Kumai woke early to rainforest grisaille. Mists hid from view even the closest ohia trees. A lid of silence rested on her surroundings. She wanted to keep it that way, muting any storytelling she might have wished to share last night.
Maybe Susan would forget that Kumai had brought up diving and she could rethink her confession.
She got out of bed before Elena’s arrival and put on the coffee. She texted Tom to see if he could bring her car and meet her at Kumu Lani’s place later this morning. Then she waited for Susan to rise before making any further plans.
Out on her bedroom lanai, the mists had coated the flagstones with a gloss of moisture. Her feet welcomed the wet coolness after walking the warmed hale floors. No birds twittered. The condensing drizzle splatted on leaves in large drops from the invisible forest canopy above. Rushing waters of streams and falls sounded more distant. Kumai would like to hike to some of the waterfalls, if she could get directions from Jorge for access. She stood, absorbing the silence and sipping her hot coffee. Wood smoke drifted down and lingered for a moment.
Susan came out on the middle lanai from the living room and waved to Kumai, who picked her way across mosses and stones to join Susan. They went in and sat by the fire. Kumai’s frozen feet soaked up the dry heat.
“Get any rest?” Susan asked.
“I did, thanks. How about you?”
“I feel so much better than I did last night. Thanks. What are your plans for today?”
“I was hoping for a day in town. I have a ride available if you don’t need me to be here.”
“Sounds good.” Susan sipped her coffee and stared into the fire. “Do you have any day in mind for us to dive? I need to make some plans.”
”How about tomorrow? We could meet at my home and shore dive from there.”
“Sounds nice. Email me directions? Do I need gear?”
“Nope, we’re set for gear. I’ll email you how to get there. Do you remember Puako Road where we found the garage sale with all the dresses?”
“I live down there. House number 145.”
“Oh okay, that’s easy. Say, you had a diving story to tell me, remember?”
I wish that I could forget. “Oh, right.” It was Kumai’s turn to stare into the flames. Could she skip it? Maybe it wasn’t so important for Susan to know what happened in the past. Everything Kumai did changed after that, so it didn’t really apply to her current choices.
Even so, if she were hiring herself, she’d want to know the story just to understand some things. The rain started coming down in earnest, heavy drops peppering the roof and making the crackling fire that much cozier. She heaved a sigh of resignation and her shoulders rolled forward. Setting her mug on the table, she pulled her feet up in the chair and hugged her knees.
Susan put her feet up in her chair and sipped her coffee, waiting.
“When I was a diver in Florida, I had a dive partner, Kate.” Kumai cleared her throat. “She was the closest I’ve had to a sister. We did everything together. Everything. Including some controlled substances.” She glanced to Susan.
Kumai returned her gaze to the fire. “I had an addiction to cocaine, but didn’t know it. I just thought I used too much on occasion. I was sure that I had it under control most of the time because I was functioning just fine in my work.
“On this particular occasion we were partying on a boat, not planning to dive. I sniffed a couple of lines and decided to dive. Kate tried to stop me. I went down anyway.”
Susan put her feet back on the floor and leaned forward.
“Kate was using too that evening. She knew better than to dive. Until I…” Kumai coughed.
“Well, I was coming back up and taking too long. Long story short: Kate came down to rescue me and only one of us came up alive.”
Susan furrowed her brow, “Did you see her go down there?”
Kumai shook her head. “Didn’t know she had made the descent. I came back up far to the aft of the dive boat. She had gone down the anchor rope, per protocol. If I had come up by the rope, like I should have…”
Susan set down her mug and pulled her feet back up. She crossed her arms and stared into the fire. “Do you know what happened to her?”
“Freak accident. From what we could tell, her left leg and fin got wrapped in the anchor rope when it was lax, then the surge pulled it taught and trapped her.”
Kumai fell silent and stared into space. Telling the story made her go numb. She didn’t mention how the rope had snapped Kate’s leg into splinters.
Susan cleared her throat, “I don’t know what to say.”
“S’okay.” Kumai smiled quickly. “So I guess I’ll head out and you contact me if you have any further needs?”
“Okay.” Susan said while still staring at the fire.
Kumai carried her cup to the kitchen, washed it and went to her room. She texted Helen the mile marker for the ranch entrance and gathered her few things. Maybe she would see Mana when she walked by the Caretaker’s Hale so she could tell the dog goodbye.
Her burlap catchall made from a Kona coffee roaster’s bag overflowed with new clothing. She grabbed the box with her fancy shoes and her laptop and was surprised to see her hands shaking. She sat down on the edge of the bed, covered her face in both hands and took a deep breath. As she stood, she straightened her back, wiped away some moisture from her eye, and strode out of the house via the garage.
Jorge and Elena’s hale felt hushed. No vehicle was parked nearby. Since no barking came from that direction, Kumai assumed that the dog had left with them.
The stone entrance to the ranch was farther than she remembered. By the time she hiked to the gate, Tom confirmed his availability and she had an alert that Helen and Leo were waiting at the roadside. She trotted the last few yards to meet them. Kumai hugged her Aunt as if they had been parted for years.
She hopped into the back seat of their minivan and kept a lid on her tears of relief. She had no idea what Susan’s response to her story might mean. Tomorrow’s plans for a dive would help to gauge any future work potential. Almost reprimanding herself for telling Kate’s story, she cut off that line of thinking and focused on today.
“Where will we meet Tom?” Leo asked.
“I dunno when he’ll get there. I’d like to go visit Lani and Tom will take me from there. Is it too much trouble for you to drive me half way up Kaloko?”
“No trouble. We’d like to meet your Kumu anyway.”
“I guess I can’t call her my Kumu anymore since I quit the class.”
“You quit?” Helen asked. “You lasted longer than I would have with that…”
“Have you met Lani?” Kumai asked in surprise.
“No. I’ve heard of her. And I’ve listened to your experiences.”
“Maybe I complain too much.” Kumai said.
“Or maybe you don’t listen to yourself as well as you listen to others?” Leo asked.
“Hmm.” Kumai said. “There’s a lot going on in my head to listen to.”
They drove between rough fields of lava which sprouted random tufts of long grass. A herd of feral goats grazed on the roadside. Kumai watched for any ‘Kona Nightingales’, wild donkeys from the early coffee days. She hadn’t seen one yet even though some mornings she could hear them braying out near the farm.
“We have wild cattle coming through the place now,” Helen said. “As if the herds of feral pigs didn’t tear it up enough.”
“Estimates are eight pigs to every person on the Big Island.” Leo said.
“That’s a lot of Luau’s.” Kumai said.
“And a lot of snorting, smacking, and grunting through the night.” Helen turned, “Which reminds me, you may want earplugs for while you sleep down at the farm. That big mango tree outside your room is dropping fruit, and the lilikoi are coming ripe too. Hopefully the animals will leave you some to enjoy. Come Wednesday night, if you can, and stay as long as you want.”
“Thanks, Auntie. I’m looking forward to the change of pace.” And the pause before I begin my job hunt. Kumai sighed.
She texted Bradon, “Any chance we can get together today?” then Tom, “Pick me up at Kumu Lani’s? 5 miles up Kaloko. Bamboo gate. Makai side of road.”
Her uncle turned up Kaloko drive leaving the dry climate for this pocket of rainforest. She gathered herself for a visit to Lani, curious to see how her former teacher would respond outside of the class. Kumai expected to interrupt a breakfast of granola or homegrown papaya, or maybe a morning meditation. She could not call ahead because Lani eschewed all technology as a possible cause of cancer.
Kumai hiked in from the road. As she crested the muddy drive and walked toward Kumu Lani’s wooden home, she did not expect to hear a CNN broadcast. Stock tickers flickered strange white light into the normally dusky kitchen. Kumai rapped on the doorway and called out, “Hello? Lani? It’s Kumai. May I come in?”
She waited. Shuffling noises came from somewhere within. Lani raced into the kitchen and closed the lid on a laptop, flying to the doorway to greet Kumai in an elaborate silk caftan.
For some reason, Kumai had never pictured Lani in silk. Cotton. Maybe linen, definitely hemp. But not silk.
“I’m working on a Master’s in Hawaiian Studies.” Lani explained. ”It’s ironic that the only way I can do so is on a computer.”
Questions raced through Kumai’s mind. How does Lani charge the laptop without any electricity? What does she connect to for the internet? Just as quickly, Kumai generated possible answers. 1.) Starbucks. 2.) Neighbors or other unsecured WIFI 3.) Starbucks. She wondered if Lani liked coffee.
“That’s cool.” Kumai said, wondering what the New York Stock Exchange had to do with it all. “What were you learning this morning?”
“Let’s see. The first people to the islands, the Hawaiians, didn’t set out to discover other land.”
“You mean, the Polynesians, right? They didn’t call themselves Hawaiians.”
”I don’t think they called themselves Spaniards.” Lani said, “Of course they were Hawaiian. Anyway, they were out fishing and got blown off course. Storms drifted them to these islands.”
Kumai’s eyebrows shot up at this idea. Only landlubbers would think you fished with your livestock, women, and children aboard. There must have been some plans formulated. She wondered whose course Lani had signed up for, Mainland U? “Good thing they had all that food on board.” Kumai said.
“Yeah, sometimes they would stay out fishing for days. The second people probably didn’t think anything of it when the first people disappeared.”
“Who were the second people?” Kumai asked.
“Hawaiians.” Lani said it curtly, like Kumai’s head was as empty as a lava tube.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet. Did you need something?”
“Er, uh, you said to visit any time.”
“Oh yes, of course. I hope you brought that necklace and a ‘yes’ to my offer.”
“Sure, like you have five thousand dollars to pull out and give me?!” Kumai laughed.
Lani’s eyes darted to the herb jars in the kitchen. “Ha ha, true. So did the owner make a counter-offer?”
“Honestly, Lani, I didn’t ask.” Kumai’s phone rang. Caller ID showed it to be Susan. “Excuse me?”
Lani nodded. Kumai stepped outside and walked toward the garden as she answered, “Hey, Susan.”
“Kumai! The dog! Oh my god, oh my god. They’ve got him.”
“Susan, wait. Tell me what’s happened.” Kumai wondered if this was another emergency like not having shoes to match.
“Okay, okay. Jorge and Elena didn’t have Mana last night after all. We each thought the other had him. The last they saw him was Friday night while we were at the White Benefit. They thought that you and I stopped for him on our way home.”
“Where have you searched?”
“Not far.” Susan’s voice sounded small. “We found a note. A ransom note.”
“For a dog!? Who does that?”
Lani came outside with a glass of water for Kumai.
Kumai guzzled, then asked Susan, “What does the note say?”
“45 K or you never see the dog again.”
Kumai couldn’t help it. She started laughing. Lani turned to look at her in surprise.
Susan asked, “Why are you laughing?”
“Those have to be the stupidest kidnappers, dognappers, whatever, on the planet. You can hardly remember you even have a dog and they think you’re going to pay to get him back? They didn’t do any research. We’re dealing with complete idiots.”
Lani scowled toward Kumai and walked away.
Susan made a little nervous laugh. “If that didn’t make me feel better, I might be offended.”
Kumai chuckled. “I’m sorry. But really. The answer for now is to do nothing.”
“We need to wait for them to make contact again.”
“Should I call the police?”
“Normally I’d say yes, but after meeting Officer Molasses yesterday…”
“Okay. Yeah. Thanks Kumai. I’ll call the minute I hear anything.”
“Super. Try to distract yourself. Call me in two hours, either way. Okay?”
Kumai followed Lani and returned her empty glass. “Thanks.”
“Troubles?” Lani asked.
“Not really. Whoever tried to create trouble did not know my client.” Kumai chuckled.