Tuesday, December 2, 2014

At the End of the Rainbow (Part 4)

The next few weeks passed quickly for Dorothy because noth-ing fell out of routine. Nothing, except for the machinations of her son; he remained suspiciously quiet. Every Wednesday morning she waited gossiping with Alice on the bench against her building wearing her cotton gloves, sun hat, muu muu, and white leather purse. He arrived the same time each morn-ing, brought the car to the curb, helped her into her seat, and shut the door carefully behind her.
One unusually hot Wednesday, Daniel had just helped his mother into the car after her appointment when he said, “I want shave ice. Do you mind if we go get some?”
Dorothy agreed. But, instead of heading back into town where they might go to any number of popular places, he got on the freeway heading west.
“I haven’t been to Matsumoto’s since the kids were teenagers. Let’s go—what do you think?” By that time they were nearly to Wahiawa, so she felt it would be unreasonable to make him turn around.
They entered Haleiwa and found Matsumoto’s parking lot was completely full. Daniel drove by and turned around, and drove by again and it was still full. Turning around again, he pulled into Aoki’s parking lot and checked his watch. “Well,” he began, “how about Aoki’s instead?”
Dorothy remained silent, her irritation with her son growing; they didn’t come all the way to Haleiwa to have shave ice at Aoki’s.
“I remember what you like to get. I’ll be right back.”
Daniel returned and handed his mother her cup. “They don’t have the flavor you like, so I got you coconut. And there’s no azuki bean. Sorry, mom.”
They ate their treats quietly, staring vacantly at the trees in the back of the lot. After sitting in the car for a few minutes, Daniel finally said, “I was thinking—we haven’t been to the North Shore in a while and—well wouldn’t it be nice to go for a drive? I wanted to see if you’d reconsider the place I’d been talking about if you saw it. I think you’re really going to like it if you just give it a chance.”
Dorothy trembled in frustration, the skin on her jowls quivering. She felt her face getting hot, and she suddenly became very tired. She didn’t want to fight him anymore. “Daijobu, you boddah me enough now, Daniel,” she said calmly. “I go.”
They followed the highway along the ocean, the grey waves rolling peacefully to shore, quietly sounding against the rocks, keeping perfect time with the rhythm of everything everywhere. The ocean had a strange, icy feeling because of the clouds, which held the warmth of the yellow sun and covered the whole distance and seemed to be things one could fit in the palm of a great hand, and it was a wonder they were able to hang in the sky between the earth and the sun, over the ocean, the shore, the mountains, over Daniel’s Toyota that crawled like a white lizard to the old plantation that had been changed into a place for the elderly.
They approached a mauka driveway and Daniel activated his blinker, turning to the right up a private drive. Dorothy couldn’t see the end of it; it was shaded infinitely on either side by well-manicured banana trees and so carefully paved that it was worthy of comment, but she remained silent since she was still upset that her son hadn’t listened to her and brought her here against her wishes.
Eventually the line of trees ended and opened into a valley that was shielded on all sides either by the ancient, towering mountains, or by forests that seemed they might be able to repel armies. The drive eventually circled on itself against a large, white two-story building that looked something like a Victorian hotel, with a breezeway extending from each side to several clusters of bungalows, which, in a horseshoe shape, surrounded the back of the building. In the front of the building was a veranda lined with a series of high, fluted columns, the capitals of the Corinthian order, the volutes resembling the spiky crowns of pineapples. In the architrave was a low-relief depiction of workers in the sugar plantations. The narrative was divided into several scenes: the morning bell, the march into the fields, midday harvest, and the workers’ communal meal. On the frieze in the pediment in high-relief was the Battle of Nuuanu, and at the center stood Kamehameha the Great, his arm outstretched in imperial gesture, eclipsing all.
“Daniel,” said Dorothy slowly, “we cannot afford a place like this. We did not need to come here to know this.”
“You’d be surprised, mom. Trust me, let’s just meet with the Director and keep an open mind, and we can talk about it later.”
The son helped the mother out of the car and walked her slowly up the small steps of the veranda, to the building’s main hall. The hall was quiet, and even their footsteps seemed not to echo. A petite, ageless woman emerged from an unseen corridor and floated towards mother and son, extending a hand to them in welcome.
“You must be the Okamuras,” she said graciously. “I’m Director Murasaki, but of course you may call me Mary. It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”
“Thank you Mary,” responded Daniel. “This is my mother, Dorothy. We’re both very impressed with the facilities here. It’s—” Daniel didn’t finish; he craned his neck to and fro, admiring his surroundings.
“We’re dedicated to our ohana, Mr. Okamura. We want them to have more than simple comfort and individualized care. We want to surround them with beauty and provide them with genuine happiness.” Murasaki paused and smiled sweetly. “But it’s easy to say that. Let me show you our grounds and introduce you to some of our ohana members—those who live here.”
The guide led the Okamuras through the main hall down a gentle decline to a passage that narrowed and wound its way to an exit door opening into a courtyard full of people.
“You’ve come at an opportune time, Ms. Okamura. Today is our Market Day; would you like to explore?”
Sugoi,” said Dorothy in amazement.
Arms linked, mother and son followed the graceful woman through rows of canopied tables laden with local dairy, berries imported from the Big Island, ‘Nalo greens, flower and bead leis, even fresh fish and meats.
“Maile!” called the Director to one of the vendors. The visitors followed their guide to Maile’s table where the two familiar women greeted other warmly. “I’d like for you to meet the Okamuras—this is Daniel and his mother Dorothy. They’re here on a visit to see the Anuenue Plantation and to meet our ohana.”
“Welcome!” Maile said enthusiastically as she grabbed a lei from her table and adjusted it on Dorothy’s shoulders, kissing the old woman on the cheek. “Where are you coming from, Ms. Okamura?”
“Town,” replied the little woman tersely, her black eyes shining like papaya seeds.
“That’s wonderful—my tutu lived on Wilder for ages until I finally convinced her to come to Anuenue, which is close to where I live. She was nervous to leave Makiki but she seems really happy here, too.” Maile scanned the crowd. “There she is, over by the uke players. Tutu!” she called. A tanned, frizzle-headed grandmother with a long, breezy red gown turned her head in the direction of the group and waddled over with the aid of an antique cane.
“Tutu, this is Dorothy Okamura. She came all the way from town to visit and I thought you two might have a lot to talk about!”
“Eh, hello,” said Tutu.
“Nice meeting you,” returned Dorothy.
“Come on, I show you around, yah?”
After the pair was out of earshot of the group, Tutu studied Dorothy for a moment before speaking.
“This bag you get, I like. Where you get that?”
Dorothy lifted it in her arms the way she lifted Daniel so many years ago. “Shujinga kureta. I never take off.”
En, soka,” said Tutu sympathetically. She turned her eyes to the ground. Changing the subject, she began again. “So, I guess you do not wanna stay here, yah? I guess, because that’s how I feel when my moʻopuna ask me to come.”
“Eh, why you come here then?” asked Dorothy.
“I do not know,” said Tutu honestly. “My life in Makiki is pretty good. I can walk to market, I have friends, I get the papers. But here have that too. In fack, after I come here, this place feel natural. Like before I am lost, wandering—like one ghost. Now, I feel at home. The rooms here, they are big and clean. All the staff, they are kind, you won’t believe. Maybe too kind, they always asking ‘what you need?’ and always run for get dakine, no matter you need or no need. And you know what, the ohana here, they good people. Everyone here have sound mind—that is one rule here, everyone must have sound mind. And the ohana, they good people. Most good people,” Tutu laughed, raising a finger for emphasis.
Dorothy allowed herself to smile. “Most, yah?”
Tutu studied the grass at her feet, plying it with her cane.
Mite over there, yah?” she pointed discretely with her nose. “Ano bald guy, he wear one gray shirt and get one face like honu? That is Ed, he is big-time skebe.” Tutu chuckled wildly. “He always touching any girl he can. Maybe you see one time.” Tutu rolled her eyes and smiled, making a clicking noise with her tongue.
“Eh, shame!” responded Dorothy playfully.
“There Mary, there Donna, there Shirley. They big gossips, bigger than me,” said Tutu righteously. “I can show you more, but most here good people. No need worry. Most good people.”
The two ladies stood in the shade for several minutes watching crowds of their peers shuffling by—elderly residents inspecting mangoes and papayas, getting samples to try, or talking story with the vendors as they would with their oldest friends.
Tutu finally cleared her throat and picked up the conversation as if it hadn’t been left off. “I tell you what, though—you come here, you can not go back. But I tell you true: if paradise can be real, Anuenue is paradise.”
At that moment, Daniel and Murasaki emerged from the crowd. “So mom, is Tutu teaching you all the Anuenue secrets?”
“We just talk story, Daniel. Well, I’m very pleased to meet you,” Dorothy said to her new friend.
“Okay then, nice meeting you. Maybe I see you soon, yah,” Tutu smiled.
As the group walked in the direction of the main building, Dorothy cleared her throat. “Miss Murasaki,” she said slowly, “maybe this is a silly question—but, how can I live here? This place—”
Sensing Dorothy’s embarrassment, Murasaki interrupted her. “Ms. Okamura, perhaps your son hasn’t explained the selection process to you fully. It’s complicated of course—anything involving the government is—but it doesn’t have to be. In the same way the government provides land grants in Hawaii for those who are qualified, we also have a deal with both the federal and state governments to grant coverage of admittance to two specific groups: veterans who are permanent residents of Oahu, and/or their spouses, and the descendants of certain kinds of laborers of the old system. That’s what grabbed my attention and why I set up this place, to be quite honest with you.” She paused for a long time. “It’s hard to believe that some of our relatives used to live and labor here, at this very place, so many years ago. Not many years, actually. Sometimes I find that hard to believe.” Murasaki quickly fumbled in her breast pocket and, retrieving a pair of reflective sunglasses, covered her eyes. “There’s more tour,” she said quietly.
“Thank you, thank you, Director Murasaki,” said Dorothy suddenly. “I have already seen so much, and I feel so tired from the sun! I think better my son just take me home for rest.”
“Today was hot,” said Murasaki. Then, taking Dorothy’s hand, “please call, for anything.”

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