B-Side: Her Story
B volunteers at the lo`i kalo, taro patch, at the Hawai’i State Hospital in Kane`ohe, supervising mental patients in Occupational Therapy. She works alongside them knee-deep in the water, bare feet braced in the mud, planting and weeding to the rhythm from the CD player, Arms strong as the valley walls…
She talks to the patients about kalo, its importance to Hawaiian culture, the plant respected and revered as an elder relative. Kalo makes keiki, children, and when the parent corms are harvested for poi, the keiki offshoots are then planted. Or the ha is propagated, the leaf stems with part of the corm. “Like the o-ha-na, the family. It’s a cycle, like our life. Our family. It happens over and over,” she tells them, “from one generation to the next, and then to the one that follows. Into the future.”
B is the mother of two adults. With clever hands, she does the flowers for her daughter’s wedding. She makes bouquets, boutonnieres, arrangements. There isn’t a lei she cannot make, from teeth, shells, feathers. Plant parts yield their beauty under her hands.
She wears mu’umu’u or pareos; happy colors suit her. She is a lover of pleasure. She sings karaoke. She dances hula, her hair loose, smiling her big, dreamy smile, her teeth even and white in her tanned face.
Then she meets a man who will change the chords of her life.
(B dreams of a woman who murdered her children to make herself more desirable to a lover. She was Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. About a year after her admission to the State Hospital, this woman went missing. She was later found in the chicken house on hospital grounds, dead by hanging.)
B goes into business with her boyfriend, serving hot lunches from her old VW bus, slack key music cueing her customers up and down the windward coast. She dishes up food as good for the spirit as for the belly. Lomi salmon, chicken long rice, laulau, beef teriyaki, poi, hot rice, mac salad …
Her boyfriend wants more attention from her to their business. School takes up too much of her time. She is selfish. She is not committed to him. Refrain: It’s proof she doesn’t love him.
She is pregnant. She stops attending classes at WCC during her last semester before earning her two-year degree. She gives birth in her second trimester, the baby with a tiny head.
She is pregnant. Her boyfriend snaps and knocks out another one of her black teeth and kicks her in the abdomen, again and again. She labors to bring their son into the world eight weeks before term. She lives with her babies—nine-month-old girl and three-week-old boy—in her bus, moving from one beach park to another. Her boyfriend in prison again.
What happened? Floating in and out of time, remembering nothing, she is committed to the State Hospital. As they process her in Admitting, she whispers, “…loop is a loop is a loop…”
Angela Nishimoto: "I hold the M.S. in botanical science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I grew up on the windward side of Oahu, work on the leeward side, and live in Honolulu with my husband. I have published more than 40 works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, mostly in, but not limited to, Hawaii."