Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Feb 17, 2022

Nobody 2022

He was our tormentor.

John Lundsey. He forced us to give him our lunch money every day. Eventually, we figured out if we earned good behavior points, we could work in the cafeteria and not have to give up our lunch, and we'd still have money. John was more intelligent than we thought; he figured out he ruse, so he hid behind the garbage bins one day and waited for us. He blindsided James with a right cross that caught him flush on his cheek. His knees went out from under him, and James crumpled to the grinder. John used that momentum to throw a roundhouse kick with his left leg. I caught it under my arm and pushed John hard, and he landed on the back of his head.

I picked James up, and we went running but not before I let James get in a few good kicks first. The following day, Mrs. Ruth was waiting for us in front of our homeroom. She was in her hairnet and apron. She saw everything that happened the day before, but by the time she'd come running out, it was all over, and we were gone. "That kid lives next door to me by Saint Joseph school. He's a spoiled little shit, but now that you hurt him, he's gonna come after the two of you even worse," she said. Then, she took out two billy clubs from the inside of her apron.

"There's one of him and two of you," she continued. "I hate seeing that kid pick on everybody; something has to be done. You hit him at the base of the skull; that should do the trick. He'll never bother you again. Be ready," Mrs. Ruth cautioned. "He's gonna come after you when you least expect it." After Mrs. Ruth gave us a friendly pat on the shoulders and went to the cafeteria, James and I decided that it was feasible for our physical health to cut school and wait John out. But not at school; he usually took the back route to school at Awalai street. The second John made the intersection at Waipio access. We rushed him and beat him senseless, he tried to run, but he was already disoriented. James hit John right where Mrs. Ruth had recommended, at the base of the skull. Once John hit the ground, we briskly walked back onto campus and went about our day of school. The police and ambulance showed up once someone saw John Lundsey lying there battered and bleeding. Time went by, and a month later, the police arrested James in his home economics class for battery and attempted murder. I didn't find out until second recess. I found out later on that HPD didn't come after me because Jame's face was the only one that John saw, so he identified only one assailant in the line-up. For some reason, James never named me as an accomplice. He went to prison for twenty years; he was thirty-six years old when he came out of lock-up. John turned his life around and opened Lundsey Ministries all those years later. He was the head pastor who headed up charitable events in the community. His inter-faith organization welcomed people of all beliefs and all walks of life. The membership was huge, and John became the most humble man you ever had the pleasure to meet. I was nobody, just a man with a wife and two kids, a good state job, and a house we bought when it was the right time to buy before the cost of living in Hawai'i went through the roof. At this point in the story, you're wondering if, after twenty years in jail, James Benvolio came after Paster John Lundsey, or did he go after me, mister Travis Higa, the nobody who never once paid him a visit in jail? 

~

Pastor John's church was an old proscenium-style theater where the entrance to the space came from a short tunnel. The tunnel was converted to office and studio spaces and a mini-kitchen. It was quite the dramatic setting when Pastor John gave a sermon. Otherwise, leaders of other faiths had access to the proscenium on their days, but overall, Pastor John ran everything. His compelling and inspiring message advocated his belief that we were all headed to the same mountain no matter what direction we might have come from. Therefore, no matter what or who we believe in, we should all support one another in our journey to get to the mountain rather than impede it. "Why is our differences anyone's business?" He'd say. "We're all going the same way; why not help a Muslim or a Buddhist, or a Christian, or Catholic, or a Jewish person get to where we're going? It would be stupid to harass or trouble that person because we're going to meet them when we get to the mountain, and man, aren't we going to feel stupid? Am I right? We have to get over ourselves; we have to get out of our own way." He had them rapt, that's for sure. It's quite an intoxicating message; how could you not follow this man? After his sermon, it was inspiring to see how everyone wanted to talk to him or at the very least touch him or be in his presence.

Who could blame them? As he did all the years in high school, I did, too, the same thing. I hid behind a garbage dumpster at the back of the church and waited for him. When he finally emerged, he walked up to a used Lexus and opened the trunk. In it, he placed his backpack and laptop bag as well. He closed it, and while on his way to open the door to his car, I met him halfway and cut him off. He was startled but jovial and not at all put-out. "Oh, sorry, my friend, you surprised me; how can I help you?"

"It's me, John, Travis Higa," I stared at him until it all registered.

Shaking his head, he replied. "Travis, man, all these years, I wondered what happened to you. I couldn't find you; all this time, I've needed to talk to you, man."

"Why? I mean for what?" I was confused, considering the circumstances.

"I needed to apologize to you for how I treated you and James back in high school. It seems weird, and maybe it doesn't make sense, but what James did saved my life and changed it. That's why I started this interfaith ministry because it all stems from that day, so thank you, Travis, thank you!" He stepped forward and hugged me. His body shook while he cried tears of regret and, now, absolution. "I understand that James got out recently? I've tried so many times to go and see him in prison, but he refused, and I can understand that I can. But is there a way that I can talk to him now, Travis?"

"John, on that day, when all that shit happened, you were delirious because of the beating, which is why you think you only saw James there. But I was there too, me and James, we had enough of you beating us up, taking our money. So that day when I pushed you to the ground, and you hit your head, we knew, we just knew that you were gonna come after us, so we had to stop you," I told him.

"I know," John smiled. "I know."

This didn't make sense; there was no way he could have known what our plan was. Right then, an older but softer, Mrs. Ruth came walking out of the theater's back door and joined John Lundsey at the car. "Oh my god, is that Travis Higa?"

"What the fuck?" I couldn't help it, pastor, or not.

"Mrs. Ruth showed up one evening attending my sermon and after she asked if she could talk to me privately in my office. She confessed everything and begged me for forgiveness; it had been wearing on her soul all that time. So, in giving you and James those billy clubs, I forgave her, the same way that I've been waiting to forgive you and James."

"I'm not here for forgiveness John, I'm here for the same reason that James and I were there all those years ago, to stop you," I looked at Mrs. Ruth and told her, "I'm sorry you had to be here Mrs. Ruth."

I removed the gun from my jacket pocket and shot both of them right through the heart. John went down in a heap, Mrs. Ruth tried to run, but she didn't make it far. 

~

I found James working at an upscale wine bar in Mc Cully called California Vineyard. He was a dishwasher. It paid fourteen dollars an hour which really wasn't that bad. He lived a block away in a one-bedroom studio, and for the most part, he kept his head down, didn't bother anyone, and did what he was told. He was on his own, he was an only child, so there weren't any siblings he could stay with. His parents, Gloria and Rogelio Benvolio died while he was in lock-up. His shift started at six, and he usually took his break at eight or whenever the rush died down. Since he lived a block away, he went home and prepared his own dinner. After work, he usually went to the noodle place on South King before calling it a night. One evening, I made reservations at the California Vineyard and asked for a booth in the corner.

Which surprise of all surprises was open. As a rule of thumb, Wine bars are illuminated with low lighting, which makes it very difficult to see. But, seeing James in his white shirt, jeans, and apron going into the bathroom was not difficult in the least. I followed him in and found him at the stall. He looked down the whole time, not once raising his eyes until he went to wash his hands at the sink. "James," I used my inside voice while removing the gun from the back of my waistband. He looked up at me from the mirror, we made eye contact, and he continued washing his hands until he was done. Then, he turned and looked me in the eye like he'd just seen me yesterday.

"Are we going to have a problem?" I asked.

"I just wanna go on with my life," he said. "I no like boddah nobody, and I no like nobody boddah me. Whatever happened before, it's pau; I'm done with it. Das good enough for you, or you like do something?"

"I have a wife and kids, a job, and a house, and I'm nobody," I replied. "I want to live the rest of my life being nobody, you understand?"

"Same thing with me," he agreed. "Except, I no get what you get, but I like be nobody too."

"My parents disowned me," I began choking up. "They kicked me out, everything I have I had to struggle for, and I'm not going to lose it! So you make fucking sure that you stay a nobody just like me, alright? Don't try to be a hero like John and Mrs. Ruth."

"Like I said, brah, I'm nobody too," James walked out and went back to the kitchen to wash dishes. I put the gun back in my pocket and sat down to finish my meal. I sat in my car after and cried for a good twenty minutes. Then, finally, I cleaned myself up and pulled onto Algaroba street, where I made a right turn on Hau'oli until I came to South King. I couldn't wait to get back home and be a good husband to my wife and a great dad to my kids. But what I was looking forward to the most was being no one to the world. I was good at that, and I wasn't going to let anyone take that from me.











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