A HONOLULU Magazine Exclusive Short Story: “Haleola’s Tears” by Alan Brennert

Read the prequel to “Moloka‘i” and “Daughter of Moloka‘i,” only available here.

 

HALEOLA’S TEARS

(A TALE OF OLD MOLOKA‘I)

By Alan Brennert

 

Halona'stears1200x900

Illustration: James Nakamura

 

 

Only twenty-five miles of ocean separated the islands of O‘ahu and Moloka‘i, but to the reluctant travelers aboard the steamer Kilauea, it felt as though it were a thousand leagues. The calm trade winds that cooled and gentled the land, when funneled through the narrow passage of the Kaiwi Channel, now turned violent and blustery. They raged the waters into ten-foot swells, as the engines of the Kilauea—the little cattle boat looking as helpless on the waves as a piece of driftwood—strained to keep the ship on its bearing. The journey from Honolulu had taken all of a very long night.

 

In the stern, Haleola cradled her shivering husband, trying futilely to shield him from the cold spray of the channel. She could no longer tell how much of the wetness on her face was sea water and how much were her own tears; they both tasted bitterly of salt. She and Keohi were among two dozen other men, women, and children sitting in the rivers of water streaming across the deck, no less exposed to the elements than the thirty head of cattle that were also unwilling passengers aboard the Kilauea. This is insanity, Haleola thought, holding tight to her husband; have we become no better than animals, is that what we are now? All around her the violent lurching of the boat forced people to give up what little food they had consumed in the past day; then a heartbeat later the boat plunged into another ten-foot swell, drenching them all again.

 

Keo said something to her, but Haleola didn’t hear. She leaned in closer. “What?” she said in Hawaiian. 

 

A mischievous glint in his eyes, Keo pointed to the deck. “I said, have they not planned this well? The seawater is washing away the vomit.” 

 

Leave it to Keo to find a joke even in this. But his smile, however faint, was the only one to be found anywhere among the passengers. The commonality of their misery was in their faces, in the blight that had condemned them to this ship, and to the exile that awaited them: the ma‘i pākē, or leprosy as the haoles, the white foreigners, called it. Most of them here wore their scars lightly—a missing eyebrow, a livid red spot on face or hands. But with a few the sickness had progressed further: ears and noses swollen and distended like ill-shaped clay, faces scored with deep wrinkles unrelated to age, the flesh turned shiny and insensate. In her practice as a kahuna lapa‘au, a healer, Haleola had treated many such sufferers, all of whom came to her with the hope and faith they reserved for their native medicine; but to her sorrow Haleola had learned that she could only treat their symptoms, not the ma‘i pākē itself.

 

Both haole and kahuna healers seemed equally helpless in the face of this epidemic. In the end, for those stricken with the disfiguring disease, came either death or banishment. The king and his haole ministers proclaimed that the banishment was for the good of the Hawaiian people, who had already suffered greatly from previous haole diseases brought to the islands: smallpox, diphtheria, measles, the list seemed endless. But was that truly why she and Keo were here, penned up like cattle, on their way to the living death of Kalawao? Or was it because the ma‘i pākē was incurable, and because it killed haoles too?

 

By dawn the ship was at last on something of an even keel as it reached the more sheltered waters of the Kalaupapa peninsula. Haleola saw that many around her, Keo included, were dozing after a long sleepless night. Gently she touched her husband’s hair, smiling to look at him. He showed few outward signs of his disease—some large sores and red spots on his legs, a smaller one on his cheek—but though still physically strong, his stamina was not as great as it once was. He needed her now, and she would not fail him. She was his kōkua, his helper, and though she herself did not have the ma‘i pākē she had chosen exile with him, to care for him as no one else could, even if it meant she might never see her home—or her three grown sons—again. But what else could she have done?

 

* * *

 

Halona'stears1200x900the Steamer

Illustration: James Nakamura

 

 

* * *

 

Haleola noted with dismay how barren and lifeless so much of the approaching peninsula appeared: an arid plain softened by only a handful of pandanus trees and swaths of dry pili grass. It was so starkly different from the green valleys of her native Maui that Haleola felt a little sick at the sight of it. The only green here was the towering green heights of the pali, the two-thousand-foot sea cliffs that rose like a wall behind the peninsula.

 

There was no pier at which the boat could tie up, so the Kilauea anchored offshore and began unloading its cargo and passengers. This meant pushing the cattle into the sea and herding them to shore. Haleola had heard stories of similar things happening to “shipments” of lepers, but she wondered if those were simply tall tales; the crew of the Kilauea merely lowered longboats and began quickly, efficiently rowing the exiles to shore in groups of three or four at a time. Each person clutched one or two bags of personal belongings—lifetimes reduced to a few meager possessions, all that could be fit in a cloth sack or a worn carpetbag.

 

Haleola and Keo were in the third group. High surf nearly capsized them once, but the most alarming part of the trip came as they drew closer to land. A crowd was gathered on the shore, people curious to see who was arriving on this week’s boat or waiting for the latest delivery of food or mail. What also became plain was the terrible aspect of the crowd, ravaged far worse by the ma‘i pākē than any of the new arrivals. Haoles were often baffled by the way Hawaiians were not, by and large, repelled by leprosy; but then, most Hawaiians never saw the awful degree of leprosy on exhibit here.

 

It was only the friendly greetings of those on shore that slowed the frantic beating of Haleola’s heart as she and Keo stumbled up the stony embankment. Haleola took in their surroundings: a half dozen pili grass huts scattered across the sere brown landscape, a few canoes bobbing offshore trailing fishing lines, a handful of riders on horseback, many of whom did not appear diseased at all.

 

An elderly haole man stood at the edge of the village’s single road, an open ledger in one hand, a pen in the other. Beside him a sullen younger man sat holding the reins of a wagon, a lump of cheap-looking clothes piled up on the seat beside him.

 

As each of the new arrivals staggered off the boat and up the embankment, the old haole snapped out a short, abrupt question: “Name?” Those who understood English answered; for those who didn’t the man managed to ask, in poorly accented Hawaiian, “Inoa?”

 

When it was Haleola’s turn, she answered, “Haleola Nua. My husband, Keohi.”

 

“English. Thank Christ. Age?”

 

“Forty-one years. Keo, forty-three.”

 

“Place of residence?”

 

“Lahaina, Maui.”

 

The old man smiled, not a particularly attractive smile. “I put into Lahaina many times when I was whaling. Always found folk very…hospitable.” His leer sickened her, she made no reply. He reached over and grabbed some items from the wagon: “This here’s your clothing allowance for the year.” Keo received two blankets, a denim shirt, trousers, and a hat; Haleola was given one blanket, a brown cotton shirt, and a calico dress. That was all.

 

Haleola looked around, puzzled. “Is this the settlement?”

 

“Hell no. This is Kalaupapa.”

 

“What is the difference?”

 

“This here’s where the locals live. Board of Health bought up most all the land, but these wouldn’t sell, so the Board lets ‘em live here. But mind, you ain’t supposed to come here ‘cept on days the steamer comes.”

 

The old sailor scanned the rest of the arrivals coming ashore, raising his voice: “Anybody here too sick or too lame to walk on their own?” One person raised his hand; most just stared at him blankly. Another new arrival translated the sailor’s words into Hawaiian, and two more hands were raised. The seaman pointed to the wagon: “All right. You people get in the wagon. You understand? Wagon. William”—he addressed the sullen young man at the reins—“give ‘em a hand if they need it.”

 

“Help them yourself,” the young man shot back, in a clipped British accent. “I’m just here to drive the bloody wagon.”

 

The older man sighed, turned back to the newcomers, and pointed up the coast. “Kalawao’s that way. ‘Bout two and half miles. Just follow the shoreline, you can’t miss it.” The sick, bedraggled group just stared at him.

 

“How wise of him,” Keo said in Hawaiian, “to notice that we needed the exercise.”

 

* * *

 

Halona'stears1200x900kalaupapa

Illustration: James Nakamura

 

 

* * *

 

Wearily the new arrivals began the trek around the northernmost point of the promontory, to Kalawao. Keo talked story to kill time and appease the general grumbling, joking with the younger children when they became cranky. The pali seemed almost to blot out the sky; from here Haleola could make out a pair of switchback trails meandering down the face of the cliff, a daunting ascent.

 

As they rounded the tip of the peninsula a cold trade wind began to blow in from the northeast; their damp clothes offered little protection against the chill, and the barren terrain presented few natural windbreaks. People coughed, shivered, and were more than a little hungry, having last been fed the night before they boarded the Kilauea. Their hopes rose as they came to a small cluster of huts, like those at Kalaupapa, but when Keo asked a passerby—clearly bearing the marks of the ma‘i pākē—if this was Kalawao, the man shook his head and told him it was Makanalua; the main body of the settlement was still a mile away.

 

The farther they traveled the colder and windier it became, only the prospect of shelter and food spurring them on until, at last, what had to be the settlement appeared in the distance.

 

Kalawao was not at all how Haleola imagined it. The stories that found their way back to the other islands were tales of the most abject horror imaginable: a place of squalor and depravity, a desolate hell in which crime ran rampant and criminals boasted A’ole kānāwai ma kēia wahi, “In this place there is no law.”

 

Yet this was a village not unlike many throughout the kingdom: forty or fifty homes, most of them huts of thatched pili grass, a few wood-frame cottages, some with their own small fields of taro and sweet potatoes. These were spread out across the plain, shaded only by the occasional pandanus tree. Outside their huts and cottages residents talked, played cards, or tilled their gardens; and though many were obviously and severely leprous, Haleola’s first impression was of a quiet, everyday village.

 

At the center of this were about a dozen wooden buildings, whitewashed but somewhat dirty, surrounded by the white “picket” fences these foreigners seemed to love and which looked to Haleola like nothing so much as a string of shark’s teeth erupting from the earth. Inside the fence a man was pushing a wheelbarrow full of rags out of a low wooden building. A handkerchief tied behind his head obscured half his face, and as he wheeled his burden across the yard Keo called out, “Aloha kakahiaka iā ‘oe!”

 

The man stopped; looked up. “Good morning to you too,” he replied in Hawaiian, his voice muffled behind the kerchief.

 

“Where do we find the luna?”—the overseer.

 

The man nodded toward the building he had just left. “Over there. In the hospital.”

 

That last word buoyed the spirits of many: it was the first hint of civilized behavior they had encountered in days. Keo thanked the man and he moved on, his wheelbarrow bouncing over the rocky ground. But as the newcomers started toward the hospital, some impulse made Haleola stop and look back—something about the way the rags in the wheelbarrow moved as it was jolted up and down. She watched the man push his barrow to a small, decrepit shack, then paused on the threshold of its open door. He tipped the wheelbarrow and shook it, dumping out its load—which was not, as Haleola supposed, a pile of rags, but a human body in clothes that might as well have been rags.

 

The man—he was alive!—moaned as he tumbled to the ground. His cry stopped the new arrivals in their tracks and sent Haleola running to help. “What are you doing!” she snapped at the man with the wheelbarrow.

 

He tugged down his handkerchief, revealing a mildly puzzled face mottled with pink blotches. “It’s the end-of-life,” he said with a shrug.

 

Haleola hurried past him to the shack, but even before she entered it, she was assaulted by an overwhelmingly fetid stench that caused her to sway on the threshold. Dizzy and breathless, she braced herself on the doorframe and peered inside the windowless shed. In the dim light a handful of men and women—it was difficult to discern the difference from their faces—lay in their own filth on the dirt floor. They had neither pillows nor blankets, no food or water and no windows to dissipate the leprous stench of their own open sores.

 

Haleola stepped inside. She had learned, treating other lepers on Maui, to swallow quickly and often in order to avoid retching, but doing so here took enormous self-control. The man who had been dumped from the wheelbarrow was shakily attempting to sit; Haleola took his arm, gently helping to lower him down into a prone position. She used some old rags in the corner as a pillow, slipping them under his head. His ulcerated face looked up at her gratefully and he shut his eyes, drifting into troubled sleep. The others were similarly unconscious; Haleola dried their damp, feverish foreheads and appropriated a water urn from outside, but there was little else she could do. Telling herself she would come back once she was settled, she reluctantly left and returned to the rest of the new arrivals, who had waited and watched with grim fascination.

 

Keo took her hand and squeezed it as the newcomers entered the hospital.

 

But this was a hospital without doctors, without even beds: patients lay on the hard floor or on grass mats. Most had pillows and blankets and something to eat and drink, but Haleola was appalled at the otherwise filthy conditions. Many patients were in the final stages of the disease, their bodies covered with suppurating sores; some grasped at their thin blankets with fingerless hands, the bones of the fingers having been resorbed back into the body. One woman lay on a mat, the entire left side of her body a mass of dead tissue—infested with thousands of writhing worms consuming her flesh as if she were already dead.

 

An elderly haole woman was dispensing pills to a patient, but a quick glance around told Haleola that there was little here by way of medicine either: some salves and ointments, pills, mustard plaster to dress wounds, and more empty bottles than full. Most of the newcomers stood paralyzed by the horrors around them as Haleola approached the haole woman. “Excuse me,” she said in English. “Where is the luna?”

 

The woman looked up. “I am she.” Like the young man driving the wagon, she too had a clipped British accent. She got to her feet. “I’m Caroline Walsh, the resident superintendent and nurse. You”—nervously she took in the newcomers crowding inside the hospital—“came in on the Kilauea, I take it?”

 

Haleola nodded. “Can you tell us where we are to be sheltered?”

 

Mrs. Walsh looked rather anxious and uncomfortable. “Yes, well, that is the question, isn’t it?” she said quietly. “The authorities in Honolulu, you know, didn’t tell us you were on your way. They almost never do. We find out when you get here.”

 

The crowd stared at her, not yet comprehending the reason for her anxiety. “There are more and more of you every month, you see. No one ever expected this many inmates.” Those newcomers who understood English translated, in low voices, for those who did not. “Just last year, the Board of Health built three new dormitories adjoining this hospital—lodging enough for seventy-five new patients. They were quickly filled up.”

 

“You are telling us,” Haleola said in disbelief, “that there is no shelter here for us?”

 

“Not yet, no, I’m sorry,” Mrs. Walsh said, then added hastily, “Of course we’ll find you temporary shelter—I’m sure some of our residents, those with their own homes, will be happy to open them to you. We have a good supply of house frames, and no shortage of grass, God knows, with which to thatch them, so it shouldn’t take you long to construct suitable dwellings.”

 

Once this was translated for the group, the malihinis burst into loud, disapproving shouts, a mixture of anger and incredulity. They had all been removed, forcibly, from their homes; their money was taken by the government, to pay for their removal; they were exiled from everything they held dear, and now they were expected to build their own shelter in exile?

 

Defensively the luna explained, “There were perhaps twenty houses here when the government purchased this land. All the rest were built by inmates. Everyone here has built their own home.”

 

“You too?” Haleola asked. Mrs. Walsh flushed scarlet, her mouth set in a tight thin line.  

 

“These people are cold, and hungry,” Haleola said. “Are they expected to grow their own food for lunch today?”

 

Shamed into it, Mrs. Walsh had the settlement’s Chinese cook prepare a meal of sour poi, dry salted beef, wormy biscuits, and hot coffee, which the newcomers ate sitting on the grounds of the main compound. This was, it turned out, more than many new arrivals ever received—most had to subsist their first day on wild bananas, peas, and fern roots—and when Mrs. Walsh’s assistant, the sea captain, got wind of it, he objected mightily to the extravagance and the two of them engaged in vociferous argument over it.

 

After the meal, the luna—who, like her assistant, spoke precious little Hawaiian; her translator had recently died—gave a little speech. “When my late husband, Mr. Donald Walsh, ran this asylum,” she said, Haleola and others helping to translate, “he prided himself on his good relations with those whose welfare he was charged with keeping. I hope you shall feel free to approach me if you need any help in settling yourself at Kalawao.

 

“Each week, barring unforeseen weather which may prevent the timely shipment of supplies, each of you will receive an allowance of rice, sweet potato, cabbage, beans, five pounds of meat—mutton or beef—and twenty-one pounds of taro, from which you can make your own poi. If you choose to grow your own taro and vegetables, you may take any or all of your allowance in the form of cash credit.” She smiled. “Should you require other items—whether food, clothing, or tools—I operate a small store where you can purchase whatever you may need; if I don’t have it in stock I can order it from Honolulu.”

 

A small store, Haleola thought ruefully. Of course. Leave it to the haoles to find a way to turn a profit off anything, even the ma‘i pākē.

 

Afterward, Mrs. Walsh set about finding the malihinis, newcomers, temporary quarters in the already overcrowded huts of the village; and by now it was raining, underscoring the necessity. Some inmates welcomed the malihinis into their tiny homes with warm aloha, others acceded grudgingly, and some, quite uncharacteristically for Hawaiians, would have none of it.

 

The homes varied widely in both quality of construction as well as material necessities. Most were simple grass houses, perhaps a hundred square feet of living space, with anywhere from two to six people living in one hut. The average inmate had one set of clothes, two blankets, a few eating utensils, and either an oil or candlenut lamp.

 

The majority of the homes were fairly well-kept, but as Mrs. Walsh would peer into the hut of someone in the later, most debilitating stages of leprosy, she would quickly retreat at the squalor inside. No one in Lahaina, Haleola thought, would allow a neighbor to live in such filth; but then no one in Lahaina was as sick and struggling to survive as were these people.

 

Haleola and Keo were quartered with an elderly couple, Akeakamai and Mei Ling, from Kona on the island of Hawai‘i. The husband, Akea, was in the advanced stages of the disease, too weak to leave the hut; his Chinese wife, though her hands were deformed by the disease, patiently tended to him. The hut was leaky but Akea was too weak, and Mei Ling too crippled, to thatch it properly. Haleola and Keo looked at the two of them and saw the future, a future they did not enjoy contemplating.

 

And so they sat in the damp, windowless hut, breathing the noxious smell exhaled by Akea’s open sores, and were grateful for the shelter. Akea was running a high fever and Haleola gave him—out of the small supply of herbs she had brought with her—some tamarind seed to reduce his temperature and chopped ‘awa root to help him sleep.

 

Haleola and Keo needed no such help; had the world ended that night, it could not have awakened the exhausted couple.

 

* * *

 

Halona'stears1200x900nightfall

Illustration: James Nakamura

 

 

* * *

 

The next day Keo repaired the damage to their benefactors’ thatched roof, for which the elderly couple was profoundly grateful; for their part, Keo and Haleola were happy for the chance to take in some fresh air. Mei Ling insisted on preparing a meal for them: some poi, sweet potatoes, rice, a little mutton. Haleola was amazed at the way the woman, with hands possessing only the vestiges of two fingers apiece, could nevertheless wield a pestle and a knife almost as well as Haleola.

 

Akea, afraid that his wife would shortly no longer be able to till their small vegetable patch, offered to share it and let the new couple take over the garden—giving them immediate access to fresh produce and ensuring that someone would be able to plant and harvest when Mei Ling was not.

 

“And there are those,” Akea added, “who would take what does not belong to them, simply because they can. They might think twice about taking it from someone younger and stronger.” Keo and Haleola readily agreed and set about building their own grass hut adjacent to Akea’s fields.

 

Mrs. Walsh had been telling the truth: there was indeed a ready supply of wooden house frames available, and Keo spent the morning carrying corner posts, ridgepoles, gable posts, and the other pre-cut parts of the framework from their storage on the main compound to the new homesite, even as Haleola set about searching for thatching materials. Most of the huts here were thatched with the abundant pili grass, and Haleola found, not far down the road, a large pandanus tree. Her uncle Kale on Maui had a hut thatched with pandanus leaves on the inside and pili grass on the outside, and Haleola thought the combination would serve them well in this cold, windy climate. She gathered up as many of the lau hala, the leaves, as she could carry, and began preparing them: soaking the leaves in water and removing the thorns, then drying them over a fire, pounding them flat, and laying them one atop another. By the end of the day they had made a good start on their homestead.

 

Other newcomers from the Kilauea were similarly occupied putting up shelters; some chose not to build in Kalawao but farther down the coast at Makanalua, but even so, for a moment the village looked busy and industrious. For a moment it was possible for Haleola to believe that life had not changed so very much; that it might be possible to live somewhat as they had on Maui. Then she thought of her sons and grandchildren, of her patients who had depended on her, and she realized that no, this life could never be the same as the one she had been forced to give up.

 

But Keo was here, and for the moment there was strength in his limbs and the familiar impish smile on his face—and their love was intact as well. She saw the same sort of love between Akea and Mei Ling, and she thought: If that is our future, perhaps it will not be so bad.

 

By night the pali was almost invisible in the gloom and the stars were cloaked by clouds, creating a deep well of darkness on all sides. Both malihinis and old-timers—only two of whom survived from that first “shipment” of patients four years ago—gathered to talk story or to complain. Mrs. Walsh may not have been greatly admired—people spoke bitterly of a food shortage earlier in the year that brought the exiles to near rebellion, and of the luna’s attempts to prevent inmates from opening their own stores in competition with hers—but she was better liked than the sea captain, confusingly named Welsh, whom everyone seemed to loathe.

 

With night also came, in some quarters, the consumption of vast amounts of illegally-brewed -root beer; now the settlement took on a different aspect, raucous gales of laughter erupting here and there, drunken rowdies playing cards or chasing women, many of whom did not try very hard to avoid being caught. Haleola stared out across the flat, broad plain of night and thought she saw, flickering in the distance, the glow of torches moving down the coast. Could it be the huaka’i-po, the marchers of the night, those ghostly warriors whose drums and torches were only safely glimpsed from afar? What form, Haleola wondered with a shiver, would the huaka’i-po of Moloka‘i take? What scars of life and death would they bear?

 

Haleola and Keo again spent the night with Akea and Mei Ling, but tonight Haleola slept lightly—easily awakened by the sudden sounds of drunken shouting, in Hawaiian and English, from outside. Haleola got up, went to the door of the hut, and peered out into the night. The shouting became even louder, a colorful exchange of epithets in two languages:

 

“Go to hell!”

 

“You pupule, you know that? Crazy haole bastard!”

 

“Goddamned kanaka—”

 

So much of this haole cursing was about hell and damnation, concepts Hawaiians mercifully lacked in their native religion. Haleola could now make out, not far away, two men at odds with one another: one a big, imposing Hawaiian, the other the surly young Briton she’d seen driving the wagon. They pushed each other, cursed some more. Haleola started out of the doorway, but Mei Ling suddenly appeared beside her, stopping her with a clawlike hand:

 

“Don’t! Not worth the bother, those two.”

 

A crowd gathered as a full-fledged fight erupted, the Briton landing the first punch—enraging his adversary, who screamed and tackled the haole to the ground. Cheers erupted from the onlookers.

 

“That haole, he’s not right in the head,” Mei Ling said. “Every night he drinks, picks a fight, hits somebody. Some night he’ll hit the wrong somebody, and nobody gonna cry any tears over him.”

 

“He’s the luna’s son?”

 

The combatants tumbled around on the ground, each grunting and trying to gain some leverage over the other, as the crowd egged them on.

 

“His father was the luna before,” Mei Ling said. “Mr. Walsh got sick, went to Honolulu, but he die on the boat. Son was bad before, a little pupule, but after that—” She made a little motion with her hand, as though dismissing the young man’s fragile hold on sanity.

 

“Why do they stay here?” Haleola asked, unable to imagine why anyone would be in this place of their own free will.

 

Mei Ling made a little shrug. “Nowhere else to go,” she said.

 

The burly native gained the upper hand, kneeling with his full weight on the haole’s legs and groin. Suddenly a woman’s voice, shrill with panic, cut through the darkness:

 

Uoki—stop! Please, stop!”

 

Mrs. Walsh pushed through the crowd surrounding the two fighters; as she did, her son drove his fist into the native’s left eye. The man reeled back, knocking into Mrs. Walsh—and then young William Walsh was all over him, pummeling him in the head, abdomen, chest…even as his mother grabbed at him, trying to calm him:

 

“William! Stop it!” Tears streamed down her face, her voice hoarse with fear; slowly the savagery of her son’s blows softened, then stopped altogether, and his mother pulled him off the other man. His rage seemed to drain out of him; he fell to his knees and into his mother’s arms. “William…” she said softly, holding him. Then, to the other man: “I’m sorry. He’s not well. You know that…”

 

The Hawaiian stood shakily, holding his bruised eye, then spat a mixture of saliva and blood at the ground in front of the haole. “Kanapapiki,” he said, insulting them both with one word: son of a bitch. If Caroline Walsh knew, she didn’t show it; she held onto her son, her tears blinding her to all but him. “Oh William,” she said, so softly Haleola could barely hear; and then, even softer: “Oh Donald…”

 

Haleola looked at the widow cradling her mad son in her arms; and she understood, then, what hell was, and that the victims of the ma‘i pākē were not alone in it.

 

* * *

 

Halona'stears1200x900hands

Illustration: James Nakamura

 

 

* * *

 

It turned out to be an excellent house: twenty feet long by twelve feet wide, a hipped roof ten feet high, thatched on the outside with fragrant pili grass, the interior insulated with sturdy pandanus leaves. Keo also included, as many of the exiles had, a simple porch using ridge posts provided by the Board of Health as verandah posts. It was hardly as fine as their wood-frame cottage in Lahaina, but it would do.

 

Haleola made a practice of visiting the “dying shed,” as it was called, at least once a day, trying to make the dying a little more comfortable; but there was hardly much else to be done for them. In her first week at Kalawao Haleola saw three lepers buried, the bodies usually wrapped in a blanket and laid in a shallow grave; two were fellow travelers aboard the Kilauea for whom the cold and damp of the journey had proven too much. One of these was promptly dug up by a wild pig, and Haleola reburied the body herself in a deeper grave.

 

Their first night alone in their new home, Haleola and Keo came together with desperate passion; they kissed with the ferocity of the young, consuming one another’s bodies as eagerly as if they had never lain together before. And as she felt Keo slipping into her, tears welled up in her eyes for the first time since they had arrived here; but these were not, thankfully, tears of sadness. She now knew why the night here at Kalawao brought such passion, such appetite: it was a hunger for life, for some affirmation of life, amid so much death. Haleola took her husband’s face in her hands, her palm grazing the hard, red spot on his cheek; she drew him to her and she kissed him again, feeling him moving inside her, feeling life.

 


Copyright © 2021 by Alan Brennert. Read how this story came about in the February 2021 issue of HONOLULU Magazine. Subscribe to the print and digital editions now.