Gone are the happy-go-lucky locals quick to hold up a fist with thumb and pinky extended—the shaka wave. Hang loose. Take it easy. No one does that anymore. Relax—everything is not okay.
I used to be a concierge at the Waikiki resort. I wore shined shoes and expensive button-down shirts, not the bold Monstera print shirts that locals and tourists wore—I thought they were cheesy. Now, shirtless and shoeless, I only have a ripped pair of khaki shorts to my name. Though my name, Eleu, means lively and active, hunger made me feel like a slug, like the bloating bodies on the beach. I probably had another week or two to live, if you wanna call it living. Anyone with a dime to their name left about a month ago when the ground began rumbling. We are now so isolated that communications to and from the island have effectively ceased.
The entire earth is a ticking time bomb. Colombia, Italy, and Indonesia already experienced a resurrection in “dead” volcanoes, killing millions, melting entire cities. Our people gave Mother Earth, the goddess Papa, her credit, and volcanic carbon brought life to Hawaii, and that life had been sustainable.
Aloha ‘aina, aloha kai—love the land, love the sea, and only take what you need. And if you don’t respect the land, then it will vomit you out.
Scientists had said there wasn’t an active volcano on Oahu, that two-million-year-old Koolau wasn’t even a geological hot spot.
Since our dying wish was to see the sky, most of us flocked to the beaches. No more surfing, just lingering. The leprosy moved fast, but the shuffling dead—those decomposing and stumbling while dropping digits and limbs with each step—did not. Rotten, infectious flesh littered the sand. When the wind blew down the mountains, it picked up their horrid scent, propelling it through the air. It was enough to make me gag. But I’d miss this sight, the yellow and gold twinkling over the blue horizon. Stupid sun. Why do you keep rising?
An ice cream shack used to sit across the highway that once buzzed with cars and vans and motorbikes. Its sign read H-3 Interstate—well, an interstate is what it claimed to be, anyway, this fifteen-mile stretch running from Pearl Harbor to Kaneohe. I’d point out the sign to tourists, waiting to see if they’d catch the fact that on this island, there was no “interstate.” The shack is empty except for the family living under its metal roof. Though wild fruit still grew on untended farms, like the one right behind the ice cream stand, the family demanded payment for broken pineapples, squashed papaya, even the cracked overripe coconuts on the ground. But I had no money.
I could go for an ice cream. I could eat about anything right now. Even the fish—that’s where the disease came from, not the bats. Fishermen brought this to the dinner tables and restaurants.
They didn’t know how COVID affected everyone’s immune systems. They didn’t know Molokai Island still housed an active leper colony, and that since the island was situated between Oahu and Maui, the resurrected malady quickly spread. My father had been a fisherman. His runny nose and cough and loss of smell had suggested COVID, which people thought was the pandemic. It was only the catalyst. Besides, the fishermen have been punished—they were the first to die.
I remember my father’s sunburnt gnarled fingers, how they began to shrivel into nubby fists. Father called to me, “Eleu! Got me a spell of arthritis. Come help clean these fish.” Days later, when we were skinning ahi, Father’s gray and swollen forearm burst open, spraying pink and yellow pus all over the ahi and me. I took him to the doctor, and they cleaned the wound, then sent him home telling him to rest. “Too much sun,” the doctor had said. But the next morning, Father cried out from the bathroom—bulbous bumps had covered his face. By the time we got to the hospital, raised nodules on his cheeks and forehead paved a rugged road of wrinkles. Hours later, his nose flattened, and the cartilage disintegrated, exposing his sinuses. Infection set in. He died at 5:14 p.m. on a Monday.
Our government suggested burning the dead, which we did. And like poison ivy torched in a burn barrel, inhaling the smoke caused respiratory transmission.
I crossed the highway and headed toward the shack. The big woman had lost her hand but still managed to cradle a knife in the crook of her elbow. She eyeballed me as I approached.
“Howz it, sistah. Spare me some fruit?”
“What you got for me?” the woman asked. Greedy little eyes from two dark-headed little kids peeped out from behind her skirt.
“You are too greedy, sistah. That mango is already rotting. Why not let me have it? You have so much. Soon, all will die, including greed.”
I heard a loud rumble. By the look on her face, so had she.
The ground opened between my feet. The woman squealed along with the children, all of them dropping into the open hole, swallowed with the shack in a sickening crunch.
Lava tumbled from the sea like a river of thick, red vomit. Wafts of steam rose, and the lava rolled slowly, like the shuffling dead.
I had plenty of time to run. But why not sit and watch? In my mind, this wasn’t destruction—it was rebirth. In the ancient Hawaiian religion, Papa gave birth to the islands. And maybe Papa was in a good mood.