“Stranded”

Originally published by Slink Chunk Press

copyright (c) 2015 by Anjoli Roy

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 1.04.12 AM“Put your nerd hat on,” Keawe says, swinging open the front door of Gecko Books & Comics.

A blast of AC cuts the wet May air. The trade winds slam the door behind us like they’d never left Oʻahu, like it was silly that the week prior, when the air had been so hot, so still, I felt like I’d been abandoned in New York City’s muggiest subway car.

A cowbell clangs, announcing our arrival.

I drift over glossy covers of so many unworldly women wielding powerful weapons. A version of feminism. Or not. I wonder if Keawe is into this stuff. I wonder if he’s brought me here to see how I’ll react.

When a tall stack of comics captures his attention, I gravitate toward one with a brown-skinned woman holding a staff. She looks tough. Like my sister, who I left in New York.

“This one could be cool,” I say.

Keawe nods.

“Am I wrong,” a goateed man calls over to another customer he’s talking story with, “or are the My Little Pony covers getting a little too drawn? What’s with all the ponies in distress?” His shirt has unicorns on it and is tucked into belted, waist-high jeans.

There was a comic book store like this one in the Village in New York. I’d walk by it on the way to my fine-dining waitressing job, where customers would ignore answers to their own questions and throw fits if the muscles didn’t open in their bouillabaisse. On the nights after the end of my seven-year relationship, when I felt the loneliest, I’d peer inside at handfuls of scrawny teenage boys with greasy hair falling over their eyes as they clung to slick magazines with heroes on the covers. They were all alone, together. That was why I had to leave New York. I wanted connection, community, to know more about the place I was living than its street names and subway lines, to live in a place where folks asked each other questions and cared about the answers.

Something flicks at my neck. I flick back absentmindedly, expecting to feel the weight of a gnat, maybe a moth, but whatever it is sticks to me. I step back from the comics, flick more deliberately. A yellow-and-black blur falls to the floor.

“Oh shit,” I say. “A bee.”

“A-B what?” Keawe is looking closely at a cartoon man in full body armor, his upper body impossibly large.

“Look.” I point to the floor. The bee is walking in circles, buzzing loud enough that I feel its vibration in the soles of my feet. Its path widens into a spiral.

Keawe digs in his jeans pocket and pulls out hair-cutting scissors in a clear plastic sleeve.
Of course he has scissors with him. I’ve never met such a carefully disheveled man who is neither pretentious nor oblivious to his looks. But there is something about his hair. Wavy and black. When we started sleeping over at each other’s houses, I watched with interest when he wet it down each morning, wanting it to look a bit tame, but not entirely so. He doesn’t go to barber shops, preferring instead to trim sections in a kind of continual upkeep. It’s not a money thing. A haircut at Fantastic Sam’s is $15 and I’ve learned, during our few months of hanging out since school started, that he’ll spend that much on a meal, even on a student budget. Maybe it’s a kind of vanity. The thought makes me like him more. I feel like I’ve figured out this thing about him that other folks don’t know.

Keawe palms the scissors, shoves its naked blades back into his pocket, and hands the sleeve to me.
I crouch down and ease the bee onto the rigid plastic. I stand up to make my way to the door, but the bee drops, slamming against dingy linoleum. I crouch down and repeat the process, but the bee falls a second and then a third time. I feel the weight of its bee body thud on impact every time, so straight does it drop, so without resistance. I watch it try to crawl, and I want to cry. There’s a problem in the wings.

After several attempts, I finally push open the store’s door with the bee balanced safely on the scissor sleeve. Keawe is lost in the rows of slick covers, hasn’t noticed yet that I’ve left the store. I cup the bee like a flame. I cross the small alleyway off 12th Avenue, away from the mayhem of Waiʻalae Avenue, Kaimukī’s whooshing thoroughfare. I feel the wetness in the air again, notice the dark clouds racing across the bright green spine of the Ko‘olau mountains. I look down at the bee, trembling on the scissor sleeve, and wonder if it will make it through rain.

I’ve learned that Hawaiʻi’s spring sun showers are not like New York’s sudden downpours, which unleash like a fire hose. We’ll get a brief rain-mist. The sun will steam up any puddles left behind. Nobody will bother with umbrellas. There might be a rainbow. This much I know, from having moved to this neighborhood, this valley, nine months before. The bee will have a shot, I decide.

I spot a planter with some promising greenery.

“Is 12th Avenue Grill around here?” comes an unidentified voice to my left.

“I think…” I fumble with the bee, which I’m trying to coax onto a fern. “Sorry, I’m just trying to—”

“Save the bees!” the man interjects happily. He holds up a frond and the bee wobbles its damaged body to safety. Success.

“Yes, thanks.” I laugh politely, watching the bee teeter unsteadily. I am feeling uncertain, again, if it will survive. “Sorry. It’s around here somewhere, but I’m not super familiar with this block. I think there’s a sign—”

I look up to find that the man is now halfway down the short road ahead of me. Before crossing back to Gecko’s, where Keawe stands in the doorway looking at me with a smile that makes my heart thud, I remember for perhaps the first time since I left New York what it feels like to be stranded in the middle of my sentence.

This time, with mist dropping like a cool veil on hot skin, I decide I don’t mind.

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