Keola drove his pickup with his arm slung out of the window. The breeze on his arm felt good, after going so long only dreaming about it. He stopped at a light in the small beach town. His head was clear, and that was a great feeling. He closed his eyes and inhaled, smelling the beach.
A beat-up, white van pulled up next to him, playing loud Hawaiian reggae music. Yes I’m a ganja planter! Call me the ganja farmer! Keola peered over his ripped and faded passenger seat to spy his old friend Wiki. Keola knew him all too well.
Wiki leaned out of his open window, spewing some sort of smoke out of his mouth, “Eh, Keola! Howzit brah?”
Keola was both happy and anxious to see his old friend. After all, if the past year had shown anything, it was that Tutu was right all along. Wiki was a bad influence on everyone, but especially someone like Keola, who twisted in the wind, going with whatever was going on, right or wrong. Do the right thing, Keola. Don’t forget who you are, Keola. Don’t forget where you came from and what you stand for, Keola. Yes, Tutu was always right. But these are the things you say to yourself, which never seem to get relayed into actions as life unfolds all too quickly. Keola answered as he always did, “Howzit, Hawaiian?”
“Keola, good to see you! You a free man! What’s that feel like, Free Man?!”
“Feels like a new day, brah.”
The light turned green and Wiki let his foot off of the brake. His van creaked as it rolled forward. “Eh! Headed to da beach. Come on down!”
Keola knew what headed to the beach meant. Now? Just when I got my life back? Just when I got back on track? Now?
“I can’t! I gotta go home…”
Wiki didn’t listen for his reply, but simply pushed his old friend toward a familiar path. “See you there!”
Keola stood motionless at the light as he watched Wiki pull away. “Shoot.”
Keola’s pickup crushed sand as he inched forward, finding a parking spot at the beach. He viewed Wiki’s van, gently spewing smoke from the cracked windows. He coached himself. What are you doing? Just saying hi to an old friend, that’s all. There’s no harm in that.
The parking lot was laden with cars strewn about like toys that hadn’t been picked up. They were full of teenagers smoking pot or drinking, and older people doing the same, whose lives had simply continued on their derailed course that they embarked on as teenagers. This was Wiki’s category.
Wiki rolled down the window to his empty passenger seat. “Eh, Keola! Get in here! Smoke a bowl, bruddah! It’s been a long time!”
“I don’t do that anymore. I’m on parole.”
“Aw! Parole? Come on! I know you been waiting a long time, brah.”
Keola looked up and down the dark beach. There was no one there, at least no one who would care in the least that he was doing something he shouldn’t. Just one, he thought. It won’t hurt to just have one.
“Ok, just one for old times’ sake. Den I gotta go.”
“That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” Wiki replied.
Keola opened the front door to the van and pulled himself in with a hand on the top of the cold metal roof. A rush of familiarity washed over him. This was his place, his second, dysfunctional home, which he had occupied so many times. It was familiar and comfortable, a thought which made him suddenly sick to his stomach. This is wrong. This isn’t me anymore. But these are the things you say to yourself, which never seem to get relayed into actions as life unfolds all too quickly. Keola shook hands with Wiki in the Hawaiian style.
Wiki handed Keola the small pipe packed with marijuana. Keola face glowed red as he heard the familiar crackle of the plant burning as he dragged on it.
Keola handed the bowl back to Wiki. Wiki smiled, “Nice, huh?” Keola nodded and exhaled smoke.
Keola heard giggling from the back of the van. Keola craned his neck around the corner of the seat to peer into the darkness. “Somebody back there?” His little brother Kimo and his eighth grade schoolmate Koa sat on bean bag chairs in the back, both high.
“Eh! Kimo! What you doin’ in here with this loser?!”
Wiki knew it was the truth but objected on principle, “Hey!”
Kimo laughed the high-pitched, crazy laughter that accompanies being high. “Same as you, brother!” Koa joined him in the cackling laughter.
Keola grew angry, “Go home! Does Mom know where you are?”
Kimo mimicked his older brother, “Does she know where you are?”
Wiki was always the peace maker, the happy-go-lucky pot guy. As long as everyone was together, smoking weed, listening to the ocean and Hawaiian reggae, everything was in its perfect place. “Come on, everybody. No fight in da Peace Van. K?”
Keola was still hot, “Ok, Wiki, for you.” He turned back around to Kimo, “But you shouldn’t be here!” Kimo laughed.
Keola was interrupted by a flashlight shining in his face, exposing his now-red eyes. Officer Malama leaned into the passenger side. “Keola! I thought I told you I nevah want to see you here again?!”
Keola coughed, “Ho! Officer Malama. Uh. Howzit?”
“Howzit?! You’re high and I’m your parole officer, ready to send you back to jail, dat’s howzit. Get outta da van!”
“I only smoked one!”
Keola slowly got out of the van. This can’t be happening. I can’t go back to jail now. I can’t. The sliding back door slid open and Kimo and Koa burst from the van, spraying sand behind their tracks as they ran down the beach in a panic.
Officer Malama shouted after them, “I see you Kimo! You’re next!” He slapped the side of the van. “Wiki, you can go ahead and get out of here! I’ll take him home. You’re lucky I have him to deal with!”
“Yes, sir, Officer Malama, sir!” Wiki started the van and thankfully left the sand parking lot.
Keola rode with his head in his hands, the small, dark town passing by unnoticed out of his open passenger side window. Officer Malama took his eyes off the road and looked over at Keola.
“I’m surprised at you. Real surprised. You’re bettah dan dis, Keola.”
“I know, I know.”
“I found you a job and everything. What am I going to tell your fathah? I’ve known him for a long time.”
“Don’t tell him!”
“You don’t think he gonna ask me about you? You want me to lie to him?”
“No! But you can’t tell him.” Keola realized that he was in no position to ask for anything. “Please.”
“You bettah straighten up, den.”
Keola looked out his open window at a homeless man walking, pushing a shopping cart full of things that other people threw away. “I want to make something of myself. I really do.”
“Talk is cheap, Keola. What was your nickname growing up? Akamai! Now look at you. You’re dumb. Playing dumb, and you’re dragging your little brother down with you.”
“No, Uncle! I’m not dragging…”
“Oh yeah? You better wake up, Keola! He’s your little brother! Whatever you do, he does. You paddle, he paddles. You go to church, he goes to church. You smoke weed, he smokes weed. You get it?”
“Yes, sir. I get it.”
“Eh. Nobody wants to be a role model, Keola, but when you find yourself in dat position, you bettah step up. It’s dat time for you.”
Officer Malama took a slow right-hand-turn onto Keola’s sleepy, dark street, in awkward silence. Simple one-story houses with small fenced yards went by, with toys strewn about in the yards and plumeria trees littering their flowers on the lawn.
“I think I’ll go back to college.”
“I told you, talk is cheap, Keola. Don’t tell me about it, just do it.”
They pulled up to Keola’s house.
“I’m sorry, Uncle. Mahalo.”
“Don’t thank me, Keola. Do the right thing, for you, and for your family. Da next time I turn you in.”
Keola walked up the broken concrete walkway to the front door. It was never easy to open the old screen door without it squeaking. There would be no sense in sneaking in today though. He was the prodigal son returning, and everyone would want to see him. He pulled the door open, entering a room of warm, yellow light.
“Keola!” Little Maile ran to Keola and wrapped her arms around his leg.
“Eh, look what da cat dragged in!” his sister Leilani said, smiling.
Mother was especially happy to see him, so much so that she couldn’t find the right words for a couple of moments. She smiled with tears in her eyes. “Keola. My baby.” She rushed over to hug him.
“Hello Ma,” Keola replied. Tutu sat on the couch knitting, and Keola kissed her on the head as he walked by. Keola asked Mother, “Where’s Pop?”
Mother’s shoulders slumped as she searched the universe for an answer. Where was he? Where he always was, drunk in a lawn chair in the back yard, faced away from the house, listening to an old radio, trying to run from his family and his life. That’s where he was.
Mother had given up on her husband a long time ago. In the end there was only so much she could do, so she had taken to focusing on what she could do for the family, instead of what he was failing to do. She replied, sheepishly and resigned, “Oh, sweetheart. You know where he is.”
Keola had never really known his father, cared to know him, or even understood him. But he did now. He started for the back door that led to the back lawn and poor, pathetic Pop.
“I think it’s time we had a talk.”