Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Apr 9, 2019


AFTER LIVING A FULL LIFE, Emma Kanehekili, at the age of 86, was now near the end of her time on our earthly plane. 
It had been a while since she had gone for a routine checkup with her doctor but she began to feel out of sorts.  Suddenly, she could no longer do the things she liked to do or move in the way that she used to.  So it was Mae’s suggestion that she go for a checkup just to see if what her body was feeling was simply the onset of old age.

On the day of her appointment, Emma noticed that she was bleeding.  It had been years since she had had her ma‘i so she thought that the occurrence was quite unusual.  It began as a simple spot of blood which did not bother her severely.  She changed into another clean pair of pale ma‘i and soon she was on her way to the doctor’s office as scheduled.  However, she had not even driven a few blocks from her home when the bleeding began to spread at an even quicker pace.  She immediately returned home to find that her niece, Ka‘iulani, had not yet left for work.  Emma called the young girl to her car and asked her to bring out some wet towels to wipe down her car seat.  While the young girl performed this duty, Emma went into the house to call 911.

After cleaning her Aunty’s car, Ka‘iulani went into the house and found Emma almost slumped over while sitting at the kitchen table.  The girl quickly took Emma into her arms in order to save her from falling off of her chair and hitting the floor.

“Mama Emma!  Are you okay?  What happened?  Why is all that blood on your car seat?” Ka‘iulani cried.

“I think,” Emma said, “I may be terribly sick.  I called for an ambulance and they should be here shortly.  Do not say anything about this until the doctor tells me what’s wrong.  Do you understand?”

The girl nodded in agreement.

“In case it turns out to be nothing, I don’t want to send the family into a panic unnecessarily.”

In a short time, the ambulance arrived and Emma was brought to the emergency room at Straub Hospital.  Emma’s doctor came down from his office to see her and performed her tests there.  When he returned he simply told Emma that he wasn’t quite sure what the problem may be and that he would have to perform a few more tests in order to be sure.  Emma wasn’t buying it.

“Dr. Reyes,” Emma began, “I’m an old woman but I’m not a stupid one.  I’ve lived a long time and, over these years, I’ve come to develop an internal bullshit meter.  Right now my meter is ticking and it’s telling me that you are full of shit.”

Looking at her in the eye, Dr. Reyes asked, “Are there any family members waiting for you in the lobby?”

“Yes,” Emma said, “My niece Ka‘iulani.”

“I’ll go get her.  I’ll be right back.”

A short time later, as Ka‘iulani sat at her Aunty’s bedside.  They watched Dr. Reyes standing there uncomfortably as if he were fighting to get the words out.  Finally, as he spoke his eyes began to tear over.

“Mrs. Kanehekili... you’ve been coming to me for many, many years and I’ve come to know you as if you were my own mother so…”

Emma reached out and held the doctor’s hand softly on her own.

“It’s alright Dr. Reyes, just tell me straight.  It’s not as if we’re breaking up and we’ll never see each other again right?” Emma smiled.

“I wish it were that simple.  Emma... you have pancreatic cancer.  It’s at a very late stage.  Had we been able to diagnose it earlier we might have been able to catch it and…” Dr. Reyes couldn’t finish.  Ka‘iulani began to cry until her Aunty stopped her.

“You have no time to cry Ka‘iulani.  There is work to do.  I need you to prepare lunch for tomorrow at home.  We are going to have company so you have to make enough to feed the whole family, do you understand?”

Ka‘iulani quickly composed herself and took out a note pad from her purse and began to list a menu for the following day.

“I’ll make every effort to see that you’re comfortable,” Dr. Reyes said.

Emma laughed, “Ha!  There you go again bullshitting me!  I know what you’re trying to do Daryl and I aloha you for that but all that chemotherapy and tests and needles?  You may as well pull the plug now.  No, I’m too old and my body won’t survive that.  I’ll go with what dignity I have left and I’ll die at home.”

On the drive home, Emma instructed her niece to call her Aunty Mae, Emma’s older sister, and have her come to her house that evening.  When Mae arrived with her husband, Luther, she sat them down and broke the news to the two of them.  They were just as devastated as Ka‘iulani was earlier in the day and they received the same reprimand as the girl did.

“There is no time for tears, Mae.  I need you to call everyone tonight and tell them to be here for lunch.  Say that it’s an important announcement.”

“You know how your daughter, Dianne, is Emma.  Unless it’s about her, she won’t come,” Mae said.

“Then tell her it’s about money.  She’ll be here with her whole brood in tow,” Emma replied sharply.

Mae made all of the phone calls to the family while Ka‘iulani prepared lunch for everyone.  On the following day when the gathering was underway and everyone was well fed for the afternoon, Ka‘iulani had them gather in the living room where Emma was now sitting in her favorite koa rocking chair.

“Aloha mai kakou my precious ‘ohana.  Mahalo to everyone for coming here on such short notice,” looking over at her older sister, Mae, Emma said, “Thank you, Mae, for calling everyone.”

Her older sister smiled and put her hand to her lips.

Looking now at her niece she said, “And you my precious Ka‘iulani.  Thank you for feeding everyone.”

Taking a deep breath, Emma began, “Yesterday, I found out from my doctor that I have pancreatic cancer and that it has already spread too far and, as a result of that, I am beyond any treatment, save for the doctors giving me a shot from which I would never wake up.”

She gave her family a moment to let the news sink in.  A few cried quietly but many of her family were immediately grief-stricken and wept without restraint.  Mae held on to her younger sister’s hand as Emma regained her composure and spoke again.

“Because my husband Henry has long since passed, half of my money will go to my son, Thayer, and his family.  Thayer, you’ve grown into a fine man and a great husband and father.  Your papa would be very proud of you, were he alive today.  Thank you for being a good son.”

Thayer held on to his mother’s hands and cried.  Realizing the truth of what his mother was saying broke his heart.  She would never be there to share in his children’s first prom, graduation or wedding.  It was hard for him to take.  He was finally led away by his wife who lent him comfort as they stood in the corner of their mother’s living room.

“Dianne,” Emma looked at her firstborn daughter, “Your money will come to you only after you have proven that you can hold a regular job for a year.  I have an attorney friend who will see to the details of this.  He will get copies of your pay stub and the statements from your checking account.  He will make sure that you save some of that money to feed your family and pay your rent and other bills in a timely manner.  After that, you’ll get your inheritance and not before.”

Sitting on a large couch directly across from her mother with her newest born child in her arms and her seven other children hovering about her, Dianne was not pleased.

“Is this why you called me here?  So that you could make me shame in front of everybody else?”

“No,” Emma said.

“Well, why then?  Why the hell would you do something like this?  Thayer gets his damned money no problem!  Why am I made to suffer?”

“I did this so that you and your husband wouldn’t use the money I give you to buy pakalolo instead of taking care of your family.”

“You go to hell Mom!  You go straight to hell!” Dianne was furious and couldn’t hold her tongue. The room went silent for a split second but without warning Mae’s husband, Luther flew across the parlor and was nearly going to slap his niece for her open disrespect of her mother when Emma cried out.

“No, Luther!  Let her go, just let her go.”

Withdrawing to his wife’s side, Luther stared at Dianne with a boiling fury.

“Your mother ova hea dying and you talk to her like that?  You try one more time talk to your mother like dat and I give you one wallop!  Maopopo ia ‘oe?”

Dianne knew he meant business and could only utter a weak, “Yes, Uncle Luther.”

Dianne’s husband had become so emasculated by her over the years that he never quite knew when to step in or when to keep his mouth shut.  His timing was always wrong and he could never do the right thing in her eyes.

Glaring at her husband, Richard, she growled, “Thanks for defending me Mr. Weak Ass.”  Richard could only respond with his cultivated look of helplessness. Emma continued with what she had to say.

“Mae, this house will go to you and Luther.”

Mae could only protest her sister’s decision, “Emma, you don’t need to leave the house to me.  Luther and I already have our own home.”

“You two live in an apartment on Kinau Street, Mae.  You take the house.  It’s only right that you should live in the place where you grew up.  I’ll hear no more about it.  The matter is settled.”

Mae turned and smiled at Luther who could only nod in agreement with his sister-in-law’s declaration.

Turning now to her niece, Emma continued, “Ka‘iulani, my dear one.  Come.  Mai.”

With her arms outstretched, Emma reached for her niece who softly embraced her aunt.

“Ka‘iulani.  You came to me as an infant child after your father and mother died so suddenly in that car accident.  I raised you as my own along with your two cousins.  To you, I pass down all of our family histories.  Our godly and chiefly lineage, our spirituality and our hardship as people who are treated like house guests in our own land.  You have always done all that I have asked without complaining even once.  This is why I leave you my lei niho palaoa.  It is a true mark of distinction as an Ali‘i family who can rightfully claim their heritage.

“Our name, ‘Kanehekili’ is for the god of lightning.  There is an old tale in our genealogy that the god Kanehekili took human form and came down from the heavens for a short time and lived among the common people.  In his guise as a human being, he also became a victim to being flesh and blood.
He met a human woman and fell deeply in love with her.  They married and had a child.  That child grew up to become a great Ali‘i.  His name was Kanehekili like his godly father.  At the appropriate time, he was married to a pi‘o chiefess from Maui and from their children came the many generations of family that would eventually trickle down to myself and then to you.  You will find the box in my bedroom closet on the top shelf.  Bring it to me so that I can place it around your neck.”

Ka‘iulani held on to her aunt and cried even more by saying, “Mama Emma, I would much rather that you live several more years here with me instead of having the lei niho palaoa!  You keep it Mama Emma and you live, that’s all I care about.”

Richard whispered to his wife, “Isn’t that supposed to go to you first, being the oldest daughter?”

Dianne laughed out loud and now addressed her mother directly, “Geez, Mom you’re still holding to that old legend?  I’ve told you so many times to take that whale tooth pendant to the Bishop Museum and trade it in for money.  It hasn’t done anything for our, “Ali’i” status at all.  What a joke!”

“Can you just shut up and show some damned respect?” Thayer yelled, “Mom is dying and all you can think about is yourself!”

“Shut up momma’s boy,” Dianne countered.

“Shut it, now!” Luther interrupted.

While the heated feelings began to permeate the room, Ka‘iulani was already looking through her aunt’s closet.  The rectangular shaped box seemed to be a bit light considering what the contents were.  Bringing the box to Emma, Ka’iulani placed it gently on her Aunty’s lap.  As Emma removed the cover of the box and pulled back the wax paper, she saw nothing but an empty box.  There was no reaction on her face.  If she was upset, infuriated or mad with anger, she wasn’t showing it.

“Oh, my god, it’s gone!” Mae gasped.

The entire family gathered around Emma and couldn’t believe their eyes.  Dianne gloated and couldn’t hold her tongue as usual.

“I told you.”

“Luther,” Mae commanded, “Call the police and report a theft!”

Sitting quietly on her rocking chair Emma said, “It’s alright.  There isn’t any need for that.  Whoever took it is a member of this household but they are not true family.”

Ka‘iulani was confused, “How can that be Mama?  It couldn’t have been any one of us.  We’ve all been here in the living room the whole time.”

“There is no need for anyone to try and figure out who took it so please, everyone, be calm and don’t get upset,” Emma replied.

“How can we not be upset?” Thayer asked, “That’s a family heirloom!”

Putting her hands up as a kind of symbol to calm everyone down, Emma said, “Whoever took my lei niho palaoa will be at my ho‘olewa.  All of you here will know who that person is because you will witness it yourselves.”

“Mom,” Dianne said, “Now you’re talking all that heebee-jeebee stuff.  How are WE supposed to know who took your whale tooth pendant at your funeral?”

“Because,” Emma continued, “I will look that person in the eye from my casket and by that, the thief will be marked by the gods of our family.”

“It wasn’t me!” Richard exclaimed, “I didn’t take it, so don’t look at me from your casket for God’s sake, please, Emma!”

Ignoring her son-in-law, Emma took Ka‘iulani’s hands in hers and said, “At that moment Ka‘iulani, when the thief is revealed, that person will fall dead at your feet.”

With no further explanation, Emma stood up from her rocking chair and retired to her bedroom to rest.

The following Thursday morning, as Ka‘iulani readied herself for work, she stopped in briefly to check up on her Aunty Emma and see if she needed anything before she left the house for the day.  The old woman was fast asleep but she appeared too ashen and gray.  It was at that moment that Ka‘iulani noticed the odor of blood in the room.  As she moved closer to her Aunty’s bedside, she saw that the quilt blanket was matted down with blood.  Knowing that Emma had so few days remaining, she didn’t expect her to go this soon.  Even as she was overcome by grief, she managed to call an ambulance first before contacting her Aunty Mae and her cousins, Thayer and Dianne.

Arrangements for Emma’s services were made at Hawaiian Memorial Cemetery where they would be held a month later at midday when the sun sat directly overhead and cast no shadow.

The funeral home exceeded its seating capacity and it was standing-room-only where people gathered within and without its walls.  Flowers and wreaths were sent from numerous Hawaiian civic clubs and kanikapila groups that Emma belonged to.  Even a letter of condolence was received from the Mayor’s office where Emma had worked for many years and it was read as part of the eulogy that Mae delivered.

Mae recounted fond memories of her childhood with Emma and how Emma managed to keep her maiden name even after she married her late husband Henry.  Mae would say that it was something unheard of during their particular era but that Emma never quite followed the norm and had a knack for doing things her way or, as Mae put it, “Emma was just po‘o pa‘akiki.”

Thayer recounted his one and only “lickens” from his mother as the result of stealing candy from a local mom and pop store.  Emma marched him back to the store the following day and offered the services of her son in whatever way possible to the store owners.

“It was embarrassing for my mom because the store owners were also my mom’s classmates.  Even after I raked their yard and washed their station wagon and fed their chickens on the first day, I still got lickens from my mom when I got home.”

“But the part that Thayer forgot,” Dianne said when her turn came to speak, “Is when Papa came home and found out from mom what Thayer did!  He got worse lickens!  I shouldn’t talk though because all the lickens I got from Papa and Mom…  I deserved every one.  I was rotten, I really was."

Luther gave his ode of thanks to Emma as well, saying that it was Emma who would help Mae and himself to meet secretly when their parents had forbidden them to see each other because of his practice of pugilism, of which they did not approve.

“Emma Kanehekili,” Dr. Reyes said, “was the most hard-headed woman I’ve ever known.  She drove me crazy because she would never listen to anything I told her and it was utterly frustrating.  But being away, so far away, from my own home and missing my own parents, Emma always made sure that there was a place set for me at her dinner table whenever I felt homesick or whenever I just wanted to have some company.  I’ve never felt such unconditional love from someone who expected nothing back except for your friendship.  I’ll miss the smile that Emma always gave me while she was busting my balls at the same time.  There won’t ever be anyone like her.  I’m going to miss her.  I’m going to miss her a lot.”

After the eulogy, Ka‘iulani sang her Aunty Emma’s favorite song, “Ua Like No A Like,” which did not leave a dry eye in the house.

Emma also had friends in the United Japanese Society who came to her services and offered a lively Taiko drum performance from their youth group, after which a young Japanese boy came forward and offered a song in his native language called, “Haha Yo,” meaning “Mother.”

The services for Emma reached such an uplifting crescendo that everyone forgot about the old woman’s dire prediction concerning the thief who had stolen her lei niho palaoa.  Toward the end, the funeral director announced that the last viewing was about to take place and that, since there was such a large volume of people in attendance, only the immediate family would be allowed to remain to say their last goodbyes.  No one disagreed and all in attendance complied with the family’s wishes.

With that done, the pallbearers, Luther, Thayer, Richard, Dr. Reyes and Dianne’s two sons Haloa and Haluaola, were now at the ready to bring Emma’s casket out to the hearse.  Everything went smoothly without incident as the vehicle brought Emma to the top of the hill where she would be buried in an area facing directly toward the Ko‘olau Mountains.  The immediate family sat under the large green tent as Emma’s casket was being brought to its final resting place where she would soon be lowered into the earth from whence she came.

Ka‘iulani stood up and began to sing, “Ha‘aheo e ka ua i na pali… ke nihi a‘e la i ka nahele…”

Soon everyone joined in, “E ‘uhai ana paha i ka liko… pua ‘ahihi lehua o uka… aloha ‘oe… aloha ‘oe…e ke onaona noho i ka lipo… one fond embrace… a ho‘i a‘e au… until we meet again…”

Standing now as the casket was brought to where it would be placed on the hydraulic lift, the crowd of people wept openly after offering such a heartfelt tribute in song to the one person that meant so much to them and because of whom their lives would be a bit lonely now that she had passed into the realm of her ancestors.

A small gust of wind blew through the area as the pallbearers were just about to place the casket onto the lift.  In the next second, another wind-whipped suddenly through the gathering of people so strongly that it knocked some of them off balance.  The third wind was like a large fist toppling everything that was not nailed down.  It stirred for a moment and without warning ripped the green tent from the spikes which, up until that moment, held the tent down firmly in the grass.  The last wind seemed to specifically whip itself around the pallbearers in a miniature tornado which caused blades of freshly mowed grass to blind them and throw them off balance.

Before they knew what was happening, the men dropped the casket on its left side just at the feet of where the immediate family was seated.  The lid to the casket came off of its hinges and spilled Emma’s body halfway onto the grass.  Her head snapped suddenly to the left and caused her eyes to fly open.  Everyone was horrified to see that Emma’s eyes were staring directly at her older sister Mae.  Everyone moved back for fear that whatever was going to happen to Mae, might also happen to them if they were standing too close to her.  No matter where Mae moved, her sister’s eyes followed her.  Mae screamed at the top of her lungs.  Luther tried to grab her but she kept pushing him away, screaming at him to leave her alone.

Torrents of rain suddenly fell and thunder and lightning appeared practically out of nowhere.  Mae only had a second to stop and look at the dark clouds that formed directly above her in the heavens.  They seemed to be rolling furiously and forming into some kind of ominous shape.  The crowd that was gathered there were witness to the unusual events that were transpiring in front of them.  Now, a bigger, darker shape formed in the clouds taking the guise of a man wearing a mahi‘ole and an ahu‘ula,  Mae knew that it could only be one person, Kanehekili. The god of lightning.  She stood there frozen in fear as Kanehekili extended his right hand out to one cloud and then extended his left hand out to another cloud.  From both of these, he gathered lightning in his palms.  Looking directly at Mae, Kanehekili clapped both of his hands together and sent a searing bolt of lightning directly toward Mae which split her right down the middle.

A second later she fell dead at Ka‘iulani’s feet.  The impact on hitting the ground almost caused Mae’s body to slide off and separate into two pieces.  The only thing preventing that from happening was Mae’s shoulder purse slung across her chest, which served to hold her body together.  The lighting had torn a gaping hole into the bottom of her purse and there, as clear as day, everyone could see for themselves what the contents of Mae’s shoulder purse were.  It was the lei niho palaoa, fully intact and unharmed.


Later that evening, with Dr. Reyes to keep her company, Ka‘iulani read the letter that her Aunty Emma instructed her to open only on the day after her funeral services were completed. "It's funny," Doctor Reyes said to Ka'iulani before she began to read the letter. "It seems that during the embalming process, your aunt's eyes would not come away as they usually would during the process." Shaking his head he smiled, "Still hard headed."

Dearest Ka‘iulani,

If you are reading this letter then you must know that your Aunt Mae has been found out as the one who stole the lei niho palaoa and that of this writing, she is also dead.  As I have said once before, the thief is a member of our household but is not blood family to us.  There is a reason why the lei niho palaoa was given to me and not my older sister, Mae.  She was not blood to us.  She was adopted as a child and was never told about who she truly was per the instructions of our mother, Tutu Wawahilani.  Our mother was a kind and gentle woman who believed in sparing the feelings of others rather than hurting or insulting them directly.

 After learning the truth, I felt I had to be kind to Mae and perhaps make her feel more important than ever.  I did as much as I could so that she would never want for anything.  We did not love Mae any less. In fact, we loved her more.  This is why the lei niho palaoa could not be passed on to her. The lei niho palaoa was given to you because it’s your blood right to have it.

Please see to it that someone checks in on Luther now and again.  Oh, how he must be suffering.

Remember how much I love you my dearest Ka‘iulani.

All My Love,

Aunty Emma

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