Kumai watched over the half wall of lava rocks as travelers retrieved their bags. Heat waves washed in from the tarmac and swirled with the cooler air of the shaded luggage area. Overdressed in long sleeves and jeans, sweating people wheeled out to the bright sidewalk, squinted, and smiled as they received plumeria leis with hugs.
Out in the hot sun, a young Japanese woman was trying to use a pay phone, and having a hard time. Kumai went over to see if she could help. Between gestures and a slip of paper with an 808 number printed on it, they got her sorted out. The woman gave Kumai several small bows of gratitude, her eyes welling with tears of relief. Kumai smiled and nodded back, then returned to the wheezing luggage conveyor.
She went ahead and twisted up her hair and wove a Koa stick through the bun to hold it. No lei greeting for her meant that she could put up her hair in this heat. She unzipped her new French terry hoodie and tied it around her waist. It just never really got cold enough in Hawaii for outerwear. She had several new lightweight outfits she was eager to try in this climate.
Everyone had left the arrival terminal. The luggage circuit stopped. Clearly, her baggage was not coming.
Turning to leave the carousel bothered her less than what she saw while filing a lost-luggage claim. From the open-air window she could see the departures gate. Across shimmering pavement, snaking slowly away from the Big Island, and from her, and from any hoped-for reunion, stood Kirby.
He was wearing a short-sleeve chambray shirt. His arms were even more defined than when she had left. He smiled at someone near him. Kumai’s heart poofed out, then cramped. Vegas, he had texted, his usual vacation spot. Apparently he was departing Kailua-town today. She wondered about the timing of his trip even more now as he hugged a blonde woman in line next to him.
Kumai checked her phone for messages. Nothing. Maybe she should just text him and ask who the woman was. Or maybe a quick goodbye in person would clarify things.
The luggage clerk took Kumai’s papers. She thanked him and tripped out into the sunlight. As she stood across the stanchion from a perspiring queue of travelers, she called out, “Aloha Kirby.”
“Kumai!” Kirby exclaimed. He glanced at the other woman beside him. “Perfect timing. How was your flight?” His line moved forward so he didn’t need to yell.
“Good, good. So,” She hadn’t planned anything to say and now had nothing. Body language between Kirby and the blonde told her there was no romance between them. Relieved, Kumai smiled.
“Yeah. Loko timing, our trips. But I’ll be back in two weeks.” Kirby repeated the information that he had already given her.
“Right, good. Have a good time.” Kumai got the feeling that was the wrong thing to say. She kicked herself for saying that. And for the weird smile that she gave to the lady.
Relief flooded her as Kirby’s line moved him out of range. “A hui hou!” Kirby waved. The woman smiled a normal smile. Kumai felt reassured by how benign that relationship appeared.
As she walked to her car a text alert chimed. Kirby sent, “It’s not how it looks.”
Kumai snorted. It looked fine.
Was it not fine? Kirby might have found someone else. Kumai was the one who had taken off to travel for months in Europe with Susan. She had also been careful not to give Kirby girlfriend-status reassurances. Their relationship had been too new at the time that she left. Now their relationship was… she didn’t know what it was. What she wanted it to be was easy.
She texted Kirby, “Okay, thanks.”
This was what they had now: A virtual relationship of short sentences floating on an invisible interweb of possible subtexts. Technology, meh.
Her vehicle was another unknown. There was no telling what condition it would be in now. Given to her by an anonymous benefactor, the silver Range Rover was filling a transportation gap between a trashed-out Miata convertible and a bombed-out classic truck.
Kumai had asked Tommy to pick her up at the airport but he texted that he would leave the vehicle in the parking lot for her. Tom was part of the reason for her giving up on the Miata. She assumed that he didn’t want to be here when she went through the shock of whatever he had done to her new Range Rover.
As Kumai approached parking slot B59 all of the former danger came washing over her. Maybe she should check the car for explosives. Except that Tommy had driven it safely to the airport, possibly recently. Kumai hesitated in the lot to scan for her vehicle.
“I can’t remember where I’ve parked mine sometimes too.” A clear male voice spoke from behind her. She recognized him even without the champagne slur.
“Dr. Ching. Nice to see you.” She shaded her eyes to look at the director of the natural energy lab without squinting.
“Ms. Kaimana. Can I help you locate your car?”
“Oh, I just… I’m good. Thanks. How are you? How’s NELHA?”
“Fine, all around. And I haven’t forgotten my debt to you.” He beamed in admiration.
Kumai squirmed. Dr. Ching’s gratitude was wildly misplaced. Too drunk to know the true story, he believed that Kumai had kept him from a DUI or death. In fact, the damages to his Shelby Cobra were Kumai’s fault.
“I wish you’d forget all that.” She flapped both hands in the air like she was scaring away pigeons from a Paris plaza.
“Never.” He beamed and pressed his palms together. “Please do let me know when I can do anything for you.” He bowed to walk away then turned back and added, “You are becoming quite famous in Hawaii for your heroics. I heard that you uncovered some treasure.”
“Oh? Uh, not every story about me is true. Have a good one.” As she walked away, she wished she had asked him to check on her truck.
A feral kitten jumped up onto her vehicle. Ticking noises came from under the hood.
Kumai rushed toward the tiger stripe. It ran away. She could hear the ticking threat of explosives. She ran past and stopped behind a Kiawe tree to observe her vehicle. Silver paint shimmered in the blinding sun, forcing her to look away.
The surrounding field of lava matched the pavement, making it appear that the parking lot had been tilled at its perimeter. Heat waves ribboned across the dark grey surfaces. A trickle of sweat rolled from Kumai’s cleavage down to her belly. The sun directly on her neck was too hot.
Dropping her hair from its bun reminded her of how cooling it was to have shade from long hair. If she had on a lei right now, the sun would be warming the blossoms to perfume the air. Kumai sighed.
She just wanted to get home, to grab a swim and maybe later to catch up with friends.
Or not quite yet meet up with friends. Mostly, she wanted to hide out. She had found zero alone time on the trip. In a few days she could maybe enjoy her close friends.
She wished that she could travel whenever she got island fever, like Taka. Taka’s gypsy lifestyle could suit her just fine. She might even be able avoid troubles by being mobile. And Kumai preferred not to be famous, if Dr. Ching was correct about her growing notoriety.
She looked back at the Rover. Nothing. She aligned her body behind the tree, turned her face away from the Rover, squeezed her eyes closed, and pressed the unlock button on her remote key fob.
The ticking from her SUV slowed then became irregular. Kumai snorted at recognition of engine-cooling sounds. “Welcome home.” she muttered as she opened the door and popped the hood. She would still check, just in case.
Tommy had been cryptic about everyone’s plans. He parked the Rover for Kumai instead of picking her up at the airport supposedly because Bonnie had errands to run. Kumai hoped that this meant she would have time to herself. While Bonnie had turned out to be the answer to a house-sitting need, especially with a newly-adopted cat, now Kumai didn’t know if she would keep sharing her home with a relative stranger.
Since she went there to work as Susan’s personal concierge, Europe had offered no real down time. Back on island, Kumai was facing a stark canvas called her life with no map or plan for what was next. Unless she counted her boat fund. Which she would be counting first thing to see if her stash in the decorative sailboat had been discovered. If either Tommy or Bonnie had tapped into the hiding spot, she might be starting over on her savings. And her selection of companions.
Maybe she should have removed temptation and put her stash in a savings account. But she trusted banks even less than new acquaintances. Besides, she didn’t have more than a couple hundred saved yet. Today she could add in another thousand that she had saved from spending money from Susan.
She started the Rover and let out her breath. No explosions. She drove the vehicle up the highway to head home to North Kohala. The radio was tuned to KAPA. Slack key guitar sang out reminding her that she was back on island. She put in a new CD of smooth jazz that Susan had bought in Paris. Instantly she was transported back to France.
Kumai smiled as she thought about Susan, a new client turned friend. Susan was a healthier and wealthier version of Kate. Where Kate’s death had torn Kumai’s life into two stories, Susan’s friendship was quilting together the pieces. It also helped that Susan understood grief. Her husband’s recent death was the impetus for their trip to europe, including a memorial in Spain.
Slowing down for Puako Road and home, Kumai rolled down the windows but left on the air conditioning. She ejected the CD and let the sweet falsetto of Iz wash through her. Hot moist air swept through the vehicle, loaded with perfume from jasmine hedges. Kumai sneezed.
With each slow breath and the mesmerizing rhythm of passing branch shadows, Kumai’s body unkinked. She was back in Hawaii. A nap seemed the better idea after a shower at home. Or a swim. Which first?
She pulled off of Puako road into her lot. A scooter sat parked on her driveway. Her heart sank and soared in the same instant. Taka.