Authors: Robin Jones Gunn
Just before the plane landed, I checked my purse for the
papers with the hotel information. Laurie’s plane was to arrive two hours before mine. I guessed she already was at the hotel. I could picture her sashaying to the pool with a towel over her arm, sporting a new pair of classy sunglasses. The incognito princess. I couldn’t wait to join her.
My suitcase was cruising the luggage belt when I descended on the escalator to baggage claim and joined the swarms of people. Several women in Hawaiian print shirts stood with orchid leis looped over their arms and held up small signs, each announcing the name of the tour company they worked for and the name of the party they were waiting to greet.
I wished one of their signs read
and that a garland of fresh flowers would be draped around my neck. Months earlier Laurie and I had discussed whether we should order a lei greeting at the airport since it was offered as an option with our hotel package. Laurie said it seemed too commercial, and if we walked around wearing leis, everyone would know we were tourists.
I felt differently now that I was here. Lots of people at baggage claim were wearing leis. Men and women. Not all of them appeared to be tourists.
One short woman with skin the texture of beef jerky was bedecked with four or five strands of flowers. They made her look beautiful. Honored. Beside her, two round-faced girls jittered and hopped, orbiting around their grandma like twin moons with hiccups.
one of them said, taking the old woman’s hand. “Tutu, we have a new kitten.”
is a grandma or at least an elderly woman. My first Hawaiian word!
Pulling my wheeled suitcase behind me, I stepped out of the air-conditioned building and into the tropical afternoon. I couldn’t believe it still was daytime or that, in this place of light and warmth, the calendar read January.
A rush of warm, sweet air ruffled my hair and tickled my nose. A hint of diesel lingered but then came another brush of the fragrant breath. Closing my eyes and lifting my chin to the breeze, I filled my lungs. Something I’d read in one of the plane’s magazines came back to me. The quote was from an essay Mark Twain had written long after he visited these islands in the mid-1800s. “In my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.”
I smiled to think that the breath of flowers still rode on this island’s winds nearly a century and a half after Twain stood here and breathed the fragrant air. Perhaps this island paradise hadn’t been completely ruined with asphalt and skyscrapers as all the naysayers in Connecticut had insisted. The gentle, floral-laced winds still prevailed. Twin moons with pigtails still orbited around their tutus.
I liked Hawai’i already. Yes, I liked Hawai’i very much.
As I tried to decipher the various signs for the cabs and shuttle buses to find the one that would take me to my hotel, a large woman in a floral print uniform with a walkie-talkie in
her hand stepped up to me and asked if I needed directions.
I pulled out my papers and showed her the name of the hotel.
“Oh, Kalamela Makai,” the woman said. The Hawaiian words sounded like butter melting on her lips. She pointed to where a shuttle that serviced hotels would arrive soon and then offered to help with my suitcase.
“That’s okay. I can get it,” I said. “I need the exercise.”
“Long plane ride?”
“Yes, very long.”
To my surprise, she reached over and placed her hand on my stomach, as if I knew her and had invited her to pat the baby. Very few people touched my stomach. Ever.
“Take care,” she said, as though it were a blessing. I found her gesture warming and strangely comforting.
I also found my layers of clothing warm but not at all comforting. As soon as I’d walked the twenty-five feet to the shuttle stop, I peeled down to the sleeveless shirt I had put on under my big sweater hours ago. What I really wanted to do was take off my shoes and socks and slide my swollen feet into my sandals. But the shuttle bus arrived.
I was the only one to board. In such privacy, I decided to try out my Hawaiian butter lips by saying the name of my hotel. “I’m going to the Kala-mela-maka,” I said proudly.
He looked at me in the rearview mirror. “Kalamela Mauka?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
The driver maneuvered through the traffic on the freeway while slow Hawaiian music floated from the overhead speakers. The view ahead of us was of a once-green slope now dotted with hundreds of houses. To the right, the vast ocean stretched out like a field of azure blue, dotted with occasional whitecaps that looked like wild daisies.
We inched down a side street, passing apartments with bicycles chained to the stairways and lines of laundry drying in the freeway fumes. A few blocks later, the cab turned toward the ocean, and we were enveloped by shadows cast by all the tall hotels on the right side of the road. I guessed the beach was just beyond the hotels but couldn’t be certain. Not a wink of blue squeezed through the concrete forest.
Along the sidewalks, dozens of tourists swarmed like half-naked bees wearing their brightest stripes and trying to remember whose turn it was to go make some honey. I imagined that, despite being on vacation, they were so caught up in the city-ness of Honolulu that they hadn’t figured out yet how to relax.
Laurie and I will not go scurrying around like that. We are going to relax
A couple on a moped puttered past us on the left. The drone bee driving was nearly eclipsed by a buxom woman who clung to him. She wore a tight black tank top, short shorts, and a floppy red hibiscus flower behind her ear.
Aha! The queen bee is off on her Roman Holiday!
I couldn’t wait to reach the hotel, kick off my shoes, pull
on a pair of shorts, and go find Laurie lounging by the pool.
The shuttle driver turned off the main road and down an alley. He stopped in front of a faded stucco building. It looked as dismal as the crowded apartments we had passed along the freeway.
“Is this it?”
“Kalamela Mauka,” he sputtered. Nothing was soothing or buttery about the words the way he said them. He hoisted my suitcase and all but tossed it out the door. My feet were barely planted on the sidewalk when he pulled away, leaving me in a puff of exhaust. I held my breath and blinked in disbelief. This hotel looked very different on its website.
With unsure steps I entered the lobby. A single, downcast ficus tree adorned the small space along with two bamboo chairs covered in green and yellow checkered fabric. In front of me was an appointment window made of smoked glass that ran on a rusted metal track. I felt as if I’d been transported back in time to my orthodontist’s office. Horrible memories pulled my chin down, sucking my saliva and taking my next breath from me. Instinctively, my teeth hurt.
“You checking in?” a tough voice called out.
I saw no one.
Moistening my lips and reflexively making sure my front teeth weren’t clamped in braces, I stuttered, “Yes, I think so.”
The smoked glass window slid open with a sandpapery-metal shriek. A red-haired woman with a patch over her left eye stuck her face out at me.
“You have a reservation?”
I nodded or quivered. At that moment it was difficult to distinguish between the two gestures. “It’s under either Laurie Giordani or Hope Montgomery.”
“You sure?” the one-eyed woman asked after checking her computer screen.
“Yes, we made the reservation on-line. Laurie should be here already.”
“Nobody named Laurie has checked in. You sure you want the Kalamela Mauka and not the Kalamela Makai?”
“I’m not sure what you’re asking me.” I took a step back from the dreaded window. “I have the reservation here in my purse …”
I rummaged as the unsmiling woman leaned her neck way out, and with her good eye, took in a full view of me in my delicate condition.
Like a snapping turtle, she jerked her head in and slammed the window shut.
Come back in two weeks and have your braces tightened.
stood as still as the drooping ficus anchored between the bamboo chairs. I couldn’t get my feet to move even though a voice in my jet-lagged brain was shouting, “Run, Hope! Run for your life!”
Uneven footsteps came around the corner. It was she, the one-eyed, redheaded dental assistant. And she was pregnant. Very pregnant.
“So, when are you due?” she asked me as casually as if we were hanging out together in detention hall.
“Um, ah, the middle of April.”
“I’m February 10. I don’t know how I’m going to stand the wait. I’m crawling the walls around here.”
I didn’t check for nail scratches on the wallpaper. I believed her.
“Let’s see your reservation.”
I held out the paper.
She lifted the eye patch and appeared to use both eyes to read.
“Pinkeye,” she said, flipping her pirate accessory back in place. “Itches like crazy. This is supposed to help with the irritation.”
Again, I didn’t need to check for scratches under the patch. I believed her.
“Yeah,” she said, handing back the paper. “You’re staying at the Makai. Those shuttle drivers. They don’t care where they drop you. They get paid no matter if they deliver you to the right hotel or not. Here. Sit down. I’ll call a cab for you.”
I lowered myself onto one of the bamboo chairs and cautiously said, “I’m still not sure I understand. Are you saying two hotels have the same name?”
“Almost the same name. This is the Kalamela
is Hawaiian for ‘toward the mountains.’ ”
“Oh, I see.”
“You want to go to the Kalamela
. You know,
as in ‘toward the ocean.’ ”
“I didn’t know that.”
“How could you? You’re a
.” She disappeared around the corner.
I wasn’t sure what a haole was but guessed it wasn’t a good thing.
Reaching into my purse I turned on my cell phone and saw that it was “searching for service.”
“I know exactly how you feel,” I muttered.
As soon as my phone managed to bounce a signal off its mother satellite, I listened to my missed message. It was from Laurie.
“Hope, I tried to reach you at home before you left this morning, but obviously I didn’t succeed. Listen, I have a slight change in plans. I’m going to catch a later flight out of San Francisco. I think I should arrive close to seven o’clock tonight Hawaiian time. I’ll call you later. Can’t wait to see you! Bye.”
I called Laurie back. No answer. In the background I could hear my maternity sister on the phone talking to the taxi service. I looked down at my tennis shoes and socks and felt very much like the “how-lee” or whatever that word was she had called me.
As soon as the beep sounded, I left a message for Laurie with my hand cupped over the cell phone, “Hey, Laurie, when you get to the airport, find a taxi and show the driver your reservation papers. Don’t take the shuttle. And don’t try to tell the driver the name of the hotel. Also, don’t get out of the cab unless the hotel is right by the ocean and the lobby has more than one wilting ficus tree. Can’t wait to see you. Bye.”
A horn sounded out front.
“There’s your ride.”
That was fast! What kind of a racket do these shuttle drivers and cab drivers have going here?
“Thanks!” I called out to the shadow behind the closed window. I wondered if she was in on the scam. Shaking off my
paranoia, I said, “Take care. I hope all goes well with your delivery.”
“Yeah, same to you.”
The Kalamela Makai hotel was only four blocks away, right on the water. The minute I walked into the spacious lobby and caught the scent of tropical flowers, I knew this hotel had to be the four-star one Laurie and I had viewed on-line. I checked in at the desk without any problems and went up to our room.
I was delighted to see that the room was just like the sample shown on the website. The bedspreads were a kitschy Hawaiian print in deep shades of cranberry red, dotted with huge white hibiscus flowers. The walls behind the beds were covered in wallpaper that was exactly the same print as the bedspreads. It created an optical illusion broken only by the white wicker headboards that matched the white wicker dresser and corner chair.
One thing was certain: When we woke every morning, Laurie and I would know we were in Hawai’i. We couldn’t possibly wonder for a moment if we were in, say, Fresno or Toledo. We were definitely in Waikiki. Even though the hotel advertised that they recently had renovated all their rooms and given them the “retro” feel, it would take very little to convince me that, actually, nothing had changed since the seventies.
Kicking off my shoes, I decided to order a snack while waiting for Laurie. Room service recommended their island fruit salad, so I went with it. As an afterthought I added some
cookies. White chocolate macadamia nut cookies. And a glass of milk for dunking.
I unpacked a few items and changed into a pair of shorts. Opening the sliding glass door, I stepped out onto the balcony, which the bellman had referred to as the