The nighttime noises were soothing. The waves were quietly lapping against the shore as if the ocean were settling down for slumber. The sprinkling rain pattered on the leaves outside. The smell of salt, earth, and flowers glided past in the breeze. Calming, cool, comforting. But she couldn't sleep. Her body was on edge, anticipating something. It had been this way for the past week. Exactly seven days since she met the haole man on the beach.
He had done nothing wrong. Actually, he was very nice and helpful. He came to her rescue when her basket of fish fell on the sand. The kids playing on the beach along the shoreline laughed at her and her brother as they scrambled to rinse them off and put the fish back in the basket. They were very successful that day and the basket was filled to the top. That much fish would feed them for a week and they would still have some to sell.
Her short mu’umu’u was faded from the original red color to a pinkish hue and the flower pattern had turned into dull blues, greens, and purples. The edges were beginning to fray again. No matter how many times she tried to sew the ends of her sleeves, neckline, and hemline, eventually the stitches would come out. The mu’umu’u fit snugly on her slim frame and she knew she would need another dress soon. She began to mentally calculate how much material she would need to make another dress and how much it would cost.
Her long, wavy, dark brown hair was always pulled up in a bun. No matter how tight she pulled her hair back, short tendrils would escape and fly around her face and neck as she worked. She brushed back a strand of hair as she picked up the fallen fish and her wide, brown eyes filled with tears as she heard laughter from some of the town kids. Her small, flat nose flared and her wide mouth grimaced as she heard the rude comments thrown in their direction. She didn’t dare look at her brother because she knew his face would be a mirror of her own. Kids can be very cruel with their words but the haole man put a stop to that as he shooed them away and bent down to help them.
"How much is your basket of fish?" He asked.
The girl looked up in surprise and it took her a minute before she could find her voice. "We're keeping some for food but I can sell you half the basket for $20."
"Twenty dollars?" The man looked shocked at the price.
The girl swallowed thinking she just asked for too much. To hide her embarrassment, she looked down quickly and began to pick up more of the fallen fish.
"I'll give you $100 for half the basket."
At first she thought she heard him wrong. When she found the courage to look up at him, she saw him smiling and holding out a one-hundred-dollar bill.
She gulped and told her brother to quickly make a new basket to give the man half of their catch. As her brother ran to pull a coconut leaf off of a nearby tree, the girl looked at the man from the corner of her eye. He was quiet as he watched her brother run across the sand barefoot. Now that she was able to observe him, she realized he did not look like the usual red, sunburned tourists that sometimes found their way to the remote Hawaiian beach near her home. This man had pure white hair but he wasn’t old. Maybe in his late 20s. She noticed his skin was not red or sunburned, either. It was pale but you could tell he had a darker undertone. Maybe that's why he didn't resemble a lobster like the rest of the visitors to the island. She finally stood up as the last of the fish was washed and placed into the basket and noticed that the stranger was quite tall. She was always told her height was unusually tall for a twelve-year-old but even she had to look up at this man to see his face. The sun was shining behind his head and she squinted to get a closer look at his features. He had high cheekbones and a prominent nose. It was not bulbous but very regal looking. He had a small mouth and thin lips that were currently curled into a small smile. She caught him looking her way and was startled by his eyes. They were a pale blue color, almost translucent. She felt like she could see into his soul. Or maybe he was looking into hers? She looked away quickly as a strange feeling took over. She looked for her brother who had finished the basket and was running back to them laughing and jumping. The man looked away as he heard the jubilant noise and smiled. The girl noticed how the smile never reached his eyes but seemed pasted on his face. Even with the large sum of money, she wanted to complete the transaction quickly and get away from this stranger.
After they put the cleanest and nicest fish into the new basket for their customer, they made the exchange and began to walk home. It had been a long day of fishing but the girl was excited to show her grandmother the money. Maybe she could buy some cheap material to make another dress. Her brother, who was walking a few steps in front of her swinging the basket of fish, looked like he needed a new outfit as well. She saw the small holes in his stained, yellow t-shirt and the frayed hemline only falling to his thin stomach. That’s when she realized he had grown taller in the last few months. He was two years younger than her but now that she looked closely, he was already becoming tall and lanky. People sometimes mistook them for twins. She knew eventually he would pass her in height and as she looked at his faded kikepa, it looked almost as worn out as her mu’umu’u. The money would definitely help them. But she couldn't shake this uneasy feeling about the strange man with the pale eyes.
As soon as they saw their hale, her brother began running with the basket. “Mama! Mama! You’ll never guess what we have!”
Their hale was big enough to fit all three of them, two trunks, a small dresser, and a small shelf that was empty. The floor was made of smooth lava rocks packed and covered in a sand and dirt mixture. The foundation was raised because of the constant rain. The poles that held up the roof were made of koa wood and evenly spaced so the hale had an oval shape but you could walk in and out without the need of a door. In fact, there was no door. The thatched roof was made of pili grass that was cut and put together like shingles. The girl's grandfather was a fisherman so there was a fishing net thrown over the thatches to keep them in place, especially when it was windy or through the heavy rains. The net was tied at intervals to the poles that held up the roof. The floor was covered with lauhala mats and their sleeping mats were rolled and tucked into the spaces between the poles in the ceiling. The different shades of brown that made up the color of the house from floor to ceiling gave it a very earthy look.
Their grandmother came around the side of the hale carrying a small basket of roots. The girl could see the dirt on her hands and her wet mu'umu'u clinging to her legs. The purple taro were in the basket along with some of the leaves. You couldn't see the taro patch but the girl knew it was just beyond the mango and guava trees that grew in a half circle around the hale. The girl's stomach began to growl as she saw the soon-to-be cooked food. She realized she hadn't eaten much all day as they were busy catching fish.
Mama smiled as the boy ran up to her and showed her the basket of fish. He was waving his hands around as the girl walked up and she saw him give their grandmother something pale and smooth wrapped in a leaf. She also saw her grandmother's smile fade and the fear start to creep into her eyes. Her heart skipped a beat as her grandmother turned to look into her eyes and she felt a jolt of lightening as she heard her grandmother's thoughts.
"Do not say anything. Tell me everything that has happened today once your brother is asleep."
The speaking stopped abruptly and her grandmother's expression went back to her usual smiling, caring face. The girl thought she had imagined the last few seconds. But as they all walked to the cooking fire together, she noticed a slump in her grandmother's shoulders. The old woman was tall and strong. The tall, lanky build ran in the family and you could see the remains of a young, vibrant woman. Her own mu’umu’u was showing signs of wear and the girl thought about what colors would look nice on her regal grandmother. She suddenly pictured her in a pa’u made of a beautifully printed kapa preparing for a hula kahiko. Her poise and grace were clear and as the chanting began, the girl’s vision faded. She knew then that she did not imagine anything and anxiously awaited her talk later in the evening.
The food cooked quickly and she watched as her brother turned the fish on the spit, her grandmother smashing the taro into poi, and her own hands working quickly to cook the taro leaves with coconut milk. They feasted that night and with full stomachs, they sat around the fire listening to their grandmother's stories about their ancestors. This was a nightly occurrence and the girl could relax as she listened to her grandmother’s low, alto voice as she spoke and sometimes chanted the stories. She began to feel drowsy and didn’t realize she had fallen asleep until her grandmother gently shook her shoulder.
“My little honu, tell me about today.” Her grandmother tried to keep the expression on her face blank but the girl could tell she was fighting a battle of emotions inside of herself. The girl looked around for her brother but her grandmother, sensing her thoughts, pointed toward the hale.
"He is already asleep. Now, tell me what happened on the beach today."
The girl looked at her grandmother and felt like she was seeing her for the first time. Her hair, wavy like her own, was sprinkled with white hair and pulled back in a bun. Her dark, brown eyes were wide and the skin around them were showing signs of wrinkles. Her nose was wider and her lips were pursed as she waited for the girl to begin her story. The grandmother's long, slim fingers were intertwined as if in prayer and she sat cross legged on the ground with her back straight and tall as if bracing herself for the worst.
“Oh, Mama,” the girl sighed and told her about the fish and meeting the strange, pale, haole man on the beach. It felt good to tell someone about this stranger and the uneasiness she couldn’t explain.
As she finished her story, her grandmother’s face began a rapid series of changing expressions: pain, grief, sorrow, and finally fear.
“Go to bed, little honu,” her grandmother said softly.
“Good night, Mama,” she said and kissed her grandmother on the cheek. As she turned to go to the hale, she saw her grandmother’s hands open to reveal a boar’s tusk with images carved into the bone. Before she could make out the images, the tusk was folded into the leaf and her grandmother turned away from her.
She awoke with a start. She didn’t realize she had fallen asleep and she thought she heard a loud, booming noise like thunder. She looked around the hale but her brother and grandmother were sleeping soundly. She could hear their quiet breathing and sometimes a soft snore but she was the only one awake. Her mind went back to her encounter with the strange haole man and the tusk in her grandmother’s hand. When she asked her brother about the tusk, he said he found it while he was weaving the basket on the beach. He didn’t know what kind of tusk it was but he saw the carvings and he thought it might be worth something. That’s why he was jumping and yelling when he came back from making the basket. He wanted to show her right then and there but something about the stranger made him put the tusk away and stay quiet.
Her eyes began to feel heavy again but then she heard a quiet, rustling sound. At first she thought it was the rain on the leaves outside but the sound was coming from inside the hale. The walls were usually open to let in the breeze but with the rain, they had let down the woven lauhala panels. With the walls down, it was darker than usual and the girl’s eyes were trying to adjust to the dark. The rustling sound began to get closer and she suddenly felt something brush against her leg. Whatever it was, it had a strange ocean smell and was walking towards her grandmother. Terror stole her voice and as hard as she tried, she couldn’t call out. As the shadow neared her grandmother’s sleeping mat, the girl found the strength to sit up and slap the floor, her voice seemingly ripped from her body. She wanted the noise to wake up her grandmother but instead, she caught the attention of the strange shadow. It stopped abruptly. She saw the shadow turn and slowly make its way back to her. As it got closer, she was gripped with a fear that pierced her soul.