessarily true. The big question among the newly-arrived was when they would be released. Then some people started talking about having to go in front of a judge before even being considered for release, but no one seemed to know when that would occur either.

A young Hispanic man who sat next to Habib at the picnic table asked him if he was caught drunk driving. Yes, Habib said, I got caught on Eight Street. The man smiled. He said that it seemed like most people here were either caught for drunk driving or having suspended licenses. I went to dinner with my boss, said the man, and I think we drank a little too much wine. What’s two bottles between two guys? On my way home I felt fine but I got caught on Sweet Water. The street lights seemed to be out and before I knew it, red and blue lights were shining behind me. So I pulled over to the side, and brother, the man said, as soon as the cop flashed his light on my face he told me to step out of the car. I knew I was fucked then. My name is Javier, said the man. My name is Habib, he said, shaking his hand.

The rule of the prison phone was that you were only allowed collect calls to land lines and not cell phones. Lucky for Habib, he was one of the last in his group of friends to get a cell phone, so he still remembered most of his friend’s home numbers.

He called his other best friend, Snyder Coleman, to see if he could get a hold of Sebastian who didn’t have a house phone. When Snyder accepted the collect call from the operator, Habib told him a shortened version of the story. Snyder Coleman initially felt bad but he also found it humorous, although he didn’t tell Habib that.

Habib asked Snyder to call Sebastian on his cell phone, so he could bail him out. Snyder did three-way calling and the three friends discussed the situation. You got arrested, said Sebastian. Can you bail me out? Habib asked, sounding despondent.  Yes, he said, but you won’t be getting out until much later. For real, said Snyder. That’s what happened when I got arrested, replied Sebastian, it takes a while from the time you pay the bail to when you get released. I’ll pay you back, Habib said, I’m good for it. Sebastian told him not to worry about it and then said goodbye and hung up.

After the line went silent, Snyder came back on. What about your father? Snyder said. Can you call him for me? No way, said Snyder Coleman. It should be you Habib, he’ll be less worried hearing it from you. You’re right, Habib said. Habib then told him that he would call him back later, and they both hung up.

Habib stared at the phone before dialing his father’s number. His chest began to ache because he knew he’d be heartbroken. He quickly dialed the number and his father picked up. Habib told him to accept the call from the operator. Where are you, his father said, it’s nine in the morning. Listen, Habib said, I got arrested. You what? his father said. I got arrested for drunk driving. What the hell were you thinking? Who’s gonna get you out now, huh? I got no money. You know I have no money! How could you do this to me? You’re nothing but trouble! Dad can you take it easy, said Habib. Sebastian is going to bail me out. No! No! Fuck Sebastian! You’re in prison because of him. No, I’m calling your sister. Your lousy friends can all go to hell. Don’t you know I have a weak heart, Habib? Don’t you know that? Please, don’t call her, Habib said. Sebastian is going to pay the bail. Listen to me. No, Habib, you listen to me. I am calling your sister. But Sebastian is already on his way to pay the bail. Fuck Sebastian. He can go to hell with all his money. Your good for nothing friends. I blame them, every single one of them. Why don’t you listen to me? But dad, Habib said in a broken voice. No. I’m calling your sister right now and she will get you out. Your sister will fix all this. Then his father said goodbye and hung up the phone.

Habib put his head down on the wall. He stood in that position for a long minute before he felt a presence behind him. It was Javier. Can I ask you a favor? he said. Yes, Habib said. Can you get one of your friends to call my girlfriend on her cell phone? I have all my numbers on my cell, he said. I got no one else man. Her number is the only one I remember. Habib said don’t worry about it, and dialed Snyder Coleman.

Snyder did a three-way call with Javier’s girlfriend who only spoke Spanish, and tried his best to translate that her boyfriend was in jail for drunk driving.

After the call was made, and all the important information was given to Javier’s girlfriend regarding his whereabouts, both men went back and sat at the out-of place picnic table by the front of the cell.

Thanks again, man, said Javier. Jail fucking sucks, doesn’t it? Yes, it does, Habib said, smiling.

Then all the inmates got up from their bunks and started forming the lunch line. Even if an inmate wasn’t hungry they still had to make a line. Habib and Javier gave their bologna sandwiches with mustard to an inmate that was running a lunch racket in the back corner behind a bunk bed.

Seven hours later all the newly-arrived were taken in front of a judge. They made a single file line and each waited their turn patiently. When it was Habib’s turn, he stood in shame and with legs trembling. He saw his sister through a video monitor standing in another room answering the judge’s terse questioning. Habib did not have to plead innocent or guilty at that time, but instead was quickly processed.

When they got back to the cell, Habib asked Javier about the judge’s statement that if the defendant was not a citizen of the United States and was found guilty, he was in danger of being deported. It doesn’t mean anything, Javier said, don’t worry. But we could get deported, said Habib, aren’t you nervous? All you have to do, Javier said, is hire a good lawyer and that’s it, you’ll be fine. We’re not like these people. We are different, we aren’t criminals.

Then at six o’clock the guards started calling the names of the inmates set to be released. Habib and Javier heard their names at 7:30 p.m. As they were led out of the cell in small groups, everyone’s spirits suddenly lifted.

We are almost there, Javier said. They were taken down to the first floor of the prison and led into another smaller cell. The cell was dirty and already filled with other inmates. There was graffiti on the walls and the inmates that were already there seemed angrier than the ones in the previous cell. Most of those inmates were standing. The walls were yellow and the few benches that were in the cell were in an advanced state of decay. To the left of Habib and Javier, there was a very small room with two benches. They saw two older black men sitting on one of the benches in the small room and decided to go sit in that section, which seemed dirtier by comparison to the main part of the cell, but still less crowded.

They sat across from the two black men and eavesdropped on the conversation because they had no other choice. The two men where hunched down, facing each other with their hands in front of them like they were in the middle of a prayer.

He livin up in Tallahassee now, said one of the men, the one with the mustache. That’s a good thing, said the other man, good for them. He followed her there all the way from up in Wisconsin after she ran off with his little boy, said the man with the mustache. I never knew that. Yes, he told me he was sitting at a bar trying not to give a damn about what she had done. He was celebrating that they were out of his life, he knew he was a no good father. Really? He was celebrating? That’s some shit, said the other man, looking disgusted. And he was trying to pick up a woman with his “sad” story, you know, trying to get in her pants crying crocodile tears like they call them. Then he noticed as he’s talking to this very fine woman that his crocodile tears were turning into real tears. And then, without saying a word to her, he walked out of that place leaving that fine woman talking to herself. He got in his El Camino and drove straight down to Tallahassee only stopping for gas.

During that brief pause in their conversation, a young inmate walked in escorted by a guard who told him to sit. The inmate sat next to Habib and Javier. The two black men looked at him. The young inmate rubbed his eyes and gave a big sigh. Oh man, he said, shaking his head. What’s wrong with you? Asked the man with the mustache. The young inmate, who looked like a boy, stood up and breathed in and out deeply. This is it for me, the boyish inmate said. What you mean? the other man said. I done been locked up for two years. I never thought I would see this day. Good Lord, said the man with the mustache. I don’t even know what I’m gonna do or how I’m even going to get home. I ain’t got no money, I ain’t got no phone. I don’t even remember my momma’s number. Two years, that’s some shit boy, said the other man. I never thought I was gonna last, said the boyish inmate. Now you listen, said the man with the mustache, you just go and get on that bus, and you tell that driver that you just got released, and you ain’t got no money or nothing except the clothes on your back, and to please give you a ride. He should give you a ride. Just what a good Christian should do. And what if he ain’t Christian? Asked the other man. That don’t matter, said the man with the mustache. How can you not take pity on this young man? It doesn’t necessarily take a Christian to have a good heart. Or do it? Perhaps not, the other man said.

By this time, the two black men had become identical to Habib.

Look here, the man with the mustache said, the bus driver will not deny you. You can even ask him to give you his address and promise to pay him back. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. That’s right, said the other man.

Then the guards began to process the inmates. Everyone was asked to move to the front and middle of the cell. When the metal door opened, all their eyes grew wide as if they had just been allowed entrance through the pearly gates.

Habib’s sister Farah was waiting for him outside the prison. Javier’s girlfriend was standing next to her. After they made one more line to get their belongings, Habib and Javier exchanged numbers and promised to call each other. They never saw each other again after that.

On the car ride home Habib did not mention the dream about the bombs or his plans to go to Norway. The drive was mostly silent, each trying to avoid the elephant in the room. When they got to his father’s apartment in Little Havana, she told him to come over to her house on Sunday. You are selfish, she said. You only care about yourself and going out and getting drunk. When are you going to get serious about your life, Habib? Habib didn’t say anything.

He stepped out of the car and his sister drove off leaving him standing in front of the three-story building. When he took his first step towards the building, a boy in a bicycle clipped him almost knocking him down. Watch where you’re going, Habib, the kid yelled. After regaining his footing, he continued to his father’s apartment to find him drunk in the kitchen while crying on the phone. Habib’s father, Habib bin Hazeem, told the person he was talking to that his son had just arrived and that he would call them back.

That was your aunt, his father said. She is very disappointed in you. Why do you do these things to me, Habib? You know I have a bad back and can’t work. I am an invalid. Do you resent me because of that? Are you ashamed of your father? Habib put his head down. He couldn’t look at his father so he just stood in the same spot not knowing how to react. You don’t have to answer me, but I want you to think about my questions. Come on, I will get you your dinner. I’m sure you’re hungry. His father served him fried chicken with microwave rice and sat down to watch him eat. My own son in prison, his father said. I have been crying all day, asking myself, what did I do wrong? Because it’s my fault you are the way you are. But I also know that you grew up without a mother. And a boy needs his mother. And I am sorry for that Habib. I apologize to both you and your sister.

With his plates to the side Habib finally looked at his father and the old man began to glow like the moon does on a clear night. His hair was white and his eyes had bags under them. He had lost his color because he hardly went out anymore. And sometimes, he could barely get out of bed and Habib was no longer sure if it was the alcoholism or the depression. Habib didn’t know what to do because he refused to go to a doctor, so they both pretended like things were fine and that this was normal. Habib didn’t move out because he knew it would kill him. If his father had no one, specially his children, he would just die. The depression would kill him slowly, but the alcoholism could get to him first. Or was that all a fantasy that he was spinning to himself? Habib wondered.

What if we just leave, Habib said. Can’t we just go somewhere else? What do you mean leave? His father asked. Where do you want to go? I have a friend that lives in Oslo, Norway, Habib said. He can help me find a job and a place to live. You want to go to Norway? Habib bin Hazeem asked. Why do you want to go to Norway? Why in the world would you want to go there? You spend one night in jail and you’re already getting crazy ideas. A change of your surroundings, Habib said. Don’t you think we could start over somewhere else? No, his father said, you need to get some rest. You’ve had a long night Habib. You are talking nonsense.

That night Habib bin Habib dreamt again about the bombs falling over Miami. The image was clearer. In this dream he could focus on each bomb individually. And it was this way he recognized that out of the dozens of bombs falling, each was slightly different from the rest. Some were shaped differently and others were darker than the ones before them. And there were some that seemed damaged or bent. But they all still fell in the same way over houses, cars, banks, skyscrapers, schools, the Miami river, Miami Beach, downtown, and little Havana. In the dream, Miami was covered by a blanket of falling bombs. Habib never saw the aftermath but just the continuous bombing and a sense of dread from the anticipation of what was to come, but by then he would wake up.

That Saturday Habib went to a picnic with his Vietnamese friend Tinh. Habib first met Tinh while playing football in high school. Their friendship was mostly based on sports and fishing. He had been invited the week before and he decided at the last minute to go. Tinh said he would pick him up. The picnic was at the beach in Key Biscayne. Tinh’s family was all there. They had barbeque pork and everyone ate and talked.

An hour later, all the adults and kids decided to go in the water. Habib told Tinh that he didn’t really feel like going in. In reality, he didn’t want to go in because of his body, he was self conscious about his skinny body and tattoos. Despite this, Tinh made him take off his t-shirt and go in the water with the rest of the family. They had to walk far out just to get to the sandbar. They all laid back in the warm water. The kids splashed around and played. Habib laid his head back feeling the warm water on the back of his neck. He closed his eyes and listened to the waves crashing, the children laughing, and the grown ups swimming.

Habib raised his head from the water and asked Tinh, who was floating next to him, if he had ever thought about living in another country. What you mean? Tinh asked. My family’s here. Why would I wanna live anywhere else? What about Vietnam? Habib said, haven’t you ever wanted to go see what it’s like over there now. Tinh moved his arms side to side over the water. Vietnam, he said, I don’t want to go back there. There’s nothing there. Maybe to visit and get me a wife, but that’s it. But what if something happened here, Habib said, and you and your family had to go somewhere else. I don’t know, Tinh said. Why you always gotta ask stupid questions, Habib? Then Tinh seemed to be thinking about his answer carefully. I guess I’d go to Hawaii. I hear they got good fishing there. And I always wanted to go there. What about a country like Norway? Asked Habib. Norway? Asked Tinh. I don’t know about Norway. What’s in Norway? Ain’t it cold in Norway? I like the cold, said Habib. It’s nice there, specially the capital Oslo. Oslo, said Tinh? Norway? Nigga, please! Aren’t there Vikings and shit? You gonna freeze in Norway, Habib. Not me, I like the tropics. I hate the cold. The women are beautiful in Norway, Habib said. We getting ready to get out of the water Habib, said Tinh, let’s go! You hungry? I’m still full, Habib replied. What you talking about full? We got more watermelon! And we still got chicken and ribs!

By the time the sun was on its way down, and everyone had eaten almost everything, Tinh’s clan started packing up for the ride back. Habib never mentioned the arrest for drunk driving. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was ashamed or because he just didn’t feel like going over the whole incident again. In the end, on the ride home, Habib gave up in convincing Tinh about moving to Norway. That night, as he lay in bed, listening to his father snore in the next room, he thought he was losing the ambition to move his entire world into another country. He felt like he was running out of time.

The next day Habib went to his sister’s house in North Miami. In the beginning, they talked about a lot of things, and like most days, they only skimmed the surface of the real issue. When it was dinner time, Habib sat at the table with his two little nephews and brother-in-law Juan. Eventually, after everyone was finished with their dinner, everything was unloaded.

He’s an alcoholic, Farah said. We have that in our genes Habib. It’s like a dormant monster inside us and you’re heading down the same path. Our father is lost. He needs to get help. I have a family to worry about Habib. I don’t have time to go partying like you. I have responsibilities, she said, while feeding the youngest. Why do you think I won’t let him stay here when he’s on one of his benders? But he’s your dad too, said Habib. I know, she said, but he’s a drunk. He’s a sloppy drunk, Habib said. He’s harmless. He gets drunk because you ignore him. Because you’re ashamed of him. Why are you giving him excuses? Farah asked. Farah’s husband Juan usually stayed quiet during these family discussions. Habib got along with him but he didn’t have a backbone and never stood up to Farah. Do you realize Habib, that he is a child? Farah asked pointedly. We have to take charge of him because he is a mess and can’t take care of himself. We are his parents now and that’s not right. Do you see how things have turned completely upside down? We don’t deserve this, Habib. And guess what will happen when he dies? Guess. I don’t know, Habib replied. We will inherit his $80,000 debt. That’s what’s going to happen. Imagine that. Can you afford to have that much debt Habib? Because I know I can’t. I have two kids to raise. When that man dies, that will be his legacy to us. And all because of a woman that he refuses to forget about. Habib couldn’t recognize his own sister. So you want to ignore him? Habib asked. She saw herself in Habib’s weary eyes, and then she snapped out of it. I’m sorry that you have to be the one stuck with him, but he has to be taught a lesson. He needs to do something for himself. We can’t take care of him forever. Do you really think that I want my kids to have a relationship with an alcoholic? You are on your way there too, Habib. So please stop for one second and think about your future. You’re a dropout for god’s sake. And please, I really don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense about Norway. You need to wake up and open your eyes to reality. You need to go back to school.

Many years later, Habib bin Habib al Fulan will brave the cold and snow of December in Oslo to meet a friend in Frogner park.

He will wait for him in the center of the park, right by the fountain. As he waits, while sitting on a park bench, he will watch people go about their lives. He will see lovely couples, tired office workers, pretty blond women smiling amidst the cold, seeing their own breath rise.

He will see a young Asian man fighting the freezing wind. The young man will give it a valiant effort while covered up in many layers of clothing. It will remind Habib of his own brave effort against the insipid, endearing climate when he first stepped off the plane. And Habib will think how curious it was that he caught a cold during his first week in Oslo. The cold wouldn’t go away and before he knew it he had a high fever. His room mate Jon Voorten had to drag him to a clinic against his will. At the clinic, a doctor by the name of Hamsung, told him he had pneumonia and prescribed him antibiotics, advising him to drink lots of liquids and get plenty of rest. The doctor told Habib that these trans-Atlantic flights are like germ incubators, adding that they zap all the energy out of a healthy person, leaving them vulnerable with their defenses down.

That night, with Jon Voorten keeping a close watch over him, Habib had a dream. At exactly five minutes past midnight, when his fever was at its highest point, the dream began with an image of bombs falling over a distant Miami. As the dream continued, he realized that he was no longer scared watching the bombs drop, but paying close attention, he saw the bombs uncurl and turn into people. These people came down landing on their feet like cats, absorbing the impact in their knees and then standing upright. In this dream, Habib noticed that the people were of all shapes and sizes and he recognized some of them. He saw his father uncurling from the shape of a H-bomb and land with a thud. He saw his sister Farah and her husband too. And not far behind them, he saw his two little nephews land with big smiles on their faces.

Then Habib saw one bomb transform into Sebastian Montes right before reaching the ground. His old friend landed on his feet, kneeling, then he turned upright and walked away. After that he saw Tinh and his family falling. There were many of them, and they all fell in good humor, laughing and united. Habib even saw Javier and his girlfriend uncurl into themselves from two portly gray bombs. At this point in the dream, he recognized almost all of the people. They were all there – his family, friends, and acquaintances – even people he had seen in the streets and in bars. But despite who they were, they all fell as bombs, then after landing on their feet, walked away like clay figures brought to life.

*An earlier version was originally published at the Acentos Review under the name “Oslo” in 2011.

About the Author
Fawzy Zablah was born in El Salvador but raised in Miami. Among his works is the short story collection CIAO! MIAMI and the novel RARITY OF THE CENTURY. His fiction has been published widely at Hobart, 3AM Magazine, Acentos Review and Expat Press. His short story, THIS MODERN MAN IS BEAT, was adapted into an award winning short film in 2015 currently playing on Amazon Prime. He is hard at work on a novel about the Arabs and Jews of Latin America with the working title of GITANES.
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