“Simon Says” by Sean Labrador y Manzano
Pokai Bay is for locals, desolate on weekends. It is West of Pearl Harbor meaning West of Honolulu meaning West of tourism and service industry expectations. Meaning West of circling for vacant parking. West of the hawkers merchandising relics. Meaning tour busses dare not stop here. Pokai Bay is for when you want to believe you’re not in Hawai’i. That advertised Hawai’i. That vacation-spot Hawai’i. That getaway Hawai’i. Here in frowning single story ramshackles, several aluminum corrugated-sided along the Kam Highway, the foot of the Waianae, with a firing range and depot owned and operated by the Department of Defense, similar to a leper quarantine besides a fortress’ steep cliffs, clapboard nurtures hula’s older traditions. Most from the “Lost Colony” work in the city, sell hips at all-you-can-eat luaus.
A few miles West of Pokai Bay, Kaena Point, the point of no return, is a spearhead-shaped lava jutting, site of many windswept kama’aina suicides, where ghosts sail into the afterlife, abandoning their vehicles at the trail, or catapulting them literally into the sunset. The Coast Guard abandoned its lighthouse when hauntings increased during winter several years ago, gale mistaken for shriek. No one wanted to man lamp and risk the Siren’s lure into the ether.
I do not ask my sister what she thought about this. She has other troubles.
I do what any brother would do on his older sister’s birthday, give her space, disappear to the shoreline far from chatter, ten feet into the surf, white sand drops three feet, an undertow’s menacing tug. My toes tease the edge. My sister would do the same, leave the picnic tables, but she’s supposed to be the center of attention, and maybe she lingers to remind the guests why we are here. But even my mother forgets the occasion. She fawns over our younger cousin. How he is our cousin from our father’s side, I do not know nor care to ask. He is special to her for reasons we are not, for reasons she regrets. He is “fresh off the boat” speaking less English than her. He is the child who converses with her in Tagalog or Illokano. We do not speak the mother/father tongue. We are not taught, otherwise risk the rude accent, risk being less American.
So Sister opens presents when told to wait. There are no pictures. The cameras are not ready beginning a pattern of lapse documentation. My father was the photographer. My mother technically illiterate. Dad grills and drinks. Mother fawns. Uncles and Aunts split the lines between the divorcees. Sailors and their wives. Brats fight over the stereo. The Police or The Commodores? Kenny Rogers or Alabama? The buffer thickens with each beer. Then Sister slides a switch and Simon says RED-RED-BLUE-YELLOW-RED-GREEN.
I wade to my shoulders, any deeper, the current surprises. Pokai Bay is for locals who like steely water, like polished silver, a little blue stain, and an expanse not filled with boards or boats. Pokai Bay is a place without clamor or the Coppertone stench, the oiled glitter of beached whales.
Sister retakes center stage. The brats relinquish the tape deck. Her sullen eclipsed by buzz and flash. BLUE-RED-YELLOW-GREEN-BLUE. Her presents make friends.
Little Cousin and his sister exploit the distraction, drawn to the ocean. We are three children alone in the shallows. Little Cousin’s Sister remains behind while Little Cousin swims out. He swims out. I don’t tell him he is too far. Why will he listen? He swims out. She directs him to swim left parallel to the shore. He swims left and the current pulls him out. She doesn’t realize he’s further from shore. She giggles and redirects him to swim right parallel to the shore. He rotates and swims right and the current pulls him more. Still, Little Cousin’s Sister does not realize he has gained distance, the puppet detached from strings. I do nothing. He wants to prove he can swim. So, I let him. A wave swamps him. Then another. He rides a crest. Disappears in the trough. He reappears, a harbor seal flopping in grey satin. Now Little Cousin’s Sister calls him back. She knows he’s in trouble. She calls his name. Another wave tumbles him. He barrels and thrashes. She screams him back. I do nothing. I can’t swim. I do not scream. Swim. Swim away. I believe. I want my cousin to hurt. Tumbles into another trough.
I retreat to the clamor of Simon, GREEN-GREEN-GREEN-BLUE-YELLOW. I don’t swim. I do nothing.