Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hawaii Nei (Part 3)

He woke the next morning to the piercing blip of another siren, this time from a police squad car that had stretched itself greedily across the right lane of traffic while its fat, ape-faced policeman tended the gate to the gravel property next to Sid’s strip of grass. “Everybody gonna have to clear outta here immediately,” the policeman declared, as if reading from a script.
Some of the residents, including the haole woman, argued with the policeman about the terms of the present law while Sid sat several yards away, puffy-eyed. It irritated him to hear them bicker—he was tired and wanted to return to his bamboo mat under the shade of his palm.This, of course, was impossible. He would have to pack again, and move, and the idea of it sickened his already empty stomach.
As he lay watching some of the more weak-willed already gathering their things, he noticed for the first time that all but one—including himself—had stolen shopping carts, most of which were laden to the point of dangerous instability, trembling trash bag skyscrapers full of personal fragments that for one reason or another, couldn’t be discarded. The Ala Moana apotheosis of this brand of packrat unfortunate was The Joker, a weird forty-something broken woman with a white Mona Lisa smile that, much like that notorious vampire, was immortal, illegible. Once on his way to buy a pair of replacement slippers, he had to pass her as she carted her broad, patchwork burden; in order to get by her he found he had to cross the street. Some nights he secretly observed her—she always seemed awake, sitting fully erect, eyes open, smiling, staring into the ground. It chilled his blood. Once or twice, after surrendering to the initial impulse to look at her he found himself captive against his will, unable to avert his eyes from her startlingly white teeth. When he was finally able to sleep, she visited his forgotten dreams as one of the lost Gorgons. Deep in his imagination, he felt the suffocating induration of his flesh, originating in the soft tissue of his central, pulsing organ, radiating outward as he beheld her and slowly perished.
With the hum of the argument in the background, Sid rummaged through his personal bric-a-brac as if driven by another’s will. He withdrew the plastic bottles, lining them on the sidewalk like little soldiers and emptying them, one-by-one. After returning the caps, he gave them to the recycling operator—a shirtless man with a tattoo of a lotus like a pair of wings from shoulder to shoulder—for some change.
His cart was still heavy with the rest of his collection, scraps that were physical manifestations of past days. He grasped the handle and instinctively began pushing west, when it seemed the cart refused to move. He checked the wheels and the undercarriage, and there was nothing wrong with them. Panicking, he began to kick the rusted, stubborn block before him as if it were Balaam’s Ass, but it still wouldn’t budge. He stood staring at it, scratching the itch on his head. His teeth clenched with frustration as he gripped the handle tightly and squeezed it until his hands turned white. Holding the unyielding handle with a fierce intensity until he couldn’t maintain it anymore, his grip softened into a gentle caress, and he released it.
Without knowing why he turned and crossed the canal, headed east. He felt a telescopic sadness, knowing that the others would soon scavenge his abandoned things like vultures stripping a dead heifer to her alabaster bones. Nestling his left hand in his pocket, he gently traced the wheel of that last small, inherited thing, and was comforted a little. His pace quickened. The vibrations of his rapid footfall on the pavement worsened the itch on his head and with the untrimmed fingernails on his right hand he gently tickled his crown.
Having no particular destination, he decided to return to the winsome shade of the banyan trees on the outskirts of Kapiolani Park. Resting there would be like a happy homecoming for him, and there was no harm in revisiting old memories. His present life—the life of a wanderer—may have overrun his former life, as a creeping, noxious weed will eventually smother the beauty of a once-well-cared-for garden, but he was coming to apprehend the gratuitous transience of his present for the good that it was, not for the empty rambling it seemed to be, that he shouldn’t mourn for the past, his home, his family, his life as he had known it, for the present was not only full of the past but also the future. The present was the only thing.
At the park he found that some of the unfortunates evicted from the old strip of grass were reclining in the shade under their favorite palms, mesquites, and banyans. Sid greeted those he knew. He also noted an unfamiliar and mysterious family standing nearby. The family didn’t, as many of the long-time unfortunates, smack of dejected poverty, as if they had been evicted from government housing in the west of the city. Neither did they swagger with a rare, imperious, bourgeois air, like those who might have once inhabited a great sea-mansion on the eastern cliffs of the island, angels fallen from manufactured Paradise. They were blank. Sid was curious and wanted a closer look, but didn’t want to be a nuisance or disrespectful of the privacy they likely had not yet realized they no longer had.
The family wasn’t big, in fact there were only three—a mother, a father and a child—the Three Bears. They were a curious bunch, oddly stitched together and not the stuff of children’s tales.
Mama Bear was very fat with a slight hunchback, and she was drenched in sweat although she was both still and in the cool shade. Her skin had a greenish taint like stagnant water, and on her face was a look of irritation coupled with nausea that seemed to deepen in the presence of her husband. Papa Bear, on the other hand, was gaunt and nervous, shorter than his spouse by several inches, and looked as if he suffered from extreme exhaustion, or extreme fear. His expression resembled a marathon runner—or maybe a bowler—that just came in last place.
Unlike his parents, Baby Bear didn’t look unhealthy but was sun-kissed and round, like a brown berry. His head was bald with a curly black shock of fuzz about two inches long at the nape of the neck left unshorn. He hadn’t begun to stink as his parents had. Perhaps this was only because he was still partially unripe with potential for growth into a perfect symmetry, and had not yet fallen from the tree to the trampled earth either to become food for worms or rot from the inside out—the hearts of the young are pure, and perhaps the smell of decay on old skin originates from our aging human center.
The child’s face was streaked with sputum and tears from crying. Sid’s impulse was to comfort him, although he didn’t know which of the child’s needs was more immediate. Hunger seemed obvious, so he reached into his pocket to give the child money, no matter if Sid himself was hungry. He pawed at the crumpled bills and they felt grimy, as if with some gross contagion—he didn’t want to give the child something like that. Also, he reasoned, how can a child know how best to use it? Money is such a potentially destructive thing. Finally, he worried that if the parents found out, it might hurt their pride. They would become angry and, following that, one can only imagine.
Sid then worried how he must look. He hadn’t seen his reflection in several days, and he hadn’t bathed in many more. The child, in a state of elevated exhaustion, might be scared by his ghastliness. All things considered, Sid decided he should leave the three alone to do as they would.
He made to turn and walk towards Waikiki when the child began to cry again. There was something horrible about the sound. It wasn’t the truculent screeching one might hear from spoiled vacation-brats. Rather, it was something like the howl of an animal in a trap, helplessly aware of the seizure upon its useless leg. The parents were exasperated and momentarily pivoted from each other and the child, like inmates in a chain gang pretending to be on a tropical island, free.
Sid stood still. From his left pocket he seized the last thing he owned—the beloved, useless gift. There was only a short distance between him and the child; the shadow of a meager palm marked a thin line on the grass from the spot where Sid clenched the heirloom in his hand to the hill where the child wept. He stole softly towards him and, kneeling, extended his fist, slowly opening it to reveal the plastic prize. The startled child silently gazed wide-eyed at Sid the Stranger for only a moment, and in that moment Sid recognized that the face mirroring his own had awakened to the significant role it was intended to play in this impromptu exchange of an otherwise irrelevant icon. Unblinking, the child delicately grasped the gift—its forefinger and thumb gently closed, the remaining fingers outstretched like three stubby cinnamon sticks—and lifted it from Sid’s hand with latent gratitude. As it was raised from his palm a powerful vertigo swept through him. He shut his eyes tightly, and fell; at least, he thought he had fallen for he felt no pressure on the soles of his feet. When he opened his eyes it was night, and he was alone.

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