by J.L. Murray
The bus is packed. I stand with my shopping bag dangling from my elbow. The old Chinese people look up at me curiously. One old woman points at me and says something to her husband in Chinese, laughing. I’m a novelty. The only Haole. The younger Asians don’t look at me, giving me my privacy. I appreciate it. I mind my own business. When some people get off in Chinatown I sit down next to a small woman with straight black hair. She pulls her purse closer to her body and groans, irritated. I wait for my stop and mind my own business.
I take my kids to the zoo on Saturday. I hate going to Waikiki, but they like the animals. I like them, too, but I don’t like looking at the pink, sweaty people that wave at me like I’m a long, lost friend. I try not to look at them. It doesn’t make sense that I don’t like white people anymore, like it’s myself I’m hating. But they embarrass me, like a relative in a nice restaurant that gets drunk and asks why they gave him two forks.
The woman at the gate smiles at me and my children. “You military?” she says. I tell her no and show her my ID. Kama’aina. It means child of the land, but it really means not tourist. She frowns at my card. “Whatchoo doin’ here, if you no military?”
I practice my smile. “We live here,” I say. She shrugs and lets us through. We circle around a Japanese family taking up the whole sidewalk with their posed picture-taking. They are smiling.
I have drinks with my husband. We meet some people who think I’m funny. They tell me I don’t look white, I look Portuguese. This is a compliment. I practice my smile.
We live between Liliha and Chinatown. They say the school is eighty percent Chinese children. The secretary told me this when I enrolled my children for school. She told me in a whisper that the other twenty percent were from Mayor Wright. I didn’t know what that meant. I think now it was a warning. They say once you move to Mayor Wright’s you don’t come out. It is two blocks away from my apartment.
Last week someone got stabbed at Mayor Wright’s. The papers said that he asked some kids to stop playing on his car. The kids told their parents and some relatives came out and fought with the man. It wasn’t much of a fight. The relatives had knives and the man just had a car.
A week after my children started school, a boy named Braddah told my son he couldn’t play with him. The same week my older son came home and said his friend nicknamed him ‘Haole White Boy.’ All the kids in his class called him this. They are the only white kids in the school. My son’s teacher told me I was overreacting when I asked her to make them call him by his real name. “You don’t know what life is like where they come from,” she said. Then she laughed.
The maintenance guy in my apartment complex comes to fix the shades. He always shakes his head when he comes into my apartment. It’s messy. I forget how to clean when I’m writing. I don’t know how to tidy up and write at the same time. My husband does the dishes to keep the roaches away. But today the man goes into my room and sees my whiteboards, scribbles like ancient text covering the walls in different colors, arrows like a football playbook shifting my plot around. He sees my characters taped to the walls in a few sentences of writing. He sees the poster boards of my book covers hanging on the walls. He smiles at me after that. He tells me if I ever need any help at all to call him. I practice my smile.
I walk to Chinatown to get some papaya. I walk across the bridge and past the old men gambling at cards on the cobblestones by the Buddhist temple. They are smoking and yelling in another language. Some of them stop and look at me. I wrap my sweater around myself. I am sweating and they smile at me with brown teeth. One of them says something to his friend and they look at me and laugh. I feel their eyes burning into my back as I walk past.
I don’t mind it when they laugh. I went to college in Manoa, where boys with thick black hair and shirts with pictures of guns above “Keep Hawaii Country” sat in the beds of their trucks in the shade. They didn’t laugh at me. They narrowed their eyes at me like they could see me dead. The women were beautiful and loud and curvy and shouted at me sometimes. It was always in Hawaiian, but usually ended in Haole bitch. I minded my own business. I didn’t practice my smile at them.
My white professor told me I would write a masterpiece someday. She told me what classes not to take. “You didn’t hear this from me,” she said, “but if you take these classes, you’ll never get a chance.” When I asked her why, she shrugged. “You’re Haole.”
I call the police on my downstairs neighbors. It is three in the morning and they are fighting and screaming, bottles smashing on the sidewalk with drunken whoops. I hear a woman ask them to be quieter, they have woken her baby. They curse and laugh at her.
The cops come and I can hear them. They are sorry to bother, but people are complaining about the noise. I hear my neighbor ask who called.
“A woman, I think she lives upstairs,” I hear the policeman say.
“Stupid Haoles,” I hear my neighbor say.
“Are they military?” asks the cop.
We go to the beach. My husband comes this time. Not Waikiki, Ala Moana. The tourists don’t come here. The sky is sapphire and I watch a paddle boarder paddle out to the jutting rocks that surround the swimming area. The water is bluer than the sky. My husband and I sit in the sand and watch our children. They wear swim shirts and their skin is whiter than usual from the gobs of sunscreen. They splash and play and swim in the ocean. My husband reads a book. I look at the palm trees. I don’t have to practice my smile, it just comes. “It’s a beautiful day,” I say.
“Every day is beautiful here,” he says. He smiles, then goes back to his book. I look at the green mountains and feel I am seeing the world for the first time. I close my eyes and I feel warm inside. The ocean blows blue on me and I can hear my children laughing.
[A version of this story appeared on the blog Blergpop on April 20, 2012. This version was submitted by and appears here with the permission of the author.]
J.L. Murray is an indie writer through her own publishing company, Hellzapoppin Press. She is the author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and the upcoming The Devil Is a Gentleman, as well as many short stories that no one will ever, ever find. You can catch up to her at her foul-mouthed blog http://JLMurrayWrites.blogspot.com, or check out her fan page JL Murray on Facebook. She uses Twitter under the handle of @jlmurraywriter.