Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jul 22, 2016

100 Nights 'til Halloween, "Obon"

The Bon Dance, in all of its poetic beauty and the mish-mash of Hapi coats, kimono, and driving drum beats with the high shrill bamboo flutes screaming above the din, captures and hypnotizes the minds of its human participants. For me, it’s not a poetic romanticizing of the end of summer, it’s work. It’s work that has me here watching; they’re hiding among the hoard of people being driven by the mad thundering cadence of Taiko drums and the sing-song voice of its hostess. What better place for a ghost to blend in than at a Bon dance sponsored by an entire community?

It’s about eight in the evening, and the humidity hasn’t let up, but the sudden whiff of the isotopic atmosphere tells me that the show is about to begin. I make my way to the second floor of the parking garage at the Moi‘ili‘ili community center so that I can have a better vantage point. The musicians in the Yagura tower are huddled together, making a kind of music that makes the dancers move in a circle around the red and white edifice. The Chochin lanterns hang stoically from above; unmoved and bored by their singular yearly task, which resigns them to watching sadly as lines of people front the Choba to make donations on a slip of paper. Some take small Tenugui towels for their children while others ignore them completely as they make a beeline toward the dancing throng of people. Many Uchiwa fans are used as props for some dancers, and yet others need them to stave off the unmerciful heat.

There’s only one thing missing, the dead.

The excitement of the festivities intensifies as more people arrive. The concession stands are running out of food and drink, but the musicians haven’t once come up for air; in fact, they are going stronger than before. The atmospheric aroma has also become more pungent; however, I have not seen anything out of the ordinary.

“Sir,” I hear a voice from behind me. It’s security. He looks like he’s at the retirement age, tall, gaunt local Japanese guy. With him is an older Japanese woman about his age that is dressed in a pink and white Kimono. With her are two little Japanese girls, each dressed in happi coats. They’re snacking on Andagi in one hand and are holding small red peony lanterns in the other. “How come you’re not down there with everyone else having fun?”

“It’s too humid,” I tell him, “I’m just enjoying the sight of it if you need me to leave. I can go.”

“Oh no worry,” he waves me off, “All the real troublemakers are across the street at the bar, and they don’t start making trouble until after the bar closes.”

He stands next to me and takes in the sight of all the music and all the colors. He inhales ever so slightly, and a smile comes across his face.

“I grew up on Kaua’i, and every year during Obon when we would have the dances at the Hongwanji, the Hawaiians would come to join us and bring their Kulolo. Ooooh was so ‘ono I tell you. Of all the things I miss when I see this kine Bon dance, I miss the Kulolo,” he said.

“Wow,” I begin, “You’re making me hungry now.”

“Oh,” he chuckled, “Sorry, anyway, I go leave you alone, my shift pau, so I have to get my wife and granddaughters home.”

He walks away, and his wife gives me a slight bow of her head and a smile. The two little girls are oblivious to anything else except their delicious donut hole desserts. They head up the ramp to the upper floor, and I call out to him, “Nice meeting you!”

He continues walking, and without turning around, he extends his hand upwards and waves back; initially, I assumed that it was because he was so tall that his stride carried him up the ramp a lot faster than usual. It wasn’t until I looked at his feet that I realized that there weren’t any feet; everything below his knees dissolved into thin air. It was the same for his wife and granddaughters, no feet at all. Just thin air as they floated up the parking ramp. Before I could do anything, they popped out, and they were gone.

They were the one and only ghosts that made a show for the rest of the night; otherwise, the smell of the rain that never came disappeared at the same time that they did, and that was it. The rest of the night was quiet, and the humidity went away. It was replaced with a calm, soothing breeze that came from the back of Manoa Valley. You could literally see the crowd of people breath a sigh of relief once the comforting winds filtered through the celebration.

They’re getting smarter every year these Bon dance ghosts; it’s getting so that you can’t tell who the spirits are anymore. Once I think I’ve got it figured out, they come up with something new and start to look like you and me.

100 Nights ‘til Halloween!

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