Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Aug 22, 2022

Aupuni 5 2022

Tonight, mom is talking to me about spirits.

She's saying that spirits, as we know them, are wisps of smoke or half-torso apparitions because that's how the haole see them. "Spirits in Hawai'i are very different," she said. "When they appear, they look like you and me, so it's hard to tell who the spirit is and even harder to tell what the spirit wants."

"Really?" I was slightly amused by this thought process. "Like you and me?"

"In every way, they are exactly human like us, except for one thing," she smiled, but it wasn't a smile of amusement or fun. It's that kolohe smile she always wore right before she dropped a revelation on you, and you'd be gobsmacked. "No hā, and no weight in their body to tear the leaf of the ʻape (ʻah-peh) plant should they step on it. No, hulili, no vibration to cause the ripple on the water's surface in a bowl if they breathe into it. Not even on a mirror or any reflective surface,"

"It sounds like we should fear them," I said. "Should we?"

"Some are spirits who miss the living world and just want to be among people; they are harmless. Others are the ones sent as curses to hurt the living. Those are the ones we have to watch out for because, as I said earlier, you cannot tell who they are because they look like us," my mom eyed me carefully to make sure I understood the depth of what she imparted to me.

"Who sends these spirits as curses, though?" I asked.

"People, stupid, jealous, petulant, evil people," she replied as she sat back in her rocking chair. "Can you go down to the 7-11 and get some snacks for us, please?"

"Sure," I said as I stood up and grabbed my wallet. "Anything, in particular, mom?"

"Maybe a spam musubi and some chips; I already have coffee, so don't worry about getting me a drink," she reached under her chair cushion and removed a couple of twenty-dollar bills.

"I'll buy it for us, mom, don't worry," I assured her.

"K'den," she giggled. "My rich son, buying for his mama,"


At two twenty-three in the morning, the convenience store down the street from mom's house was rather crowded. I waited my turn in line as people paid for gas or a couple of drinks and then left. By the time it was my turn, the place was empty, and all the hubbub and palaver that filled the space only a second ago was gone. Finally, it was just the cashier and me. I placed the spam musubi, the chips, a couple of sandwiches, two instant Korean noodle cups, and raspberry iced tea on the counter.

"Is that all for this morning?" The cashier asked. He was a part Hawaiian, part Japanese local guy. Very articulate, and, by his looks, he appeared too intelligent for this job. Maybe he was the owner, or perhaps this was his part-time gig because he had an expensive mortgage to pay off.

"That's it for me," I replied.

"Twenty-three and fifty-two in change," he said. I placed the forty dollars in his hand, and he keyed in the amount until the register popped open and gave me my change back. "Sixteen forty-eight," he placed it on the counter and did not put the difference in my hand. But, of course, I was mistaken; maybe he was part Hawaiian and part Korean.

"Oh, Korean style, no problem," I scraped the change off the counter into my cupped hand. 

"What problem?" He answered. "You have a problem?"

"No problem," I replied. "I just know that in some parts of Asia, when change is given, they don't hand it to you; they put it on the counter. I understand that superstition is all." I grabbed my purchase and left, but this guy wouldn't let it go. He came after me, and I couldn't understand why.

"Don't come in here trying to cause problems," he had his finger in my face and stomped on my foot, but it was strange that it didn't hurt. In fact, I couldn't feel it at all. Then, mom appeared out of nowhere and grabbed the guy in a head lock. In her other hand, she had a wooden bowl with water, as far as I could tell. 

"Take this bowl!" She screamed at me. The guy was three times mom's size, but he couldn't get out of her headlock; she had him in a death grip. I took the bowl from her, and then she yelled at me to hold the bowl up to his face. When I did that, mom squeezed his head harder until he let out a gasp of air, his breath hit the water's surface in the bowl, and nothing happened. No ripples, not anything. "Slap the water!" Mom yelled again, "Slap the water!" It seemed like a ridiculous request, but I slapped the water in the bowl, and the cashier dissipated into nothing like he was never there, to begin with. I was stunned. Mom took the bag of snacks from me and started back home, "C'mon, we go home and have some snacks. That's it for tonight."


"I had my suspicions about that cashier," mom said while buttering her toast for breakfast later. "I had to be sure, so that's why I sent you to go get snacks. I was correct after all,"

"That was a spirit," I asked and tried to confirm all at once.

"You did good," mom nodded her head. "You better get some rest, though. The next lesson is about possessions. You know, the stuff you own that can be possessed, and then a person being possessed."

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