5.6   "Place of Refuge"(cont'd)

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Ordinarily Prudence didn’t smoke during extreme weather, in case she had to respond somehow. But during this storm she was making an exception. The constant crackling of trees in the jungle had begun sounding like breaking bones and the winds were like voices of the dead.

She had a decent high going, all things considered. In the midst of her pre-engineered bliss, however, she heard the sound of a car coming down the driveway. Its unfamiliar engine was running at high speed and was accompanied by the percussive crunch of fallen branches under the tires.

She went out onto the lanai where Paka’a, god of the wind, was having a field day. She pulled her hair away from her face and in the dubious light of dusk saw a small red car zooming onto the lawn.

The ratty little car skidded to a halt just below the house. The driver’s door popped open and the Rinpoche emerged, trembling in his culottes. “Good God!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, no,” said Pru. “Ohhh…NO!”

The Rinpoche’s windblown tunic was billowing up and down his chest and his pant legs were flapping wildly. “What a chaos!” he cried. “Trees are flying down everywhere.”

“What you doing here?!”

The Rinpoche ran to the bottom of the steps.

Prudence leaned over the rail and raised her hand. “No!” she said. “Go away.”

“Prudence! I need to borrow your truck. May I please borrow your truck?!”

“No, you may not borrow my truck.”

“I need to get to the airport and the only way is along the Old Government Road—.”

“Nah! No! I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to know anything.”


“No, Kyle. Go find a donkey and ride it all the way to freedom. I’m going back inside.”

“Wait! You don’t understand. There is only one road out of here: the Highway. But they’ve blocked it; they’re looking for me. However, if I can get my hands on a four-wheel drive—.”

Prudence shook her head. “Not a chance. I have done more for you. And because of you. Now, go home.”

“I don’t have a home.”

“That’s not my problem.”

“Then at least let me wait out the storm here. Do you have any idea how treacherous it is out there? Kapoho Road is blocked by massive, falling trees. I had to turn around and take the Highway to get here.” Prudence moved to the top step and didn’t say anything. The wind whipped her skirt against her knees.  She grabbed the edges and tied them into a knot. “As you know,” the Rinpoche told her, “in old Hawaii, under the kapu system, a man who had broken the law would be forgiven if he could make his way to a place of refuge. Please, Prudence. Just this one time.”

“My home is not your puuhonua, Kyle. I forgave you long ago for the way you treated me but it’s not up to me to forgive you for whatever you’ve done this time.”

“So you’ll just leave me to the elements?”

As she contemplated her answer a ferocious cracking sound came from along the driveway. Prudence looked in disbelief as a mighty albizia fell in slow motion on the far side of the rainbow eucalyptus trees. It toppled across the driveway and crashed onto the ground, limbs snapping and its mighty canopy shredding.

“See!” cried the Rinpoche.

Fuck me, whispered Pru.

The Rinpoche stared at her more intently. He felt aimless and unprotected on the open lawn, as though nature had pinned a target on his back. “Prudence—!”

“Fine. I will not leave you to the elements. You can stay down at the cottage until the winds die down. However! I don’t want to see your shadow come sunrise. When morning comes you will be gone. Got it? You will never come back to Hawaii. You will never contact me. You will be erased.”

He started to come up the steps.

“Don’t even think about it.”

“I just want to give you a hug. To say thank you.”

“Not interested.” She turned to go into the house, then stopped and looked down at him one last time. “By the way. I know how to castrate a bull with a steak knife.”

“A handy skill.”

“Precisely. Now go down to the cottage and don’t even think about coming back up here.” Then quietly: “And have a good life.”

“Thank you, Prudence Overmeyer. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you. Thank you. Namaste.” He bowed deeply. By the time he stood up she’d gone back inside the house.

With the wind whipping little bits of terror into his heart, the Rinpoche approached the front door of Manu’s former cottage and rattled the handle. “Damn. Locked.” He went around back and tried the sliding doors. Also locked. He walked the entire perimeter of the house and there wasn’t an open window to climb through, so he sat down on the broad steps of the back lanai trying to stay calm.

He looked out over the darkening silhouettes of the coconut palms scattered across the lawn, their rustling crowns flailing terrifically. The wind was coming from the south, up through the jungle, and it blew across the lawn, hitting the back of the cottage head on. If one of those fronds were to fly off—, he thought, looking up. Or a coconut—. He considered his naked exposure and the multitude of glass in the doors behind him. Then as if he had willed it, a dying bract flew off of one of the coconut trees and came right at him. It landed mere yards from the steps with the thud of a body landing on grass. He let out a yelp and shuffled over to a corner of the lanai for cover. He crouched there breathing in and out the warm, acidic air from the volcano. He tried to focus on what was next, not in terms of days or months but in terms of minutes, or conceivably hours, if time would yield him that much. But what exactly was his plan? What did it matter? He couldn't think beyond the steps of the lanai. What was consuming him was Prudence: the last time he’d been in such a predicament, Prudence was involved. He wouldn’t go so far as to blame her, but clearly she was a malevolent influence in his life: first Mexico, now Puna. All his intervening years had been trouble free. But the moment she’s back in his life: this!

What a mess.

After subjecting himself to the howling wind for almost half an hour, cowering in the corner of the lanai with nowhere to hide, the Rinpoche started  getting paranoid. What if Prudence had turned on him? Turned him in, was setting him up. She could easily have called Peter Pualoa and told him where he was. With the driveway effectively taken out, there was some buffer of safety and time, but in Puna, as in life, nothing is absolute except death. (And even that’s open to interpretation.)

He had to get out of there, yet there was no way out. Roadblock to the north. Falling trees between him and the impassible Old Government Road. Driveway blocked. He needed a sign. He meditated briefly and extended a call to the universe to give him a sign. He opened his eyes and stood up. The wind was terrific. There was scarcely an albizia from here all the way to the ocean, so at least he wouldn’t be crushed to death in the short term. Nevertheless, he decided to perch himself on the other side of the house, on the small porch by the front door, where he’d be better protected from the wind. He stepped down from the lanai and walked past the outdoor shower and its standing guard of arecas. The grand monkeypod at the edge of the jungle cast an evening shade over the back of the house as his eyes roamed the darkening landscape.

He stopped, his eyes fixated on a spot.

“What is that?”

He saw what looked like a cave burrowed into the jungle. His leather sandals crunched along the yard. Leaves and twigs whirled through the air like tiny spears. He walked along the jungle’s edge, beneath the monkeypod, past the entrance to the fire pit. As he approached the black hole a tunnel began to take shape.

“Could it be—?”

He stepped onto the rocky dirt and walked a few yards down the rough, newly hewn road.

“Great god!”  he exclaimed, peering into the dark. The universe had given him an escape route.

Enraptured, his optimism renewed, he ran from the jungle and across the coconut lawn to the front of the cottage where he’d parked Pualani’s car. He climbed in clumsily, catching his tunic in the door as he slammed it shut. He backed up hurriedly and navigated the little car through the shower trees then across the back lawn, weaving in and out of the coconut palms as if on an obstacle course.

The road he flung the car upon was bumpy. Rocky. Rutted. Clearly unfinished. But it had to be better than the Old Government Road. And much shorter. His brain shook inside his cranium as the little car jostled about. Surely the road would empty out onto Ohalani Road, he figured. Even if not, it must come out somewhere. After all, all small roads in Puna eventually lead to larger ones.

He navigated the virgin pathway, the spastic headlights illuminating his path at shearing angles. Each hole he hit along the way jolted the car horrendously. More than once he had to back up to dislodge a lava rock from under the bumper.

Prudence held her phone in her lap. She had Lau Lau on speaker. She nodded, nodded, and then, “No no, it's fine. I don't want you to come check. Don't be silly. I was just wondering if it was unlocked so–.” She quickly realized she had to make up a little lie. “My neighbor Matthew was coming over to wait out the storm – his yurt is surrounded by albizia. I didn’t want him to get out and have to open the gate. That's all.” She listened. “True. A big one fell across the driveway a little while  ago.” She nodded. “Yep. The guilt would have been crippling.”

Lau Lau concluded: “I’ll bring some boys and chainsaws tomorrow. Sounds like there’s trees down everywhere. I’ll call you first. Let you know.”

Pualani’s sedan bounced along the road unmercifully, its undercarriage becoming progressively more scratched and dented, adding insult to its pre-existing injuries. The light from the headlights ricocheted around the forest and the Rinpoche bobbed up and down in the driver’s seat. With some effort he navigated a bend in the road and then suddenly slammed on the brake. The car came to an unhappy rest. The headlights settled down. The Rinpoche groaned as they shone on a massive yellow object blocking the road: Kam’s D8 was stretched from one edge to the other, leaving no passable stretch of dirt for the car to get by.

Meanwhile, Pualani lay on her twin bed in the hut she shared with Mimi, the yoga instructor. Mimi spent a great deal of her time with Kam, the pig hunting maker of roads, which left Pualani alone most nights. Ordinarily she enjoyed the quiet time, but when things were weird it was nice to have company. Tonight things were extremely weird and she wished that Mimi were there. The earth was improvising a soundtrack that matched the fretfulness that had overtaken her. The wind was rushing repeatedly through the o’hia forest on the hill and the harsh brushing together of palm fronds and shrubbery outside gave her a fright.

Source: shroomery.org

Prudence, realizing she was perhaps being imprudent, put a pot of water on the stove and went to the sideboard in the dining room. She pulled open the drawer where she keeps some serving platters and her weed. She tugged it a bit harder and then reached into the back of the drawer. When she removed her hand, she held in her palm a wooden box the size of a teacup. She unclasped the brass clip that kept it shut and retrieved a little pouch of pungent, powdered brown stuff.

The Rinpoche decided to get around the bulldozer by driving the car through the scrub jungle. He made it around through the sheer force of determination, his maneuvers accompanied by an anvil chorus of scraping, scratching, thumping and other deleterious sounds. (In his text to Pualani he would apologize for the condition of the car.)

Once back on the rutted drive, he continued lurching forward, glibly sensing that Ohalani Road must be near. Just as he began thinking his freedom was confirmed – he could see an opening in the trees ahead – the single functioning headlight of the car illuminated yet another impediment to his passing: a quartet of boulders, elbow high, laying across the edge of the new road.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The Rinpoche stopped the car again and got out. The boulders were spaced so that he couldn’t get around them, and there were clusters of trees along the road that he couldn’t possibly drive through, as he’d done to evade the dozer.

He tried pushing one of the big blue rocks with his body, but to no avail; they weighed a ton. Too unwilling to have gone this far and be stopped, he got back in the car. He inched the car forward, pressing the side of the bumper with the broken headlight against one of the boulders on the end. He pressed the accelerator and the car urged forward but the boulder wouldn’t budge. He lifted his foot to let the car settle then tried again. This time, the car rocked as the boulder gave signs that it might give in. He let off the gas pedal again, backed up slightly, and then gunned the engine. The car slammed hard against the boulder and there was a harsh, crunching sound. Cinder and dirt flew from beneath the back tires, raining rocks into the jungle as the back wheels churned. The boulder gave and it moved out of place and the Rinpoche, along with what remained of Pualani’s car, lurched forward, having cleared himself a path.

The Rinpoche drove onto the gloriously paved street and floored the gas pedal. As he sped down Ohalani Road he could smell his freedom. He didn’t care the subsequent risks, he was on his way out. He would drive to the end of Red Road and then cross the lava field on foot. According to Pualani, the dried lava bed was only three or four miles long. He could walk that distance in an hour or so, then hike upslope to Volcano Village. He already had a water bottle filled for his escape and in the glove box there was a flashlight with a head strap he could wear while walking. (Every driver in Puna keeps two things in their car at all times: a flashlight for the immense dark and an umbrella for what is usually the frequent rain.)

Back at Kukio Kai, the wind was blowing across the expansive grounds of the retreat. It was a hot wind, a voggy wind. An angry, lonely, confused and slightly bitter wind. Pualani stared at the ceiling fan and every now and again looked out the window. On her bedside was the necklace Kyle had given her the night before. She lifted it with one finger and inspected the pretty, polished stones. She wondered if he’d given it to her because he knew.

Her mind began its thousand other questionings and it kept landing on the most inexplicable of all events surrounding her affair with Rinpoche Samdup: in his haste to get out of town, he didn’t even bother to kiss her goodbye.

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