By sunrise, Kumai was on her second cup of coffee and three instagram accounts away from anyone she follows. A text notice chimed from Auntie Helen, “Teshima’s in half an hour?”
Her fingers slid a response onto her screen, “I’ll be there. Thanks.” She stripped the beds and put fresh sheets in both rooms, then went outside to take a shower. Since the orange tree had grown new branches around the water knobs and the thorns were considerable she reached carefully to adjust the water temperature. An orange lay fallen on the tile platform where she stood waiting for the water to get warm.
She rinsed the orange, checked it, and then broke into the peel. A spray of orange oil christened her belly with glistening mist. The fragrance burst into the air and filled her nose as she ate a few sour wedges of the fruit. She tossed the rest over the ledge to the garden below.
The sun warmed her back as hot water rinsed her front. Warmth took turns with cool breezes to wash over her.
Mana was in the shade of the shack chewing on a stick. Dave stood on the wood railing beside the shower, watching and waiting. She gave him a quick rinse. He extended his wings for more, squawked, and flung the water off in a sunlit toss of crystals.
She toweled off, gathered up the bird and her dirty clothes, and finished getting ready for the day.
Dave’s cage suspended nicely from a hook formerly carrying mail bags in Wanda. Mana had nothing to restrain him in the vehicle, so Kumai fashioned a harness with her back pack and connected it with a bungee cord loop to the van’s interior wall. The traveling yoga mat that Sage had given her got its maiden voyage as a slip grip under the dog. Now she could tell Sage that she was using it.
She drove back down the green and white kaleidoscope of the oleander lane, half-expecting camouflaged snipers to leap out in front of her. Or maybe they would attack from behind and start shooting. She checked her side mirrors, cursed the lack of a center mirror or back window, and sped up.
Dave squawked as his cage tilted and he rolled upside-down on his roost. Mana scrambled to right himself and sprang back to a sitting position as the bungees did their job. He turned and sniffed the backpack like it was magic.
Usually it was difficult for Kumai to leave the coffee farm after a visit. But not today. Maybe it was her ohana that was hard to leave.
A lack of sleep was starting to grate on her and she could feel herself becoming short-tempered. An ugly mood would serve her well under these circumstances. But before she went on the prowl, she planned to enjoy an old-school breakfast. Her biggest decision of the day now faced her: which breakfast to order, Japanese or American?
She backed Wanda into a space shaded by noni bushes. Dave’s cage came down from the hook to the floor near Mana since the roof would get hot while they waited. The back door rolled up, so she cracked it to let air flow, but couldn’t figure out how to secure it. A quick scan of the parking lot revealed a sleepy Friday morning in the middle of nowhere. Her ohana’s van was in their usual spot. Two other small sedans were in the parking lot.
Kumai entered the low doorway of the former general store and constant hub of the Japanese-American community in South Kona. Her ohana sat in the dark interior in their booth. Above them were window screens which never had glass, just wood slats on the outside for window coverings and shoji doors on the interior. The private back room was empty, as was the lounge.
“We ordered your usual.” Helen said.
“I have a usual?” Kumai asked.
“Japanese breakfast, no rice, extras vegetables, pancake, and bacon.” Uncle recited.
“That sounds pretty much perfect.” Kumai smiled. “But do I usually order bacon?”
“For the dog.” Uncle Leo explained. “Did you bring the dog?”
“I did.” Kumai scowled. “And Dave.”
Her uncle scowled back, “I was training Dave.”
“He needs a break from training.” Kumai chuckled. “He’s been under a lot of stress.”
“Oh?” Auntie Helen asked as she studied Kumai.
“Oh.” Kumai lied, “Just the neighbors’ thing, you know.”
“Uh huh.” Helen said, still watching her.
Kumai sipped her coffee.
“How were things at the shack?” Helen asked.
“You were right,” Kumai said, “I needed those earplugs.”
“You look kinda tired.” Leo said. “I’d hoped you would be able to rest.”
“I got some good rest yesterday, thanks.” Kumai patted his forearm. “How was Oahu?”
“City.” Helen said. “The whole island is a city.”
“Lotsa people and traffic.” Leo said.
“Lines everywhere you go.” Helen said.
“Lucky we live Kona.” Kumai said.
They all nodded agreement and attended to their meals as they arrived. The miso soup went down in a swig of warming comfort, like an internal shower. She smiled at the memory of the water this morning.
Her cabbage was just the right amount of salty, and the cucumbers were not too sweet. She took the seaweed and wrapped the artificial fish cakes in two leaves, eating them first as her least favorite. Then she ate the fried fish. This morning it was Ono. She broke the yokes on her eggs and mixed them with the pickled cabbage. She tried to save some of the bacon for Mana and pancake for Dave, but she was unusually hungry. Then she remembered that she hadn’t eaten supper last night.
Skipping meals was always a sign that things were getting out of control. What was the first step? Admitted that our lives had become unmanageable… Kumai sighed.
“Is everything alright, Kumai-chan?” Helen asked.
“Sure.” Kumai lied again. “Things are still changing at work.” She waved her hand in the air lightly.
“You said something like that in Waimea.” Her aunt sounded skeptical.
“Which work?” Leo asked, “The boat or the resort?”
The prey turned to predator job. “Uh, well, both actually. Everything’s in flux. But I’m fine. Really. I’m pretty adaptable.” She smiled with her mouth but her eyes were too tired to smile as well.
“Right.” Helen said then grunted when Leo elbowed her. They exchanged looks. Leo went back to his homemade hash. Helen sipped her coffee and watched the room.
Kumai tucked bits of pancake into her napkin, then tore up half a slice of bacon and folded it into the paper as well. She fished in her purse for a twenty and set it on the table, “Mind if I eat and run?” She asked.
“Of course not.” Leo stood and let Helen out of the booth to hug Kumai goodbye.
Helen said, “Let us know how we can help, okay?”
“Sure.” Kumai said and then hugged Leo. “Thanks.”
“Thanks for shack-sitting.” Leo said. “Next breakfast is on us.”
“Deal!” Kumai waved behind her as she walked out of the cool dark of the hundred-year-old restaurant into present-moment sunshine. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the bright light, but quickly enough to see the dark gaping hole where the back door of the mail van had been rolled up. She dashed over and saw both Dave and Mana sitting where she had left them. She scanned the area and saw the cargo van from yesterday pull out from the petrol station that shared the parking lot. Scarface.
She hopped into Wanda and backed up, realizing when she looked over her shoulder that she had left the rolling door open. The van lurched as she slammed it into park, ran around the back, clicked Dave’s cage up into its loop and rolled down the door. “Good boy.” She told Mana as she ran to the wrong side of the vehicle to jump in and had to run around to the other side to drive. She followed the direction the van had taken toward Captain Cook and Kainaliu, back toward the coffee farm. But instead of turning down Napoopoo Road, he stayed on the Hawaii Belt Road.
Kumai dropped back as the vehicles between them turned off, leaving only two cars’ separation. He turned mauka up Telephone Exchange Road. Kumai waited a little longer at the turn, watching where he went before following on the dirt track. But by the time traffic had cleared again for her to follow, he was out of sight. Small side roads and two-track drives branched off of the main track both left and right. Kumai stayed on the main road hoping to catch sight of the white van.
The road turned steep and washed out. She eased the mail van over the ruts and rocks, something scraped loudly on the bottom, and the animals bounced around. She turned into a farm halfway up the hill and sat there trying to decide whether to turn around, go on foot, or drop-kick something.
She glanced at Mana, and he shrunk down, his ears tucked back.
“Don’t worry, Buddy. I’m mad cuz he tried to hurt you. I’m not going to punt you.”
The tip of Mana’s tail wagged, but the ears stayed back.
“Are you talking to me?” A gentleman asked as he approached the vehicle from behind. He peeked in the left side where the steering wheel should be.
“Oh, hello.” Kumai said and blushed. “I’m talking to the dog.” She pointed to the back of the van.
“That’s a bird.” The man said, looking at Dave.
“Yes. There’s a dog on the floor.” Kumai explained. “I’m sort of lost. I was following a white cargo van and lost him.”
“Friend of yours? He’ll come back for you, I’m sure. You can wait here if you like.” He started to walk away.
“Did he drive past here?” Kumai asked.
“Dunno, I was tending to the plants until you flew into the driveway.”
I didn’t fly. Does this van look like it can fly? “Oh, sorry. I was trying to catch, uh, catch up…”
“So you said. C’mon in. My name’s Tane.”
“Tane?” Kumai asked. “Plants?”
“A woman named Manya told me to look you up.”
“Manya? You must be Kumai, then.”
“Guess you’ve heard of me too.”
“I was told to watch for you, to make you welcome. So, welcome. The dog?” He asked.
“Sure, he’d love it. The bird can come out too, if you’re okay with that.”
Tane lowered Dave’s cage and put a hand in the wire door to let Dave walk onto his palm. “Care for a tour of the place?” Tane asked.
“Sure…” Kumai said, glancing back to the main road.
“Your friend will see your mail van when he drives the road to look for you.” Tane offered.
Which means I can either hide it. “Right.” Kumai said. Or I can leave it as a lure, if he noticed me following him.
“Our produce comes from various farms in South Kona. I also source produce from the farms in the other microclimates around the island since we have such a diverse growing region.” Tane led the way to a cement area covered with shade cloth. “There are 13 climate zones on our planet. The Big Island of Hawaii has 8 of them.”
Rows of potted plants, shrubs, and small trees were being tended by twenty-something woofers. One hand-carried buckets of water, others were carefully and efficiently pruning, and another was checking under leaves and on stems for pests and general plant health.
“Manya suggested that I observe your methods in contrast to Ku… uh, other gardeners’ methods. What do you suppose she wanted me to see?”
“I don’t know. Manya usually has good reasons for her ideas, though. The biggest difference in how I do things from most gardeners is I, we, try to let the plant tell us what it needs.” Tane said.
“As opposed to the other way around.” Kumai finished. “Why do you put the plants in pots?”
“Hawaii is great for growth, of everything, including insects and soil parasites. It helps reduce any need for pesticides if we keep the plants up from the ground. Many of the larger operations have netting over their growing areas to keep out the flying insects as well. I have help keeping them in check with neem.”
A young woman turned to him and said, “Tane, I changed my address so please don’t mail my check, okay?”
“Go ask for your pay at the office when you’re done today. And please get your new address on record when you know it.”
“Pay?” Kumai murmured.
“Yeah?” Tane asked.
“You pay your interns?” Kumai asked.
“I’m funny like that. When someone works a job for me, I like to pay them.” He shook his head in disbelief at her question.
This guy could make a fortune charging to teach like Lani does.
Tane handed her the parrot. He cut a branch from a shrub and handed it to her. “Tulsi. Also known as Holy Basil. Dry the leaves and make tea out of it. Are there any other plants you’d like to sample?”
“I wouldn’t know what to do with them. But, there’s one I’ve heard about for respiratory symptoms we get from breathing vog. I forget, it starts with an M, I think.”
“That would be mamaki.” Tane walked across the cement area to another small tree and cut a branch. “Dry it like you do the tulsi and make a tea.”
“Thanks.” Kumai said, a bird in one hand and a bush in the other.
“Sure, sure. Thank you for your time. This was my good fortune to have pulled in here.” Kumai smiled and nodded goodbye. She whistled for Mana and walked out onto the grounds to find a hill where she could better view the main road.
A vehicle clanked in the distance, coming down the rough hill, its springs protesting in squeaks. Since Kumai couldn’t see it yet, she waited to explore the farm in case she needed to sprint to her vehicle. She was rewarded a moment later by a flash of light from the white side of the cargo van.