The first chapter of a novel based on the life of my Hawaiian mother
Days where she felt good were becoming rarer. Her mental health was even more precarious, but all of that changed when he arrived. Today she didn’t feel well at all, but she could tell that it wasn’t the same feeling as before. The sickness she felt was foreign yet strangely familiar. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but somehow knew it would all be fine in the end. Lost in her thoughts and consumed by her uneasy stomach she had forgotten about their regular rendezvous.
She lay there in her bed and stared at the peeling white paint on the ceiling and walls of what used to be her self-imposed solitary confinement. There wasn’t much to the room, just a twin hospital style bed, a pine dresser and a gray metal nightstand. There were six other rooms in the house, all with the exact same decor. Her room was on the second floor. She was the only one with her own room. That was the least her mother could provide given everything that had happened.
She used to sit in there for hours and try to imagine what the room looked like before it fell into disrepair. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t conjure up that image in her mind. To her, the damage was already done. She couldn’t see the room being completely free from flaw.
The cracks and the peeling had taken over. She did, however, love the color and texture of the paint. It was perfect. It reminded her of the eggs that the farmers brought every week to her father’s sugar plantation. The only unblemished portion of the room was on the wall opposite the lone window above the dresser. Every now and then that four foot oasis carefully caressed and stretched the morning light of the sun and spread hope across the entire wall.
That hope, if it appeared at all, only came at the crack of dawn, if and when, the sun decided to make an appearance during its morning rounds. She noticed it for the first time on her second day there. She awoke every morning for the better part of nine months looking for that hope. She stopped counting on it after being disappointed so many times.
Then one day out of the blue she found a more consistent hope on a bluff about a quarter mile away from her window. From there she could see the sun, the moon, the stars and also her future. Laying there, on her back in her bed in pain, staring at the cracked and peeling ceiling Mary suddenly saw that four foot patch expand and spread hope throughout the entire 8' X 10' room, making it all brand new.
How could this be she wondered — it was high noon. Mary thought she heard someone come in the door downstairs, but suddenly overtaken by a stomach with its own agenda, she had no choice but to retreat into the fetal position for relief.
A few weeks back, after hope failed to show up again, she decided to get dressed and take matters into her own hands and go look for it. Walking in the morning air towards the beach she could taste the salt of the sea in the mist that tickled her parched lips.
She couldn’t wait until the last of the eleven small, drab, rectangular residences from her area of the colony were out of her periphery. When they were gone all she could see was the never ending ocean before her and the carpet of roaring waves that it was sending to greet her on the beach. The sound of the crashing waves were seducing her and calling her closer.
Although her feet were bothering her more than usual, she decided to take off her sandals when she got to the beach. The texture of the sand was firm yet tender. She invited that feeling in and allowed it to penetrate her soles. Halfway down the beach she saw a boat approaching.
Two years ago, when she was banished to the Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai she prayed to God that she be the last castaway sent to this island of despair. She never wanted another person to suffer a similar fate. Mary knew that God heard all of her prayers, but when six more showed up after her, she couldn’t help but think that God was ignoring her. However, this didn’t keep her from praying the same prayer after each new one came. Looking towards the clear blue heavens Mary shouted at the top of her lungs, “Oh God, for once please answer my prayer!”
As she walked towards the water, she saw a man get out of the boat several yards from the shore walking in waist deep waters with a suitcase above his head. From where she stood it looked as if he were the only passenger on the small boat. The boat quickly turned and headed back from whence it came, seemingly on its own. Mary saw the solitary figure coming into focus as he came towards her in the distance.
He was as dark as the clean blackboard she remembered on her last first day of school. All she would ever know about his life before his one-way ticket to this paradoxical paradise, was the same as the solitary piece of information that was etched in white on that blackboard — a name.
Coincidentally, all Mary ever knew about her favorite teacher, outside of the interactions she had with her in that classroom, was that name — Mrs. Wright. She would finally come to grips with the fact that it was alright not to know much about him beyond his name.
After all, no one had ever cared for her or taught her more than that teacher and she didn’t know anything about her other than her name, either. So if it was good enough for Mrs. Wright then it surely had to be good enough for Mr. Right — Mr. Alika Pohaku.
Although there were more than 90 other inhabitants in the colony, Mary very rarely engaged in any form of human interaction with any of them besides the perfunctory exchange of pleasantries, usually from a distance. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it, this was acceptable protocol for folks with their condition.
The outside world had shunned them and as a consequence many continued the dysfunction in isolation by creating their own silos even among themselves. Some, who had been there for a while, had broken through their man made thick skin and learned to embrace another’s skin that was affected by Hansen’s scourge. With every step she took towards Alika, and as he walked towards her, it became clear that Mary was about to make a breakthrough of her own.
Not yet indoctrinated into the ways of his new life, Alika didn’t know what to think or expect. On his two hour journey from his past towards the unchartered, he prayed for inner-vision as the horizon appeared.
When his eyes first met hers, it was as if everything that she had endured up to that point was all worth it. He took away the sting from the memories of not seeing her parents and her son.
For him, her presence at his arrival represented the answer to the nagging questions of why me? All of the pain of the memories of what was, had now been magically replaced, with the promise of what could be…like when the bone chilling bite of a breeze on an overcast day is neutralized by the radiance of the sun when the clouds roll away.
As they stood before each other in that kairotic moment that could not be contained or measured by the brevity of it’s chronos, God affirmed the power of His providence by blowing away the cloud of coincidence. Mary said a silent prayer thanking God for the dual blessing of being ignored and heard all at the same time as only He could do in His infinite wisdom.
“Hello, my name is Alika, Alika Pohaku. I was told to check in at the infirmary. Can you tell me where that is?”
Mary turned and pointed off in the distance. “It’s the biggest white building there on the left.”
“What’s your name?”
“Mary Arthur. Welcome, I guess,” she said awkwardly.
“Thanks,” said Alika as he made his way towards the infirmary. When he got just a few feet away he turned around and said, “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
“I’m sure,” replied Mary. And at those words, her inner-warden had just released her from her solitary confinement.
With her new found freedom, Mary made her way to a small bluff a few hundred yards away. Before entering the confines of the colony, Alika turned around to see where Mary was. He saw her sitting on the bluff staring out over the water. He made his way to the infirmary to embark upon his new life which suddenly seemed more worth living than just hours before.
She wasted no time in staking her claim. Time is a funny thing. No one at Kalaupapa really had time on their side, but ironically it’s all they really had on their hands, like having the endless ocean all around but having to walk out of your way to get a drink of water.
Unbeknownst to Mary, Alika had already developed a plan of his own. He just had to survey his new territory to see if the appropriate provisions were at his disposal for its swift and effective execution. Aptly armed and sufficiently dangerous, Alika set out to lay his trap in the place where he saw Mary sojourned to by the sea just two days ago. He had a blanket, some fresh fruit and a copy of his favorite book of poetry. Upon his arrival he found his prey had already laid a trap of her own, for there she sat on her own blanket with a picnic basket and place settings for two.
She sat there on the bluff with a steely stare into the distance, determined and hopeful for her fate to arrive. She didn’t know why she was so attracted to him. Back home in Honolulu she would have never been able to date someone like him. Although she was definitely attracted to him, it was something well beyond the physical that had turned her world upside down.
Alika approached from behind her unnoticed. “Excuse me,” he said in that deep baritone that always struck a chord with her resolve.
“Oh, you startled me, I didn’t know anyone was there. I thought I was here by myself,” she replied.
“Surely you are expecting someone, I see you got two place settings there.”
Blushing, Mary smiled and made a sweeping welcoming gesture with her hand. “Would you like to join me?” Alika gladly obliged and joined her on her ample blanket.
They enjoyed the food and each other’s company as if they were the last two people on earth. He sat there intently taking in all of the delicacies that she had prepared while soaking up her life’s story like a bottomless glass of fine wine.
She told him that she was 28 years old and had contracted leprosy at age 25. She explained how she fretted over having to leave her son with her parents, but knew he was in good hands. She was a stunning beauty. Her straight black hair flowed well past her shoulders and provided the perfect contrasting frame for her milky white complexion. There were very few visible outward signs of the disease. However, the ailment had already done significant psychological scarring.
While reaching for the last slice of pineapple Mary blurted out, “You’re the same color as my grandmother, my mother’s mother. I barely remember her. I never really knew that side of my family. She died when I was real little. I just remembered how dark she was.”
Alika smiled and said, “She must have been a pretty woman then, and a native, of course.”
Mary laughed and shook her head. “My mother’s father was white and so is my father,” she shared.
Alika laughed. “Haoles on both side? I would of only guessed on your father’s side.”
“Yeah but my father is a renegade, he’s not like the rest of his family,” she said defensively. He didn’t want a life of wearing a suit everyday like his father and his brother. He wanted to be with the workers. That’s why he decided to run the family sugar plantation.”
“They’re all the same to me,” said Alika as he stretched out on the blanket.
They sat there talking and laughing for hours, mostly about Mary. Try as she might, Mary couldn’t get Alika to talk about himself. She couldn’t pry one bit of information from him about his past.
Every time she tried to learn something about him, he somehow changed the subject and made it about her. This comforted and flattered her, for her entire life it was never about her. The middle child of three girls, she was always the forgotten one and now what birth order had established leprosy had confirmed.
Eventually feeling self-conscious about all of the attention, Mary looked at him and said, “Alika, really, enough about me. Tell me about you. I want to know about you. All I know is that your name is Alika Pohaku. You have leprosy like me and you showed up here two days ago.”
“Mary, that’s all that’s important. Let’s face it we’re both going to spend the rest of our lives here, so what happened before I got here doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that I’m here now and more importantly I’m here with you. When I first saw you I instantly knew why God sent me here.”
Blushing, she replied, “You say that to all the lepers.”
Upon his declaration, Mary no longer cared about his past or hers for that matter. She decided that God had birthed him from the depths of the Pacific and delivered him to Kalaupapa just for her.
It was getting late. The hungry waters had all but swallowed what was left of the sun. A smattering of evening clouds had appeared, creating cracks in heaven’s ceiling. Mary began to gather the remnants of their meal and placed it in the picnic basket. Alika reached up and grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him. That tender touch was the first true human contact that she had felt in the past two years.
She had forgotten what it was like to be touched by another person because her affliction had made her and others believe that she was untouchable. One touch led to another which led to a caress which eventually led to the intertwining of their bodies and the beautiful creation of human origami.
The healing had begun that night under the moon and stars. Looking skyward in the afterglow of love, Mary saw her future and for the first time in her life. It totally eclipsed her past.
That became their special place. They met there almost every day for the next six weeks. He fed her spirit with poetry and she fed his stomach with the best that Hawaii had to offer. Their evenings almost always ended the same way which ensured that they both would return the next day. One day when Mary did not come, Alika was worried and scurried hurriedly back to the colony.
He ran into a woman who lived in the house with Mary and asked her if she had seen her. The woman told him that she had not seen her all day not even at breakfast and she thought that she heard her in the room when she left a few minutes ago. Alika walked to Mary’s house. The front door was unlocked like all the houses. He was reluctant to enter because it was a female residence and he didn’t want to unduly alarm any of the other women.
He thought about calling out her name from outside, but thought better of it. He was a newcomer and didn’t want people to get the wrong impression about him. The last thing he wanted was to be considered disrespectful. His curiosity and concern for Mary overpowered his reluctance and he stealthily entered the house. The strange odor that permeated all of the properties on the peninsula was even more pungent here. He hadn’t yet gotten used to it.
His olfactory nerve had not yet succumbed and refused to process the smell like the others on the colony. He wondered if this indeed was the strange smell of leprosy. The odor was stale and for the most part bearable in it’s most raw form, but it smelled even worse when mixed with the fresh smells of the island.
He stood at the foot of the stairs, trying to guess which room might be hers. He accompanied her on many evenings back to the house, but never entered. He knew she was on the second floor but didn’t know what room. Not wanting to cause a raucous and also trying to escape the smell, he walked back out and stood in front of the house to gather his thoughts.
He remembered Mary telling him that she could see their special place from her window. Remembering this, he took several steps back from the house and quickly surveyed its exterior. Figuring out which window had the view, he now knew which room was hers. Armed with this intelligence, he entered back into the house and began his journey slowly up the stairs. The house was very simple like all of the others.
They were slapped together rather quickly to accommodate the growing population of outcasts mandated by King Kamehameha V’s sequestering law in the late 19th century. Many of the structures were over 30 years old and were nearly in shambles. The staircase was dirty and dangerous. Whole sections of steps were cracked or missing. This made it difficult for Alika to navigate the stairs without making a lot of noise.
Once at the top of the stairs, he was thankful to find that all of the doors were closed and that there was only one bedroom door on the right side of the house. He carefully made his way to that door and cracked it to peek in. He wanted to find a way to gain entrance without startling Mary if she was indeed in her room. He hadn’t planned on staying for he was eager to make it back to their special place for their daily and nightly ritual.
He wasn’t prepared for what he saw when he peered through the cracked door. Mary was moaning and doubled over in agony. Frightened by the sight, he rushed in scooped her up into his arms and carried her to the infirmary.
Alika wasn’t allowed to stay while the nurse examined Mary. He was sent back to wait at the entrance. With all of the excitement of the moment and the fact that he had spent nearly every waking moment with Mary, it suddenly dawned on him that he hadn’t turned in all of the forms that were needed for his medical records. He needed to go back to his room to fetch them. The walk back to his room would give him something to do while he waited on Mary. He retired to his room to get the forms.
The nurse administered the normal battery of procedures and tests. She asked the usual questions, but then veered into a different direction when Mary began to describe her symptoms. The nurse drew some blood and placed Mary in one of the rooms at the infirmary with some Alka-Seltzer and an order to get some rest. The nurse told her that she would check on her in a couple of hours and if she felt better that she could go back to her room.
Alika came back to the infirmary to return his forms and to check on Mary. He was informed by the nurse that she was in a room upstairs getting some rest. Alika snuck past the floor supervisor and crept into Mary’s room. There were three beds in the room, two of them unoccupied and neatly made, the other inhabited by Mary. Everything in the room was white: the floor, the walls, the sheets, the medicine cabinet, the curtains, the nightstand.
All of that white was reflecting the light from the sun that was coming in from the three large windows opposite Mary’s bed. When Alika entered the room he represented the solitary swath of color there and the reflection from all of the white was instantly absorbed by his darkness. He was blinded momentarily.
When his eyes finally adjusted he saw an angelic vision. She was sound asleep and seemed to be at peace. He smiled to himself and approached her bedside. He got down on one knee, softly kissed her on her forehead, reached into his pocket and did what he planned to do earlier before he was unceremoniously stood up for good reason. He placed a makeshift bricolage on the ring finger of her left hand as a symbol of his newfound lifelong commitment to her in their quarantined corner of the world.
A couple of hours later, the nurse came to check on Mary. She had just awaken out of a deep sleep.
“Dear, you should stay here this evening. The doctor will see you first thing tomorrow morning. How are you feeling?”
“I feel a lot better. I’m just so tired,” said Mary. “I would go back to my room if I could. I don’t know that I could even make it because I’m so tired.”
“No problem, you’ll stay right here until tomorrow. I’ll tell your friend Alika that he can come by tomorrow. He’s come by here twice to check on you,” said the nurse.
“If he comes by again please tell him that I will find him tomorrow and not to worry.”
“I certainly will, dear. He sure seems to have it bad for you. You don’t see much of that around here. It’s nice to see,” said the nurse.
Blushing, Mary smiled and said, “Yeah, it’s really nice. A true blessing.” The nurse turned and exited. Mary rolled over in the bed and returned to her slumber with a smile on her face.
The next day Mary was visited by the doctor and the nurse. He gave her a rather thorough once over which included a gynecological exam. Mary was ashamed and hoped that there was no lingering evidence of her nightly trysts with Alika.
The doctor went to the sink washed and dried his hands, reached for his chart and wrote down what was confirmed by the blood test and exam. Mary was six weeks pregnant. “Nurse, contact Mr. Arthur and give him the news.”
Exasperated, Mary grabbed the nurse’s arm and exclaimed, “What news, what news. What’s wrong.”
The doctor looked up from the chart at Mary. “There’s nothing wrong really, well, I guess it depends on how you look at it, but it seems as if you’re pregnant.” The doctor put down the chart, looked at the nurse and said, “Let Mr. Arthur know and make sure he’s aware that the baby has to be taken off the island immediately after it’s delivered so they need to make the appropriate plans. According to the tests, the baby is due in July.”
“I’m pregnant. Really…pregnant? Wow. How did this happen, I mean I know how it happened, but how did this happen to me, now, and here.”
The nurse smiled at Mary, took her hand and said, “Just because you’ve got leprosy doesn’t mean that you can’t get pregnant or have a baby.”
Mary squeezed the nurse’s hand and wistfully inquired, “Why does the baby have to leave, can’t I keep him here?”
The nurse sadly informed Mary of what she already knew but in the briefest of moments had wished away. In the best interest of the child it must be removed from the island immediately following the delivery.
“Will the child be born with leprosy?”
“No my dear, the child should be normal.”
Mary brought her hands to her face in a gesture of prayer and noticed for the first time Alika’s homemade engagement ring. She quickly gathered her clothing and got dressed and headed out of the infirmary to find Alika to deliver a double dose of good news with a side of bad.
She went to his house. Alika shared a room with two other men on the first floor. It was inappropriate for her to enter the house so she went and stood by the window to see if he was there. She saw him laying on his bed with his arms tucked behind his head staring at the ceiling. She stood there in the window for a few moments unnoticed.
She closed her eyes and offered a silent prayer of thanks, “God, you must have a special purpose for the child that I’m carrying because if you didn’t I’m sure that Alika wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be pregnant. So thank you for both of these blessings and I just ask that you make a way in the world for our child. Protect him and allow him to be as much a blessing in the world as he already is to me, Amen.” After she opened her eyes and made the sign of the cross, she saw Alika sitting up in the bed staring at her. He jumped to his feet and ran to meet her outside the house.
“I’ve been worried sick about you. What did the doctors say?”
“Not here Alika let’s go up to the bluff.” He grabbed her hand and they made the journey up to their secret spot in silence. They passed a few of their fellow colony castaways, but it was as if they weren’t there and not a word was spoken or exchanged between them as they made their way.
It was a beautiful morning. A steady succession of rippling white waves were being woven into the brown sand one by one as if by a heavenly hand loom. Finally arriving at their destination and not being able to take the suspense of the moment any longer, Alika turned to Mary and shouted, “So what’s wrong, what is it? What did the doctor say?”
Mary smiled at him and replied, “First things first.” She paused and stared into his eyes for a moment and said, “Yes.” Puzzled by her cryptic response, Alika furrowed his brow, “Huh?”
She raised her left hand to reveal his handiwork. They instantly embraced. “What about the doctor?”
Mary left his arms and found a place on the ground to sit. Alika positioned himself next to her. “I’m pregnant.”
Surprised by his response, Mary whipped back, “Are you mad, Alika?”
As his teeth exploded into view from behind his lips, Alika jumped to his feet and threw his hands into the air in a jubilant display of celebration.
“I guess that means no,” Mary exclaimed as she joined him.
As their celebration subsided, Mary and Alika turned towards the ocean and took in the tapestry of the tide. As she looked over the horizon, Mary was suddenly enveloped in melancholy. “They’re going to call my father to come get the baby when he’s born.”
Smiling, Alika replied, “It’s OK. God has already worked it out.”
He caressed her stomach. “He went a long way to make this creation, with a lot of pain and heartbreak along the way. But none of that matters. ’Cause I know that He is going to take what He made with two outcasts like us and have it be a blessing to the world out there.”
Mary began to weep. Alika wiped the tears from her eyes, kissed her on the cheek and said, “Come on, let’s get back. You need to get your rest.” They joined hands and made the trek back to the colony.
Two weeks later, Mary and Alika stood together in their special place and joined hands before God and were united in holy matrimony by Father Joseph, the priest at the colony church. There were no fancy decorations, no wedding party, no wedding tuxedo, not even wedding guests. However, there was a wedding dress.
Several months ago Mary was surprised to find her fancy white dinner dress that she last wore when she was 18, tucked inside a small black burlap sack in the bottom drawer of her dresser. She knew her mother Amanda put it in there, but wondered why. Amanda was the queen of decorum.
Public appearance was of the utmost importance to her, especially when it came to her three daughters. She knew more about etiquette and proper dress than anyone in the esteemed Arthur family, which is why they didn’t completely disown William when he married her. When it was thought that Mary had contracted leprosy it was more devastating to Amanda than it was to Mary, not because she was concerned about the health or well being of her daughter, but because she was worried about how she would be perceived by the Arthurs.
Amanda was enjoying more than 30 years of marital and familial peace with the Arthurs and had even rose to a level of respect and prominence within the family. She planned and put on all of the events and dinner parties for visiting business associates and dignitaries at their palatial estate. Having a social pariah as a daughter would certainly unfurl all of the gains that she had made with the Arthurs and could potentially return her to her vacated status of second class citizen.
When Mary first came down with a simple skin rash, Amanda panicked and immediately had her quarantined in a hospital in Honolulu for further observation. She spent three weeks there in isolation. The doctors were not sure that she had Hansen’s disease. The rash had cleared up and she was not showing any other symptoms. Not wanting to risk it, Amanda insisted that Mary be sent to Kalaupapa.
To cover her tracks, Amanda wrote a letter to Mary explaining to her that the doctors had diagnosed her with leprosy and that according to the law she must be sent to the leper colony. She promised to take care of her son, Robert. William, was unaware of the initial discussions with the doctors regarding Mary’s prognosis. Amanda convinced him that she would shoulder the burden of dealing with Mary for certainly her affliction came from her mixed blood, not from him.
Robert was conceived after one of Amanda’s many lavish business dinners. A visiting white businessman from Texas, 15 years Mary’s senior took an instant liking to her. She was so beautiful, that beginning at age 16, Amanda made sure that she attended all of the dinners as a living adornment to accompany all of her other handmade decorations. Not completely satiated with the five-course meal, the visitor carefully plotted to have a sixth course with the virgin Mary. William was away, which made it much easier for Amanda to turn a blind eye to what she really wanted to see, her daughter with a rich and powerful white businessman. Nine months later and no visiting businessman anywhere to be found, Mary gave birth to her son. William was devastated. Amanda had convinced Mary to lie to her father and tell him that she had sex with a white boy who was on vacation and that she didn’t know his name or how to contact him. Devastation turned to promise when Mary gave birth to the boy that Amanda never could. Because there was no father, the boy would have to take on the Arthur name. William was sure that his father was rolling over in his grave, but when the blond-haired, blue-eyed Robert Arthur was presented to him, he quickly invited the family back to the estate for an impromptu celebration. An heir was born.
Robert was 8 when Mary went away. She hadn’t seen her parents or her son since she had been on the colony. Amanda couldn’t bring herself to visit and she has convinced William that it would be too devastating for Mary if he or Robert went. Amanda had written from time to time, but the letters were empty and void of any emotion, just rote facts about family goings ons and updates about Robert’s stellar scholastic achievements.
Her guilt and shame had sapped all of the intended sentiment from the letters that she sat down and wrote over the past two years. Amanda presented a twisted show of love and a weird offer of apology when she secretly packed the dress that Mary wore the night of the dinner. The dress represented the last time that Amanda was any semblance of a real mother to Mary.
When the dress came off that night, everything changed, forever. Amanda tried her best to remember her daughter the last time that she saw her wear it, when she sat at the formal dining room table at the Arthur estate looking like a living doll. That’s the way she wanted to remember Mary. That’s what she said to herself as she placed it at the bottom of Mary’s suitcase before taking it to the hospital two years ago.
On the morning of her whirlwind wedding, Mary sat on the edge of her bed in deep thought. Suddenly attacked by a memory, she rose to her feet and made the short trek across the room and knelt before her decrepit dresser. She carefully opened the bottom drawer so as not to break it. In the drawer were things that she hardly ever wore or used. Right in the midst of those forgotten memories and sundry things was a reminder of her lost innocence tucked inside a black burlap sack.
Mary opened the sack to reveal what she thought was going to be a painful memory, but the sun was making its rounds that morning. The ray of hope that was usually reserved for the four foot patch five feet above the floor was now shining on the perfectly preserved taffeta and lace that was laying on Mary’s lap. Hope abounded and Mary prayed that she could still squeeze into it. She rose to her feet, disrobed and tried on her dress. It was tight, but not unbearably so. She didn’t have, want or need a mirror in her room so she couldn’t see herself. That was fine by her for the only mirror that she cared about was the one that would come from the reflection in Alika’s deep set and dark eyes.
They opted to have a private ceremony on the bluff instead of at the church. It was only appropriate. It was where their budding romance began, where it was consummated and where their child was conceived. They would have had a ceremony without an officiant if they could, but they needed Father Joseph to make it both official and legal. That was important to Mary because she still carried the shame of having a child out of wedlock. Although she knew that she wouldn’t be able to raise their child she was comforted by the fact that it would be born into a holy union and carry the name of its father.
Mary was self-conscious about standing before Father Joseph exchanging vows with Alika, being pregnant in what could be misconstrued as a mercy shotgun wedding. This never crossed Alika’s mind because he was fully committed to Mary and made his marital intentions known before he was even aware of her condition. Nonetheless both of them wanted the ceremony to be over so Father Joseph could get off their mountain and leave them to their origami ritual. This time would be different from the others. The beautiful process of them folding their bodies together in the art of love making was now going to be sanctioned by and in celebration of an actual piece of paper.
“What God has joined together let no man tear asunder.” These words from Father Joseph washed over the salvaged souls of these two broken vessels both abandoned and forgotten in this unlikely Eden. They were now forever cleansed of the stigma of their affliction for they knew for certain that God had indeed brought them together and that no matter how broken they may become physically, these words assured them that what God had done with them spiritually could never be torn apart or destroyed. Under the celestial candelabra hung that night just for them, Mary whispered into Alika’s ear, “Do you mind if I keep the dress on?”
“Anything you want, dear. Anything.”
“It must be a boy, because a girl can’t kick like that,” boasted Alika as his hands circumnavigated the baby’s ever expanding world. As she sat on the beach, Mary liked the feeling of the sun on her stomach. Their daily rendezvous on the bluff was a thing of the past for the time being. It really didn’t matter to either of them. As an officially married couple they now had their own room, nearly one and a half times as large as Mary’s. The room was a mirror image of itself from one side to the other. There were two twin beds, two dressers, two lamps and two nightstands. In between the two beds up against the wall was a loveseat that Alika made out of discarded materials found around the colony. There was even a fresh coat of paint — almond beige. Lately, they were spending most of their time hulled up there, making sure that Mary got the appropriate amount of rest. However, late in her second trimester she got a burst of energy and increasingly wanted to be outside on the beach in the fresh air.
The sun gave their child a foretaste of the environment in which it would inhabit in just a few short months. Mary was much larger than she remembered with her son Robert. She couldn’t explain it but in the end attributed it to Alika’s mysterious and undoubtedly strong gene pool. With this level of girth, she just knew that it had to be a boy. She was pleased at the thought. After all it would take a strong boy and eventually a strong man to overcome the obstacles that he would face.
The ravages of the Great Depression had made its way west from the mainland to the Hawaiian territory. Jobs in the sugar and pineapple industries were quickly disappearing. Mary’s old-fashioned rearing didn’t allow her to adopt a paradigm whereby a female could forge her own way and face life without the assistance of a man. She knew that the child wouldn’t have a mother or a father to lean on so she just knew that those strong kicks emanating from within were that of a strong boy, rippin’, roarin’ and ready to take on whatever the world had to offer.
There were times when she laid in the bed next to Alika’s alone in her thoughts where she secretly wished for a girl. A strong girl that every man would desire but with the disposition and constitution of the most solitary Hawaiian hunter, making it difficult, if not impossible, for her to be snared. The intersection of beauty, independence, self-sufficiency, amenability and compassion didn’t exist in Mary’s mind. On her mental map, these roads were parallel at best, especially for a woman, let alone a girl.
“He’s going to be a strong one and yes he’s going to be a blessing and a handful all in one”, she said with wistful glee.
“He’s going to take the world by storm,” said Alika still rubbing her stomach.
“What if it’s a girl,” Mary wondered to herself out loud.
“Doesn’t really matter to me one way or another, as long as he’s healthy.”
“Oh, really it doesn’t really matter to you? As long as HE’s healthy,” said Mary sarcastically while she playfully swiped at Alika.
“That’s just an expression. I’m serious boy or girl, it doesn’t matter to me. I just know that the world is going to be a different place with him, uh, her, ummm with it in it,” he said clumsily.
“Aren’t you worried what’s going to happen to him out there on his own?”
With a big smile on his face, Alika replied, “HE will be fine. I’m sure that with or without your family’s money or help he’ll be rich beyond our imagination.” Alika took a moment to internalize what he hoped to be prophetic words.
“Come on Mary, let’s go back to our room. You need your rest.”
“No, no, just a little while longer, the sun feels great!. I can tell he really likes it. It makes him move. He needs his exercise!”
Their room became their womb. Mary was on bed rest for the remaining month of her pregnancy and Alika rarely left her side. Today was the day of her checkup. Thankfully, the infirmary was not too far of a walk from their new housing. Upon their arrival at the checkup, Mary and Alika entered the exam room and Mary sat uncomfortably on the horns of her dilemma. She was physically exhausted and often in pain. She knew that the delivery of her child would relieve her of this but in its place would come a pain that may never subside. Outside the room, the doctor and nurse were discussing Mary’s chart. The door was cracked wide enough for their words to seep in.
“Doctor, Mr. Arthur telephoned yesterday and asked if we knew when he might have to come for the baby.”
Pouring over the chart, the doctor looked up and said, “According to the chart, it looks like she can go any day now. I’ll know better after the exam, but he’d better be on standby. We can only keep the baby in the nursery for a few days. If there are no complications, it’s best that they’re off the island as soon as humanly possible.”
At that, the doctor, pushed in the door and entered. He smiled at Mary and shook Alika’s hand. “How are you today, Mary?”
“I’m fine, the question is, how is my little boy in there and when is he coming out.” The nurse motioned for Alika to leave the room.
“I’ll be right outside waiting for you,” he assured Mary.
The doctor washed his hands in preparation for the exam. As he readied himself, Mary bellowed out a blood curdling yelp. Alika rushed back to the door, “What’s wrong doctor.”
The nurse pushed Alika out of the door and told him that they would brief him after the exam. The nurse firmly closed the door behind him. The doctor quickly examined Mary’s pelvic area. “She’s sufficiently dilated. Looks like today is the day that your little boy, or little girl is coming out. Nurse have them call Mr. Arthur and tell him to begin to make his way at his earliest convenience.”
The nurse wheeled Mary into another room where she was prepped for delivery. Alika was in the waiting room. He incessantly paced back and forth in the small room. This was the most amount of time that he had physically spent away from Mary in the past 6 months. It was agonizing. The room was like a jail cell to him. It was cold, grey and barren. The only other two objects in the room besides himself were two grey metal chairs. For hours he sat in those chairs and counted the tile flooring over 150 times to make sure that the number had not changed.
On his first count, he got to the 26th tile and noticed that the 27th tile was missing. Instead of a tile there was just a black empty space. He couldn’t decide whether to count it as a tile or skip over it and resume his count with the next tile. Sometimes he counted it and other times he skipped it. Was it 619 tiles or 620 tiles? This uncertainty made his mind wander into a place that he had avoided for the past six months.
The missing tile brought forth the reality of the impending separation of his child from him. Staring at the missing tile, the water level in his glass half-full view of his child’s life started to change. Leaks were developing. As low as the level got in his mind, he did his best to rationalize that even a drop of water in the glass was one step closer to the glass being full as opposed to one step away from it being empty. Seated in the chair closest to the door with his head in his hands, Alika decided, “It’s 620. Yes, it’s 620.”
Right at his affirmation of inclusion the nurse came in. “Come with me Mr. Pohaku.” She took him down the hall to a small glass wall in front of the nursery. He quickly surveyed and saw three babies in the nursery. Two of them had the same birth date 7/21/33 inscribed on the card in the bassinet. They were born 20 minutes apart. “Which one of those two are mine?”
The nurse smiled and said “They’re both yours.”
Alika in shock questioned, “What?”
“We were as surprised as you are.”
Figuring it out, he said, “No wonder she was so big. Are they boys or girls?”
“One of each”, explained the nurse.
“You’ve got to be kiddin’ me. One of each!” Alika jumped up and down in excitement.
“Has Mary seen them?”
“No, she is recovering now.”
“Will she get to see them?”
“It depends on when her father gets here and whether or not she is recovered from the ordeal enough. She had a pretty tough time of it. Of course you know that neither one of you can touch the babies or be near them.”
Alika tried his best not to sulk. “I know. I know. I just want to make sure that she sees them.”
“Sir, we find that sometimes it’s better if the mother doesn’t see the children. I would suggest that she doesn’t. It makes it too hard.” She motioned for Alika to head back towards the waiting room.
Alika turned around, “Did she know they were twins? Did she know there was a boy and a girl?”
“I’m not sure. She was pretty lethargic and not really lucid.” Suddenly remembering something, the nurse reached into her smock and said, “Oh, by the way, you need to fill out the paperwork for the names.”
“Can it wait till I talk to Mary?,” he petitioned.
“No it’s best you do it right away. We don’t know when they’re gonna be leaving.” The nurse handed Alika two cards. “Here, fill these out and give them to the nurse at the front desk when you’re finished.”
Alika took the cards and went back to the waiting room and sat down. He filled in all of the pertinent information except for the names. He sat with his thoughts for a moment. They had never really discussed girl names. He got up and went downstairs to the front desk and asked the nurse, “Can you tell me which of the Pohaku babies was born first, the boy or the girl.” The nurse got up from her station and went behind a closed door. She returned a few minutes later and said, “The girl.”
Alika found a seat near the front desk and sat down and finished filling out the cards. He filled in Kehaulani Hiapo Pohaku and Keoni Kumukoa Pohaku. He gave the cards to the nurse. She gathered them and informed him that he should go home and come back in the morning. He turned around and walked towards the exit. After a cursory inspection of the cards, the nurse called after him, “Mr. Pohaku, Mr. Pohaku.”
Alika turned around.
“I think you made a mistake. Hiapo is a boy’s name. You made it the middle name of the girl.”
Alika smiled and responded, “I know”. Impressed that she noticed, he turned around and walked away and said to himself, “621.”
“I spoke to the nurse and I think she’s right. I don’t want to see them. I think it would be too hard,” lamented Mary. Doing her best to shift her mood, Mary reached her hand across the bed and squeezed Alika’s hand.
“The nurse told me that you picked out the names. So what are they?”
Alika smiled, “His name is Keoni Kumukoa and her name is Kehaulani Hiapo.”
“Those are beautiful. I love the name Kehaulani, she is indeed our ‘Dew of Heaven’, but why did you give her that boy’s name for.”
“She’s the first born. My first born and your first girl. She deserves the name, boy or girl. She deserves it and I’m sure, she’ll live up to it.”
Mary glanced at Alika and countered, “She might deserve it but Keoni may not think so, especially when they get older.”
“They’ll be fine. I told you that God would take care of our child. He’s already started by giving them each other.”
“I hope and pray you’re right,” said Mary as the corner of her eyes birthed twins of their own.
Mary’s father, William arrived at Kaluapapa by private boat 36 hours after the birth of his grandchildren. Because of his station in life and his contributions to the colony he was met at the shore and escorted to the nursery by the doctor himself.
He stood in front of the small glass window of the nursery and stared in at three babies in bassinets. He pointed at the one on the end, the palest of the three. “So is it a boy or a girl?”
Sensing the misperception and the upcoming eruption that he was about to cause, the doctor treaded lightly. “Mr. Arthur, that’s not your grandchild, those two are.”
“Those two? Twins? Are you sure? Those are Mary Arthur’s children?”
“There must be some mistake. They’re, they’re, well they’re so dark, both of them.”
“I’m sorry sir, there’s no mistake, those are your grandchildren. Keoni…”
William raised his hand interrupting the doctor, “There’s no need to go into detail. Those are not my grandchildren. You could have saved us both a lot of time and me a lot of anguish. You should have informed me that Mary was cavorting around with what obviously is a full blooded native.”
“Sir, Mary is married to him. I thought you knew.”
“I knew nothing of the sort. Mary’s not dumb. She knew better than to write and tell us the true details of her new found love. Raising my, I mean her son is one thing, but this would be quite another. I’m sure she had hoped that there’d be more Arthur blood present so the children would look more like her, but I guess she wasn’t that fortunate. Please, just take me back to my boat, my time here is done.”
“But Mr. Arthur what do we do about your grandchildren.”
“I told you, those are not my grandchildren. I wish there was something that I could do, but my hands are tied here can’t you see. Call the boy’s family, maybe they’ll take them in.”
“He has no family that we know of sir.”
“That’s not my problem. Please, Dr., the boat. It’s getting late.”
“Yes sir, right away, but, before we go I must take care of something very briefly.”
The doctor excused himself and found the nurse standing right outside the door. She had heard the whole exchange. “Nurse, call the orphanage immediately and tell them that they need to pick up three kids tomorrow instead of one.”
On her way to the telephone, the nurse passed by Mary’s room.
“Nurse, nurse,” called Mary.
The nurse entered her room. “Yes dear.”
“Has my father come yet?”
“Yes, he just left. He told me to give you his love. He was in a hurry and wanted to get the babies back to Oahu as soon as possible. It was getting late.”
“Oh, OK thank you, thank you and God bless you,” she said. The disappointment and sadness of not seeing her father were at odds with her sense of hope for the twins. Hope broke through with a smile.
The nurse manufactured a smile in return and said, “May God bless you, your husband and your children.” She quickly walked away while making the sign of the cross.
Mary retrieved the paper and pen from the stand next to the bed and began writing a letter.
July 22, 1933
By the time you get this, I’m sure that you will be holding Kehaulani Hiapo or Keoni Kumukoa…
© 2016 André Kimo Stone Guess All Rights Reserved
If you haven’t already please click the button below to join our mailing list or subscribe.