Lehua Parker: Talking Story
Adopted by a loving Hawaiian family, Zader has it rough--he has all these weird allergies, a bully after him, Lua lessons, pressure to get into a good prep school, plus a surfing brother afraid of sharks. It's no wonder he loses himself in his art and day dreams about strange worlds and people.
When old Uncle Kahana and his poi dog ‘Ilima find a newborn boy with a funny birthmark abandoned on a reef in Lauele, Hawaii, he thinks he knows just how special this child is: he’s allergic to both salt and fresh water, one drop on his skin and it’s like water on a white hot skillet; he also can’t eat anything raw from the sea or meat that’s rare. Uncle Kahana thinks this child is his blood ‘ohana—family—and doesn’t have to work too hard to convince his niece and her family to adopt Zader. If only the rest of Zader’s life was so easy!
Central to Hawaiian culture is the idea of kaona, the real and veiled meaning under any story, poem, or song. On the surface, even with his unusual allergies, Zader is an average eleven year old boy with typical challenges of fitting in with his peers, getting into a good prep school, and maintaining his relationship with his surfing crazed brother. When Zader is born, hidden relationships, conflicting expectations, and desires among his birth and adopted human families come into play and affect his life in ways he can’t at first understand or control. As he matures and begins to adapt to his “allergies” in ways that make it easier to live a normal life, these hidden kaona are revealed, turning Zader’s world upside down as he first struggles to accept the reality of who and what he is, explores how this affects his relationships and life choices, and ultimately decides how he will live his life.
The End of Summer Fun
Like beef?: an invitation to a fight, not dinner.
“Zader, like play?” said my almost twin brother Jay. I was sitting under the monkey pod tree by the soccer field, scratching in the dirt with an old popsicle stick. It was the last day of Summer Fun and I wanted to go home already. “Zader?” said Jay.
“What?” I didn’t look up.
“I said, like play? Frankie and me and you against Jerry, Carson, and Benji. Shambattle. Just the guys down on the asphalt by the tetherball pole. No sprinklers over there.” He was tossing a red playground ball from hand to hand.
“Nah,” said Chad Watanabe, “Zader no can handle shambattle. More better he go play chasemaster with the girls.”
Tuna-zilla lurched up from the under the slide where she’d been counting ukus. “What you said, buddah-head?” she drooled.
“Nothing,” backpedaled Chad.
Like a giant gecko under a heat lamp, Tuna-zilla slowly blinked and turned her big head toward Chad, cupping her right hand into a loose fist as she spoke. “You like me show you what one girl can handle? You like beef?”
“N-n-no,” said Chad. “I wasn’t talking about you, Tuna-zil…uh, I mean, Petunia. You can handle anykine.”
She nodded. “So you no like beef?”
Chad looked at her hands, the size of baseball mitts if mitts could be curled into fists, and blanched. “No way! I was talking about Zader. He the one who no can handle nothing.”
“Not ’cause he one girl!” laughed ‘Ālika Kanahele. “’Cause he one panty. He’s not a tough tita like you, Tuna-zilla.” ‘Ālika was Petunia’s cousin and the only person who could get away with calling her Tuna-zilla to her face. He was sitting on the picnic table, carving something into the table top with his dad’s utility knife and trying to hide it from Tony, our Summer Fun leader. Tony was busying collecting the juice money from the girls. ‘Ālika had maybe five more minutes before Tony came walking out of the classroom. Down near the cafeteria you could Aunty Harriet strumming her ‘ukulele, her high wavering voice teaching the fourth graders Little Grass Shack.
I poked at the dirt with my stick. So funny, I forgot to laugh, I thought.
“Shut-up, ‘Ālika,” said Jay. “No one was talking to you.”
“No one was talking to Darth Zader either,” said ‘Ālika. “Loser.”
“Ah-ha, ah-ha,” breathed Chad sucking air in and out like a scuba diver.
“Wow, that sounds so natural when you retarded, yeah Chad?” said Jay. “Sound j’like you stupid for real.”
Chad stood up. “What you say?”
“Ha! Deaf, too?” said Jay.
“Jay,” called Frankie. “We going play or what?”
“Yeah,” said Jay, never taking his eyes off Chad or ‘Ālika. “We’re gonna play. You coming, Z?”
I looked at the sky. There were some clouds, but they were white and fluffy and far away. I shrugged. I dropped my stick and picked up my umbrella. I was walking toward Jay when it happened.
‘Ālika threw a dixie cup of water on me.
“Zader!” Jay shrieked.
The water hit my shoulder and upper left arm. Hot lava fingers oozed down, scalding, sizzling, burning everything in its path like acid, like snake venom, like death. On fire, I dropped to the ground and rolled.
“Holy crap,” said Chad. “Try look. J’like holy water on one devil!”
Wide-eyed with excitement, ‘Ālika crossed himself. “He’s possessed! Everybody,” he called, “Zader stay possessed!”
Through the pain, I felt Jay kneel down next to me, his hands ripping at the bottom of my tee-shirt. “Zader, off! Get it off! Lift your arms so I can get it off.” As he threw the shirt over my head, I felt a final sting as a wet sleeve brushed my face, raising another angry line of welts along my cheekbone.
More shadows ringed me. I opened my eyes through the pain to see Jerry Santos and Benji Chang looking down at me, mouths open and catching flies. I pushed Jay away and stood up, covering the weeping sore spots and broken blisters with my hands as best I could.
‘Ālika was standing on the picnic table bench, holding his index fingers out, making the sign of a cross, his utility knife forgotten in the dirt. “You stay away from me, you freak,” he yelled.