Alii Drive viewed from a car looked like some Disney ride called Hawaii. Walking the commercial street was an immersion experience. Vendors sat on the stone walls, twisting palm fronds into baskets and hats. Mana nipped at the lauhala pinwheels and woven birds pushed by the storm winds. The afternoon sun bore down on Kumai’s exposed skin.
Under the white awnings of the open market camped colorful parrots for travelers to pose with in photographs. Dark blue FBI t-shirts were getting a workout from the tradewinds. Their chrome yellow lettering flashed in and out of the sunlight, blurring the fine print: From Big Island. Five dollar ukuleles painted with hibiscus flowers that matched the parrots’ red, yellow, and green stood up in coffin-shaped boxes in military rows.
Mana pulled Kumai toward the shoreline access, a launch spot for town kids, morning-mile swimmers, and annual IronMan racers. She wondered how the dog would respond to the water. The black pavement made her feet swell and burn. Cooling off, if even just her feet, would help to regulate her whole body. She reined in the pup, put her flip-flops in the swimmers’ shelf, and walked down into the choppy surf.
First, Mana loped the short length of the beach, then bounced like a deer jumping fences out into the deeper water. Kumai released her end of the leash, laughing. Mana dog-paddled back in to shore, harking salt water from his mouth.
“I agree.” Kumai said to the dog, picking up the wet leash.
“Dogs need to be on a six-foot or shorter leash at all times.” A man in a navy blue business suit said.
Kumai ascended the cement steps out of the sand. “This dog has been on a leash the whole time.” Who wears a suit and tie out in the sun in the tropics? she thought, then said, “I, however, was not on the other end of the leash the entire time. No law against that, is there?”
To her surprise, the man laughed. “Manfred Tokushima,” He stuck out his hand to introduce himself. The name was familiar. As Kumai extended her wet hand he continued, “Leilani Punahele, your Kumu’aina, told me about you. You are Kumai Kaimana, right?”
“That’s right.” She tried to remember. Was this the government Somebody that Kumu Lani had wanted to give the dossier? Too late now. “How can I help you?”
She shivered. Mana pulled on the leash to go drink from a pool of fresh water under the community drinking fountain. “Oh? No, no more. They’re taken care of. But thanks!” Kumai answered, letting the dog lead her away. “Nice to meet you!”
“If I may ask, Ms. Kaimana. What happened to the papers?” He asked.
No, you may not, she thought. “Sorry… the dog…” She tried to walk away.
“Ms. Kaimana. I’m not just an agent for the State Agricultural Department, I also happen to work for our government.” Manfred lowered his voice to a growl. “The National Government.”
“Seems kinda like a conflict of interest, doesn’t it somehow? State and Federal jobs? But I’m happy for you to land two jobs in a tough economy. Good luck with all that. Now, I’m leaving.” Kumai gave him a smile combined with a warning stare. In the background she saw the man everyone knew as Charles ambling toward them on the pier. She added, “I’m late for rejoining my date.” That seemed to give the man pause, almost as if he had thought she was alone but now had to regroup.
He looked at the dog.
“I’m sorry, do you need me to take the dog away?” she asked, concerned.
“No, ma’am. Used to have one jus’ like him.”
Mana advanced toward the homeless man. Kumai invited, “He’s friendly. Feel free to pet him.”
Charles crouched, put his hand under Mana’s chin, and scratched. The dog stared into his eyes.
“Maybe you’d prefer a cold drink? I mean, uh, like a cold soda or a shave ice?” Kumai stammered.
Charles chuckled. “It’s a lewa lifestyle, ma’am. I’m doing fine, thank you.”
“Do you need anything”
“I’m doin’ okay.”
Kumai glanced back to detect Manfred standing in the thatched shade of the rest area tiki hut. She turned back to Charles, “I’m Kumai,” she offered, “and that is Mana.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Chaz.”
“Chaz!” She said.
“It’s actually Charles, but I like the sound of Chaz.”
“Yeah. It’s spunkier.” She said. “Chaz? I’m trying to avoid that man in the shade over there.”
“The spook? Good idea.”
Kumai wondered what that meant, but continued, “Uh, so, it would help me if you went with me somewhere until he goes away.”
He smiled, several molars short, “That Shave Ice sounded pretty good once you said it.”
“Thank you.” she exhaled.
Chaz seized the leash and picked up Mana. The wet pup wriggled and licked him in the face. Chaz chuckled softly.
Kumai was focusing on them while walking past the shady overhang, only thinking to look back after they had passed Manfred. He was gone.
The evening winds died taking with them any relief from the intense heat. Travelers crowded into lines for their tender back to the cruise ship, wearing socks with their sandals and complaining of the temperature.
“Do you think it’s hotter than usual?” She asked Chaz.
“Hottest year yet.” He answered. “Gonna get even hotter over the land before it’s done.”
“What do you mean?”
“The aina has become a battleground once again.”
“Are you talking about the fight for Hawaiian sovereignty?” Kumai asked. “Do you think they can accomplish it?”
“No. That time has passed for the aina. The battle now is for ownership.”
Kumai determined that Charles was hapa Hawaii, part Hawaiian like she was, but didn’t know how to ask. She thought of the dossier. “Chaz, what do you know about the original land divisions? You know, the Ahupua’a?”
“Yes. I know them. Many have been sold that were supposed to be held in trust.” He said, gently setting down Mana to trot beside him. “My ohana had land stolen from them by our own mauki uncles. Now they will build like on Oahu. The Big Island will lose its nahele and waena, the open spaces.”
The Anuenue Shave Ice stand had a small line. People stared at Chaz and shied away from him.
“Could you watch Mana for me while I order for us?” Kumai asked, maneuvering them toward a sitting spot on the rock wall.
“Will do.” Chaz said, engrossed with the dog, “Oh, lilikoi and guava for me.”
Kumai returned with two paper cones, the ice dome of Chaz’s had yellow and rose stripes, and hers was solid blue. While in line she had decided to tell Chaz about the dossier. She talked and he ate his shave ice, listening.
Her blue Hawaiian turned to liquid in the heat, overflowing. She gulped the melting syrup when she had finished talking. Mana licked drips from the pavement.
“You are now forged to a symbol of the ground that was formed for Hawaiians.” Chaz said.
“Well. I was.” She corrected, “Someone stole it.”
“Keep your connection. If the file comes to you again, make it pono. Get it back to the kanaka.”
“Yeah, I was going to. I thought about either the museum or the trustees.”
“No. The people.” Chaz insisted.
Kumai thought of Kumu Lani. Should she have given the dossier to her teacher to start with?
A taro farmer from the poi stand walked by with a heavy stem of apple bananas on his shoulder. He would sell them to Splasher’s for their famous banana pancakes. He stopped and rolled the fruits down to the ground, crushing the dangling heart blossom under their weight. His t-shirt was dotted with black rubbery stains from the tree sap. With a sweet open face of aloha, he broke off two clusters of the thumb-length fruits and gave them to Chaz. He gave one hand of bananas to Kumai.
“Promise me,” Chaz said, “No museums. No trustees. No spokespeople. Only to the Kanaka maoli.”
Kumai knew she would never see that dossier again, so she promised.