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  • Lorraine Johnson

[120] On The Road

The strip and curve of Waikiki—with its swanky designer stores along Kalakaua and its glistening, almost fully human-made beach of clear aqua waters and underwater rocks that beg for shoes, coarse sand, and an interrupted 'walkable' line dotted with sun umbrellas and thongs and closed passageways—holds it all. Surfers fill half of its waters, catamarans carry snorkelers to small treasures of colorful fish, sea turtles and sunsets, a dormant volcano hovers majestically overs its edge, and high rise and low rise hotels—filled with upscale shopping malls and cocktail bars and dining of every type—and open air markets abundant with cheap imported products of every color and size—pull crowds of tourists in from near and far. Day by day the persistent sun steams the land and water, and an occasional sprinkle of rain or downpour keeps the Island on its toes and greenness on its shores. Small boutique-style entrepreneurs sell it all—to mainlanders, locals, tourists—and anyone at all grasping for something different to feel and tell upon their return—though some arrive and stay to thrive.

But in the night, through bustling crowds meandering toward their nightly feasts, is when stories are revealed. Though small, it is a city after all and like others, musicians and performers of all types gather and play for tips on street corners. Even drugs may be exchanged in the haze, and under lights in the dark—homelessness resides and hunger lingers. Sane or not, people flee without choice or lost in their mind without a dime or way to climb—someone's daughter or son, friend or lover—someone lies on cardboard in the shadow of light, in a sheltered cranny of a luxurious store front, of a well-known brand. This story, too, I see.

And as I wander the rugged coast far north of Waikiki, the land sings the same song, though its tone and melody of different notes. And in the paradox of beauty and hidden struggle, I stop with my friend in the heat of the day to buy succulent mango slices from a roadside stand blessed with green farmland holding its rear, and the only cash that I had at hand—a misunderstood, crisp $100 note saved away for months for this very point in time and offered with apology as no smaller notes had I—but met, to my surprise, by the seller—an older woman, a Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, I cannot say—with a cheeky, serious proclamation, "hmm, humble aye!" She judged me and my dollar note right there on the spot—she not knowing me and I not knowing her and I thought, hmmm, she must be carrying a heavy load. The man by her side handed me my change, and I bid farewell, as I pondered the hidden code offered to me for free, as if sitting down for a simple cup of tea.


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