Haleiwa, a surfer town on North Shore Oahu, rested at a wide river mouth fed from pineapple plantations on the hills above. World class surfing rolled in along the top of the island between here and the remote region of Kahuku. Radio surf reports suggested they look for “overhead to double overhead sets, with occasional bigger sets for select magnets.”
“What’s a magnet?” Kumai asked.
“It has to do with the physics of hydrodynamics.” Susan explained.
“And whether you’ll just bob around or actually surf a wave.”
“You don’t surf?” Susan sounded surprised.
“I do my play below the water’s surface. Besides, I grew up in Idaho, remember? Not a lot of surfing action going on there.”
“Great snowboarding, though.”
Kumai focused on the road and tracked Skip’s limousine.
“Working these plantations must be hot.” Susan scanned the neat rows of spiking plants.
“I wonder what this island was like before these plantations. Do you suppose they were like a desert then too?”
“I wonder.” Kumai did. She looked at the red brown dirt and thought of the photos of Oklahoma in the dust bowl days. “Maybe these plantations actually greened up the region.”
“Ha! Maybe. I’d love to get a pineapple if we see a shop.”
“Okay, but you’re going to need to text Skip that request so that we don’t lose them.” Kumai said, and thought, much as I’d like to.
They drove with the background noise of chatty news, male falsetto singing, and slack key guitar streaming quietly from the radio. The sky was a bright blue with classic puffy white clouds. They had the air conditioning on full and the windows down, Hawaiian style. Kumai’s phone rang in her new backpack. Skip’s limo signaled to turn into a plantation entrance. Susan gathered her things into her purse for shopping the store. They pulled up to park in front of a white plantation-style lanai complete with pineapple motifs cut into the white-wash railing supports.
“My first stop is the restroom.” Susan announced and exited.
“Sounds like a good idea.” Kumai agreed. Other visitors rocked in oversized white chairs clustered on the shaded lanai. She pulled out her phone to see who had called and was surprised to see she missed two calls.
One was listed as an unknown number, and the other was from the Four Seasons Resort.
She played the Four Seasons’ message first, “Ms. Kaimana. We have received your calls and have a client for you this afternoon. We will need you here by one o’clock to be briefed and to fit a uniform. Thank you.”
She hesitated before deleting the message. There was no way to get there at one. And there was no way she was going to dress in one of their Hawaiian-print uniforms. She escaped wearing uniforms years ago. This would be like ten steps backward. But she needed work. The thought occurred to her that she didn’t necessarily have to work in Hawaii. The next message started playing.
“Kumai!” Annamae’s voice squeaked, “I’m on Ohau to tour some of our guests. Can you get over here? We’re going to ship out this evening and you could ride along on our return cruise, you know, our little private island. I’ll text you this phone number. It’s a burner, but still, don’t give out the number, okay?”
A text tone beeped from an unknown sender. The preview of the message showed simply an 808 number.
She looked up to see Susan strolling back on the lanai toward the shop. They waved to each other. Kumai wondered if Susan would enjoy exploring a private island with her.
Lost in thought, Kumai almost levitated out of her seat when Skip spoke to her from his limo window, “Getting out?”
“I think I’ll stretch my legs,” Kumai said.
“Oh yes.” Skip said. “Do.”
Kumai started the car and pulled around to the back of the building before getting out. She found Susan in the store and let her know where she had parked.
“Why’d you park around the back?” Susan asked.
“There were some sketchy characters pulled up out front.”
“Oh?” Susan scanned the store. Then she understood that Kumai meant Skip, “Oh.”
Kumai took her time browsing the store. Most of the Hawaiiana items were made in China. She searched for anything made in Hawaii in hopes of supporting local efforts. Some koa wood pieces looked tempting but too expensive. Finally, she found a koa hair stake that would be a nice gift for her mom. She also bought some bags of dried pineapple, mango strips, Snoballs with green coconut topping instead of pink, and smoked dried Kajki which the clerk told her was Marlin. She added a couple of bottles of water and called it good.
“I’ll wait for you in the car. Take your time.” She told Susan.
Behind the store in the shade of kiawe trees, food trucks gathered to vend local favorites. The fish tacos reminded Kumai of how full she still was from popovers. She walked over to Leonard’s to look at their famous malasadas. A few minutes later she went to sit in the car and wait.
Glad to be free from the eyes of Skip, Kumai opened her bakery box of malasadas. She wanted to save some for Susan, so that meant she had to buy double of her favorite flavors: guava, haupia, and Boston creme.
With four pineapple tops sticking out of her shopping bags, Susan returned to the car. “What’s the white stuff all over your face?”
“Sugar.” Kumai looked in the rearview mirror and wiped around her mouth. She helped Susan with her bags, then held open the pink bakery box for her. “Help yourself.”
“Are these those bad donuts everybody raves about?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s the direct translation of the name, mal-a-somethin’.”
“Malasada. I didn’t know that. They’re actually pretty good. Maybe they are more of an acquired taste. I don’t know. Wanna try some?”
“Maybe I’ll try one.” Susan looked through the sugary pillows of dough. “What’s the pink goo coming out of these?”
“Guava jelly. One of my favorites.”
Susan took the donut and bit in. She grimaced and chewed. Kumai waited.
Susan swallowed, setting the rest of the pastry on the box lid. “I’m gonna need a cup of coffee to wash that down. Want one?”
“Sounds good, but I’ll go get them.” Kumai stepped out of the vehicle and returned to the store.
By the time she returned to the vehicle, two malasadas were gone from the box, and Susan reached for another one.
“I wasn’t sure you liked them,” Kumai said, handing Susan her coffee.
“Me either. Still not. But there’s something addictive about them.”
“I think it’s the texture.” Kumai offered.
“Yeah, and the flavors of the fillings are scrumptious.”
“Maybe we just like them.”
“Nah, they’re pretty bad.” Susan laughed and picked out a Boston creme. “Ready to rejoin Skip?”
“Sure.” Kumai said without meaning it.
“Let’s go our own way after we take that walk, okay?”
“Thanks, yes.” Kumai sighed and smiled in gratitude to Susan. “Would you text Skip and tell him we’re ready to follow them again? And I have an idea of something we might do after the walk.”
Susan wiped her hands free of sugar and pulled out her phone while Kumai drove around to the front of the store. Skip was still sitting in the back of the limo, window open, looking down at his phone. He beamed when he saw the women pull around to the front again.
Susan waved and the limo again took the lead. She picked up the Boston creme and groaned without taking a bite. “Not sure I want any more. What’s your idea for after the walk?”
“I have a friend who is working on a private island somewhere near Lanai.” Kumai started. “She wants me to come and visit her. Apparently, they are visiting Oahu today and could take us on a boat to the island.”
“Can the island accommodate a private jet?” Susan asked through a mouthful of donut.
“I don’t know. I’ll ask. What you thinking?”
“I could join you tomorrow when my plane is ready. That provides a way to get off the island whenever we want.”
“Good thinking. I’ll find out. I could wait to go with you tomorrow.”
“Nah, no use both of us suffering through a city one more night. Besides, the Halekulani has a complete spa treatment I wanted to try. Tonight would be perfect. My nails are a mess.”
Kumai glanced at Susan’s perfect manicure, then back to her own chipped nails. She only wore clear polish since she never took the time to freshen up her nails once they were done. Because she enjoyed helping people get what they wanted, she never really bothered with caring for herself. Sudden embarrassment welled up at the evidence of her self-neglect.
They drove on and found bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling into Haleiwa. It was getting hot enough in the day to close the windows and use air conditioning on full blast. Kumai wondered how they were going to walk at midday and not burn up. She secretly wished heat-stroke on Skip, then felt bad for wishing anyone ill. Maybe the guy was innocent, but that made him a terrible manager of his resources. Either way, she did not have to like him or spend time with him.
An open lot across the street from the Scoop of Paradise ice cream shop boasted parking spaces long enough to park the limo. Japanese tour buses filled all but three spots. The women drove on to find somewhere to park. The original town of Haleiwa looked spruced up since Kumai’s visit as a kid. Instead of a derelict housing settlement for plantation workers, it had cleaned up into a cute shopping location for the surf culture.
Skip waited for the women on a bench on the shady side of the street. Five people from a tour bus stood looking at the ice cream menu and debated.
“Care for some ice cream?” Skip offered. “This place is famous.”
Susan groaned and shook her head. Kumai chuckled. He stood and they walked on. After thirty minutes they reached the end of town and turned to go back.
Susan looked out over the river mouth and the sludge-filled shoreline. “It looks like a gentle beach. Probably easy swimming out there. Why isn’t anyone using the beach?”
“Sharks.” Kumai said.
Skip frowned. “What do you mean?”
“It’s a river mouth, which means good feeding for all the marine life. Lots of marine life combined with deep ravines under the water means easy access for sharks.”
“Oh my god,” Susan whispered. “And murky water to hide in.”
“Exactly.” Kumai said.
Susan shivered. Skip turned them around and walked back toward the town in silence. By the time they reached the cars, Kumai felt the press of human oversaturation even here, so far from the city. She wondered if this is what would happen to the Big Island in time. With the changes she was seeing even in her lifetime, there was no telling what the future of the islands would look like. But she guessed it involved a lot of new roads and buildings.
The ice cream shop piped music onto the street and cool air spilled out from their open door. Susan sighed with relief and Skip paused there to let her cool down. “I suppose you know how to tell one ukulele song from another?” He asked Susan.
“I don’t know.”
“By the title.” He guffawed.
Susan chuckled. “They do all sound alike. Except I know this song. It’s…”
“Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.” Skip said.
Susan spoke the lyrics as the ukulele played the refrain, “…don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
The two women sighed.