5 Elima ~ Refuge

starsnppalmsStars flickered silver-white overhead as Kumai drove Inigo Montoya, her blue Miata, downhill along the twists of Napoopoo Road flanked by banyan, kiawe, and monkey pod trees.  Like a warm embrace, the evening air wrapped around Kumai’s shoulders.  The pup snuffled contentment as the air fingered his silky black coat.

Kumai couldn’t relax and she couldn’t focus to sort out events.  Mesmerizing turns and tropical air didn’t release her from the intense day.  Maybe Auntie had some brandy tucked away.  Kumai used to enjoy being jazzed up and electrified.  But this feeling was different from cocaine, not as much fun.  Adrenaline also didn’t last long enough to get a real ride.  She was already coming down from it.

The image of her neighbors’ feet sprawled unnaturally flashed into her mind.  A small knot rose in her stomach, threatening to come out her throat.  She pulled over at the lookout and stepped out to settle her stomach from the curvy road, her head down and hands on her knees.  She took several deep breaths, stood upright, and scanned the vast dark curve of Captain Cook Bay.  The volcano-formed basin was lit with sparks of golden house lights.  A necklace of vehicle lights traveled in a flickering chain along the Hawaii Belt Road, the only way for commuters to get around the island.  Lots of people still alive.  Some of them killers.

She forced out a small burp and decided she was thirsty and needed the bathroom.  The pup whined.  Only a few more yards and she would be at her ohana’s shack.  She got back in the car, patted the dog and drove down to a bamboo gate into her personal Eden.

Kumai set the pup loose to run and carried Dave’s travel cage into the kitchen.  She set down the cage on the table.

“Kumai-chan! Welcome home.” Her large aunt embraced her in a hug.  Kumai sighed and felt her tension melt.  Aunt Helen suggested, “Let’s go sit on the lanai.  Soup’s hot on the stove for you.  Uncle’s in the outdoor shower right now.  You don’t want to catch him in his altogether.”1374080_527272297356977_1855474719_n

Kumai laughed.  “True.  Mind if I shower after him?”  Their outdoor shower was a tiled square of cement down by Kumai’s room with hot running water piped up the trunk of an orange tree.  The shower walls were banana leaves and areca palm lace.  Kumai had the shower in mind for her stress detox.  “And do you still have some brandy around?”

“Sure.  You don’t have to ask.  Under the counter, below the toaster.  Snifters are in the chandelier.  Pour me one?”  Aunt Helen asked as she went out onto the lanai.

After visiting the restroom, Kumai returned to the kitchen and took down two snifters from the kitchen light fixture which was made of assorted crystal stemware depending from hooks around the bulb.  Multi-colored lights brightened the lanai where her aunt was sweeping chairs.

Kumai carried out two snifters filled with a finger of amber liquid.  Her aunt was already sitting, feet up, gently pressing pipe tobacco into her Meerschaum.  “Mind if I do?” she asked.  Kumai nodded no.  Her aunt paused and studied Kumai for a moment, “Rough day?”

“Unbelievable.”  Kumai said.

“Wanna talk?”


“Pancakes in the morning.”  Aunt Helen looked at her snifter, “We out?”


“Look what I found!” Uncle Leo exclaimed from the lanai doorway, the pup in his arms.  Uncle’s wet hair was standing in random blonde spikes from a toweling-off.  “Early birthday present?”

“Client’s dog.”  Kumai answered.

“No name?”

“Not yet.  I’m going to provide her with a list of name suggestions, if you two want to add any ideas.”

“Okay.  Where’s Dave?”  Uncle Leo asked.

“Kitchen table.”  Kumai said.

Her uncle released the dog and went back into the kitchen.  Kumai could hear him chatting softly to Dave, the bird giving cheerful responses.  The cork squeaked out of the brandy bottle.  Dave imitated the sound several times as her uncle poured some brandy for himself.

Aunt Helen lit up her pipe.  Leathery fragrance of smoke travelled in suspended swirls on the night air.  An owl screeched from the dark.  From this lanai, no neighboring lights peeked up through the jungle canopy.  It gave the illusion of them being the only people on the island.  Over the tree-tops the horizon and ocean stretched invisible but present in a hushed surf below.

Kumai sighed.  The pup put his paw up on her leg and she pulled him into her lap.

“Should name the dog Buster,” her uncle offered as he joined them on the lanai.  Aunt Helen got up and pulled out a chair for him.  She held his juice glass of brandy to free his hand while he sat with Dave perched on his other hand, “Then you’d have Dave & Buster!”

Kumai laughed.  “I don’t get to keep Buster,” she said more regretfully than she intended.

The three of them sat on the open lanai, comfortable in their silence and the small stirrings of air.  Helen puffed slowly on her pipe.  A bat swooped in the jungle nearby, tickling Kumai’s ears with a felt sense of hearing rather than any sound.  Kumai got up and went into the kitchen for a bowl of soup.  She returned to the lanai and chose one of the hanging hammock chairs.  Fatigue settled onto her as she finished eating.  She left enough soup and bits in the bowl for the pup to have some.  She looked forward to crawling into her over-soft bed in the screened room that they save just for her.  She would snuggle under her down blanket as the cool night air descended the hill.

A single car’s headlights traced a spot of light far below along the rocky shore.  Someone was leaving late from the City of Refuge.



A cardinal sang out from the banana leaves birdie birdie birdie.  Kumai pulled her covers over her head to keep out the still-dark morning noise and the early chill.  The pup snuggled closer but Kumai couldn’t drift back to sleep.  She heard pans banging upstairs in the shack.  She dressed in sweats and left her little treehouse room to join her ohana.

Over coffee, Kumai told about the day before.

“Always room here on a farm for another cat,” her uncle offered.  “Bring it down.”

“Oh, that would be really good.  Thank you!”  Kumai understood how much the cat’s care was worrying her only now that a solution presented itself.  She felt a little weight lift from her spirits.  The island was overrun with cats.  It would be killed if she took it to the shelter.

“And Dave can stay here until you get that client settled.  Looks like you might have your hands full,” he pointed to the pup, chewing an avocado at Kumai’s feet.

“Oh puppy! No!”  Kumai said.  “Outside with that.  Sorry, Auntie!”

“Here,” her aunt handed her a soapy paper towel to wipe up the black rind bits and greasy green goo from the floor.  Uncle Leo ushered the dog and his treasure outside the kitchen screen door.  “What did the police say they’ll do with the dossier?” Aunt Helen asked.

“Police?”  Kumai asked.  “Oh, uh… I didn’t think.  I mean, I didn’t give it to them.  I wasn’t really thinking about anything after some point last night.”   She reflected on her forgotten call to Bradon.  How did she want to fix that?  “I suppose I still thought I was going to deliver the dossier to my neighbors.  Now I guess I’ll return it to the sender.”

“You know who sent it?”

“Oh, hm.  No.”

“Better go get it.  Maybe something on it will help.”

“Or give it to the police, like Auntie said,” Uncle Leo offered.

“I had a lot of police time yesterday.”  Kumai said, rising to go get the folder from her car, “I’d rather not lose more time to them today.  Let’s find out what we can.”   She returned to the kitchen table with the dossier.

“Nothing on the outside.”  Uncle Leo turned over the sealed folder.  “It’s strange.  Although it seems official, there is no identifying information on the outside at all.  It’s like both the sender and recipient wanted to stay unmentioned.”

“Unidentified.”  Kumai pondered.

“Meaning something no one wanted to be tied to?  That needs to go to the police.”  Aunt Helen sat down with a platter full of pancakes.  “Dig in.”

They did.  Uncle Leo set aside the folder to butter his pancakes.  Kumai stood up and refilled everyone’s coffee.  The pup whined to come in.  Kumai opened the screen, making sure the avocado stayed outside when the dog came in.  She picked up the folder as she returned to her chair.  “Guess I can’t deliver it.  I can’t return it unless I open it.  I don’t know if it should go to the police, but I might know if I open it.”

“Sounds like you need to open it.” Uncle Leo said through a mouthful of pancakes.

Aunt Helen watched in silence as Kumai broke the seal.

“Hmph.”  Kumai muttered, “Seal of the Bishop Estate.  No address.  ‘Land divisions of the great Mahele…’ blah, blah, blah, maps, Big Island sliced up like a pie, shoreline and ocean-floor maps… No addresses or owner information on any of this.”

“Some of those papers look old.”  Aunt Helen observed. “Not just old yellow, but brown.  Are the maps hand drawn?”

“Yup.  Probably way out of date.  Maybe collectibles?”  Kumai offered.

Uncle Leo wiped his hands on his napkin, “Let me take a look.  Eat you some pancakes while they’re hot.”

Kumai handed the papers to Leo and several odd-sized pieces fell to the floor.  They gathered them and Leo studied the papers.

Kumai nodded approval to her Auntie about the pancakes and pointed to them with her fork while she chewed.

“Yeah?”  Helen asked.

“Best ever.”  Kumai said.

“You always say that.”  Helen laughed.  Then she got serious, “Kumai-chan, you need to take this file to the police.”

Kumai smiled at her aunt.  She looked to her uncle.

“These are just some old papers.”  Uncle Leo said.  “Probably could be useful as historical documents like Kumai said. This one, with the Alii land divisions?  Never seen anything like it.  Here’s us:  ‘Keei ahupua’a’ with a big wedge from mountain to sea so that the division included all that the land has to offer from the uplands to the sea.  See how it follows the natural boundaries of the watershed. Each ahupua`a contained the resources the community needed, from fish and salt, to fertile land for farming taro or sweet potato, to koa and other trees growing up mauka.  This map would have to date from mid to late 1800’s.  S’probably something Bishop Estate could use in the museum.  Maybe you could get it to them?”

“I love that idea,” Kumai said, thinking it meant she could avoid more police contact.  Her aunt sniffed disapproval.  Kumai continued, “The dossier will have to wait.  It’s not anything urgent if it’s hundreds of years old.  I have my gardening class today.  Kumu Lani doesn’t allow us to miss class.”

“That’s today?”  Aunt Helen asked, “What do you mean ‘allow’?  What if you’re sick?  You’re not schoolchildren.”

“No absences or we’re out.”  Kumai answered.  “She has a waiting-list of students.  I was going to have a year’s wait, remember, but then someone left?”


“Moved, or something.”

“I’d move or something too,” Helen grumbled, “Rules like that for a garden class.”

“Probably also malama aina training, Helen,” Uncle Leo said.  “Passing on an oral tradition of tending to the land.  It’s important.”

“Leo, you really gotta stop throwing around Hawaiian lore like you were here when the volcanoes were formed, okay?”  She smiled at him.  “No white man should know as much as you do about Hawaii unless he’s an anthropologist.”

Leo smiled at Kumai, who said, “Yeah, well, I have that class today and I need to get up to this new client’s ranch in Waimea.  Maybe I’ll just contact the Bishop Estate next week.  Stuff’s not going anywhere.  I’d better hele on.  Thank you both so much.”

“Any time.”  They said together.

As Kumai packed the dossier back into the trunk, her uncle followed with a box full of fresh fruits from the farm.  Strawberry papaya, apple bananas, and avocados were in season now.  “Remember to save some seeds from your papaya in the freezer in case you get a bug bite.” her uncle reminded.

“Thank you, Uncle!  What a feast.”

“Don’t be a stranger, Kumai.  And please be safe.  Something’s afoot.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, “Thanks.”

They hugged. Uncle Leo buckled in the pup and assured Kumai, “Dave’s in good hands.”

“Uncle,” she answered, “Please don’t teach Dave any more weird tricks.”

Her uncle simply smiled at her in the rearview mirror as she drove away.

The Miata bounced down the oleander lane, the long slender trunks like cilia in the digestive tract of an earth animal.  Kumai felt like the lone car that she saw last night leaving the City of Refuge.


And then…

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