Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jul 30, 2021

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down To Halloween 2021 #93


Manesh Tahk stood in the food line at Pu'uhuluhulu, patiently waiting his turn to fill his plate. The buzz of conversations in Hawaiian stirred something in him even though he was Hindu.

Every word, big and small, seemed to take on a strange kind of life. His body felt the energy of the language radiate outward from every person who spoke it from child to elder. There was nothing like it in India, even though the tradition of Hinduism existed for nearly an eon.  The morning air was cool and electric, and it made him feel more alive than he'd ever felt since moving to the Big Island in nineteen ninety-five. Everyone smiled naturally with no other intention than to exude what was termed to be Kapu Aloha. It was infectious, and it lived in everyone and everything and had such power and compassion. Contemplating this fact, Manesh found himself tearing up as he moved along the food line. His turn finally came, and he wasn't really paying attention to what kinds of items were being piled on his plate.   Instead, he made eye contact with each person and graciously expressed his mahalo. Manesh looked at what food sat on his plate thus far before looking up at the next server. He barely noticed the broiled taro leaves she placed on his plate. Alongside that, she placed a large spoonful of steamed palm corned beef when he made eye contact with the Hawaiian woman. She looked at him twice, only because he was staring at her. Once everything was on his plate, she looked at him strangely and asked, "Is there something wrong?"

"No," Manesh caught himself just then. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare. It's just that you look like someone I knew a long time ago. Well, not knew, but met."

The Hawaiian woman smirked and shook her head. "That's a new one."

"Seriously, I'm not trying to be weird or anything," Manesh assured her. "I was up here in nineteen ninety-eight with Boyd Kealoha. He insisted on bringing me cause I'd never been up here, but I tried to talk him out of it because we were both drunk. He had a 75 Toyota HiLux that finally died; once we got here, in fact. Then this weird snowstorm kicked up out of nowhere. We didn't have cell phones back then, so Boyd and I had to tough it out. He was an old man, he didn't make it. I could barely keep myself awake because I didn't want to die of hypothermia. I'm pretty sure I was hallucinating, but I thought I saw a Hawaiian woman open the truck door on Boyd's side. She carried him out in her arms like a baby, like he weighed nothing. Just now, looking at you, you reminded me of her."

"You're holding up the line," the Hawaiian woman gestured toward the ever-lengthening line of people forming outside the tent. 

"Gosh, I'm sorry! I'll shut up now and go shrink into the sparse background somewhere," Manesh quickly excused himself to his 4runner, where his chair was situated right outside. He couldn't believe how he just blurted everything out to a perfect stranger. There was no doubt that she thought he was crazy, and soon, the Kia'i was going to ask him to leave because he must have made the Hawaiian woman feel very uncomfortable. If that was the case, her grievances were not unwarranted. Yet, there she was, standing right in front of him with a plate of food in one hand and a flask in the other. "Can I join you?"

Manesh shot up out of his chair and opened the back of his 4runner to retrieve a second chair that he normally used for propping his feet on top of. Setting it in front of the Hawaiian woman, he dusted off the seat quickly and set it under the tarpaulin hanging over his SUV. "So rude of me. I apologize."

"No need to. You didn't know you had company," she waved him off. "I'm Pauline. I work the food line every day but only for lunch."

"Manesh," he extended his hand, and Pauline took it, gently applying pressure. Her hands were cold as if she'd been handling ice or something. Or it could be because of the elevation of the encampment at Mauna Kea.

"God's mind," Pauline replied. "Don't freak out. I'm studying world religion at the university."

"Very impressive," Manesh pointed his fork at Pauline. "You had me going there for a second."

"That story you told me back there," Pauline moved some of the chunks of meat and salad around on her plate. "Maybe you should keep that to yourself, I mean, I took it for what it was, but other people might not. There's talk that undercover police and federal officers are lurking among the crowd. Especially with what you said about your friend? That gets to the wrong person. Who knows what might happen?"

"Boyd, yeah. His body was found a few feet away from where we parked. Like I said, we were both drunk. I feel terrible about it, luckily his family didn't hold anything against me. They knew how stubborn the old man was, but still," Manesh went quiet and continued eating his food. He stole a glance at Pauline, seeing how at peace she seemed to be. There wasn't a trace of makeup on her face, and yet, she was beautiful, regal, and filled with a kind of strength he couldn't put his finger on. "Forgive me for saying," Manesh began. 

"Don't say anything," Pauline cautioned her newly acquired acquaintance. "This is one of those moments where no one speaks. Instead, you enjoy the tranquility, the quiet. It helps you know how small you are in the scheme of things." A full ten minutes passed, and Pauline stood up and excused herself. "I'll take your plate for you since I'm heading that way."

"Sure," Manesh stood up. "Don't forget your flask."

"Mahalo," Pauline raised her plate while she walked away.


The next day after morning protocol, Manesh found himself eagerly awaiting lunch. The classes and lectures were compelling, to say the least, but every now and again, he pulled out his cell phone to check the time. There were so many things to do and so many people to talk with. Finally, afternoon protocol came around. Although Manesh was not a born and bred Hula dancer, he did participate but made certain that he stayed in the back of the line to not embarrass himself. The lunch line formed, and Manesh was having a lively conversation with an elderly woman from Oahu whose years were numbered. She expressed to Manesh that she had never seen anything like what was happening on Mauna Kea in her whole life. 

"This thing took on a life of its own," the elderly woman said. "It's not full sovereignty, we didn't get our kingdom and our lands back, but it's sure making the powers that be very nervous! If I'm lucky, maybe I'll get arrested! Screw TMT!"

Her name was Gladys Kuō, originally born and raised in Kauai. Manesh found the elderly woman's enthusiasm to be a breath of fresh air. When they reached the food line, he let the woman go ahead of him. He couldn't quite see Pauline, but as everything moved along briskly, he finally got to the last server, who happened to be a tall older Hawaiian man with long white hair and an even longer white beard. "Is Pauline not here today?"

"Who?" The man squealed.

"Pauline. Hawaiian woman about my height? She was here yesterday serving broiled lau kalo with corned beef," Manesh hoped his description was helpful.

"Broiled kalo leaf with the corned beef on the side?" The older Hawaiian man laughed. "Thatʻs backward! But no, there is no Pauline that I know of. This is all voluntary, some people stay, and some go. So, I couldn't tell you who was here yesterday or the day before that."

"Mahalo," Manesh thanked the older Hawaiian man and moved on with his meal. Returning to his seat in front of his 4runner, he lost his appetite for lunch and only picked at it. Gladys happened to find him and encouraged him to join her at the tent where everyone else gathered for lunch. He went almost reluctantly but was soon surrounded by such enthusiastic people that he nearly forgot about Pauline. Evening protocol pulled his focus from the beautiful Hawaiian woman which heʻd only spent a moment with, and soon he was caught up in the mana of ʻai ka mumu. In the late evening, Manesh found himself seated in front of his 4runner, where he checked his laptop for e-mails. Most of it was business-related, while a few came from his parents or extended family back home.  A group of people nearby were having an impromptu class on Kilo Hōkū or stargazing. The conversation was close enough to listen in a while, as he simultaneously caught up on work while online. Other than the lantern and the glow from the screen of his laptop, Manesh could see that the atmosphere around him was pitched black save for the clarity of the stars in the heavens. It wasnʻt long before he began to doze off. When he awoke, there was still the ambient sound of people talking to one another outside their tents or in the hobble of their vehicles. Otherwise, the late-night was quiet and very cold. Manesh made his way to the porta-potties, but they were all occupied. Although it was against the rules, he couldnʻt hold it any longer and managed to see a large bush not too far away. He made it in time to relieve himself, but he began to worry because it took so long. Surely, someone would happen by and scold him. Apparently, someone had, or so he thought. Whoever it was, walked slowly past him, heading out into the dark distance. His eyes were acclimated well enough to see Gladys Kuō, except that her hair was down and she was completely naked. "Gladys!" Manesh called out just loud enough for the elderly woman to hear him. "Gladys! Where you going?"

Finishing up his business, Manesh zippered everything together and began to go after her when he noticed another figure approaching off to Gladyʻs right. It was Pauline. The two stopped to hug and greet one another by exchanging the breath of hā and then embracing again. Pauline put her hand out, and Gladyʻs took it. The two walked off into the dark distance and were at once engulfed within it. Manesh backed off, believing that what he was witnessing was a kind of ceremony kapu to wahine only. The next day, Gladyʻs was unaccounted for. Manesh asked around, and people did remember seeing her and speaking with her, but beyond that, no one kept an account of her coming and going the night before. One of the protocol officers recalled that Gladys stayed in a car that sheʻd borrowed from her sister in Hilo. The officer knew this because Gladys was aware of a tent where all the kupuna slept, but Gladys politely refused. She said that she could not sleep in a space with a group of people she did not know personally. Aside from what Manesh witnessed, that was the last anyone would see of Gladyʻs Kuō. But more importantly, the last person to be seen with Gladys was Pauline.


Manesh was exhausted the following day, so he holed himself up in his 4runner to get some well-needed shut-eye. Unfortunately, the din of the ceremonies and protocol was not enough to keep him from nearly falling off the precipice into a deep sleep. Just then, he was jolted awake by the sound of the passenger side door opening and then slamming shut. He opened his eyes and saw Pauline climb in. She locked the doors and began taking her clothes off. Before Manesh could protest, Pauline was already kissing him and removing his clothes. She cupped her breast with one hand and offered it to Manesh, who eagerly took it in his mouth. Both hurried to get to the point where she could take him, and he could be inside her. However, at the same time, they were trying to make their heated pleasure last for as long as it could. In the after lude, the two lay there for a few moments, silent yet panting and trying to catch their breath. Pauline kissed Manesh one more time and then put her clothes on. While donning her socks and shoes, she gave him a long look and smiled. Manesh smiled back and quickly got dressed as well. While Manesh wiped himself off with his underwear, Pauline opened the door and left. He saw her in his rearview mirror, walking between a couple of cars and a van. By the time he was fully dressed, he had got out of his 4runner to follow her, but she was gone. "Dammit," he spat on the ground and turned to go back to his car when someone suddenly cut him off. It was a woman about his age but shorter, yet very solidly built. She wore a flannel top with jeans and heavy woolen socks with slippers. She wore her hair in a high bun. She was a dark Hawaiian woman with eyes so intense that no one could hold that glare for too long.

"Aloha," her voice was low and husky. "Iʻm Lei Lindsey."

"Oh, aloha," Manesh replied. "Iʻm Manesh Tahk,"

"I know who you are," Lei nodded her head. "You were with my father that day he died."

"Oh yes, I remember you now from the services," Manesh smiled.

" I recalled that you said you might have been suffering from hypothermia and that you thought you were hallucinating, right?" Lei was prodding and pushing, trying to see how much information she could garner from the Hindu man.

"I wasnʻt sure, but I thought I saw a beautiful  Hawaiian woman carry Boyd out of the truck and walk off into the snow with him," Manesh recounted what he thought he might have seen. "But Iʻm pretty certain that it was hypothermia like you said."

"It wasnʻt hypothermia," Lei assured him. "It was Poliahu, sheʻs our ʻaumakua. My daddy was already sick. His insides were all bussed up from smoking and drinking and everything else. He didnʻt bring you up here all those years ago because he wanted to show you the Mauna. He came to die. He just didnʻt want to die alone, so he chose you as the one to watch over his body until it was time for her to take him. And you, you saw it."

"I donʻt know what to say," Manesh shook his head, not knowing how to deal with what he was just told.

"Sheʻs here on the Mauna somewhere, I felt it for a while now. When I saw you at the last protocol, thatʻs when I knew hundred percent that Poliahu is here," Lei stepped and looked up at Manesh with an expression of hurt and desperation. "I want to see her! I donʻt understand why you got to see her, and youʻre not even Hawaiian! Sheʻs my family ʻaumakua and Iʻve been praying to her all these years and nothing! Nothing!"

"Iʻm sorry Lei, I really am! Iʻve wished over and over that it never happened and that Boyd was still here! But, if it meant my life, then so be it. Iʻd gladly trade my life for his," Manesh was beside himself, never expecting to break down so easily. He was a complete mess.

"You want to see?" The voice came from behind Lei. It was Pauline. Lei whipped around and looked at Pauline with confusion. "I asked you a question, do you want to see?"

"See what?" Lei asked nervously.

"Your ʻaumakua?" Pauline caressed the side of Leiʻs cheek, instantly turning it blue and icy. Manesh gasped and took a step back, nearly stumbling over his two feet. "Leave this man alone. I spared him that time because he was unwittingly made a death companion for your father when he did not know what that kūleana entailed. So, I let him live. Go home," Pauline whispered in Leiʻs ear. "Your time here is done." Lei turned to leave, and the natural color of her flesh returned. Manesh put his hands out in a feeble attempt to protect himself while mumbling incoherently. "I have no words of wisdom or the last speech for you. Itʻs the same as before. Everyone will think youʻre crazy if theyʻre not already a federal agent or HPD in disguise." Pauline disappeared into the throng of people either participating in or watching the protocol on the road. Manesh sat there dumbfounded. He left the encampment that evening. Two days later, he was on a flight back home to Andhra Pradesh in India. A week later, he was at a marketplace, simply walking around and not shopping for anything in particular. He wandered into a spot that sold a variety of rugs which were all boldly colored. It was a bit of overstimulation for him. He found a bench in a quiet courtyard where he enjoyed the peace and tranquility, never expecting to see Pauline sit right next to him. Manesh jumped back so suddenly that he fell over his own two feet. Pauline picked him up and placed him back on the bench. Pushing her away, he tried his best to calm himself and not cause a scene. Yet, he feared for his very life. "Youʻve come to finish me off like the others?"

"You misunderstand everything," Pauline shook her head. "I understand your love for Hawaiʻi, but there are so many things you canʻt comprehend. I didnʻt kill Boyd, nor did I kill Gladys or tried to harm Lei. Theyʻre my descendants, the two were fast approaching the end of their days, and they happened to be in their ʻāina hānau, the land of their birth. They passed on their own, and it was my kūleana, as it has always been, to escort them to the next realm. As for Lei, she has wanted something that she was not ready to receive for her whole life. She would have to die for what she wanted, and it wasnʻt her time either."

"I began to think that you were mad at everyone for invading your home, all that constant noise and thousands of people going in and out. All that back and forth conflict with the authorities, like you said," Manesh tried not to look Pauline in the eyes for fear of being disrespectful. She reached out and grabbed Manesh by the chin and forced him to look at her.

"I am beyond happy, and I am so proud of my people, descendants or not, like yourself. I would never harm my own children, and Iʻm not going to harm you, Manesh, because I know your heart," she smiled and framed his face with her two hands.

"But you and I," Manesh began.

"Yes, you and I," Pauline nodded. "Thatʻs something we need to talk about. Thereʻs still time for that, but right now, why donʻt you show me your home?"

The two walked through the marketplace with Manesh showing the snow goddess anything and everything about his home city. They strolled together completely unbothered by the humidity as they seemed to be encapsulated by a cool pocket of air.

1 comment: