nineteen: puhalu


Her new job provided Kumai with time to relax. She eased into a slow rhythm and explored the ship as time allowed.  If she was needed for anything, they seemed to find her.  After receiving guests, orienting them to the floating island, and booking their requests for each day, she felt free to pursue her own interests.  


Everywhere on the premises, she was on duty, other than her room.  In a few days, she would move to crew quarters, which she had yet to see.  Maybe she could step out of her professional persona when she got settled down there.


Her first few days were filled with learning a new system of operations.  Today she rested in the atrium, perfect for stormy days at sea because it was a tropical indoor garden.  After lunch, she planned on some solo exploring.  


The most recent boatload of guests had requested belly dancers, in a Hawaiian resort. Kumai shook her head.  Shipping the costumes overnight made it necessary for the Dusky Maiden to return to the waters off of the island of Lanai.  Meanwhile, the hula dance troupe had gathered to learn Middle-Eastern moves.  This particular dance group garnered plenty of gossip among the staff.  Maybe tonight she would attend a performance to see what the buzz was about.



The atrium was warm and humid.  Small date palms stretched skyward.  Her eyes followed their trunks up toward LED grow lights that peppered the false sky two stories above.  Tanning beds lay tucked between foliage grottos throughout the botanical garden.  She glanced outside to the water once more to be sure the Mahi she just watched pass by was truly gone.  Secretly, she hoped it did not swim past the spearfishing arena.  


Stories about the sportfishing arrangements here did not sound altogether sporting. Automated spear guns loaded onto motion sensors fired whenever something larger than a mango passed under the base of the resort.  Kumai made her hand into a fist to consider the size of a mango.  Anglers traded off the privilege of reeling in the catch. Some said the area’s configuration was similar to the beak of a squid. One of the rumors told of a fishing “guide” who fell into the harvesting arena.  Kumai shivered.


A school of humuhumunukunukuapua’a drifted by like window shoppers.  Their triggers went up, then down, as they shifted from alarmed to calm.  Kumai thought of Susan shopping in Waikiki and her exclamations at storefronts.  Susan.  


Susan had replied to Kumai’s email in a cordial tone assuring her that all was well on the Big Island.  Kumai’s next email to Susan had explained, as best she could without compromising the secrecy of the resort’s location, what had happened.  Bonnie also responded that she had everything in hand at home.  It bothered Kumai more than a little that her absence changed nothing.


She frowned and stood up.  A man approached along a garden path, then stopped before joining her near the bench.


“Mind if I sit here?”  He asked.


“I was just leaving,”  Kumai said, then looked at him.  “Bradon?”


Apparently her voice carried more than a little hostility.  He took a step back.  Bradon McCandless, her ex-boyfriend, had behaved bizarrely before they broke up, meeting with people that Kumai had never heard him talk about.  For example, her gardening instructor, Kumu Lani.  And her classmate, Kaandi.  Then Bradon and Kaandi made themselves an obvious couple when last she saw him.


“You have a lot of …guts.”  She huffed.


“Give me a minute?”  He dropped his head in plea.


“I don’t have that long.  Thirty seconds.”


“I broke up with Kaandi.”


“So sorry.  Sad.  Bye.”  She turned to walk away.


He touched her elbow and she slapped him.


“You were clearly dating Kaandi before we broke up.  Why did you even date me?”  Her voice came out more hurt than she had intended.  Looking back at their time together, she had wanted for to break up with Bradon, but no better option came along.  Until Kirby.  


Kirby had emailed too.  He wanted to see Kumai, which was a positive.  He was back on the Big Island now.  Kumai responded with an estimated date of her return, which he accepted graciously.  He said it would give him more time in his recovery program.  That was all the encouragement she needed to hope that maybe there was still a relationship to grow between them.  She also needed to buckle down and go to her online meetings now.  


Bradon rubbed his cheek.  “I deserved that.  But I dated you because I wanted to spend life with you.”


Kumai snorted.  “What are you doing here?”  She asked.


“I found all the furnishings for the ship, uh, resort when they opened.  Searched out pieces to fit the theme.  But business in antiques has been slow for several years now.  I was about to lose my shop.  I had to find work, and they offered.  I work down in the mechanical rooms, keeping the air filters going, pumps running, that sort of thing.”


“You’re a maintenance man?”  She laughed.


“I guess so.  Kumai, you and me?  I didn’t want to rush anything.  You didn’t seem as certain as I was.  And then, well, you know, a man has needs.”


“Oh that’s truly brilliant.  That’s your excuse?  I’m glad I get to see the real you.”  She turned to walk away, then added,  “You know, I thought I saw you a few days ago coming off the boat.  Which means we can go many, many days here without seeing each other. Let’s try to do more of that.”


“Geez you’re an unforgiving bitch.”  He hissed.


“And you’re…”  She caught herself.  “Not worth my breath.”


“Your breathing depends on me now, don’t forget that.  I have your life in my hands.”


“You’re still a control freak, I see.  Everyone’s lives, as always, are interconnected.  You live here and breathe here too, remember?”  She walked away.


By the time she reached the commissary she was shaking.  Instead of joining other crew members in the mess hall, she grabbed a tray of food and carried it to her room.  Setting the tray on her desk, she stormed over to one of the hammock chairs and curled up to swing until she calmed down.  She hated to admit that she was glad to see Bradon hit hard times.  


She woke up two hours later.  Hunger poked at her.  She stretched out her curled up body, bones cracking in protest.  She looked out the glass to check if any fish were swimming by.  Nothing.  She walked over to the tray of food.  A skin had formed over the gravy.  She poked at the fruit compote.  Canned.  In Hawaii.  She pushed the tray away and decided she would scrounge for something while she went exploring.


Today she was going to find out how to go below the twentieth floor into the industrial section of the resort and maybe see the infamous fishing arena.  She kicked herself for not asking Bradon McCheaterson how to get down there, but then thought the better of her self-chastisement.  He did not need to know she would be down there.  Ever.  The thought made her wish for pepper spray.  Except that in a contained environment toxins could hurt everyone.  Just like what she had told Bradon when he threatened her…


She changed into long pants thinking that the industrial zone of the resort might be cooler than the guest areas.  Deep water in Hawaii could get down to 41 degrees Fahrenheit.  She rifled through the bin of items she still had not sorted out, remembering a sequinned camouflage cardigan.  Once geared up, her stomach urged her out of the comfortable room in search of food.


She hovered over the buttons on the elevator.  She wanted to get a snack, see the crew quarters, and explore below the elevator level.  She punched the floor for the Paris-style street cafe.


Lamp posts stood as sentries over a cobbled patio.  Otherworldly globes topped the ornate iron posts, grasping the orbs in art nouveau motifs.  Somehow the swirls and fluid lines matched the underwater scene on the other side of the glass, where a rainbow wrasse was in a ballet with angelfish.  The tables were empty except for one where two women sat chatting.  Kumai chose a seat at a table on the opposite side of the area, wondering if angelfish were smaller than a mango.


Her waiter was Asian, possibly Thai or Korean.  His English was only slightly more existent than his French, so Kumai pointed to the items on the menu that she wanted. Hunger made her order more food than she could eat.  The small plates started arriving and she glanced in embarrassment at the other women sitting across the way.  When they looked away, she bundled a croissant and butter pats into a cloth napkin with bacon and a banana.  It looked sad, like a hobo bundle.  She set her food hoard on the empty seat next to her, pushed the chair in to hide the lump under the table cloth and stacked the empty plates.


A shiny koa floor opened up to her right, extending all the way to the windows from the elevator tube in the center.  It was one of the largest open spaces she had found here.  She sighed.


“What is that area?”  She asked her waiter as he brought two more small plates.


“Ten Four.”  He said.


Kumai wondered what that actually meant.  


The two new plates of food held her crepes.  One sweet, with strawberries and whipped cream and one savory, with spinach and Havarti cheese.  She drooled and unrolled her silverware.  


The women across the cafe had left.  Soft French jazz played from speakers set up beside the cafe front.  No one else came while Kumai was there.  Without her phone and the sun, she had no idea of the time.  Some mornings she had slept late, learning to set an alarm so that she could know when it was daytime.  The past few days taught her that her whereabouts were always known.  They would find her if she was needed.  She relaxed and settled into eating.   


Scraping the fifth plate clean with her fork, she reached for the remainder of her coffee and groaned.  Just a moment ago she felt proud for finishing all the food, except for her hidden bundle, and now she wondered if that was really a good reason for her sense of accomplishment.  She stood, groaned, stretched, and finished off her water.  Her waiter nodded from under the Parisian awning and she waved goodbye.  She slipped the napkin bundle out from the chair and sauntered away as if she was not waddling and carrying more food.


Maybe she needed to look at this food thing.  Was she headed for Overeater’s Anonymous?  Then it hit her.  She had not been facing her narcotic addiction.  Food was just another way to avoid feeling whatever she was feeling.  She tried to figure out what that was, but two pressing urges stole all of her attention:  curiosity about what was below, and wondering where to find the nearest restroom.


To find the lua, she did what she had done at every resort she visited, follow the Musak. For some reason, all resorts filled the hallways near public restrooms with elevator music.  The tinkle of synthesized piano trickled from an alcove beyond the koa floor.  The thoughts tinkle and trickle added urgency to her search.


Sure enough, she peeked behind a curving wall to find a hallway with three doors. When she came out, she tried the third and unmarked door.  It was locked.  


She took the elevator down to the twentieth floor, descended the spiral staircase and began searching for access to the guts of this metal tube.


“Kumai?”  A woman’s voice echoed against the partition separating this section from the diving locker.  Kumai turned to see someone she used to dive with in Florida.  Her stomach dropped.




“What the hell?  This is freaking awesome!  I’d heard you went to Hawaii, but I thought you’d retired.”


Kumai snorted.  “Not hardly.  But I’m still diving when I can.  Not right now, of course.”


“Why of course?”  Her acquaintance stepped into a shorty wetsuit.  Then she did gyrations to get the squeaky thing pulled up and on.


Kumai felt a longing to join her.  The smells of neoprene, salt water, and the sound of metal tanks clanking in preparation all brought back her love of diving.  It would soon be a week since she was last in the water.  She did not come to Hawaii to dry dock herself.


“Oh, for now, I’m a concierge on this …uh, island.”


“Doesn’t mean you can’t dive with us,”  Donna said.  “Come now if you want.”


“Oh, uh, well I’d love to but I’ve got things to get back to up at the desk.”  A small group had requested a luau on the ship deck after dark tonight and she still had details to iron out.  And the belly dancer request was still in the rough draft stages as well.  “Can I take a rain check?”


“We practice almost every day.  Come join us anytime.”  Donna smiled, then hugged Kumai.


The hug was surprising.  Kumai thought everyone had blamed her for Kate’s death.  She knew her Florida dive boss certainly did.  He had indicated that she would be lucky to work in the dive profession at all ever again.  That was part of her decision to go to the middle of the Pacific.


Now the idea of easy access to deep water called to her.  But she had other fish to fry.  Or catch, depending on what she discovered below.


“Thanks, Donna.”  Kumai said as they parted.  “I’ll return when I have a more time.”


Donna nodded and sat to put on more gear and test her buoyancy vest.  The jets of air blasting were just another siren song calling Kumai to join the dive.  She walked away and down to the locked hatch door where Annamae had entered the code.  Then she stood there wondering what next.


Footsteps sounded down the metal hallway behind her, coming closer.    She turned her camo cardigan inside out and pulled it on, the sparkling decorations scratching her bare arms.  




…and then?

Previous Episode

Who’s Who in North Kohala

About these stories