By the time we start our descent into Kona’s Keahole airport, LA seems a million miles away. I’d left it behind and was glad to. Just flying down over the island, the gorgeous azure waters sparkling beneath us, lifts my spirits. We land on runway three five and taxi around to the “ramp.” No crosswind today, and as I exit the aircraft, a blanket of moisture-soaked air wraps itself around me. I close my eyes and breathe it in. Oh fuck, this is good. I really bloody need this.
There are no internal Jetways at Kona. You exit straight onto the tarmac, with the jet roar in your ears, and go through the gates. I take my time, enjoying the heat, the buzz of tourists waiting to board their way—back into “reality.” I salute the Hawaiian hula statue as I walk to the exit, and there she is.
Jumping up and down, full of energy and enthusiasm, she’s wearing a bright-yellow-and-blue hibiscus Hawaiian sundress. A fresh yellow plumeria bloom is tucked behind her ear. In her hand, she waves a lei of deep-burgundy plumeria and orchids. My sister Rach.
She runs up to me, and I squeeze her tightly, so glad to be here, tears prick my eyes.
She pulls back to look at me and nods. She knows. “You’re home. Come on. Let’s get your bag and get out of here. It’s bloody hot today.”
She places the beautiful lei around my neck, and I inhale the deep, heady fragrance of the islands. God, this feels good.
We grab my bags from the carousel and walk over to the car park. Rach has two cars on the island, an old Isuzu long-wheel-base truck and her 540 BMW with its six-speed manual gearbox. Today I’m in air-conditioned luxury, and it’s what I need. I’ll run around in the truck while I’m here.
“Where do you want to go first?” she asks.
“Let’s stop in at the Harbor House. Have a cold one,” I say.
We turn right onto the Queen K highway and head into town. It’s scrubby-looking through here. Ocean on one side, the mountains rising up on the left. New housing goes up all the time. Once you get past Kona town, you’ll start to see the lushness the Hawaiian Islands are known for. I’m happy to sit back and take it in. The sunset blazes across the west coast, deep velvety reds today. Night comes early here, but I like being enveloped in the sultry, warm darkness.
The Harbor House is an old open-air, casual bar right on the marina. We get a table up the front, ordering a beer for me and Mike’s Hard Lemonade for her. I get a mixed lot of pupus
. Fresh ahi tuna in delicate, thin sashimi slices, teriyaki chicken sticks, and jalapeño poppers.
I exhale, letting the island energy seep into my bones. Watching the neon-green geckos run around the walls, catching bugs for their tea. Rach hands me a can of insect repellant, and I douse myself. The mozzies won’t be around for much longer, but no point offering them a smorgasbord. The sun has set now, going down fast. Within half an hour, the sunset and daylight hours are all over.
“I’ve booked us a double kayak from Kona Boys tomorrow. We can paddle out to Kealakekua Bay if you like,” she says.
I reach across and squeeze her hand. She knows what I need. It’s beautiful out there. The water’s like a crystal-clear swimming pool. It’s an underwater marine sanctuary. We often go out on the big catamaran, The Fair Wind
, but Rach knows I need the paddle.
I’ve paddled here in Hawai’i, for the sprints, representing New Zealand. The Tahitians beat us, as usual. They seem slightly lustier than us. The most beautiful of the Polynesians, I think. In some ways, the most refined looking. They can drum for Africa too. It always stirs my blood.
By the time I’ve gulped down two of the massive fish-bowl schooners of beer, I’m feeling a nice buzz. I tell Rach about the sleazy encounter this morning and then Roberty Bob’s phone message.
She snorts with laughter. “Ten points for trying.”
“Yes, but then I have to deduct twenty points for sheer brainlessness.”
“What is it with guys who do that oblivion thing?” asks Rach.
She’s asking me? I’m a guy, and I haven’t got a bloody clue. I agree with her. “I’m still wondering why guys don’t get the ‘no’ answer. I hate guys who call me dear or sweetie when they’ve known me all of two seconds and haven’t even gotten to know my name.”
I tell her about the moron I met for two seconds online the other week. I can’t be fagged, excuse the pun, doing the weird pennames. “Longdick Bob” or some such rubbish.
So my name’s on my page—Matt Quintal.
Here’s how the convo went:
Hello, dear, how are you?
Do I know you? Don’t call me dear?
Oh sorry, just wanted to say hi. Saw your profile on here. Anyway, what’s your name?
It’s on my fucking profile, you moron.
Are you angry with me? I was just saying hello.
I must check who the people are I’m adding to my page. I tend to accept anyone, because they could be a fan or friend of a friend. Social media drives me up the wall. Rach is a writer, so she’s in the same position.
We finally leave and head up to her place. She’s close to town, up Nani Kailua Drive and left into Melelina Street. Her house has a million-dollar view of Kona Harbor. High enough above the highway to not get the noise and not need AC, but still close enough to just pop into town for things. We always joke it’s the house with the million-dollar view she got for half the price.
The house faces out onto a lanai, and I take the spare room on the left-hand side. Rach has the one on the right. Between the bedrooms are the kitchen and living area, all spilling out onto the lanai and outdoor living area. The house is old but has a good feel to it.
When Rach bought it, her motto was, “It can’t look any worse than it does now.” Whatever she’d do could only be an improvement. She’d ripped out the kitchen, installed circa 1972, and all expense had been spared back then. The hideous brown Mexican tile she’d simply painted over with marine-grade paint. She’d tinted it into a quarter shade of the living-area walls—a warm, soothing yellow. The kitchen sports a true red, and the bedrooms are in various shades of vibrant green. It’s refreshing to walk into this house. I always feel instantly at home.
I dump my bags off and join her on the lanai for another drink. Her house is surrounded by plumeria trees in every color, and the deep fragrance wafts up my nostrils. It’s earthy and real here.
When we came in, I’d quickly helped her cut down a hand of bananas ready to be eaten. I could eat a dozen of the sweet, fat Lady Fingers in one sitting. Sweet and creamy.
As I swung the machete to cut them down, I had the odd flash of a small, scared Hawaiian boy crouched in the bananas. I don’t know what that goes with, but I’m often more connected to spirit and get flashes of information when I’m out here.
Now last night’s stupidity and the flight are catching up with me. LA is three hours ahead. It isn’t long until I hit the sack, passing out almost as soon as my head hits the pillow.
* * * *
I wake up to the gorgeous smell of freshly brewed, pure Kona. Thank you, there is a God. I wrap a sarong around my waist and join Rach on the lanai. My time clock is still on LA time; otherwise I’d never make it up this early. I’m a night owl and usually paint all night, sleeping in the day. But being here on the island means beach and water days. The best action is in the morning, before the off-shore breeze comes up in the afternoon.
“You ready to go in half an hour?” she asks.
I nod. Speech isn’t one of my just-waking-up skills.
* * * *
We’re paddling back from the Kealakekua and have had a fantastic morning out there. The snorkeling is some of the best in the Hawaiian Islands. Twenty-five-odd feet of clear aqua-blue water teeming with multicolored tropical fish and the odd honu
, or turtle. We pay our respects to Captain James Cook. His white obelisk monument is out there on a wee patch of British soil. The Hawaiians killed him approximately where the monument stands. He made a slight miscalculation and found himself on the arse end of things. A wee bit embarrassing.
We Kiwis know about Captain Cook because his ship the Endeavour
is on our fifty-cent coin. He was the first European to circumnavigate New Zealand and map its coastline. They don’t usually mention we Maori were there well before him, but I don’t care today. I feel sun-bronzed and tired but good. We’re on a slow, easy paddle back. Rach is getting tired, and I’m doing most of the arm work.
I look around; what’s that noise?
Rach stops paddling and looks too. She points up, and I see the blue of the body fabric, with the distinctive bright-yellow double wings.
“That looks like a Stearman,” she says.
“That’s what I was thinking. I didn’t think anyone here had a biplane. I wonder if that’s Bruce from Oahu?”
“Could be, but I heard a rumor there was a guy here with one too. I wonder if he’s at Keahole or Hilo. He might be on the other side of the island.”
Suddenly I’m seized with an overwhelming urge to find out where this plane is landing and who’s flying it. My heart squeezes in my chest when I think about it.
Rach turns and looks at me. “What?” she asks. Christ, she’s tuned in.
“I need to know who’s flying that plane.”
We grin at each other, and she says, “Let’s paddle.”
She digs her oar in, and we set a good pace for the kayak landing at Napoopoo Road. By the time we arrive, we’re both sweating heavily. Thank God the guys are here to haul the boat out of the water and tie her to the truck. I’m almost hopping up and down with impatience to be off. Rach grabs my arm and points. The Stearman is still flying around, back and forth along the shoreline. I chuck a tip at the guys loading, and we race off up the hill. We nearly throw the kayak off when we get to Kona Boys and step on it down the hill into Kona.
It’s still flying, and I pray she doesn’t suddenly keep going south over to Hilo. I’m driving as Rach checks with the binoculars out the sunroof.
“She’s turning again…”
We’re through Keauhou, past the turnoff for Kona itself and heading for the airport.
“She’s coming this way, starting her descent, I think. Yeah, she’s flying the pattern. She’s going to land at Keahole. Bet you.”
My heart is pounding. What the hell is this? I guess we’re about to find out.
I turn left into Airport Road and cut through to the private tie-down area in Ulu Street. We stand at the fence and watch her land on runway one seven, then weave back and forth on the taxiway so the pilot can see. A woman’s flying, long hair in a thick braid down her back. The face under the goggles and helmet looks Hawaiian. Rach will love this. There are so few women pilots, and both of us love open-cockpit biplanes to fly in.
Nothing beats the run along a grass strip, a gentle pull back on the stick, and she’ll waft into the air. Light as a feather, it’s a completely freeing moment for me.
We stand listening to the clack-clack as the big wooden propeller comes to a stop. The pilot flips off the switches and pulls off her gloves. Big hands for a woman. She gets out and walks down the wing, dropping onto the ground. Tall too. She bends down to push chocks under the front wheels of the beautiful plane. All dope and fabric, gleaming sky blue, standing out amongst the private heavies and small private planes like Cessnas and Piper Cubs.
She’s checking the plane. Damn, if I were into women, she’d do something for me. She’s got a very graceful way of moving, tall and lithe. I have to laugh. She’s wearing slippahs
. I point at her feet, and Rach grins. She hates flying in shoes and would fly in jandals any day. Flip-flops to the Americans.
The pilot finally unwinds her white silk flying scarf and chucks it into the cockpit. Her back to us, the helmet and goggles go next. When she turns around, I’m in for the shock of my life. I literally feel like my heart stops beating. It’s not a woman pilot. It’s a guy, and he stares straight at me. My hand tightens on the hurricane wire fencing we’ve been leaning on. Shit, what the fuck is this?
He continues to stare. It feels like he’s assessing me on some level, probing around in my soul, whipping through the chambers of my heart, checking out the lay of the land.
He’s beautiful. There isn’t another word to describe him. Exotic looking. His features are fine, almost Tahitian but not quite. He’s mixed with something else, a touch of the East in his eyes. Long, braided, jet-black hair reaches to his waist. He unzips his flight overalls and ties them around his stomach. Broad brown shoulders stick out from a red tank, Polynesian tattoos in a lei across his chest area, arm band ink just above his elbows. Two earrings in one ear. I’m getting a hard-on.
Now he’s finished the inspection of the plane, he takes a tow hook and connects it to the front of the aircraft. Another guy comes over, and they pull the plane into a hangar. I wonder if we’re going to have to track him down, but he comes out a few minutes later, walking toward us, unbraiding his hair. He combs it out with his fingers and flips his head down, then back up, letting it stream out behind him in the wind.
“Fu…ck…” whispers Rach beside me.
I’d agree with that assessment. Thank God I decided to wear togs under my shorts. The Kiwi swimsuit might contain my erection slightly. And if I could find some breath for my lungs, it would help.
“Aloha,” he says as he approaches the gate.
“Aloha. We love your plane. Are you giving rides?” asks Rach.
“Not today. Wind’s getting up a bit for a biplane, but tomorrow, if the wind’s good, sure.” He has soft, gentle energy.
“Can we book in with you?”
Thank God Rach is talking. I’m struck dumb. I feel like a complete idiot. He comes through the gate and sticks his hand out to me. I shake it automatically. Then he turns to Rach and shakes her hand too.
“Where are you guys from?”
He has a melodic voice, but that’s not what has me mesmerized. The handshake goes straight to my balls. Then he smiles, and his eyes light up. A deep brown abyss I fall right into. Hook, line, and sinker.
“We’re Kiwis, but I live here. I’m Rach, and this is my brother Matt. He’s visiting. We were out paddling at Kealakekua, heard the lovely sound of the radial engines, and followed you in.” She grins.
“Are you a pilot?” he asks her.
Rach points at me. “We both are.”
“Hey, that’s cool. You ever flown in one of these before?” he asks quietly.
We both nod. I can’t even speak. Every time I open my mouth to say something, no words come out. I feel completely gormless.
“I’ve flown in a couple of Wacos, Stearman, and a Tiger Moth. Matt’s flown in a Grumman too, haven’t you?”
I croak out a yes.
Then he does something that floors me. He bites his lip and smiles shyly. His long eyelashes flick down onto his cheeks. That makes him even more attractive. It’s a very feminine gesture. Not something I’m expecting from a biplane pilot.
He turns back to Rach, and I hope the muggy heat out here by the tarmac will account for my labored breathing. I wave my hand in front of my face. “Hot,” I manage to say.
“She’s a hot one today, yeah. A lot of bugs too.”
I nod again. He’s got the slight island lilt you hear in native Hawaiians who have grown up here.
He glistens; tiny rivulets of sweat run down his chest, disappearing into his tank and soaking the front. His chest is smooth, like a lot of Polynesian men.
“What time do you want to go up tomorrow—the earlier, the better for the wind factor?”
Rach nods. “We’ll work in with you.”
“You both going to fly?” he asks.
“Well…good.” That shy smile again.
“What time works?” asks Rach.
“You want to come out early. Let’s say an eight and nine o’clock flight? I can put the stick back in the front too, if you like. Then you can get some stick time.”
I finally find my voice. “I’d love that.”
“Me too,” he says softly again, and my breath is caught in my throat. “See you tomorrow. I’ll meet you here.”
“Okay, groovy, sounds good,” says Rach.
“Oh hang on; let me give you a card in case you need to call for any reason.”
He rummages around in his flight bag, pulls out his wallet, and gives us a card each.
Beau Toyama—his phone number and a picture of the plane.
A four-wheel drive pulls up. He waves, says good-bye to us again, and climbs into the passenger side, giving the woman driving a kiss on the cheek. I’m stabbed through with jealousy.
“Wow,” says Rach when they’ve driven off. She looks at me over the top of her sunnies.
“Do not say a fucking word,” I nearly hiss at her.
“He’s beautiful,” she says.
“And probably married.” I stride over to the truck and open the door for her.
“Mattie, you know you can’t run your whole life.” She stands with one leg up on the running board, challenging me.
“I’m not; he’s married. End of story.”
“Give it a rest.”
I hop into the driver’s side and start her up, putting the truck into gear.
“Are you going to drive with his card clutched in your hot little hand?” she asks innocently.
“Forgot it was there.” I toss it in the back like I don’t care. I’ll find it later.
I drive on automatic back to the house. I didn’t realize tomorrow could be such a long way off.