Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Sep 10, 2023

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down To Halloween 2023. # 50. Hauola. Pt. 3.

Eight in the morning.

People are filtering into the office in trickles, and some are running late. Leipili has only aged around the eyes and in the flecks of gray in her hair; otherwise, she is the same in stature and build. I haven't said a word, and neither has she. She's wearing that puakenikeni perfume that they sell at the native bookstore. I've been sitting on the other side of this desk since seven-forty-five. Leipili walked in at seven-fifty. Sitting on the opposite end, she's been typing at her computer ever since. Despite burying my emotions since Hauola's passing, I'm not feeling nostalgic. I'm not trying to establish a familiar connection without mentioning the obvious. Finally, she was finished with whatever task that needed her focus. When she turns her attention to me and looks me in the eye, she's filled with formality on the surface, but beneath the surface, there's more. "Hula can be transformative," she took a deep breath before she continued. "When I created this program, I knew that whether these women could dance or not, just the process of learning hula-the fact that it takes time for the body to adjust to the movements and the freedom you feel when you finally understand what the hula is about could only do good for them,"

"Then why didn't you teach them since you deeply understand it?" It was an honest question not meant to antagonize her.

She took in a controlled breath, regaining her composure. "I'm not a kumu hula. I have respect for tradition."

"So, out of respect for tradition, you thought of me?" I was just asking.

Now she was more direct but still staying calm. "You were the last person I thought of. Every other kumu I asked thought that the idea was beneath them and wouldn't give the time of day to these ladies."

"And look at me? Here I am because I have no choice but to be here; otherwise, I will lose my job," I said. 

Ignoring me, she opened a bottom drawer on her right, reached in, and removed her bag. Standing up and walking toward the door, she growled in my direction. "I have to take you to the facility to meet the ladies you'll be working with."

I followed her out of the office and down the long hallway. "You can give me the address so I can key it into my Google Maps,"

"We're not driving anywhere," she retorted as she pushed the down button to the elevator and stepped in. I took my time, not because I was being a jerk, but because I hadn't been in an enclosed space with someone who disliked me in such a long while; I wasn't sure how to act. "Please hurry, if you don't mind?"

The cart took us down to the basement and a door at the end of the dimly lit hallway. It was a tight space where your shoulders brushed up against either side of the wall, depending on how you walked. It was musty and smelled of mold. Leipili walked in before I did, 

"Aloha, Ladies, and good morning! We're all fresh and bright this Monday morning; seeing all of you is good!" There were five of them, and she hugged each one, welcoming them with warmth and her brilliant smile. When she was done, she had them all face me, and together they offered the oil aloha, or the aloha chant. They learned it by rote, not by feeling. Some fidgeted, others shifted their weight from one foot to the other, and one looked at the floor the whole time. If there was ever a gathering of human beings that were broken and beaten down by life, figuratively and literally, this was them. When they were done, they all retired through an open door at the rear of the space, where a large cart was wheeled out with a pahu drum and an ipu heke sat at the top. Under that were other implements, uliuli, ulili, a bucket of 'ili'ili, and another one with kala'au. They rolled it right up to me and then stood back, where I could see Leipili was about to make the introductions.

"No introductions," I put my hand up. "According to your specifications, I'm only here to teach hula, correct?"

"Yes," she answered. 

"I don't need to know anything else," I said. "Everybody line up, please. Two in the front, three in the back."

"Listen," Leipili began, but I cut her off.

"Hand me that ipu heke,"  I pointed to the cart.

"Can I talk to you for a second?" She said while walking out the door and down the hallway. I followed with an already prepared response in mind for her. "You're not here just to teach hula; this program is about healing through hula. You have to figure out how to make that work by the kind of hula you teach them, along with the chants and everything else. That includes lei, costuming, and huaka'i to visit and feel the places these hula are about."

"I can't do any of that shit if they don't know how to fucking dance," I deadpanned. "Go make the introductions so we can get started."


"I'm Lanai," the first woman said with over-affected aloha and sweetness. "Ten years ago, I was a Miss Aloha Hula entrant for my halau, but wouldn't you know it, came show time, and at the last minute, my kumu entered someone else from the halau because that girl's mother complained and cried and offered my kumu fifty-thousand dollars. So, he pulled me right off the stage in front of the whole Merrie monarch and put that girl in my place. It's taken me this long to bring myself to dance hula again," she cried, wiping non-existent tears from her eyes. The other women said nothing.

"Who was your kumu?" I asked.

"Rodney Rapoza," she sniffled. "Halau Hula 'O Rapoza,"

"This all happened on LIVE TV on Miss Aloha Hula night?" It sounded strange.

"It happened before Merrie Monarch went LIVE," she answered.

"When was that?" I had to know.

"Ten years ago," she nodded.

"It was 2013, ten years ago, and Merrie Monarch was LIVE on all three nights," I told her while pointing to the space behind her. "Take three steps back."

"Epi," the next woman introduced herself. "Like the pen." She stood about at my height, not thin but big-boned, with her hair resting on her shoulders. "I'll do my best to learn."

"Free," the next one said. "Same as Epi, here to learn and get better to heal." She was shorter, with reddish brown hair. 

"Malia," said the next one. "Full of problems and drama, and since hula is drama, I'm all about it," she shrugged her shoulders and smiled. 

Lueka was taller than all the women, bigger and very contained as if she were trying to crawl into her own skin and make herself small. She fiddled with her fingers and paid more attention to them than what was happening around her. Her voice too was small when she spoke. "Lueka, I've had hula before from my grandmother 'Iliahi Payne from when I was small until I got married. Then I ended up here,"

" 'Iliahi Payne was your tutu? I learned 'ukulele from her; she was wonderful! I miss her so much!" That was my first happy thought of the day. Wouldn't you know it? "Who took over for her after she passed?"

"It was supposed to be me," Lueka replied quietly. "But I got married, and I'm here now."

"Malia and Free take three steps back," I asked them nicely. "Epi and Lueka, stay where you are."

Turning to Leipili, I asked her to pass me the ipu heke. Once it was placed in my hands, I was suddenly transported back to that fateful night when some of the ladies asked me if a clove hitch tie was proper for a haku lei. The shots rang out from the parking lot, three horrible shots. The screaming flooded my memory. Leipili's, mine, and everyone else's as Hauola lay there dead. When I came back, I was on the floor, sweating profusely. My clothes were soaked in it. Great impression on a hula class who have come to heal from the trauma of their abusive relationships. Now, here I am, giving them more trauma. be continued

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