Monday, July 12, 2010

New Zealand: Getting Robbed

The menehune stole my slippah.
In Hawai’i, we tell tales of the little people who live in the forests--the islands’ first inhabitants. They spent their early centuries there in peace, building their heiaus and following their kapa law. But when the mighty warriors of Kahiki arrived, the menehuhe were unprepared to fight them. Those who were not slaughtered fled.  Thus, pressed deep into the sloping mountainsides, the menehune diminished, shrunk away from their likely true human history and evaporated into myth. They’re mostly harmless, these Hawaiian leprechauns, though they still emerge on moonlit nights, their cat eyes reflective disks of gold mischief. The favorite pastime of these creatures? Collecting shoes.
Before moving to Hawai’i a few years back, an island-savvy friend cautioned me about such thievery.
“The menehune stole my flip-flops once but in exchange they left me soup.”
I scrunched up my face as if I could smell this foul faery-land chowder, as if she held the putrid bowl of broth beneath my nose. “You didn’t eat it, did you?”
She sighed sadly. “It was tomato,” was all she said.
Was it just my imagination or was she shorter than the last time I saw her?
Over the course of my years on Hawai’i, I lost many a shoe to the menehune. Novelty became expectation: sometimes you would go to bed with shoes and wake up with none.
Here, on a distant island with a shared lineage, I stood shivering under the slope of the roof.  Protected from the slow drizzle of rain for the moment, I considered the strange picture before me, an unhappy frown already edging my face. My footprints stretched away through the mud in front of me, escaping the cottage with a long extended stride. There, beneath the mac nut tree sat one lonely blue shoe, abandoned in front of a tangled mess of passion fruit vines and guava trees. The other shoe was not to be seen. It was as if I had gotten up unknowingly in the night to walk away and never return. I wouldn’t need shoes where I was going.
And yet here I stood at the edge of the porch not gone feral as my shoes suggested.
I sighed for the looming loss of my clean feet and trudged out into the slop of mud, collected the one shoe and kicked back the vines to find the other. It would not reveal its whereabouts.
“Why do you only want one, menehune?” I asked aloud, wondering if they were also endemic to this Polynesian isle, or if perhaps I had only brought one along as a hitchhiker.
These had been my only shoes; now, my only shoe. My cabin stood an easy hour’s walk from the general store. Briefly, I considered wearing the one into town, but looking down at my mud-soaked feet decided there was no point to that anymore and so I stumbled off into the woods, past three ever-empty neighbor’s homes.
I treaded carefully past the prickly things and attempted to circumvent the larger pools of muck that collected into ever widening hazards. The hour was just edging on two when I stopped abruptly, ankle deep in mud, an undeniable itch exploding upwards from the soft skin on the arch of my foot. I froze. No. It wasn’t.
I grabbed my foot up, reaching the sole eyewards, noting the pulse of my blood coursing red and hot into its rapidly expanding digestive tract. Leech.
I squeaked and grabbed it from me, ripping its sticky body away, flicking it off and off but only transferring it from one finger onto the next. I paused for a moment, still mid-puddle, balancing precariously on one foot like a stork before flying up and over the remaining two meters in one bound. Again out of the water, I spun around, a dog chasing my own leech tail, seeing creeping stringy creatures in every shadow cast upon me.
I completed my journey in a fever, alternating between a wild run and a frantic leech inspection.
That night, new shoes safely tucked away under the doormat, I lay awake listening to distant drumming. It came in waves, marching back and forth across the night, surrounding me in my isolated cabin and chasing me around my dreams.
The next morning I woke to an even curiouser situation: the exact same one as the morning before. Too bad I don’t have two right feet.
I put the extra right shoe on my left foot anyway and shook my fist menacingly into the forest. “Very funny, dude, but I thought your people were excellent dancers.”
“Pardon?” asked my new unexpected neighbor, emerging from his cabin.
“Oh! Uh, my shoes, I lost two left shoes.”
“How on earth did you manage that?”
“The menehune,” but suddenly, aloud, in front of another human being the words sounded nothing but ridiculous. “Do you drum?” I was an idiot.
He took a step back from me and my two right shoes, reversing smoothly into his cabin, never removing his eyes from me until once more safe behind a double-latched door.
I maybe have had too much alone time of late, I thought to myself, I have lost the ability to interact reasonably with other people.
And then, just for kicks, I hissed wild into the undergrowth, “If you take my shoe again I’ll kill you.”

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