Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Mar 20, 2022

Palani 2022

He was standing on the corner of Alakea and Merchant with what I first thought was a cane in his hand, but no, it was a stick, for lack of a better word because I don't know the correct term for the ones that blind people use.

But, after all, that's what he was. So, in my stupidity, I assumed he was waiting for that sound that came on just as the light was about to transition. His head turned at a very slight right angle toward me even though he was not looking directly at my person. "I'm Palani," his head bowed slightly. "And I believe that had I not been blind, I might have been much better looking than I am now." I laughed because Palani wasn't lying. He looked about sixty, and he stood at an even six feet in height. He was dressed in a designer aloha shirt and khaki pants with a pair of comfortable loafers on his feet. His shock of white hair was slicked back, which gave him a very distinguished look. He wore aviator sunglasses rather than the dark Marlon Brando ones from the movies. There were only two things that stood out to me, his wedding band and his watch. Then, sensing that I was looking at the Rolex, he said, "Yes, the watch. My wife gave it to me on our tenth wedding anniversary. Guess what I gave her?"

"I don't know," I shrugged. "What?"

"Stocks in Coca-Cola, who knew? But that's how we got rich," he chuckled.

"Are you on your way to meet her now?" I asked.

"Oh no, not now," he shook his head, "but soon. May I impose a favor on you?"

"Um, sure, yeah," I was hanging around the downtown area for lunch. I really didn't have any plans for the day, so I figured why not?

"I'm heading to the cookie shop just near here; if you help me get there, I'll treat you to any cookie you like," he was so whimsical and alive with a kind of enthusiasm one would only see in a child who touches grass or sand for the first time.

"You don't have to buy me anything, sir; I'm just glad to help out," so when the light changed, I helped Palani across the street, making our way to the cookie shop. The aroma was intoxicating; how could anyone walk past without turning right around and getting a cookie or more? We went in, and Palani placed his order and got us both chocolate oatmeal cookies and raspberry iced teas. We found a bench outside where we sat and enjoyed our confections. 

"Can I ask you for another favor?" He leaned his shoulder slightly into mine the way my grandparents used to do when I was a kid.

"Sure, favor away," I laughed.

" I can hear everything around me, but can you, as best to your ability as possible, describe everything you see?" he asked. "It would add so much more flavor to this cookie of mine."

"Uh, sure," I hesitated. "Let's see, um, I guess its lunch everywhere downtown. There are long lines at all the eateries and the coffee shops. Seems like people are in a rush not to be bothered, and it seems like other people are taking their time because they want to be seen? Does that make sense?"

"What you're describing is human nature and the drudge of everyday life, but what else is there? So don't just narrate," he urged me. "Bring everything to life; paint me a picture with words."

"There's a woman here not too far from where we are sitting," I nodded toward her. "Her coat, blouse, skirt, and jewelry seem like a burden. Like extra weight, no, not weight. Baggage, it's baggage. Her ankles are swollen, and her flats make everything more uncomfortable for her. She has long hair, and it could be more luxurious, but she doesn't care; she brushes it once in the morning, and that's it. She lets it fall where it wants."

"What about the environment?" Palani asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Trees, plants, the grass, and any animals?" Why would he want to know that? Oh well, he did ask.

"Every tree, plant, grass are all foreign. I would say there's nothing native here; it's all gentrified greenery, even the grass. The Ti-leaf plants don't last long because people pick them all the time for lei and other stuff. The pigeons are the A-list dominant breed here; every other bird fights for the scraps that the pigeons leave behind, and that's not much." A nice breeze filtered through the area, but it only stayed long enough to make its impression. "Even the wind feels confused because it would run through here unabated in the ancient days, but now with all these high rises, it doesn't know where to go or how to fulfill its purpose anymore."

"Everything you've described is painfully beautiful," Palani said. "What's even more painfully beautiful is that it will all repeat itself tomorrow and so on, and so forth."

I took a long look at Palani, trying to figure out who he was? But, no matter, I had to get on with my day. "Is there somewhere else that I can help you get to?"

"No," Palani shook his head. "But I can help get to where you're going?"

"Really? Where is that?" I asked with a smile across my face. 

"To the other side," he answered with his mouth slightly open. His facial expression told me that he was waiting for the lights to go on in my brain. But, when he smiled, he knew that I hadn't got it yet. "Rudy, if you go back to where you and I met, you'll understand what I'm saying." I don't know why, because I just met him, even though I don't usually trust someone wholeheartedly that I'd just met, but I went back to the spot he'd mentioned. As I got to the crosswalk, I saw a big crowd of people on the other side. The walk signal came on, and as I got closer, I noticed that the group was gathered around something. This thought popped into my head for some weird reason, "How did Palani know my name?"

The crowd parted slightly, and I saw the reason for their curiosity. The group looked at a body lying on the ground, dead and pale as a doorknob. It was my body; it was me. "It was a heart attack," Palani's voice came from behind me. I turned, and there he was. "Such a young age for a heart attack, but these things happen," Palani said ."It's a genetic condition in your family; all the men die of a heart attack at forty-four years of age."

"Who the hell are you, Palani? Really, who are you?" I snapped at him.

He removed his sunglasses to reveal a pair of lite-colored brown eyes and a gaze that took you into eternity. "Milu, the god of the underworld. It's not a bad place that you're going to; it's the realm of your ancestors. There's 'ohana there waiting for you."

"Why all this cat and mouse stuff? Why not just tell me?" I wanted to know.

"Some people are not ready to see me in my true form, so I have to make it comfortable and disarming for them," he patted me on the shoulder, trying to be paternal. 

"What about the cookie shop?" I don't know why I needed to know that.

"That shop closed down years ago, but I loved it so much that I let the owner think that's he's still running the business. It's his happiness, but in reality, there's no cookie shop anymore," Palani confirmed. No longer dressed in his local conservative outfit, he now wore a black suit and tie, but nothing on his feet. "We don't have to go yet, we can sit and have a sandwich and talk more, but I promise when we get to where you're going, it won't be frightful. People you love, especially your family, will be waiting for you."

So, we had some sandwiches and sat on a bench on fort street mall, where Palani had me wear his dark glasses. He had me shut my eyes, and it became his turn to describe everything around us. "The world of the living and the dead are one and the same, separated by a thin veil called life,"

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