Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Feb 5, 2022

Kekela 2022

1918 was when the influenza epidemic killed more than 2,300 persons in Hawai'i.

Yet, the tiny enclave in Hakipu'u seemed to be entirely unaffected by the goings-on elsewhere. Nightly, Kekela Oama waited on horseback at a stream a mile from his home. The black of night was only pitched until Kekela adjusted to the dark, and all was well. Wili and her horse manifested from the depths of the dark forest like a phantom in the night. Kekela went forward, and his steed crossed the stream to meet Wili, where the two would stay together until the early sunlight peaked over the horizon. Kekela owned a tract of land handed down through his ancestral line when the ruling chief of the area once portioned ahuapua'a to his lesser leaders in ancient times.

Kekela and Wili locked eyes while attending a funeral service for one of the eldest farmers in the area. The woman's name was Kapihe, and her time on earth ended in her one-hundred-and-seventh year. Many who came to attend her memorial did so with food and gifts of their own making. It was there that Kekela and Wili stole glances every once in a while until they stood not less than a foot away from each other where Kekela said, "I kēia pō Mahina I Maʻalaea, aia au i laila," he entreated her to meet under the moon that night at Ma'alaea stream. Wili nodded, and no more was said. Thus, their night meetings take place in the same spot. The two couldn't meet during the day as Wili worked for a Chinese landowner as a form of paying off her father's gambling debt. Sifu Ah Fong and his wife Mae sired five children together.

The wife was mean-spirited and attempted to be physically abusive to Wili, who reminded the woman that she was there to work off her father's gambling debt, but that was as far as it went. She would not be treated as an enslaved person to be beaten or bedded by Sifu Ah Fong when no one was looking. On that premise, although unheard of, an unspoken understanding existed between all three parties. The children, however, took to Wili very quickly. They were her constant companions; she taught them how to fish, hunt, and prepare an imu. She went off to her business at night and was present in the morning to perform her work duties. A day came when the weather was not favorable, and Kekela realized that he needed to let Wili know that heavy rains during the day might cause flooding in the stream later that night. He rode his horse to the Ah Fong property, where he lashed his horse to a Kamani tree and snuck onto the premises, where he attempted to get Wili's attention, but she was nowhere to be found. Returning home, he eventually came to the part of the Ma'alaea stream that led to his piece of land and was horrified to see Wili on her horse, with the Ah Fong children seated behind her and in front of her, clinging tightly to her dress. The stream had swollen over sooner than he had expected. Wili and the children would be swept away if he didn't do something soon. He quickly unhooked a rope from his saddle and tied a lasso. Throwing it out to Wili, she tied the noose around her horse's neck and screamed, "Huki!"

Digging his heels into his horse's sides, Kekela reared up, pulling the horseback repeatedly. They were nearly pulled up that bank when Wili grabbed each child and threw them off the horse, where they landed on the mud and scrambled up to safety. At the very last second, a large swell came rushing down the stream and swept Wili and her horse downstream in a fury. Not wanting to drag Kekela down with her, Wili quickly undid the noose and tossed it away. Kekela broke his steed into a dead run, trying as he might to keep pace with Wili, but the current was too strong and too fast. He couldn't keep up. Wili's horse would be found later, battered, beaten, and dead near the Moli'i fishpond. As for Wili herself, there was nothing. No trace of her body or remains of any sort was ever found. She was gone. Her father ended up working off his debt to Sifu Ah Fong himself. In due time, he and Mrs. Ah Fong ran off together and ended up in San Francisco, where they opened a foundry under an assumed Caucasian name. Sifu Ah Fong married a Hawaiian woman who gave him more children and more grief than he could handle.

Beneath the moon at Ka'alaea, Kekela waited at the appointed hour for Wili's specter to appear astride her phantom steed, where they would break into a dead run, and Kekela would ride after her for hours on end until the sun rose over the eastern horizon. This went on for years, which may explain why Kekela never married. I like to think that perhaps one night, while already far into his dotage, Kekela, and his horse crossed the stream, and rather than chase after Wili, he stayed where he was, unmoving. Maybe after taking off into the deep night as she would usually do, Wili realized that Kekela was not in pursuit. She'd return to find Kekela standing beside the horse, not on it. Maybe he appeared tired of the game and wanted no more of it after all that time. Maybe Wili nodded her head, and maybe Kekela understood, and with one great heave of breath, he mounted the saddle and sat behind Wili, where she buried her nose into the crook of his neck. The two gently rode off into the night with his arms around her waist. Briefly looking back, perhaps Kekela saw his old horse lying on its side, breathing his last. 

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