Kumai disconnected the call with Annamae.
“I’ll be fine!” Susan laughed. “I knew how to drive before you came around, you know?”
“Yeah, but …Honolulu?”
“I’m from SoCal, Kumai. How bad can it be?”
Kumai cringed. She had gotten lost in downtown Honolulu every time she visited. Streets changed direction depending on heavy traffic, probably like any city. But Honolulu also had complicated signs telling when it was okay to turn. One time, Kumai had spent the entire cycle of a red light reading a sign about her turn, or not. When the light turned green, she figured out that she could have turned on the red. No one in the cars behind her honked, even then.
But that was before Siri. “Can I show you a few more windward Oahu places before we go our separate ways? We’ve got time now.”
“Sure!” Susan sat back and sighed. “I’d sure like somewhere to rinse off. The saltwater dried and left an itchy crust on my skin.”
“Okay.” Kumai pulled into one of the many narrow beach parks that separated the road from the ocean.
“Where’s the building?” Susan asked.
“Where the showers are.” Susan laughed at the silly question.
Kumai pointed to a pipe sticking into the air out of a cement slab.
“Ah,” Susan said. “Outdoorsy.”
They took turns under the cold deluge. Kumai wondered if leaving saltwater to crust was better than this chilling experience. Susan pulled out several zipper bags full of products, sharing with Kumai her shampoo, conditioner and even a body wash. With her evening plans set in motion, Kumai decided a shower was a good idea.
They took off their soggy rash guards and showered in bikini tops. Susan stripped to her bikini bottoms but Kumai left on her board shorts. By the time they felt clean enough to go dry in the sun, a small collection of cars had lined up beside the park.
“Must be the end of the work day.” Kumai said.
“Nobody’s getting out, though.” Susan observed.
“Yeah. Looks like we were the afternoon’s entertainment.” Susan muttered. “Hawaii’s got to be the ideal place to be homeless.”
Kumai glanced at Susan.
“Well, I mean, if there is an ideal place to be homeless.”
“Some folks choose it on purpose.” Kumai thought of Charles. He was a homeless man who had told her that he chose living without a house as his lifestyle. As she thought of him, she wondered how he was doing. He was nowhere in sight when she had launched with the dive tour from the pier yesterday.
“I could see that as a lifestyle.”
“Could you, really?” Kumai thought of the several bags of cosmetics and products in Susan’s satchel.
“It would be an adjustment. But there are many ways to live.” Susan chuckled. “That’s a quote from Annie Dillard. She adds, ‘You can take your choice.’”
“Does that mean you can pick what you want or you can handle what you pick?”
“Well, I hadn’t thought about that.” Susan looked out to the ocean and the horizon beyond. “I always think of the windward shore as the Atlantic.”
The windward sides of the Hawaiian Islands had very different conditions than the leeward sides. Rocky shallow swim areas dotted the shorelines. Heavy rainfall on this side changed the lava landscapes into deep black soil, jungle, and dramatic cliffs. In contrast, leeward sides tended to be covered in lava rocks and dry.
“It is completely different from the ‘Pacific’ of the leeward shore.” Kumai agreed. “Not much snorkeling going on over here.”
“Or surfing.” Susan observed.
“There’s some. But more paddling and fishing, I think. I dunno. And, of course, windsurfing. You’ll see that in Kaneohe when we get there.” Kumai thought the water looked colder on this side of the islands. It definitely looked deeper, darker and more ominous. Maybe it was just a trick of the light.
“What’s next? Susan asked.
“There’s the town of Laie, if you want to look around there. They have a Brigham Young University and just past that is the Polynesian Cultural Center.”
“I’ve heard about that place. Seems to be helping to support interest in Polynesian culture. But today I’ll pass.”
“Okay. But their McDonalds has tikis…”
“Then there are several little towns and a place called Kualoa Ranch.”
“The movie set place?”
“Right. Jurassic Park and a bunch of others were filmed there. You can see some of it from the road.”
“Somewhere along here is a reproduction of a famous Buddhist Temple. I’m sure we could find it. And when we reach town, there’s Elvis’ house somewhere on the hill, and….” Kumai’s text tone beeped.
Annamae texted, “Hilo cruise ship terminal. 09:00.”
Kumai showed it to Susan. “I think she means 21:00. You can drop me any time you want, though.”
“Okay, so we have a few hours to play.” Susan thought for a moment. “What do you want to do?”
“Me?” Kumai drew a blank. Her job was to get people what they wanted. No one had asked her what she wanted to do in a long time. Most days she tried not to ask herself that. Today she had been telling herself to get home, but she had to wait until tomorrow for that. Unless Annamae’s secret island turned out to be irresistible. “Me.”
“I dunno. What you wanna do?” Kumai tried.
“Oh no. No concierging this one. You get to pick for us. I don’t want to see another luau, and I’m fine with a drive-by on the Jurassic Park place. So, what do you choose?”
Kumai tried to think of what she did when clients were indecisive. She usually just sought out reviews and tried to align interests with the client. She reached for her phone to Yelp some ideas but then realized that the internet could not tell her what she wanted to do.
“I need a bathroom.” Susan said. “Let’s drive while you think.”
“Yes, please.” Kumai sighed. She drove them to Kaaawa where there was the only convenience store that she knew of on this shore. They both went in. Kumai felt like she had to buy something to pay for using the facilities. She went to the counter with a package of Snoballs. Susan stood beside her holding two bottles of water. Oh yeah, Kumai thought, I could have bought water.
“Do you have a restroom key?” Kumai asked.
“No public restroom.” The woman said. “There are some at the beach park across the road.”
Susan’s eyes bugged out.
“I think they’re probably inside a cinder block structure.” Kumai said.
Susan’s expression relaxed.
“Five ninety-eight.” The woman announced.
“For a package of Snoballs?” Kumai gasped. “That’s okay, I’ll put them back.”
“I’ll get them.” Susan took the package from Kumai and set them on the counter with her water.
“Seventeen thirty-four.” The woman announced.
Susan coughed and produced her payment card.
As they pulled out from the paved area, Susan extended one of the waters to Kumai and said, “This magic bottle of water is for you.”
“What does Menehune mean?” Susan asked, looking at the bottle label.
“It’s a mischievous character, like a gnome elf sort of leprechaun.”
“Menehune water. The mischief is in the price.”
Kumai found it surprising that Susan noticed prices. Many areas in France had been similarly pricey, causing Susan to wince at times. All signs pointed to unlimited wealth. Unless it was all on credit.
Normally, Kumai would ask a friend she spent this much time with more personal questions. Breaching her number one rule of not asking personal questions from clients, Kumai blurted, “How did you earn your …money?”
“My wealth, you mean?” Susan opened her water and took a big drink.
“That was six fifty-four you just downed,” Kumai said.
Susan chuckled. “And thank you for assuming I earned it instead of deciding I was a trust fund kid or whatever else people think. As if a young person can’t earn good money.”
Something about Susan showed early on that she had earned her money. She was generous but also careful. Kumai wanted to remember not to make the trust-fund assumption about any clients in the future, as she had done. She decided not to press further if Susan avoided the question.
They stopped at the beach park and used the facilities. Shallow waves lapped the shore, and a larger surf frothed in the distance. Kumai pointed to the line of white, “Coral and rock form out there to make a shore break.”
“It’s sure a different kind of beach. I’m not sure I’d feel safe in this water. It seems untamed. That’s probably why fewer people live on this side of the island. That and because they can’t pronounce the names of the towns. Have you decided where we’re going next?” Susan asked.
Kumai snorted. “I’d like to see that temple. It’s close to town. Then I thought we could go get fish tacos or something.”
“Food?” Susan shook her head. “Want the Snoballs for now?”
“Nah, they were to pay for the nonexistent bathroom.”
“I know. The water too. Maybe they can build one now that we’ve shopped there.” Susan grumbled. She looked out the passenger window at the passing greenery and the folds of the distant dramatic range of jungled-robed cliffs. The jagged ridgeline made it look impossible to get to the other side.
Susan sighed as if she had decided something, then said, “I invented a brain cooler.”
Kumai drove in silence for a minute. She feared saying the wrong thing. “So you’re an inventor?”
“I guess so. I have several patents, anyway. But one of them took off.”
“A brain cooler.”
“Right. Originally I designed it to ease migraines. Like a helmet and a cool pack combined. With a chilled forehead band. Then brain surgeons found that it reduced post-op swelling, and there you have it.”
“I suffered from debilitating migraines as a teen.” Susan explained. “I was just trying to help myself.”
“And you ended up helping a million other people.”
“That’s the best part. Knowing I’ve eased many people’s suffering because of a solution I found for my own.”
“Wow.” Kumai thought about that for a few more miles. What would she invent that eased her own suffering?
A money-free economy.
Maybe she would invent affordable boats for everyone. Or tank-free diving, somehow? Her mind whirred and she almost missed the turn for the Valley of the Temples. The palm-lined drive looked promising as they drove along.
Until they saw memorial markers start to dot the park.
“It’s a cemetery,” Susan observed. “You brought me to sightsee a cemetery.”
“Um.” Kumai said and kept driving. In her rearview mirror, she could see dark clouds building out to sea.
The valley opened wider from its narrow entrance road. Life-sized saints stood over fields of simple undecorated urns. One memorial was built as a chinese gate engraved with the family name and two fu dogs guarding either side. Evenly spaced onyx marble with gold kanji populated another hillside in intriguing layers of shiny black slabs.
At last they rounded a bend and saw at the foot of the mountains the Byodo-In Temple. The cinnabar-red structure was nestled in the valley as if they had been transported to Japan. A waterfall poured down one of the many valleys behind the black tile roofline.
They stretched their legs by walking the temple grounds. A huge brass bell depended from a house-sized Asian gate. Susan took the massive mallet and banged the bell. Throaty resonance filled the valley.
“Do you suppose anyone lives here?” Susan asked, looking around. “I didn’t think of that. They probably get tired of this bell.”
“I think the bell is a welcome reminder for them. That’s probably why it’s here. Any mindfulness bell is supposed to ring randomly. It reminds them to pause what they’re doing and check in with themselves.” Kumai said.
Susan stood lost in thought, then she rang the bell again, “I think I need one of these. I’ll bet there’s an app.”
They strolled the grounds and learned that the temple was non-denominational and dedicated in 1968 to honor the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. Kumai tried to imagine what conditions were like for those people in 1868. She snapped back to the present as mosquitoes surrounded them and chased them back to their vehicle. “Mosquitoes could be my mindfulness bell.” Kumai said, scratching her legs as she drove the road back to the highway.
The jewel greens of the park had turned grey-green under the clouded light. Sprinkles of rain dotted the windshield. A wind stirred up from the direction of the darkened ocean. A small cone island sat in the bay as if dropped there.
“What’s that island that’s shaped like a Chinese hat?”
“It’s called Mokoli’i. There’s a legend about it, something about a lizard? But most people call it the Chinaman’s Hat.”
Darkness obliterated the horizon.
“Time to find indoor activities.” Susan said.
“Like eating!” Kumai blurted. Comfort eating could deaden her dread for this evening. She wished she could just go home to the Big Island tomorrow and skip the mysterious island. “Would you mind bringing my new shopping with you tomorrow when you fly over?”
“Will do. Text me in the morning if we need anything else there that they don’t have.”
“Okay. You hungry?”
“Mind if we stop anyway? There’s a fish taco truck at the beach below Elvis’ house that’s famous.”
“I’ll people watch.”
As it turned out, a windsurfing regatta was in full blast in Kaneohe. Another long line of traffic stood facing the beach below.
“I give up.” Kumai huffed. “Let’s just get me to the cruise ship terminal.”
“You sure?” Susan looked at the time on her phone. “It’s only 6:00. You’ll have a couple of hours to wait.”
“Better than being stuck in traffic and late again.” Kumai sighed.
“Good point. Besides, I can always come back here after I drop you.”
Kumai felt a small prickle of jealousy toward Susan. She could come and go as she pleased. She was not tethered by work demands and having to earn a paycheck. Kumai determined to find something worthwhile to invent. Someday she would have not only her own dive boat but her own plane too.
And envy, she thought, is why I don’t befriend the clients.