Manu is up and rumbling about in his kitchen like nothing happened. He’s muttering about something but I’m not sure what.
I feel the best I have in a long time. No more stomach ache. No more cloudy brain. I actually feel like doing a shift at Kava Kava Coffee right now. Talking to customers, hanging out with Harper; it all sounds amazing now. Yesterday I couldn’t say the same. Even an hour ago I couldn’t say the same.
The only problem is that I’m having trouble getting up. It’s not like I can’t get up at all. I’m just so weak I’m shaking. I went to stand up and Gary said I looked like a baby horse that was just born with my wobbly legs. I’m taking that as a compliment considering how I’ve felt the last couple of weeks.
“Der you are!” Manu yelled from the kitchen.
He mumbled about someone trying to hide Da Kine from him.
“Ay, wahine,” He says to me. “Drink dis.”
He hands me an aluminum can that says “chocolate protein shake.”
“I keep dem here for Haolis like you,” he says with a laugh. “Shake it first.”
I listen to Manu; shake the can and pop the tab. The chocolate-vitamin smell that comes out of the opening makes my mouth water. I realize I am starving. I start drinking the grainy shake and can’t stop. It tastes so good and somehow seems like exactly what I needed.
I stop drinking, take a deep breath and then return to drinking. I look over at Gary who’s staring at me with his mouth open.
“Jeez, Josie,” he says. “Thirsty much?”
I finish drinking. “Gary, I’m starving,” I say as I draw in another deep breath.
I hold out the empty can to Manu.
“Thank you, Manu,” I say. “Do you have a bathroom I can use?”
“Ay, you gotta go shishi?” He asks.
I don’t know what shishi means but it sounds like he understands my question.
“Um, yeah,” I say. I hope shishi doesn’t mean number two, cause that would be embarrassing.
“Back to da left,” Manu says as he points towards the kitchen.
I get up and my legs are still shaky but nothing like they were a few minutes ago. I easily find the bathroom since the house is pretty small and there aren’t a bunch of other rooms I could mistake it for. As I walk through the kitchen, I see that the house doesn’t look as dirty as it did when we came in. I was really grossed out at first, but now it doesn’t look grimy. It just looks old. And I don’t mind old. Me and Gary’s place in Venice is old. It’s got more character than the newer cookie-cutter stuff.
I walk back through the kitchen and hear Gary and Manu laughing. Leave it to Gary. Manu seems a little strange but he and Gary are laughing like best friends. I understand why. I think Manu might’ve just saved my life.
“Ay, der she is!” Manu says as I walk in. “Howzit wahine?”
“I feel much better, Manu,” I say. “Thank you for helping me.”
Manu nods and takes another long sip of a Coors Light. I think he’s on his third now.
“Josie,” Gary says. “Manu says he ate what was in you.”
I look in Gary’s eyes and see that he’s totally serious, although what he’s saying obviously sounds ridiculous.
I look at Manu.
“It’s true,” Manu says. “Dat lapu right here in me belly.”
He slaps his little pot belly hard. The slapping sound echoes in the small house.
“And you feel ok?” I ask Manu.
I look over at Gary again. I’m confused. But after what I’ve been through and how much better I feel now, my mind is open to all sorts of possibilities.
“Da beer helps,” Manu says as he holds up the can. “I just swallow dem lapu and den dey dis-pear.”
“They don’t make you sick?” I ask Manu.
“No, dey never have,” he says with a shrug.
“Manu says he’s been eating spirits since he was a boy,” Gary says.
My eyes open wide and I look back at Manu.
“Since you were a boy?” I ask Manu.
“Sure,” he replies and takes another sip. “Da Kahuna taught me. I help people.”
I sit and contemplate this information. Manu seems rough or strange at first glance. His house seems dirty. But if you can look past all that, which I am now, I see that he’s right. It’s simple. He helps people. He helped me. In a way I could’ve never imagined no matter how hard I tried.
“How’d dat lapu find you?” Manu asks me. He sets down the can of Coors Light. It seems he’s done drinking for now.
“I … I don’t know,” I say as I shake my head.
“Did you see em?” He asks.
I think back to Gary’s art show, which seems about a year ago now.
“Yes,” I say. “I saw him.”
“What was ee doin?” Manu asks.
“When I saw him?” I ask.
“Yeah, da first time you saw em,” he says.
I see in my mind that moment when I was singing and noticed the man. The skin on my arms erupts in goose flesh, as Gary calls it.
“He was swinging,” I say. “From a rope.”
I look to Gary and his silence makes me bore into his head with my mind to understand what he’s feeling. I’ve always been able to do that with Gary. Since I was little. I’m pretty sure I feel intense fear coming from him.
“Ay,” Manu says. “Den what?”
“Then he got down from the rope and ran at me,” I tell him. “He hit me in the stomach and then I passed out.”
“She blacked out,” Gary says to Manu. “When she woke up she said a man hit her but I was right there the whole time and didn’t see a thing.”
“Ay, yeah,” Manu says, shaking his head affirmatively.
Unlike Gary, I sense no fear coming from Manu. Instead, he almost seems excited by this information.
“That’s how da lapu got in,” Manu says, pointing towards my stomach. “Right der,” he emphasizes by pointing to his own solar plexus.
“Solar plexus,” I whisper to Gary.
Gary looks from me to Manu.
“She’s been in so much pain, right in that spot,” Gary says. “It got all black, like she was bruised.”
“It’s the lapu,” Manu says. “It was killing her from da inside. If I didn’t help, she woulda died.”
I open my eyes wide and look from Manu to Gary. Gary is calm but still scared. I’m very scared.
“She would’ve died?” Gary asks. “How?”
“I dunno,” Manu says. “But I seen it. Everyting turn black. Da skin. Da hair. Noting lives with lapu inside.”
I’m starting to breathe hard. I think I might be panicking. Did I almost die? Was I close? I’m not ready to die. Why did this happen? How did this thing get in me? Why me?
Gary’s next to me on the couch. He puts his arm on my shoulder.
“Josie,” he says. “Listen to me. You’re OK now. It’s over. You’re better, right?”
“Yes,” I say. “Yes.” I insist.
“You’re OK now,” he repeats. “You aren’t going to die.”
“Ay, wahine,” Manu says as he waves me towards him. “Come here wit me. You too kane,” he says to Gary.
Manu walks towards what I assume to be the bedroom door off the living room. It’s the only area of the house I haven’t been in yet. Gary follows and I follow behind him into a small bedroom with an unmade bed and a single dresser. Manu opens a closet door and signals with his hand for me to walk over.
“Come wahine,” he says.
I walk closer and see a few shirts hanging in the skinny closet. Manu points to several metal pegs on the inside wall with what look like belts made from leather and twine hanging from them. I look at his face and he smiles with pride. He must’ve made these.
“Pick one,” he says.
“Pick one?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “Dey will protect you.”
I’m not sure what he means but he’s endeared himself to me and I trust him. Plus, Gary’s standing right behind me.
I touch the belt-like things and realize they aren’t quite belts. They’ve got a large oval of leather about six inches long that has a long piece of twine attached to each side. There’s about 10 of them in the closet with different designs burnt into the leather. My eyes are drawn to one with a drawing of a girl on a surf board catching a wave.
“Ay, dat one,” Manu says, as he reaches and pulls the belt thing off of the peg. “I thought you’d like dat one.”
“Pull up ya shirt,” he says.
“No,” I say instinctively.
Gary takes a step closer.
“Ay, no,” Manu says and puts both his hands up as if to protest. “Just right here,” he says as he points to his solar plexus.
“Here, kane,” he says to Gary. “You put it it on her, right here.”
He hands the belt to Gary and points to his solar plexus again.
“Is that OK, Josie?” Gary asks.
“Sure,” I say.
Now I understand. I only need to pull my shirt up on my belly. I thought Manu wanted me to pull it all the way up. I trust him but not that much.
I pull up my shirt to expose my belly and Gary places the leather disc over the top of my solar plexus, right where the formerly black bruise is now fading to light green.
“Now tie in da back,” Manu says, motioning to Gary.
Gary complies and ties the twine tight at my back.
“Is that OK?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
The twine is itchy but I don’t want to hurt Manu’s feelings. I pull my black, baggy t-shirt back down over the top of the belt and it lays smoothly against my stomach. You really can’t see the belt at all. If my shirt were tighter, you definitely could.
“Don’t take dat off,” Manu says. “You’ll be safe.”
Manu is a kind and sweet man, but I’m not convinced a piece of leather will keep me completely safe.
“I gotta lay down,” Manu says.
“Of course,” Gary says. “We’ve taken up enough of your time. How can we repay you?”
“Yeah, Manu,” I say. “Can we pay you or help you in some way? I feel like I can never repay you for helping me.”
“Nah, nah,” Manu says. “You brought da Coors Light. Dat’s enough.”
I look at Gary. I’m not sure we should protest. Manu looks exhausted and a bit drunk. I think he really just wants us to leave.
“OK, man,” Gary says. “Thank you, Manu,” he says as he reaches out and hugs him. He claps him on the back hard and pulls away.
“Thank you, Manu,” I say. I decide I’m going to hug him too.
As I embrace his skinny frame, I feel the goodness inside him. He feels so positive and special to me. Hugging him reminds me of the feeling of catching and riding the best wave. He smells like beer and patchouli but I can’t help but feel forever connected to him. Like he’s my Ohana.
I pull away and see a softness in Manu’s eyes I haven’t seen before.
“Wahine,” he says. “You need an eater. Dees lapus will find you again. You need an eater.”
I look at Gary. I don’t know what to say. So I just say thank you.
“A’ ole pilikia,” Manu says. “Kipa hou mai.”
Gary and I don’t understand exactly what he’s saying but both understand he said it with warmth. We leave the house and make our way back down the green ramp. We sit down in the small rental car that seems more spacious now.
“What’s an eater, Gary?” I ask as he starts the car.
“I don’t know,” he says. “But I think I know someone who does.”