Fawzy Zablah

Feb 2011


Fawzy Zablah was born in El Salvador and was raised in Miami. He has worked as a dishwasher, a car wash attendant, a busboy, a magazine editor, a telemarketer, and as spanish translator. His short stories have appeared online at 3AM Magazine, Lit Vision, and the now defunct Muslimwakeup.com. He is also the author of the short story collection,

Ciao! Miami. He has a blog at :


This modern man Habib bin Habib Al Fulan entered the first  pawnshop in Florida City with shoulders sunk down and a thousand-mile stare. He grasped an acoustic guitar by the body like a farmer holding a chicken.
He joined a line of people and waited.
More people entered the store.
When it was his turn, he put the string instrument on the counter for the pawnbroker to inspect.
And a good moment later:
“What kind of a name is that?” Asked pawnbroker #1 while strumming Habib’s guitar.
“It’s Arabic.”
“It’s Middle-Eastern.”
“Middle what?”
“It’s from the Middle-East.”
“Are you from Iraq?”
“My grandparents are from Palestine. But I was born in El Salvador.”
“That’s some mix you got there,” said pawnbroker #1, and then began inspecting Habib’s acoustic guitar closely, tapping it and listening to the sounds it made.
“I’m not a Muslim. I’m Catholic.”
“Really,” said pawnbroker#1, smiling.
Habib maintained eye contact. The pawnbroker studied him up and down with a smirk.
“I can give you $50 for it.”
“It’s worth almost $200. I was hoping for at least $100. It’s in really good condition. I’ve taken really good care of it. I lost the case, but other than that.”
“You lost the case?”
“Yes. It’s a long story. I lost it when I moved.”
“Let me have a little talk with my brother Joe.”
Pawnbroker #1 grabbed Habib’s guitar and went over to a small office in the back where a man was sitting down typing into a computer. Habib waited patiently, looking at the guns in the glass cases and the other guitars hanging by the wall. He compared the hunting knives.
“He says he ain’t Muslim,” said pawnbroker #1 laughing. “He’s catholic, he says.”
The two pawnbrokers laughed while Habib threw them an uneasy smile in their general direction. After talking with his brother, pawnbroker #1 finally returned with the guitar, handing it back to Habib.
“The most I can give you is $75.”
“Thank you,” said Habib, taking the guitar back and leaving the store.

Habib then went into the pawnshop next door. The pawnbroker behind the counter was a tall, overweight man in a black Miami Heat t-shirt and a green hunting cap.
“Hello there,” pawnbroker #2 said smiling. “How can I help you?”
Habib smiled back, handing him the guitar.
Then a good moment later:
“So your mother is back there now?”
“Yes, she is.”
“She must like it better, huh?”
“Yes, she got tired of America. Too much work you know?”
“When did she leave?”
“She left in 2002.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Do you think you’ll ever go back?”
“No, I don’t think that’s possible.”
“But the country is in better shape now? I mean they got peace now and all.”
“Yes, she’s at peace now.”
“I don’t know if you remember the movie Salvador directed by Oliver Stone?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“One of my favorite movies of all time. Everybody knows that was the movie that kept that whole mess down there from turning into Vietnam. God knows Reagan was getting ready to ship our boys off. I gotta tell you, Oliver Stone is a fucking maniac with his storytelling.”
“That was a pretty good movie.”
Then there was a brief moment where they were both silent. Pawnbroker #2 glanced at Habib’s guitar again.
“I can only give you $60 for it. It’s just not a very good brand. I wish I could offer you more.”
“Let me think about it,” said Habib, grabbing his guitar.
“It was good talking with you man.”
“You too, I’ll see ya,” said Habib, waving goodbye and leaving the store.

The third pawnshop was across the highway in a building in the shape of a flying saucer. The front and sides were littered with banners advertising special interest rates and discounts.
Habib  went in, handing the guitar to the first available pawnbroker who happened to be an older lady with white, puffy hair and a long sleeved American flag shirt.
“Well, what do we have here,” pawnbroker #3 said, inspecting the guitar curiously.
“It’s a George Bennet. Like brand new. Not a scratch.”
Then a good moment later:
“And your father left your mother just like that?”
“Yes, he did.”
“That is just plain mean. To have the gall to ask your mother for a divorce the moment you all arrive from a trip to Disney World that he didn’t even want to go on, that takes some nerve.”
She looked at Habib’s face, exploring for any sign of emotion. She then put her hand over his hand which had been leaning on the glass case.
“I’ll tell you what though,” pawnbroker #3 said. “The Lord is watching and the bad things we do come back to us. That’s the rule. So pray for your father. Pray for him and forgive him.”
“Thank you,” said Habib, “I will.”
They both looked at the guitar at the same time.
“I’m sorry but I can’t give you more than $70 for it. It’s in pretty good condition but the brand is not very good for a guitar. I wish I could help you. Is there anything else you have?”
“No, this is it. My wife and I are about to get evicted from the Motel down the street.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that. I really wish I could help you son. There is another pawnshop about 3 miles from here. You could try them.”
“Thank you anyway,” said Habib, grabbing his guitar and leaving the store.

Habib crossed the street again, walking for five blocks while holding the guitar with his two hands. The day was cloudy and humid. The heat became exhausting. The street noise was deafening and rising. He continued down a narrow side road off the main highway until reaching the “His N’ Hers” Motel. He took out his motel key from his pants pocket, flipped the “Do Not Disturb” notice hanging from the door knob, and unlocked the door and entered room 7.
The curtains were drawn and there was a figure in the bed covered from head to toe in yellow sheets. The A.C. unit hummed, working at its lowest temperature, giving the room an unnatural chill. He put down the guitar on a table next to the bathroom and then sat down on the floor next to the bed with his feet crossed like a boy-scout sitting in front of a camp fire.
The small figure in the bed did not move, but there was a limp hand that hung from the side. The hand was pale and it had fake purple press on nails with little constellations on them.
“You don’t have to keep pretending,” he said, addressing the figure in the bed. “I’m gonna get the money. I’m not worried. I just wanted to see how you were doing.  I have leads honey. I have good leads.”
 Habib looked down at the ground beneath him, rubbing the shaggy brown carpet with the palm of his hands. At that moment, he didn’t look up at the bed, but it was like he was talking at it and not the figure in the bed.
“I hate you,” he said.
The room was small and the mild light from the gray day didn’t have a chance trying to overtake the thick, flowery curtains. The dying light that did invade gave the room a dreariness that hung in the cold center and right around the bed, swirling like a downward spiral, with the intensity of existential arrows pointing at the obvious.
“Please say something. You’re just going to stay in bed all day? You don’t believe in me? You never believed in me. But that’s okay, I was lying. I love you. I’m always gonna love you.”
Habib got up, grabbed the guitar and left the room making sure to replace the “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the door knob. He walked north on the main highway with the neck of the guitar over his shoulder and when the cars honked he saluted them back with a shy wave and a frown. He continued for a mile until he found the fourth pawnshop. The building was as gray as the sky and it was empty inside.
He pushed the buzzer, opened the door, and walked right up to pawnbroker #4 who was sweeping broken glass next to an empty display case.
“Good afternoon,” pawnbroker #4 said, “I’ll be right with you.”
The Pawnbroker leaned the broom next to a wall and went behind the counter.
“I would like to know what’s the most I could get for this guitar,” said Habib, handing him the instrument.
“Let me take a look. Do you want to pawn it or sell it?
“I’m looking to sell it.”
He played a few chords with Habib’s guitar. The sound glided up the cluttered store.
“It sounds a little rough, but we don’t have any acoustic guitars in stock, so the most I can give you is a hundred.”
Habib smiled.
Then a good moment later:
“Thank you sir. You don’t know how badly I need this money. I was 12 hours from me and my wife getting thrown out in the street.”
“That sucks, man.”
“I lost my job three months ago and my wife hasn’t been able to work.”
“You know what? I’m actually looking for someone to work the graveyard shift at one of my stores on the other side of town. Do you speak Spanish?”
“Yes, I’m fluent.”
“Good, just take this application and pen and fill it out for me.”
“Thank you sir.”
“Let me bring your cash for the guitar right now.”
Habib started filling out the application form. He put down the motel for his address.
Pawnbroker #4 returned with the money and counted it in front of Habib. Habib had tears in his eyes.
“You okay?”
“Yes,” Habib said, wiping his face with his hands. “I’m just feeling a lot of relief right now. My wife didn’t think I could get the money.”
Pawnbroker #4 looked at Habib. “Really?”
“She doesn’t believe in me. People used to say to me, ‘Habib what you doing with a girl like that?’ And I didn’t care what they say, because I love her and it’s my decision who I wanna be with. They don’t see her real personality, just the gossip they hear because people like to talk. You know? But she was really drunk on the strawberry Cisco yesterday, getting real hysterical, accusing me of not being a real man, of not following the rules of the world, that I’m never gonna provide for her and that I will never be a good guitar player. And that hurt, when she say that, it hurt even more than when she punched me in the face.”
“She punched you in the face, man?”
“Yes, she loves to fight. I got so mad I choked her until her feet stopped kicking. But right now she’s  back at the hotel pretending. That’s the type of girl she is. But I know she ain’t dead because I can hear her breathing; you gotta close your eyes and really listen. It’s there, she’s definitely breathing. Either way, I know my luck changing today will help us out. You know? I’ve been through a lot of things. And this is a new life now. She can take it or leave it. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Pawnbroker #4 reached for a small, black, revolver under the counter.
 Habib caught his own reflection unexpectedly in a mirror hanging next to the shot guns. He recognized it. It was the face of a hyena scavenging.
And then, suddenly, it was like if the space between the two of them had contracted, and time had stopped, and no one entered the store.

This Modern Man is Beat