Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jul 26, 2018

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down To Halloween 2018 #97


Every afternoon I sit on the beach just near the first lifeguard stand at Ala Moana Park. I sit and stare out into the water, always hoping that one day, my son will magically come running up the sand completely exhausted and ask me if we could go get shave ice from the Waiola store.
I imagine that I can look at him again when he'd stand in line and wait his turn for his rainbow shaved ice with li hing mui. The expression on his face was pure magic as he watched the mound of ice in a cup being soaked with different colored syrups. That was the beauty of my son, he found wonder in the most simple things. Or maybe that's the disparity of being an adult? Your mind becomes so preoccupied with worldly matters that you miss the magic that's standing right in front of you. Other days I sit here and find myself wishing that I'd never met my son's mother, Estelle. Once Keaka was born, Estelle decided that motherhood wasn't for her, so she went after Braydon Pang, her first love. She'd never gotten over him. Years later, Estelle would only surface from the mire long enough to make an appearance at Keaka's funeral, publicly blaming me for my son's death. Braydon, the idiot, tried to contribute his 2 cents to her tirade but ended up having his jaw broken by a pair of brass knuckles that mysteriously appeared in my hand. I was arrested for assault and possession of a deadly weapon at my son's services.

It was quite a dramatic scene.

Mostly, I blame myself for the two seconds that took my attention away from Keaka, it was a business phone call that the office could have answered themselves. Keaka wasn't more than five feet from me playing in the water. A rogue wind came through the park and filtered down the sand and pushed my son's boogie board out of his reach. My son kept trying to grab it until the sand disappeared from beneath his feet. The water went over his head, and he drowned not very far from the spot where I am now sitting. I'm here every afternoon right after I clock out, staring, and regretting, letting it eat away at me.

I was fiddling with a few twigs in the sand near my feet when I glanced up to see a tall Hawaiian woman in a yellow and red bikini walk by. Without warning, she fell on the sand and started to scream, she was holding on to her foot and moaning in pain. I saw that she'd been cut under her big toe by a large piece of coral. I managed to get the attention of the lifeguard who came over and cleaned the woman's cut and gave her a nice band-aid. No sense in hanging around after that, I decided to make myself scarce, and I left. The following afternoon I was back at my same spot just sitting and staring out at the water. I hadn't been there too long when I noticed someone walking toward me from my right, it was the Hawaiian woman from the day before. This time she was dressed in Khaki shorts and a thinly zippered up hoodie.

"Hi!" She called out and waved slightly. "I'm the one with the cut foot from yesterday, I just wanted to say thanks for helping me. I'm Kalena."

"Kalani," I nodded and waved back. I wasn't in the mood for a conversation.

"My wound is a little bit better," she said as she lifted her foot to show me. "Did I introduce myself already?"

"Yes, you did," I answered. I started to tell Kalena that I didnʻt need company, but she already sat down next to me, "I always see you here in your work clothes, but I never see you swim. Is this someplace where you just come to relax after a long day?"

"No," I replied, mildly irritated. I already did my part.

"I see you staring out there all the time," she gestured with a nod toward the water.

"Yeah," I mumbled my reply, but she understood me.

"It must be important," Kalena offered. "Or painful."

"I'm sorry?" I'd only known her for less than a minute, and yet she's already trying too hard.

"I mean whatever it is that brings you here every day and takes you away in your mind," Kalena smiled sheepishly. "It's either important or painful."

"Listen," I had to take a deep breath so that the words would come out the right way. I didn't want to insult her, but I didn't want her hanging around either. "Thanks for the appreciation, but you're not obligated to hang out and make small talk. You don't owe me anything, we're good, you can go."

She was silent for a second as if she were also choosing her words carefully, "I didn't mean to intrude on your solace; I don't know the details, but it feels like you've got the kind of hurt that you can't cure on your own? I'm not trying to be nosy or intrusive, but it weighs on you, it's a heaviness you can't carry by yourself is all I'm saying."

I didn't reply, I mean, I could have told her to fuck off, but she didn't deserve that. She wasn't close to itching the surface, but she was scratching in the correct general direction. "I could stay until you want me to leave, or if you just want to go? I mean it's cool, it doesn't have to be anything."

We sat until it was time to close up the park, and everyone had to leave. HPD gave its subliminal warning signals by gassing hard on their quads so we could hear it. They rousted out the undesirables and tour vehicles before their lights came upon myself and Kalena. "Time to go, folks," the voice was stern, and I obliged, of course. I reached out to help Kalena up, and we both walked toward the 'Ewa exit of the park.

"Is your car here somewhere, or do you need a ride?" I asked her.

"I'm alright," she smiled. "I don't live too far from here, I can walk."

I couldn't believe what I was about to say, considering that I'd made a concerted effort to get rid of her earlier, "I can't let you walk home alone, not in this area. I'd feel horrible if something happened to you. I know it didn't seem like it with the way I acted earlier, but I am a nice guy."

The look she gave me at that moment was very disarming, it's as if I were looking at my mother who was trying to decide if I'd told her a lie or not. After a second, she grabbed my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"Okay," she said softly.


"Thanks for letting me sit with you," she smiled with her eyes. I didn't notice it until then.

"Thanks for sitting," I smiled back.

According to her directions, she lived at the Harbor Square Condos right off of Richards street. It was quite a distance from the beach park.

"You walked from here to the Ala Moana?" I was shocked.

"It's really not that far when you think about it, you should get out more and exercise," she laughed.

"Maybe," I chuckled.

We pulled up to her building, and she leaned across and gave me a hug. She smelled like Pak-Lan, the Chinese jasmine flower, my favorite. It was the second time that night that I was disarmed. We said our goodbyes, and she got out and walked toward the doors and waved. I waved back and drove off. That night was the first night in the years since Keaka died that I had a full night's sleep without any nightmares. I woke up in the morning fully rested, my colleagues at work didn't know what to make of me that day because I wasn't my usual mope around the office self. Even stranger is that I had my lunch in the employee lounge and not in my car like I usually do. At the end of the day, I managed to say goodbye to a few people that I don't often talk to. Getting to the beach and occupying my usual spot still filled me with a profoundly ingrained pain and sadness, but there was something else there, something new. It was a small bit of memory about Keaka that I'd completely forgotten. He was six years old, and he'd just polished off a full plate of macaroni and cheese. He was so proud himself because it always took a considerable amount of effort for him to eat everything in front of him, but that night was remarkable. I was so proud too, I picked him up in my arms and gave him a great big hug, and then he let out a skin slapping fart! It was loud and very smelly. Without even thinking about who was around me at that moment, I let out a loud laugh and found myself crying at the same time. I hadn't laughed that way in years, I didn't think that laughter was even possible anymore, and yet there it was.

"I brought a mat for both of us to sit on, and I made some sandwiches. I have a couple sodas too," Kalena walked up behind me and was dressed in a pair of shorts that had the old star bulletin design all over it. Her tank top was a soft orange color and complimented her brown skin. I didn't realize that she stood about the same height as I did, and I'm five feet ten inches tall. Her hair was long and naturally wavy, and she had a face that was beautiful and honest. Whatever emotion you received from her was the real thing and not a veiled promise. It was like this for the next several months, we would meet and sit together and have a meal on the beach and not really say much. Each evening I'd drop her off at her place, and we'd meet the following afternoon again at the beach park. Each day life becomes bearable, and each day I was more approachable at work and more open to speaking with other people at length rather than replying with yes or no answers. Each day a fond speck of memory regarding Keaka would surface through my pain. There were those hard memories when Keaka was sick, and I felt helpless. Then there was the first time I had to spank him; it bothered me so badly that I couldn't sleep the entire night. Then there was the day when he came home crying, asking me why he didn't have a mother like everyone else, I didn't know what to tell him. That was a tough one. Through it all Kalena sat with me every afternoon and offered her presence and her silent support, every evening we parted with a smile and a good night until tomorrow. Eight months later, after we exchanged the usual parting words, I suddenly found myself talking about Keaka.

"Four years ago, my son drowned at the beach park, I wasn't paying attention because I took a phone call." It just came out, I expected no sympathy, but Kalena got back in the car and asked me to pull up to the side of the drop off in case other vehicles had to pull up.

"What happened?" She asked as she took a deep breath and exhaled.

"I don't know, I wasn't paying attention. Keaka was there, and he was gone. I went in to look for him, and I found him floating, the lifeguards came and tried to………..tried to revive him….." The scenario played itself back in my mind, but verbally I couldn't continue.

Kalena figured the whole thing out, "That's why you sit there every day."

"I just think if Keaka can see….that I'm paying attention…. he'll forgive me." I wanted to break then, but I wasn't sure if it was something that Kalena wished to see, so I held it in. To my surprise, it was she who cried. I felt horrible, and so I held her in my arms and assured her that it was okay. After a while she managed to get herself together and apologized, she left without saying goodnight and disappeared into the building.


The next afternoon Kalena was already waiting in front of the lifeguard stand.

"Hi," she smiled.

"Hey, you got here before I did!" I smiled back.

"Do you mind if we take a walk today?" I got a good look at her, and I could see that she'd been crying. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks were flushed, but she was doing her best to be positive.

"Is there anywhere, in particular, you wanted to go?" I asked.

"Just around," she reached out and gently grabbed my shirt sleeve and walked ahead of me until we were both walking side by side. I hadn't really thought about where we walked, all I knew is that Kalena had something to say and that it was time to return the favor. "Years ago, my husband committed suicide, and after it happened, I was lost, and I blamed myself for it for a very long time. He was conflicted with what he believed culturally as opposed to what his family believed religiously. I was very staunch in regards to my cultural practice as a Hawaiian, and I told him that there was no compromise and that I wasn't going to change because of what his family wanted. I was selfish, I didn't realize just how great the two ends tugged at him. One Sunday, he agreed to attend church with his family, and while on his way toward the door of the church with the rest of his ohana and the pastor waiting to greet him, he took his own life. I carried that guilt with me for a very long time until I saw you one day sitting on the beach by yourself. I recognized the look in your eyes because it was the same feeling, the same emotion that festered deep inside me, which must have given me the same appearance. As luck would have it, I stepped on a large piece of coral and cut my foot. When you came to help me, I thought that If I could help you through your pain that I'd be helping myself heal at the same time, but...."

"But...?" I repeated her last word as a way to urge her to continue.

Instead, she removed an envelope from her pocket and put it in my hand. "Please promise me that you won't read this until you get home, okay? Please?"

"Sure, I promise," I was bewildered, I didn't know what to think.

"Just please, please know that if I knew you back then, on the day that your son drowned, I would have saved him because that act alone would have saved me." She stepped forward and held on to me for a long time while her body shuddered with tears. Then she let go and looked deep into my eyes and kissed me. "The heart of any man rarely calls out to me, but yours did. You'd give your own life for your child if it meant he could live again, I know that now. Thank you for reminding me."

She walked away with her hands in her pocket and her head down. Crossing the street in front of the McCoy Pavillion, she headed toward the beach and eventually faded into the darkness behind the trees near Kewalo Basin.


It was easy to understand why I never saw Kalena again after that day. She was merciful by sparing me her presence once I gained the knowledge of what was in the envelope. She knew I'd never see her the same way and that there would always be this fear that would prevent me from ever being myself in front of her. I don't go back to the beach park anymore because there's no need to, I've reconciled with my guilt and learned to forgive myself. I'll see Keaka again one day, but at present, I need to move forward and live.

The envelope contained an ancient article from a Maui newspaper; it was printed in Hawaiian, but in the envelope was a separate sheet of yellow steno-pad paper with the English translation written on it. It had to be Kalena's handwriting because it was old Spencerian calligraphy, but it was done with bold strokes and sweeping curves. Loosely translated, the article spoke of a man named Kaha from Nahiku, who everyone said was part human and part shark. As time went on and the new religion seeped through the islands, his Kahu or his caretakers became Christian, and they eventually abandoned their practice of feeding their shark god. The old newspaper article states that against the better wishes of his wife, who was also rumored to be a shark, Kaha agreed to meet his caretakers at a church in Wailuku. The carriage ride from Nahiku started out the day before Sunday, but when the caretakers arrived, they claimed that Kaha was already waiting outside the entrance of the church. Witnesses claimed that a significant conflict must have arisen within the man because he began to wretch and contort on the entranceway to the church door. They claimed that he fell dead on the grass, caught between his form as a shark and his form as a man. A high scream rang out at that moment, and everyone turned to see Kaha's wife Kalena standing without the gates of the church. Defying the power of the new god, the woman destroyed the entrance of the church and single-handedly bore his body into the waters of Kahului, where they sank into its murky depths never to be seen again.

"Thank you for letting me heal at your side," the note said. "Kalena."

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