As soon as I stepped on the island, my brain was flooded with memories. Everything I saw reminded me of some scene or event from my childhood. It felt overwhelming.
The island itself was… it’s hard to explain. It felt different and same at the same time. There were new buildings, cafes, roads, but the same spirit of Poa was still there. It was still the same sky, same air and trees as I remembered them. I felt my lungs expand and fill with the fresh air of my homeland. It’s as if I wanted to breathe in all of the island, to make up for the time I spent abroad.
I headed straight for the nearby hotel, a small building right next to the port. Of course, I wouldn’t be staying there, I would go to my old house, where my grandpa was currently living. However, one of my cousins, Vicky, was working at the hotel and I wanted to let her know I arrived.
Vicky is not just a cousin, but also a good friend. She has a very good soul and always cares about how others feel. I was looking forward to seeing her. She didn’t know about my condition and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell her. I’d decide after I see her…
She was there, cleaning the rooms and carrying out whatever other duties she had. I sat in the lobby and waited for her to take a break. About fifteen minutes later, she was coming toward me with a big smile on her face.
“Kaleo! You’re here!” she extended her arms and I stood up, giving her a warm hug.
“Vicky, it’s so good to see you!”
“Ohh, cousin, it’s been so long… So many years.”
“I know… I wish I was able to come more often. Do you have time to sit down with me for a bit?”
“Of course! I missed you so much, how are you?”
Hmm how am I? That was a difficult question to answer. I didn’t want to spoil our reunion, so I opted for a generic response. Even if I decide to tell her the truth, it won’t be today when she’s so happy to see me.
“Much better now that I’m here. I’ve missed this place. I’ve missed home.”
As Vicky told me about her life and our other relatives, I felt comfort just being there. She made me feel better just with her presence and her vivid descriptions. I told her about my life in L.A., my job, my mom and dad. As we were sitting there and catching up, I glanced up toward the reception desk and saw a familiar face. It was the stranger again, probably checking in. For a split second, I thought about waving and saying hi, but I quickly dismissed that idea. He probably didn’t even see me. It doesn’t matter. My focus was back on Vicky and our conversation.
Soon, her break ended and she had to go back to work. I took a taxi and headed for my home. This was another great moment that I needed to mentally prepare myself for. I wondered how much have things changed? The house, the neighborhood, my old room, grandpa… I was trying to remember how it all looked, but memories were cloudy after all these years.
My grandma died four years ago, so grandpa (or Pa, as I called him) was now living on his own. I felt bad for him, I wondered if he was lonely. We have other relatives, but still, he was living all alone in that house. We wanted him to come to America to live with my parents, but he refused. He didn’t want to leave the island. Heck, he wouldn’t even move to another street, let alone another continent.
The taxi dropped me off right in front of my house. I stood there for a minute, just absorbing everything, every single detail. My eyes were wet, but I managed to keep myself from crying. I picked up my bags and came to the door, knocking twice.
“Kaleo!” grandpa said just that one word as he opened the door, giving me a big hug. We stayed like that for what seemed like an hour. The reunion was nothing short of sentimental. His eyes welled up, but I was already crying. He was still the same man, just with more wrinkles and more gray hair. I didn’t realize how much I had missed him all this time until I actually saw him there.
Sitting in my old home and just talking with grandpa made me feel much better. I felt calm and comforted sitting there, in the warm house in which I grew up. I decided not to go out for the rest of the day and just stay in and help Pa around the house. Age has caught up with him and he could barely walk, never separating from his walking stick, so I wanted to help as much as I could.
In the evening, after we had dinner, I decided to tell him exactly why I returned. Even before I came here, I knew I would tell him. I couldn’t and didn’t want to hide anything from him. It was easier than I thought, at least for me. He was heartbroken.
“Are you sure? Are the doctors sure?” he asked, fighting the tears.
“Yes,” I nodded. He was holding my hands in his own. After several seconds of silence, he finally spoke again.
“Don’t go. Stay here,” he pleaded. “I mean… don’t go back to America.”
“I won’t, Pa. I’m staying here,” I confirmed. He squeezed my hands and then moved to sit next to me on the couch and gave me another warm hug, as if he wanted to give me all of his strength.
“We will try, kid. We will pray to the spirits,” he said gently.
“Pa, I wanted to ask you… I read something… about a plant called the ‘morning tear’.” That was another reason why I wanted to return here. I read about this miraculous plant that was supposed to cure illnesses. Even though I didn’t want to get my hopes up, I couldn’t help but think about it as my only chance.
“Yes, I know… There are stories… Its healing properties are said to be extraordinary,” Pa replied.
“I want to go out and look for it. I have to try.”
“Yes, you must. I would go with you, but… I don’t think I’m capable as I used to be…” he said sadly.
“I know, Pa, don’t worry.”
“And Hiri, you must look for her too. If you can find her, maybe she can help you…”
“I will, Pa,” I said, squeezing his hand.
After I unpacked and settled in my hotel room, I realized I actually liked it. It took some time to adjust, but it was nice and cozy. Sure, it didn’t have a big flat TV screen, a mini bar or a large bathroom with a Jacuzzi, but those were all distractions I didn’t need right now. Besides, I was on a freaking tropical island, why would I bathe in a Jacuzzi?
I lay on my bed, which was actually quite comfortable, wanting to get some rest from the trip. After a while, my stomach started growling and I went to go out and grab some lunch. I wondered what kind of food I’d be able to find here. Probably nothing I’m used to eating in American restaurants, but you never know.
As I got downstairs and walked through the lobby, I saw the woman who worked in the hotel, the one with whom the mystery man was talking when we got here. I couldn’t help myself.
“Excuse me, Miss,” I approached her and got her attention.
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“I’m sorry to bother you… This may sound like a weird question, but… I saw you talking to a man earlier today. Young, tall, long black hair…”
“Yes, my cousin.”
“I see… We met on the ship, we travelled together, and I was wondering if you could help me find him. He seemed like a nice guy, and I don’t really know anyone here.”
“He’s staying with his grandfather. I’ll give you the address, it’s here in this town. And of course, I’ll tell him you were looking for him when I see him. You are…?”
“Adam. And thank you so much.” I wrote down the address she gave me, shook hands and went on my way.
The streets were surprisingly busy and vibrant. I didn’t expect so many people, to be honest. Of course, it couldn’t compare to Chicago or other major US cities, but still… It was nice to see people enjoying themselves, laughing and talking. I tried to absorb everything I could – the people, the outfits, architecture… All so exotic and colorful, at least to me.
After exploring a few streets, I settled on a small restaurant, picked a table outdoors and sat down, ready to fill my empty stomach. It was way past my lunch time. Back at work, I’d have my lunch break at 1 o’clock, but now it was already 3 in the afternoon.
A minute after I sat down, a small girl came to my table and pointed at the chair next to me.
“Can I sit here, mister?”
“Uh… Sure, little girl. What’s your name?”
“And what have you got there?” I pointed at the papers she was holding.
“Just some drawings. I like to draw.” She sat down, put some papers on the table, took out a pencil and started drawing.
“Ooh, those are nice!”
“Hanna, don’t bother the young gentleman,” a woman came and politely spoke to the girl. “I’m sorry, sir, that’s my daughter. She likes to come here while I work and keep me company.” The girl smiled at her mom.
“That’s nice! And she’s not bothering me at all,” I replied, amused.
“Be good,” she gently told her daughter and stroked her black hair. “What would you like to order?”
“Could you recommend something?”
“Maybe this,” she pointed at an item on the menu. “It’s a dish made of seafood, it’s delicious!”
“Sounds good,” I nodded. She went inside and quickly returned with my food.
“OK, let’s leave the young gentleman alone so he can eat,” the waitress told her daughter, helping her pick up her drawings and pencils. The girl moved to another table and continued drawing, while the woman carried on with her work. Every once in a while, she would check on her daughter, smiling at her. The girl would occasionally smile or wave back at her mom. I found the scene very endearing.
Would I be a good father? I never really thought about having kids. I’m not sure how I’d be able to handle the pressure, all the responsibilities… Now that I’ve thought about it, I guess I would like to have a kid one day, when I find the right guy…
As I was looking around at people, wondering about their life stories, I was very happy to see one particular person walking down the street toward me. It was the mystery man from the ship. Great! I’d love a personal tour guide. I waved at him and after a few seconds he noticed me and came to my table.
“Hey! We meet again,” I said, standing up and extending my arm. “I’m Adam.”
“Hi, I’m Kaleo,” he said, shaking my hand, light smile on his face. “I remember you, from the ship.”
“Yes. Nice to see you again! Would you like to sit down for a drink?”
“Sure, why not.”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure he’d accept my invitation, but I’m glad he did. He turned out to be an interesting person to talk to, and his good looks certainly didn’t hurt. I did sense some sadness or melancholy in the way he spoke and in his eyes – his big, brown eyes. I found myself staring at them often during our conversation.
“So, what brings you to Poa?” he asked me.
“Frankly, I didn’t plan to come here… It just sort of happened, you know? I needed a vacation… a break from everything, and I just spontaneously picked this little island. It seemed like a good getaway spot.”
“That is… a good assessment of Poa,” he said. “So, a break from everything? What does that mean?”
“Well, how much time do you have?”
I briefly told him about my stress at work, my failed love life and non-existent social life, all the while hoping I wouldn’t bore him to death.
“It’s just that… Everything came together slowly and made me realize how dissatisfied I am with my life. I don’t know, it feels like all this time I’ve been working for nothing.” There I was, explaining my innermost thoughts to a perfect stranger. I guess I really needed to vent, and he was a good listener.
“I think you did the right thing by taking a break. Sometimes we need to distance ourselves from everything so that we can see things more clearly. It certainly won’t hurt.”
“I guess so…”
“But that’s the easy part. The hard part is actually taking action and changing things you’re unhappy with. You have to be brave.”
I nodded. I could already see that was going to be hard. I would need time to figure that part out. What to do, how to change things?
“What about you, how come you’re here?”
He looked away and slightly opened his mouth, and then paused for a few seconds.
“I was homesick… Missed my home, my grandpa.”
“Of course,” I said. I could see that he wasn’t comfortable with the topic for some reason, so I moved to something else. Eventually, we said our goodbyes and I told him I hoped to see him again before I leave. All I got was a light smile and a “Perhaps…” before he went away.
I definitely intend to turn that ‘perhaps’ into a ‘yes’.