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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pieces of Paradise

La'aloa beach.  White sand, a tropical sea, perfect weather.  He knows a lot of the people on the beach.  They mingle with faces he doesn't know.  But at least everyone's local.  No damn tourists.  Such a beautiful day, he thinks.  

And he's been waiting.  

No idea how long.  Like time is stuck.  Sometimes his watch beeps.  But it's broken.  When he looks at it he can't tell what time it.  When it stops, a glow of approaching euphoria slips over him.  His body sags, warm and content.  So sleepy.  He closes his eyes and can hear the soft hiss of waves kissing the beach.  Trade winds rustle through palm trees above.


He looks out the window and sees her.  Zoe.  His daughter.  His life.  A sweet relief like washes through him.  Tears come to his eyes but he blinks them away and gives her the same cocky smile she grew up with.

"Hey," he nods.  "Girl, what took you so long?"

"Me?" she asks innocently.  Same laughing eyes she had as a baby.  Dark brown, full of sunlight and mischief.  "Dad, I've been waiting for you."

"Well hell girl, get in," he says.  "Been too long." 

Zoe shakes her head.  She steps back and smiles.  A sad smile?  

"No Dad.  You need to come out to me."

Sol realizes he's still in his truck.  Without a second thought, he opens the door.

"Ok girl," he shrugs.  "But I still want to go surfing with you.  You still remember how to surf, right?"

"I never forgot any of it, dad," she says.  

He steps out and straight into his daughter's arms.  The sun is so bright.  And Zoe is little again.  Her face is buried in his stomach.  He feels the warmth of tears as she hugs him fiercely.  

"Hey," he says softly, "everything's ok."

He smiles and closes his eyes.

In the dripping, morning gloom of a cloudforest, a digital watch beeped.  When he killed the alarm, the ringing songs of crickets filled the air.  Piercing notes from coqui frogs piped in.  In the trees, roosting myna birds chirped and whistled.  Down the mountain, a rooster began to crow.  

Sol stared dully at the tent fabric.  It's still dark in the outside.  Still cold.  With a groan, he crawled out of his sleeping bag and wrapped himself in grandma's quilt.  Still smelled like her cheap cigars.  Crazy old Molokai woman.  Sol unzipped the tent, stretched and looked at the camper.  As usual, she's already up.  He can smell fresh coffee, toast and her shampoo.  Love.  He opened the door.  She looked up from her phone and smiled.

"Hey," he nodded back.

She returned to her phone, laughed and tapped the screen.  Sol sat down.  Music from the mainland played from wireless speakers.  He leaned back and looked at Zoe.  
Their haole genes are strong.  Like the music, her style is from 2500 miles away.  Forever dressed in black, Sol knew she got picked on.  But nothing phased this kid.  Always finished what she started.  Always top of her class.  Hyper competitive.  Sometimes Sol sees his brother's intense glare in her eyes.

Danny.  Last time he saw his brother was when he first met Zoe.  He was putting his surfboard into his truck when a convertible rental car pulled up and honked.  He looked over and saw a baby standing up in the passenger seat.

"Soledad Tomo Sakai!"

Sol looked at the driver and grinned.  He knew his brother had a kid but Danny lived in Oahu.  Kid had no mom.  She went back to the mainland.  His brother didn't know where.  He's not even sure about her name.  She called herself Crystal but Danny thought that's just her stripping name.  Or maybe because she liked meth.  Just another crazy haole from the mainland.  

Danny yanked a beer can from a six pack stringer between his legs and tossed one to Sol.  Then he opened the passenger door.  The baby peeked out.  Uncombed hair, dirty face and filth stains on her clothes.  Grubby.  Like no one gave a shit.  But neither did Sol who laughed when his brother asked him.

" Sol asked.  "Wat?  You crazy, brah?"

The baby scooted out the door, grabbed the seatbelt and carefully lowered herself to the ground.  Then she stood up, casually looked around and walked away.

"Call a hospital or a cop or something," said Sol.  "Not me, brah.  No way."

"No one else I can trust Sol," said Danny.

True.  Their parents were dead.  Grandma's dead.  They knew the names of a few blood relatives on the mainland, but never met them.  


For a moment, his brother looked pensive.  But then his usual asshole grin popped back up.  

"Yeah, brah.  Zoe's smart.  Potty trained herself!  No need no teacher.  She just needs love.  Like mom and dad kine love"

Sol looked at his brother.  
Fucking Danny.  Moves to Honolulu, bangs some crazy stripper and comes home with a kid.  And Danny was serious.  His older brother always did what he wanted and left others to deal with the mess. 

"Where you going?" asked Sol.

"Away," shrugged Danny.  "Sol, just give Zoe a chance.  She's good.  Special.  You'll see."

Sol nodded.  He looked over at the baby.  Now she was on the beach.  She tripped but caught a papaya tree before doing a header into the lava rocks.  He looked back at Danny.

"You ever coming back?"

"C'mon," smiled Danny.  
They watched the baby squeal and point at a sea turtle that surfaced for air.  Danny leaned back in his seat and pointed his beer at the beach.  "Who'd give up that?"

But that was exactly what Danny gave up when he put the bullet in his brain.

Zoe was his kid.  No more dad.  Never knew mom.  Man, what a couple of dumb fucks, think Sol for the millionth time.  

"Oh, hey," said Zoe waving her phone.  "I need your card."

Sol sighed.  Damn thing costs $70 bucks a month.  Connects Zoe to the world.  Not sure if that's good, but she says it is.  And it does have good surf reports.

"Mm," he nodded digging out his wallet.  "What's the surf report?"

"Northswell.  3-5 feet.  But forget Pines" she said squinting at the swell map.  "More west.  Try Lymans or Kahalu'u."

He frowned.  Not much Zoe does bothered him.  But her squint bothered him.

"Eh!  Where da glasses?" he demanded.

"Do you mean," asked Zoe slowly as if addressing an imbecile, "where are my glasses?"

He rolled his eyes.  Zoe speaks the same way his mom from San Diego spoke to him and Danny when they were her age.

"Yes.  My apologies," he fake smiles.  "But you appear to be neglecting the use of your corrective lenses.  And as you may recall, Dr. Wu was most insistent that you wear them when looking at your phone.

Zoe laughed and slapped the table.  "Brah!  You talk li one dumb fuckin' haole!"

"Just wear the glasses, Zoe.  Damn things cost a fortune."

"Yeah, yeah" she said digging them out of her backpack.  "And father, it is good we can converse like this."

He looked up, suspiciously.  "Why?"

"CPS interview next week."

Anger and misery flash like a storm over the sea.  Sol closed his eyes.  Goddamn Child Protective Services again.  He looked at Zoe.


"Yeah," said Zoe.  "Got the letter."

He looked at the folded, piece of paper.  An innocuous looking thing.  But it's a knife.  A knife that cuts things apart.  He rubbed his eyes and looked at his watch.  They have to leave in six minutes to beat school traffic.  But his mind is here. Now.  No decent clothes for the interview.  No steady job.  No shoes, no socks.  No birth certificate.  All he had was this perfect kid.  

Zoe put on her glasses and slid away the phone.  She crossed her arms and stared.

"Should I be worried?"

"Nah" he smiled.  

This happened every few years.  His surfer buddy was a lawyer.  Their guardian angel.  But the kid needed more.  So they came up with an escape plan.  It soothed Zoe's nightmares when she was little.  

"Ok," Zoe frowned.  "But remember what we said, yeah?"

"I remember," nodded Sol.  "If anything happens-"

"-just run away.  We'll meet at La'aloa," they finished together.

She looks at his urn.  She can tell it's carved from an 'ohia tree because the artist left a band of natural bark.  Leis woven from flowers, orchids and maile vines are draped over it.  Floral scents from the jungle mix with the tang of the sea.  Kahalu'u beach.  Water so clear, she sees a school of yellow fish from her chair in the pavilion.  Tourists in snorkeling masks explore a calm reef while surfers ride the waves outside.  An auntie who's name she has forgotten finishes her speech and shouts something in Hawaiian.  Enthusiastic clapping, hooting and hollering erupts from the audience.

And now it is her turn.

Stuck in a dream, she walks up to the podium.  Fear of speaking in front of crowds, fear of relatives she left behind, fear of fucking up trembles through each step.  But as she gets closer, a wave of calmness spreads over her.  Soothing love, aloha.  It holds her gently, like a child.  She begins to speak.

"Grandpa.  I owe you everything.  For my life in Hawaii after mom died.  For the life I have today with my children."

After those words, her speech was forgotten.  How many times did grandpa take her to this beach?  How many bento lunches did they eat here while he told her stories about mom as a kid?  Her past returns.  Like the waves on the beach.  She was sixteen when she moved.  She didn't want to.  But everything changed the day mom never showed up.  She remembered getting bitchy.  Talking shit about mom to other kids.  But when the police car showed up, her life in California was taken away.  Traffic accident.  Simple as that.  She never had a dad and now she didn't have a mom.  

But she did have a grandpa.

People called her mom Dr. Sakai.  She was a director of media.  Forever on her phone, forever staring at screens.  On any given day, mom might be compiling code, drafting a press release or kissing her goodbye before flying off to China for a conference.  Everything revolved around tech.  But for every vacation, they'd fly to Hawaii.  Grandpa's house had no TV.  No wifi.  None of their screens worked in his tin-roofed, jungle shack.  Nothing to do but sit on his lanai and look at the sea.  And talk.  Mom and grandpa had their own language.

"Eh, girl" said grandpa.  "You like go surf, or wat?"

"Shoots" smiled mom.  "But I need sunscreen."

"Sunscreen?" frowned grandpa.  "How you figgah?"

"Well father," she winked at me, "scientific data backs up sunscreen as a viable preventive for various forms of skin cancer.  To go without UV protection beneath a tropical sky is crazy."

"Ahh," nodded grandpa looking at me.  "Health concerns.  Wise.  Yet you work 60 hours a week in a cubicle for some soulless corporation.  You never see the sun and look like a cave fish in your bikini.  Now that, my dear Zoe, is crazy."

No make fun.  You da lolo," huffs mom.  "Are you still drinking yourself into a stupor each night, dear father?"

"True dat," grins grandpa opening another beer.  "Ah, Zoe.  How I've missed you!"

Her words poured out.  When she was done, her face was streaked with tears.  Her kids looked up at her nervously.  They didn't know Hawaii.  They never knew this part of her life.  But the audience began their rowdy cheers and foot stomping.  As she stepped down, a cousin she actually remembered stood up to hug her.  Kaleo.  The jerk that hid geckos in her clothes and laughed at her mainland accent.

"Beautiful, Honey Girl," says Kaleo hugging her.

"Honey Girl?" grins her eldest child shooting a look to her brother.