Damien’s Trail began as a walkway from Kamalo Gulch that turned east for Kuana Ridge. From there it veered northwest to Papa’Ali Pali. It snaked through ravines and along the spines of ridges. Before the summit could be reached, the volunteers from Saint Joseph’s had to cross the Land of Tree Ferns and enter the clouds. After making the crest, the trail to the colony zigzagged down the mountain’s face. The final leg of the journey appeared easy. But a slip or stumble could prove deadly. Julia had once ridden Sparkling Eyes to the trail head, where she saw the path vanish in a rolling sheet of mist.
* * *
The morning was clear and warm. Pheasants flew over the volunteers from Saint Joseph’s. Julia felt good in Chip’s old work shirt and her denim breeches. She’d laced up her boots as tight as possible. She gazed up—reaching the pali seemed a forever climb through kiawe, scrub, and boulders. She could make out paths in the ridges and along the crest of a black gorge that was Hina Falls. Julia was worried. This hike would test her strength and willpower. Did Chipper feel guilty driving off and leaving her behind? It seemed he’d given up too easily and was more concerned with work than her safety. Could she trust Ben Keokeo to lead them up this mountain and down the other side? It was a noble thing to do but Julia doubted she could make it.
Ben and Josephine led the way up Kamalo Gulch. It was a narrow, steep-sided ravine winding through kiawe and walls of lava. The Satos maintained a steady pace behind the leaders. Julia was next. She lugged a satchel packed with bear claws, long johns, and tubes of toothpaste. Zellie Buchanan, a heavyset Portuguese woman, was behind her. Zellie had changed into overalls and pulled on a pair of combat boots. She carried a knapsack stuffed with candy. Eddie, the youngest of Joao’s sons, brought up the rear lugging two small cans of kerosene. Julia noticed how he kept his eyes on Josephine.
Everyone was bringing something, from rolls of toilet paper to gauze to soap to chocolate bars. Ben had stuck a bottle of carbolic acid and vials of chaulmoogra oil in the canvas pocket of his hiking belt. Pastor Riel had said the resident doctor was desperate for the vials.
The climb tested Julia’s legs as she kept pace with the Satos. She’d thought she was in good shape from hiking the west end but this was challenging. The ranch had gentle plateaus and shallow gulches that were easily traversed. On the east end, everything went straight up.
Ben had a machete in a sheath attached to his belt. The sheath bounced against his gray dungarees as he advanced through the lantana. The multi-colored blossoms had a wild smell. The parishioners made it to the top of the gulch, where the trail leveled out. Ben led them into a clearing of wet earth. Julia’s boots got caked with mud and started feeling heavy.
The first rest stop was halfway up Helani Ridge. Ben pulled a canteen off his belt and passed it to his niece. Josephine drank deeply. She wore red shorts and a white tee. Her thighs and calves were muscular.
Josephine handed the canteen to Julia. She took a swig and passed it on to Lane. Julia looked down at the flatlands and saw the steel cross on Saint Joseph’s steeple. The Church looked miles away. Had they really climbed this high so fast? Their progress renewed her faith they’d make it to the colony.
“Next stop?” Eddie asked.
“Kuana Ridge,” Ben answered, “den Papa’Ala Pali.”
"Will that put us near the summit?" Julia asked.
"Nah," Ben replied. "Da pali only halfway deah. Why? You stay tired, Julia?"
"We go Hina Falls."
“Lead the way,” said Eddie.
Ben hustled up the hill. The volunteers trudged on. The kiawe and scrub gave way to pine and sword ferns that cut if you brushed their fronds with bare skin. Sourgrass rose up five-feet high and Ben slashed through it his machete. He led them to the edge of a precipice, one that overlooked a falls spilling down glistening lava. Ben said the falls had been named after Hina, the goddess who gave birth to the island. The parishioners nodded solemnly before resuming the climb.
Lane tripped over a root—Julia caught and steadied him.
“Tanks,” he said. “Owe you one, Julia.”
Ben kept slashing. There was a steady rhythm to his strikes. Josephine followed closely behind her uncle. She stomped down on the cut grass with her boots.
Julia saw the brilliant green slopes of the Seven Sisters, a mountain range north of Kamalo. The valleys between them were skinny and shallow, making the Sisters appear to be one big mountain with folds in it.
Eddie picked up the pace until neck-and-neck with Julia. His cans clinked and she heard the fuel sloshing inside. Julia let him pass.
A buck and two does charged out of a lava crevice. The parishioners watched them leap over a baby pine and bound away. The deer didn’t stop until they reached a glade sheltered by eucalyptus.
At the top of Kuana Ridge, Josephine found a footpath covered with an orange string-like vine.
Ben knelt and studied the vine. “Dis kauna’oa lead us to Papa’Ala Pali,” he said.
“Launananui Ridge mo’ fastah,” Lane suggested.
Josephine shook her head. “Beeg rain last night,” she said. “Launananui goin’ be solid mud.”
“We go pali,” Ben decided. “Okay, Lane san?”
“Okay,” Lane replied.
Josephine led the parishioners up the vine path until they reached the edge of a gorge so deep it looked black. It flanked the easternmost Sister in the range.
“Dis gorge make big kine rivah,” Ben said, “every wintah.”
“We gotta cross it?” asked Eddie.
“No need,” Josephine answered and hiked on. Her legs seemed to get stronger with every stride. Her thighs glistened with sweat and she swung her arms like a runner. Country strong, Julia thought.
The climb was steep and the volunteers were winded by the time they reached the gorge's peak. The ground flattened out and the parishioners caught their breaths. The footpath connected them to Pu’Uhoi Ridge. Pu'Uhoi was the spine of the Seventh Sister. From there it was a straight shot north to Meaula Ridge, which led to the summit above the colony.
Julia was hurting. Her thighs and calves felt like mush. Her ankles ached. She felt green compared to the others. Julia wondered if Chipper would come for her if she got hurt or lost. She hoped he was back home by now and sleeping his hangover off.
The aina got bright green higher up. Besides pines, there were mountain apple trees, ohia, and bamboo hillsides. Pheasants scurried through the brush. They entered the Land of Tree Ferns. The only way through was either to duck under the giant fronds or to hold the fronds down and crush them under your boot. The hikers held onto the fern trunks to keep from falling.
Eddie stumbled. One of the cans fell and rolled. He slid down the slope on the seat of his pants to retrieve it. Josephine chuckled watching him slide.
Zellie shook her head. “Mud stains nevah come out,” she said, “no mattah how hard you scrub.”
* * *
The volunteers made it to Pu'Uhoi in good time, a ridge marking the start of the highlands. The air was cool and crisp. Pines were scarce. Mist drifted over a silvery meadow filled with stumps. Julia couldn't figure out why the trees had died. Had there been a drought? The summit loomed above the mist, its brilliant pali cutting the sky open like a great green ax. The ground was mushy and it sucked at Julia's boots.
“Meaula Ridge next,” Ben said. “Only get half-mile moah.”
Julia noticed that guava trees this far up were the size of shrubs. The mountain apple trees were small too and only a few bore fruit. They entered a sweet-smelling patch of molasses grass that felt like a carpet under Julia's boots. They reached the mist and pushed on through the bellies of clouds. Black goats grazed. The sun burned through the clouds. Julia saw Ben standing at the edge of a cliff. Behind him was the deep blue of the ocean and the pale blue of the sky.
Ben turned to the parishioners. “Dis da Meaula Ridge trail,” he said. “We stay close.”
The Meaula hike gave Julia a sweeping view of the island’s eastern shore. It was a rugged coast with lava beaches, turquoise bays, and narrow valleys. A series of falls cascaded from the peaks down the sharp vertical mountains. Lane pointed out Pelekunu Bay with its fringe of white sand. Ben told Julia that Pelekunu was adjacent to Kalawao, where the first colony residents had been tossed overboard.
Soon they were at the trail head. Ben led the descent through their first switchback, with Josephine and Eddie at his heels. The Katos were next, followed by Julia and Zellie. Cement steps stuck out of the mud. To Julia, they looked like the rungs of a ladder. She took her eyes off the switchback trying to catch a glimpse of the village below. She could hear waves rolling but couldn’t see the coast through the forest of eucalyptus and ironwoods. Lime-colored lichens covered the boulders on either side of the trail. The mauka side of switchback number twenty was lined with stalks of timber bamboo. Going downhill seemed easy to Julia at first, but the muscles in her thighs and calves began to feel like jelly. She wobbled and nearly fell.
Zellie reached out and steadied her. “Careful, young lady.”
Julia had never hiked on Oahu. Sue and Kay had also disliked the great outdoors. The one exception had been Jackass Ginger, where the Wright girls had ridden ti leaves down a muddy chute and slid into the pool beneath the falls.
* * *
Doctor William Goodhue raised his binoculars. He spotted the hikers near switchback number thirteen. They were halfway down. Goodhue let the binoculars dangle from the strap around his neck. He fished in the pocket of his white coat, pulled out a gold watch, and popped the cover. It was half-past one. Last month’s group had arrived by noon. “Better late than never,” Goodhue grumbled, caning his way through a cemetery of concrete headstones.
The doctor reached the grounds of Saint Francis of Assisi Church. Patients had assembled on the makai lawn. The men wore white linen shirts. The women had on white holokus with hems that brushed the ground. A nun blew into a pitch pipe that resembled a black wafer. The patients matched her pitch with their voices and began singing, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” A baritone sounded off-key to Goodhue but the others sang with such passion that it practically drowned out the foul notes. Goodhue hated himself for being a perfectionist. His body was breaking down and he disliked himself more and more every day. The choir finished the first stanza. They reminded the doctor of soldiers in white uniforms.
“Angelic,” the nun told her singers. “Now for the second stanza.” She pressed the pitch pipe to her lips. A Korean man hummed her note and the choir raised their voices.
Kalaupapa was Goodhue’s jail, but not because he had Hansen’s Disease. His bum hip had caused a self-imposed imprisonment. The doctor could still manage to ride a mule topside but the pain caused by the rocking saddle was excruciating. The continual throb of bone grinding bone had robbed him of his appetite. Whiskey dulled the agony but, if he drank too much, it felt as though knives were ripping open his guts. On bad days, he stayed in bed and played solitaire. Nurses made him limu koho soup, Noni juice, and Mamaki tea. A kokua massaged him using her lomilomi technique. Sometimes lomilomi restored his appetite enough to eat eggs and sausage. But that kind of eating was rare for Goodhue. He kept a loaded pistol in his dresser drawer in case it got to be too much. Yet, whenever the doctor wrapped his finger around the trigger, something kept him from pulling. Enough of him wanted to live, the piece that made Goodhue feel as though he was part of something bigger.
Goodhue entered Saint Francis through a side door. The design of the Church was Italian Gothic. Three arches graced its entrance and the windows were arched too. A bell tower rose up behind the altar. The exterior walls were Arctic white. The gable roof was made from sheets of corrugated iron. The interior of Saint Francis was eggshell-white, with Ionic columns supporting the forty-foot ceiling. Life-size statues of Mother Mary, Saint Francis, and Joseph were perched on alabaster pedestals. Goodhue considered the Church a masterpiece, despite the fact it was made from reinforced concrete. A rope was threaded through a hole in the ceiling and one end hung beside the marble font. The doctor put his cane down on a koa table and wrapped the rope's end around his right hand. He tugged and released. The bell rang softly. He tugged harder and released again—it rang louder. He tugged and released over and over until a steady clang-clang-clang resonated through Kalaupapa.
The nun told her choir that practice was over. Her singers headed down Damien Road. Elders left their cottages and beachfront shanties. Girls rushed out of Bishop Home and headed for the village. Boys in distant Kalawao heard the bell and flooded out of Baldwin House.
Patients congregated outside the General Store. There were the young, the middle-aged, and the old. Girls jumped up and down in anticipation of the visitors. The boys arrived. Nurses and nuns supervised the throng. Some of the boys teased the girls. A girl cried. A nun scolded the boys. The choir stood shoulder-to-shoulder outside the Long House, opposite the General Store.
“Wot dey wen bring?” a boy asked.
“One big kine surprise,” a man answered, “but you keikis no touch da visitahs. No touch nobody.”
The children nodded.
Guests were rare at Kalaupapa, although the Saint Joseph parish tried sending volunteers once a month. Mai pake had blinded some of the residents. Those who could see led the blind. A former paniolo had one good eye. Two had no eyes at all, only sockets. But the excitement of visitors overwhelmed everyone, to the point most joined in when the choir began singing, “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
Goodhue was still at the Church when he heard their voices. He retrieved his cane and wobbled up a rise overlooking switchback number twenty-six. That final switchback led to an entrance path of sand and shattered lava. Goodhue raised his binoculars—Ben Keokeo’s face appeared. The doctor had kept a close watch over Puanani, Ben’s thirteen-year-old daughter. He cherished Ben’s visits because he almost always found time to spend with the boys. He’d taught them how to throw net, where to find best opihi, and the proper way to treat girls. Ben had told Father Dornbush he wanted to bring down surfboards but the priest said paddling into heavy surf was too dangerous for the children.
Ben whistled. "Howzit, doc!"
The doctor waved his free hand while studying the other hikers. He recognized them all, except for a haole wahine bringing up the rear. He quit waving. She was somewhere between a girl and a woman and looked more city than country. He adjusted the focus. Was she married? She seemed too young. Her hair was bobbed and she glided over the path like an angel. He could hear his heart beating in his ears. The throbbing in his hip eased. Goodhue’s blood felt young. “Honolulu wahine,” the doctor said. “Lordy, that is one sexy girl.”
* * *
The parishioners followed Goodhue through a field of headstones and markers. Most were nameless. Julia noticed the few that were marked had Hawaiian names, with lives dating back to the 1830s. Sophie had told Julia that entire graveyards were divided by nationality.
Julia and the volunteers entered a village of white-washed cottages with green roofs. The patients, most dressed in white, waited outside the General Store. A Chinese woman smiled at Julia. She smiled back. Ben told a joke. The patients laughed. Nurses and nuns supervised, keeping residents and guests ten-feet apart. A nun grabbed a boy who tried sneaking under a nurse’s outstretched arm. Goodhue told Eddie to take the kerosene to the General Store. Eddie took off.
The doctor ambled over to Julia. “Welcome to Kalaupapa, miss,” he told her.
“Thanks,” she replied.
“I’m Doctor Goodhue, the resident physician.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Julia.”
“Are you from Honolulu?”
She nodded. “The town behind Waikiki.”
“I see. Can you guess where I’m from?”
“I was born and raised in Quebec. Is this your first trip to our settlement?”
“Your visit today means so much to our people.”
The Church bell clanged five times and quit.
“To Paschoal Hall,” Goodhue announced.
The throng headed up Beretania Street. The head nurse, a buxom redhead, placed parishioners up front and patients behind. Nurses and nuns formed a wall between the groups. The marching feet kicked up a cloud coral dust that stung Julia’s eyes.
Paschoal Hall squatted on the edge of an expansive lawn. The grass was tall and Julia liked how the wind moved the blades in patterns, making them look like waves on the ocean. The hall’s exterior walls were pastel green and it had a brown shake roof. It stood two stories high and was surrounded by giant coconut trees that seemed like guardians. The hall’s front porch had white railings and six wooden columns supporting the porch roof.
Ben climbed the three steps up to the porch and swung open Paschoal's double doors. The volunteers followed him down a linoleum hallway that smelled of disinfectant. They entered an auditorium with balcony-high seats on twin platforms behind them. A silver screen was against the northern wall. Two nuns escorted the volunteers to the front of the auditorium. Nurses led the patients up an aisle between the platforms. They were seated in no time, with elders up front and keikis behind.
Julia felt as though she were an actress here to perform a play for a small town audience. She mingled with the rest of the parishioners on the auditorium floor.
“Good crowd today,” Pearl said.
Lane nodded. “No ka oi.”
“I like chocolate!” a boy called from the balcony.
“Hush,” a kupuna woman scolded from the front row. “Ya damn pest.”
The patients laughed.
The head nurse scooted behind a long central table near the screen and opened a fold-up chair. She sat. Her fellow nurses took up positions behind smaller tables on either side of the center one. The head nurse was the only one sitting.
“Visitors forward,” the head nurse said.
Ben led the way and the parishioners followed. They formed a line in front of her.
“First visitor,” the nurse ordered.
Ben stepped forward. He pulled a bottle and vials from the canvas pocket on his belt and placed them on the table.
The nurse jotted notes in a small black book and waved him away. “Second visitor.”
Zellie hustled up. She turned her knapsack upside down and shook it—an avalanche of chocolate bars fell out. A few bounced off the table. A blonde nurse came over and picked them up.
“I like chocolate!” A boy said.
“Me too!” a girl joined in.
“You keeds kulikuli,” grouched the kupuna.
Julia approached the table. The head nurse had a stern expression, as if the Saint Joe’s folks were more trouble than they were worth. She opened her satchel and turned it over—pastries and toothpaste tumbled out. The patients applauded. Someone whistled. Julia joined the other parishioners standing beside the makai wall.
Josephine and the Katos were next. Their offerings of gauze, bandages, toilet paper, and hypodermic needles weren’t as well received by the residents.
Nurses gathered up the treats and placed them on the makai table. More nurses picked up the medical supplies carried them to the mauka table. Goodhue slipped in through a side door and filled the pockets of his white coat with vials and syringes.
“Residents forward,” the head nurse said.
The patients filed out of their seats and proceeded down the steps to the auditorium floor. The nurses organized two groups—the adults and the children. The adults went first and formed a line in front of the makai table.
“First resident,” the head nurse said.
A Japanese woman approached the table and selected a bear claw. The second patient took a long john. The elders got most of the pastries. The children grabbed the chocolate bars. There were enough sweets for everyone. The patients took their treats outside and ate on the hall’s cement landing. The parishioners followed a group of nurses through the double doors and congregated on the porch. A nun shut the double doors. The nurses supervised, making sure the patients maintained a safe distance.
Julia saw people missing their noses, ears, and eyelids. Some held pastries with club hands. There was a haole woman slightly older than Julia with blotches on her face that went so deep they looked like holes.
The kupuna drifted back to the hall and stood below the porch. They talked story with the visitors. Zellie said her ahupua’a had gardenia groves in the uplands. Pearl talked about living on the west end and preparing shrimp tempura. Julia said she was from Oahu and worked at the Moloka’i Ranch. Several of the patients were from Honolulu and asked her how the city had changed. She did her best to describe the bustling downtown scene and the new hotels going up in Waikiki.
The keikis got bored and left the grounds of Paschoal Hall. The girls headed across the wide lawn toward Bishop Home. The boys walked slowly to their side of the peninsula. Some of the boys glanced back at the girls. Two girls watched from the road and waved.
The double doors sprung open and Ben joined the parishioners. He spoke to the head nurse before approaching Julia. “Like go with me?” he asked.
“Where?” Julia asked.
“Da Long House. Someone special stay waitin’.”
Julia walked with him to the coast. Ben told her that Father Martin Dornbush and Sister Benedicta ran the settlement but rarely participated in the distribution of gifts from Saint Joe's. Dornbush was the Resident Priest. Benedicta had been promoted to Mother Superior. Dornbush was consumed with building his library. Benedicta served as emotional ballast to keep the priest focused and on schedule.
Ben and Julia turned left upon reaching Damien Road. They were the only ones on it, except for a hopping toad. They passed Wilcox Hall. Julia heard the waves onshore. They reached a beige house that was long and narrow. It had a row of windows that could slide up and down. They were all shut with their latches locked. Ben led the way up a wooden staircase and swung open the door. Julia entered the one-room Long House with Ben behind her. A narrow table fifty-feet long had a raised mesh of chicken wire that divided it in half. There was a patient side and a visitor side. A girl sat on the patient side.
“Puanani?” Julia whispered.
His daughter wore a white cotton uniform with a stiff, starched collar. There was an empty chair opposite her, on the visitor side. Two nurses stood beside Puanani. One nurse had her arms crossed. The other nurse glared down at the girl as if she had done something wrong.
“Howzit, Honey Girl,” Ben greeted.
Puanani gave her father a half-hearted wave.
“Treatin’ you good kine?” Ben continued.
Puanani ran her palms over the table’s surface. Julia noticed her index finger was missing its tip. There were shadows on her forehead and chin.
“Hands off the table,” a nurse told Puanani.
The girl removed them. The surface had deep scratches.
On the visitor’s side, a third nun washed her hands in an aluminum bowl with a chemical odor.
“Know wot stay in dat bowl?” Ben asked Julia.
"No,” she said, “but it smells bad."
“Carbolic acid waddah.”
“Acid kills da mai pake, or so says Goodhue.”
The nun wiped her hands with a white cloth and approached Ben. “You are Puanani’s father?”
"Yes. Can my friend stay?”
“She be quiet."
"Your friend can wait outside."
Ben patted Julia’s shoulder. “Dey no like you fo’ catch mai pake.”
“I’ll take the risk,” Julia replied.
“No risk to take,” the nun said. “You must leave.”
Julia left. But she snuck along the outside wall of the Long House and gazed in through a window. Ben sat in the chair on the visitor side. He peered through the mesh and gestured wildly with his hands. Puanani showed little emotion. Her lips barely moved. There was a sadness about this girl, something that told Julia she was giving up on life. Julia tapped the window. Puanani didn’t look over. She tried again, this time banging her knuckled against the pane. The nun sauntered over. “God will punish you,” she said through the glass. Julia kept banging. The nun wagged her finger at Julia and Puanani smiled.
* * *
After the trek to the Long House, Julia accompanied Ben back to Damien Road. He didn’t want to discuss Puanani, although he did thank Julia for making his daughter smile. She couldn’t blame Ben for being private. Something was going on but it was none of her business.
Ben paused to chat with the Satos and the doctor in front of the General Store. Goodhue bragged about dropping ka’ka lines off the lava shelf on the Kalawao side and pulling in monster uluas.
“Wot you use for bait?” Lane asked.
“How can pull in ulua wit’ bum leg?” Ben asked.
“I manage,” the doctor replied.
Julia grew bored listening to Goodhue’s fish stories. “I wanna see more of Kalaupapa,” she said.
“Go,” Ben told her. “I find you wen time fo’ leave.”
Julia headed down School Street and turned west. She returned to the lawn between Paschoal Hall and Bishop Home. She heard girls talking in the dorms. A plover flew by. She picked a wild orchid and crossed paths with Father Dornbush and Sister Benedicta. Julia knew who they were because the sister wore a habit and Dornbush’s collar was lying on a stump. The priest was a robust man with a ruddy complexion. He wore dungarees and a blue cotton shirt. Dornbush was measuring the foundation for his library and comparing his calculations with those on a blueprint. Sister Benedicta looked tired. Her black lace-up boots were scuffed and the hem of her black ankle-length dress was covered with burrs. Ben had told Julia that Dornbush and Benedicta were still mourning the 1918 passing of Mother Marianne Cope, a nun who’d been at Damien’s bedside.
A Hawaiian man was helping the priest. He held one end of a tape measure and walked through the field.
“How far is that, Ambrose?” Dornbush asked.
The man stopped. “Seventy-three feet.”
Ambrose returned to the priest’s side. Dornbush rolled up the blueprint and handed it to him.
“Hello,” Julia greeted them. “My name’s Julia. I’m with the group from Saint Joseph’s.”
“Thank you for hiking over,” the priest said. He introduced himself and the nun. Julia was curious about Mother Marianne and asked what she was like.
“She was a risk taker,” Dornbush said.
Benedicta nodded. “If a mountain needed moving.”
Julia got the feeling that, although Dornbush and Benedicta appreciated the Saint Joe’s visitors, they considered them intruders. It made sense, Julia thought. After all, the patients made a big fuss over the topsiders while the caregivers took a back seat.
“You’re both doing God’s work,” Julia said.
“We do what the Lord commands,” the nun replied.
“Have any patients escaped?”
Benedicta took her eyes off Julia and gazed up at the pali. “A few have tried,” she replied. “But they discovered living topside is no simple task.”
Benedicta introduced Julia to their helper. Ambrose Kanewali‘i Hutchison was a piha kanaka maoli who’d been a patient for forty-three years. He had dark skin, a narrow nose, and a wide jaw. The only signs Ambrose was affected were the missing chunks in his ears and pink streaks on his arms. Ambrose told her he’d served as Kalaupapa’s superintendent, after marrying Mary Kaiakonui, another patient. Damien had performed their ceremony in 1881.
“Did you like Damien?” asked Julia.
“That Belgium priest was no-nonsense,” Ambrose said, “yet the most loving person I have had the fortune to meet.”
“We followed his trail over from Kamalo.”
“Damien was a master topographer.”
Ambrose told Julia he’d signed the Kūʻē Petitions of 1897, a protest by native Hawaiians against the annexation of Hawaii by the United States.
“My grandmother signed that petition,” Julia blurted.
“Oh? And who was she?”
“Kulia Naoho, from Waihee town on Maui.”
“Piha kanaka maoli?”
“But you look haole. I see no Hawaiian.”
“Ae,” Julia said, handing him her wild orchid. “But Kulia’s mana beats in my heart.”
Julia recognized years of disappointment, regret, and distrust in the Hawaiian man. Damien had probably been the only haole he ever trusted.
Ambrose spun the orchid between his thumb and index finger. He quit spinning and studied the purple blossom. “I sense your kupuna was my kindred spirit,” Ambrose told her, “and so are you, Julia.”
* * *
A Hawaiian girl on the landing of Wilcox Hall waved at Julia. She was clutching a thick book and looked about the same age as Puanani. She wore a burgundy dress and a silver locket on a chain hung from her neck. It appeared she didn’t have Hansen’s Disease but, as Julia approached, she noticed blistered patches of skin on her cheeks and at the corners of her mouth. She was holding The Bible.
“Wot yo’ name?” the girl asked.
“Julia. And yours?”
“How long have you been here, Aouli?”
“Since small keed time.”
Julia walked up the stairs to the landing.
The girl backed away. “No come close.”
“It’s okay, Aouli. I’m not scared.”
“Not in the least.”
The girl walked forward, stopping a few feet away. “You need guide, Julia? Show you around?”
Julia pulled out her coin purse. She dug out the bills and Aouli snatched the money. She watched the girl fold the dollars in half and then in quarters. She tucked them behind the cover of The Bible.
“Did you get any of that chocolate?” Julia asked.
Aouli chuckled. “Two bahs.”
The girl led Julia back to Damien Road. They reached the Long House. Julia looked in through a window—Puanani was gone. The nun was sitting inside scribbling in a book. They continued on until they reached a meadow. Nohu vines mixed in with the grass. Bees buzzed the yellow blossoms. The Bishop Home For Girls was on the far end, framed by a pair of lava pilasters. The home was a large one-story painted white. It had a brown shake roof that reminded Julia of the first mansions in Palolo Valley. A row of smaller houses, also painted white but with green roofs, were tucked behind the main house. Girls in white played croquet on the front lawn.
Aouli led Julia to a small home that served as her dormitory. Aouli opened a door and Julia followed her into a cozy room with a pair of twin beds. A Hawaiian flag quilt was spread over one of them. Aouli put The Bible on the dresser. Photos of her parents were thumbtacked to the wall. They lived in Honolulu.
“When did you see them last?” asked Julia.
Aouli stared at a photo. “Eastah time.”
“Do you know Puanani?”
“We stay roommates. Puanani da bess.”
“Did she do something wrong?”
Aouli lowered her eyes. “I no can tell.”
* * *
Julia and Aouli left Bishop Home and headed back to the village. Julia saw Awahua Beach in the foreground. Except for Josephine and Eddie walking the shore, the strand was deserted. Nobody swam in the sea. There was no barrier reef, only deep blue. Swells slammed against the lava pinnacle at the edge of the bay.
Aouli took Julia to St. Francis Church. Julia slipped a dollar in the Offertory Box and lit a candle. She asked Saint Francis for her mother’s forgiveness.
Aouli tapped Julia’s shoulder. “We go.” She led the way to Kalaupapa Landing, where a cement pier with a loading dock had been built offshore. Aouli said the biggest day of the year was Barge Day in mid-July. That’s when the once-a-year barge docked and the crew unloaded thousands of tons of freight.
“Everyt’ing from bag rice to case Spam comin’ off,” Aouli said. “One time even get bus.”
“Have you been topside?” Julia asked.
The girl gave her a quizzical look. "Wot fo'? Not'in' good fo' go up deah."
“You could go to Kaunakakai.”
“Townsfolk run from mai pake wahine.”
Julia saw Ben leading the parishioners down Damien Road. Josephine and Eddie followed holding hands. Was it already time to leave?
Zellie spotted Julia. “Hui!” she waved.
Lane whistled. Pearl motioned for Julia to join them.
“Time to hele,” Julia said. She held out her arms to Aouli.
The girl backed off. “No can.”
“I’m not scared, Aouli.”
The girl came close. She touched Julia’s breeches and put her hands on Julia’s waist. Julia wrapped her arms around Aouli’s shoulders. They hugged like mother and daughter before the girl pulled away.
“No forget me, Julia.”
Hugging Aouli felt good. But Julia felt bad leaving the girl behind. She knew she would probably not see her for a long time.
Julia joined the parishioners. The Satos thanked her for coming. Zellie said she’d changed her mind about Honolulu girls being weak. Ben nodded his appreciation.
Josephine patted her on the back. “You get planny guts, wahine.”
Julia turned to wave goodbye to Aouli but the girl was gone.
* * *
Ben led the volunteers to the footpath running above Awahua Beach. They passed the mustard-colored walls of the slaughterhouse as they closed in on the start of switchback number twenty-six. Julia cringed thinking of cows, pigs, and sheep getting butchered. "People gotta eat," she told herself. She thought about all the suffering on the peninsula and prayed a cure would be found soon for the disease.
* * *
The volunteers made it to switchback number ten in an hour. Only nine more, Julia thought. They were within striking distance of topside. Julia was glad Chipper would be waiting. She wanted him to kiss her and hold her tight. She wanted him to tell her how much she meant to him. She promised herself not to get mad if he stunk of whiskey.
Julia was exhausted but happy. That happiness put a hop in her step and hiking seemed easier going up than coming down. The trees folded in and darkened the trail. Mosquitoes swarmed but Julia didn't care. She was energized by an unexpected burst of exhilaration. For the first time in her life, she had made a difference in the lives of strangers.
But Julia's pace slowed when she thought about Puanani and Aouli. The girls would live and die in their prison paradise. Neither would marry unless they found boys at Baldwin House. Love might be their salvation. Julia knew the disease could never defeat the power of love. She found solace knowing the girls were strong and that they would help each other battle into the future.
* * *
Julia found Chipper on the ground with his back pressed to the Phallic Rock. He held a bottle of Wild Turkey against his heart. His eyes were shut tight and his head bobbed up and down. She walked over an ironwood branch—it snapped.
Chipper cracked an eye. “’Bout time, woman.”
“Hair of the dog?” Julia asked.
Chip raised the bottle and took a slug. Some of the booze missed his mouth and soaked his shirt.
Julia knew he’d been at it for a spell. He may have gotten the bottle from George or Old Man Joao. Or maybe he’d stopped in Kaunakakai on the way home.
“Gettin’ late,” he told her. “Have fun with da Church folk?”
“Gimme that bottle,” Julia said.
“No. And quit givin’ me da stink eye.”
She held out her hand. “Give it here.”
Chipper took a pull. She grabbed the neck of the bottle. The glass was slippery in her hand and he tugged the bottle away. She tried again but he hurled the Wild Turkey down the slope. Julia watched the bottle roll across the crabgrass, dodge a post, and tumble off the cliff.
Kirby Wright's new play, As Big as a Dallas Cowboy, opened the PlayBuilders Festival in Honolulu on April 13th, 2019. He won the 2018 Redwood Empire Mensa Award for Creative Nonfiction. His new book is The Queen of Moloka’i, based on the life and times of his hapa haole grandmother.