With his hands on the steering wheel of his Jeep, London twisted his left wrist to glance at his watch. Late. He drummed his thumb against the wheel with antsy energy while his eyes watched the dilapidated two-lane road riddled with potholes. He hated being late though he could hear his best friend, Keola, admonish him in his mind: It’s just Hawaiian Time, Brah. After nine months living on Oʻahu, it would seem he’d be more relaxed about it. Even with the expansive ocean to his left, an unfathomable shade of blue which usually caught his breath with awe, it did little to stave the nervousness creeping into his tense muscles. He hated to be late.
Nothing had prepared him for the culture shock of living in Hawaii. Sure, he’d visited, but the tourist life wasn’t the local life. Keola could never have prepared him for what he’d just assumed was another state in the United States. London, who never did anything without being sure, without the research and the contingencies, had pulled the cord on the move because it had been a sound business decision. There’d also been a feeling, an insistence which nagged at the base of his head and reached down into his nerve endings like electricity toward his lungs and heart. He’d dismissed that, because making a life-changing decision based on a feeling was ludicrous. But all of his research hadn’t prepared him for things he hadn’t known to research, and Keola’s go-with-the-flow nature hadn’t given him that kind of warning.
First thing he’d learned: Hawaiian Time.
London checked his mirror as he drove around a skateboarder his mind occupied by the first time he’d heard the term.
“We’re only five minutes late, Lon. Take a breath. One thing you gotta know about living here is Hawaiian time.” Keola had told him with his carefree smile and a slap on the back. “It’s just the way locals are. Not personal,” he’d said.
They’d been walking through in the lobby of the earth-toned marble foyer of their office building to ride the elevator to the pre-construction meeting. His friend, the epitome of an islander, dressed in a cool cotton aloha shirt, khakis and leather sandals as London baked in a mainland stuffy suit and tie, seemed unruffled by the fact he was behind schedule. London was beginning to sweat and it was only eight in the morning. He’d moved three weeks prior and was beginning to note the strange looks at his attire or the commentary: Ho brah. You hot or wot? He hadn’t bee sure the suits were about maintaining his professionalism anymore, or just hanging on to his old ways.
Keola pushed the button in the elevator. “Everyone runs on Hawaiian time here. No worries.” He’d glanced at London then. “You haven’t invested in any Aloha shirts yet? I’ll take you to Ala Moana later.”
When they’d walked into the room, despite being late, they were the first ones there. Keola had glanced at him with a look that said, see and shrugged. Sure enough, about twenty minutes later, the subcontractors rolled into the conference room ready to go with a smile, a handshake, and seemingly no care in the world. The meeting started thirty minutes late.
London grinned at the memory, at himself in his mainland suit with his mainland ideas. As a matter of survival, he’d had to relax some of his morays, but he still held himself to high standards which included not being late. His smile faded. He was late for a blind date set up by his boy.
It wasn’t like he was desperate for companionship. Sure, he hadn’t had a lot of time to devote to meeting people - he worked a lot. And sure, he wasn’t the most charismatic of people - he focused on his work. But, he enjoyed hanging out, he was moderately funny, and Keola insisted that though he and his wife enjoyed London’s third wheel status, it was time to put himself out there. This was the second thing he learned about Hawaii: Moving from Single-Status as a former mainlander to In-a-Relationship-Status was difficult. So, after weird interactions on dating apps and awkward dates, Keola’s wife, Keala, had agree to allow Keola to set London up with her cousin Lei even though she didn’t like the idea of setting up people she knew. London couldn’t quite say no after that.
He picked up the directions Keola had written out on a white scrap of paper because it wasn’t something you could “google maps” he’d said. London attempted an online search earlier for directions which turned out to be worthless. About as worthless as Keola’s directions which read: turn right at the second light next to the Local Kine gas station; drive mauka on the road and turn right at the big banyan tree onto a dirt road; take a left at the Paniolo Station sign. It will be the drive just past the three plumeria trees. This was the third thing he’d learned since his move: Directions were based on landmarks which left a lot of room for interpretation on his part.
London passed the gas station, an ancient building in need of paint and a broken metal sign with the words Local Kine in rusted out white, blue and yellow on the top. A neon sign flashed “open.” He turned right at the next road and drove toward the mountains looking for a the large tree, which seemed a bit ridiculous the further he went, but sure enough, a gigantic tree came into view. London chuckled and continued driving, turned at the tree and kept his eyes open for the next sign.
Malia sat on the porch of her grandparents home with an open book in her lap. The plantation style bungalow was nestled in the crook of the Koʻolaus. She hadn’t been reading, however. Instead, she’d just been watching the road, unseeing, and thinking about what had brought her here the night before: a sign.
Her kupunakāne and kupunawahine were a refuge to the movement of her life. While she worked and lived on the Leeward side of Oʻahu, fully immersed in the island’s rat race, she longed for the grounding pace she found with her grandparents on the North Shore. She didn’t get a chance to come often enough. Except, there had been a sign the night before. As she’d driven to the small apartment she rented on the Westside of the island, her thoughts had drifted to her mau kūpuna, and a pueo had flown right over the hood of her car. The sacred owl was a sign of the staff of life. Her grandparents, her ancestral home was her staff of life. The why she was given a sign wasn’t important, but faith in the message was imperative. As soon as Malia had arrived at her apartment, she’d packed for the weekend, gotten back into the car, and driven here.
Malia stood, now, after setting her book on the rattan chair cushion, stepped up to the whitewashed railing of the plantation style bungalow, and shaded her eyes. Down the lane, the volcanic red dust billowed behind an approaching car.
“Poppa? You expecting someone?” she called from the porch, her voice drifting in between the louvered windows. She could hear the TV inside as he dozed in his chair to the sound of an infomercial.
“No,” he called from inside the house. “Why? Someone stay coming?” His voice was warm. She heard him move.
“No worries, Poppa, just stay. A tourist probably just made a wrong turn. I’ll take care of it,” she said and walked to the top of the steps as a blue Jeep appeared on the drive between the foliage of palms, ferns, and banana trees.
London drove toward the green and white, single story house nestled a few hundred yards up the lane against the backdrop of the lush green vegetation. Ti leaf plants outlined the house on each side, and several plumeria trees, short and stocky, raining fragrant blossoms lined a walkway to the porch. It was picturesque, exactly what he envisioned when he thought of Hawaii, although, his storybook rendering had been shattered when he’d settled on the Leeward coast. There was something altogether different about the North Shore. Life was slower, as though traveling through a time machine back to when the world moved at a calmer pace, and it was acceptable.
He stopped the jeep and got out, frustrated because he was pretty sure he was lost. He hadn’t found the stupid sign or the road on which he was supposed to turn. Unless of course he’d inadvertently found it, which, as he watched a beautiful local woman walk down the steps toward him, he hoped might be the case.
As she walked toward him, and he toward her, a gentle gust grabbed several locks of her dark hair and the bottom of the pretty airy dress she wore. For a moment his breath caught in his chest, and the thought he had so much more to learn about Hawaiʻi drifted through his mind. He watched her draw the black hair playing in the breeze and wrap it up into a bun. She knotted it. He noticed her pretty face, her dark eyes, and strong nose. The way her skin was caramel coated. Nerves buzzed the base of his spine.
“Aloha,” she called. Her voice was rich and full.
London had to remind himself he was standing in present day Hawaii, that he hadn’t been transported back in time. He wasn’t watching a Hawaiian goddess move toward him. She was just a beautiful local woman. He reminded himself why he was here. A blind date. Lei. “Hello. Would you be Lei by chance?” He asked.
She smiled. He liked the way her full lips turned up at the corners. He liked the dimple that appeared in her cheek and the way her eyes sparkled. A strange sensation he was where he was supposed to be hovered around him, but acknowledging that sense was ridiculous. He mentally shook his head to rid himself of the illogical thought.
“No,” she said. “I’m not.”
What seemed to be too good to be true usually was, he thought.
Malia stopped a few feet from the stranger. Her naʻau moved - the instinctual communication of something occurring about which she needed to pay attention. It stayed her and heightened her awareness of the man standing out of reach. He was handsome: tall, golden, dark-haired, but those things were inconsequential as she took in the feel of the moment, the wind, the trees, the birds. Their song was still present.
The stranger watched her, his golden eyes bright and determined. He wasn’t from Hawaii, and the disappointment at understanding that weaved through her like dark threads. She refused to feel it. She wasn’t interested in a mainlander, or the ways of the haʻole. Her last boyfriend - not a haʻole, but a local boy mixed-up with colonization roots - had heaped negativity into her existence, removed her from her own identity. What made it worse was she’d willingingly followed his path, until one day Malia had looked in the mirror and hadn’t recognized herself. She’d left Calvin and exorcised the demons she’d allowed into her life. The process of healing was constant, so she hadn’t yet found another partner she’d trusted, hadn’t even been faced with the prospect, hadn’t felt as though she might jump from her skin in the simple presence of a man like she felt at that moment.
This stranger, dressed casually in perfectly fit khakis and a light blue linen shirt that moved with the wind, ran a hand through his dark hair. “I was looking for a sign,” he said.
Her heart dropped into her stomach, her naʻau bubbling up with new awareness at his words. “A sign?” she asked. The birds still sang, the gentle breeze moving around them like a hug. She could smell the gardenias from her grandmother's collection in the flower beds. “A sign?” She repeated and thought of the owl.
London watched as her eyebrows arched in surprise over her large dark brown eyes as though surprised. “Yes.” He turned and looked behind him down the road saying, “The Paniolo Station.” He turned back to her. “I couldn’t find it. My friend gave me directions.”
“Oh—a sign,” she said more to herself than to him. He sensed by the way her eyes drifted to the ground before coming back up to meet his gaze that her thoughts took her somewhere else for a split second. She smiled again and a dimple in her cheek formed again. “And there wasn’t a word devoted to street names in your friend’s directions,” she added without a trace of pidgin which tinged most local dialects.
Unable to help himself he laughed. “No.”
“They wouldn’t have helped.” She stepped closer to him; the sweet scent of gardenia enveloped him. “The sign is broken,” she said and pointed the way he had come. “But you want to go back up this lane and go out the same way you came in. Take the first right. That will take you to the Pascua’s house.”
London had a difficult time thinking clearly, but found his tongue and pieced together a coherent thought. “So this isn’t the right road?” He heard the disappointment in his own voice and cleared his throat.
“No.” She smiled again.
“Okay. Um...” London hesitated a moment, looked at the red dirt drive, and then turned back to the Jeep. “Thank you,” he added and turned around toward the woman again, indecision to go weighing on him. Why?
London thought of his mother just then. Why, she had asked him. Why did he want to go to Hawaii? He’d given her all the facts and figures, shared with her all of the pros and cons, but he’d hidden the one thing he hadn’t been able to explain: the feeling, a strange conglomeration of need and unknown had pulled him like a magnet.
Like the force of this woman.
But that was ridiculous, he thought. Shook the thought away and returned her smile. “Thank you,” he repeated.
She watched him walk back to his car. “Malia,” she called, and chastised herself for blurting out like that. “You’re welcome.” But there was a sign, her inner voice said. More than one.
Nope, Malia thought shaking her head. Not him.
He stopped, turned back to her and grinned. It did something to her insides, taking pohaku to kalo, pounding them into paʻiaʻi. “Thank you, Malia.” He studied her a moment and then returned to her. “I’m London.” He walked back, his hand extended.
She noticed the cording of muscles in his arms, the length of his fingers, and the breadth of his hand. When her hand slipped into his, a burst of radiant heat erupted within her, the beat of her heart doubled, and she thought of the pueo—actually saw the span of its wings and the strength of its body. The staff of life. She stepped forward and pressed her cheek to his, a honi as was customary. “Aloha,” she said unsure how she was able to maintain composure she didn’t feel. He smelled clean, like sea and salt. The staff of life. Her insides were rioting, moving like the energy of the tide on a windy day, choppy and unfocused. She stepped back, away.
He was still close.
She looked up, and her gaze collided with his - his amber eyes twinkling like hoku guiding her waʻa home. She’d come home, though. The pueo had brought her.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He continued to hold her hand, and she wondered if he was as reluctant to break the connection as she was.
But the moment ended, Malia remembering who she was. Who she was supposed to remember to be. She offered a friendly smile despite the chaos inside of her.
He walked backward, away from her. “I have to go. I’m late,” he said and frowned. “I appreciate your help.”
He seemed to hesitate as though searching for something to prolong his stay, but then he turned and walked back to his Jeep.
She watched the car reverse out of the drive, and an odd sense of longing followed. She shook her head at the absurdity of her thoughts.
She turned and saw her grandfather at the top of the stairs standing on the lanai. “A stranger who’d lost his way.” She told him and started back to the house. “Those Pascuas really need to fix that broken sign.”.
“Maybe now they can.”
The tone of his voice made her look up at him. He had a smile on his brown face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Trust your naʻau,” he offered and turned to go back into the house. Malia followed him in to ask him what he meant, but he changed the subject. “Your grandmother needs you to go to the store for her. The Taro Patch has fresh kalo delivered this afternoon. She making real kine ono Hawaiian dinner tonight for you.” He looked at her with a radiant smile and ran a hand over her hair. “Hurry.”
“Ae,” she said and left him smiling at her in the front room as she left to get her purse and keys.
London pulled the Jeep into the parking lot of a small general store on the side of the road. He thought it strange he didn’t feel anger. Instead it was relief. When he’d finally found Paniolo Station, Lei Pascua wasn’t there.
“Sorry brah,” her brother had said. “There was an emergency and she had to leave for town unexpectedly. She said to tell you she’s sorry.”
London thought that nine months ago he would have been angry. Time spent and wasted. But he didn’t feel that way now. No he wasn’t even disappointed. Instead, the relief of not having to face an awkward blind date gave him peace. After meeting Malia, smiling and faking his way through a blind date with a woman named Lei would have been unfair, maybe to her but definitely to himself. London smiled and leaned his head back against the seat thinking about the pleasant moments he’d found in the vicinity of a beautiful Hawaiian woman named Malia.
He looked up and glanced at his reflection in the rearview mirror. Had Hawaiian Time provided him the respite? Though he could see he was the same physically, he sensed he was somehow different too. It was as though Hawaii had pushed against his raw edges, smoothing him out into someone better.
Missing the sign and turning up the wrong road almost felt predestined. London smiled and shook his head. That was preposterous. As he’d driven from the Paniolo Station, he’d contemplated turning back up the lane, the one he’d taken having missed the sign, but he hadn’t. Couldn’t bring himself to make the turn, the weight of fear in his arms and keeping him on the known path. He didn’t want to seem like a creep. And really? Who meets a stranger and then in a weird impulse of a desperation to see them again acts on it?
London wasn’t about making spontaneous decisions like that, so he’d driven to the little market down the lane, pulled his Jeep into the lot and parked to think. And now thinking about it, none of it made sense. Going back - even as much as his body wanted to - didn’t make sense.
He couldn’t bring himself to drive away, however. He shook his head. Get it together, he thought. He glanced out the windshield at the little store, a small wooden structure like an old plantation house in need of paint, the weather and time having stripped it. Along the top was a sign: The Taro Patch. He smiled and decided refreshment for the long drive home was in order. He climbed from the Jeep and crossed the gravel lot.
The squeak of the screen door creaked as he stepped onto the first step.
London looked up.
Standing at the top of the steps, a brown paper sack in hand, was Malia.
“Hi,” he said, his composure melted on the ground around him.
“Aloha,” she said at the same time, their voices laid over one another’s. She smiled.
She laughed at the same time, and he liked the music of it.
“I was just -” each of them said at the same time.
“You first,” he suggested.
She smiled and shifted the bag in her hands.
London met her on the top step. “Here. Let me help.” He took the bag from her. Her smile reached into his body, and in he understood all his foolishness. The plans, the worries, the stats and control of his life was nothing to the spontaneity of this moment. This woman who he’d never have met without the mistake of missing a broken sign. “I wouldn’t usually-” he cleared his throat. “Would you be interested-”
“In dinner?” Malia asked him.
He smiled. “Yes. In dinner. I’d love to take you. You know sometime,” he added.
“Are you free right now?” she asked.
“Yes.” His heart was racing in his chest.
“I know a place with great Hawaiian food,” she said. “Just up the lane.”
He smiled and was so grateful for Hawaiian Time and a broken sign.