Q: How is it possible that humans invented something as amazing as an airplane and something as awful as a nuclear bomb?
A: Human beings are mysterious and paradoxical.
Q: Will I encounter turbulence?
A: Yes. Into all lives a little turbulence must fall.
“I’ve decided baggage carousels are a perfect metaphor for life,” Olly says from atop the edge of a nonmoving one.
Neither of us has any checked luggage. All I’m carrying is a small backpack with essentials—toothbrush, clean underwear, Lonely Earth Maui guidebook, and The Little Prince. Of course I had to take it with me. I’m going to read it one more time to see how the meaning’s changed.
“When did you decide this?” I ask.
“Just now.” He’s in a crackpot-theory mood, just waiting for me to ask him to elaborate.
“Want to give it some more thought before you regale me?” I ask.
He shakes his head and jumps down right in front of me. “I’d like to begin the regaling now. Please.”
I gesture magnanimously for him to continue.
“You’re born. You get thrown onto this crazy contraption called life that just goes around and around.”
“People are the luggage in this theory?”
“Sometimes you fall off prematurely. Sometimes you get so damaged by other pieces of luggage falling on your head that you don’t really function anymore. Sometimes you get lost or forgotten and go around forever and ever.”
“What about the ones that get picked up?”
“They go on to lead unextraordinary lives in a closet somewhere.”
I open and close my mouth a few times, unsure where to begin.
He takes this as agreement. “See? It’s flawless.” His eyes are laughing at me.
“Flawless,” I say, meaning him and not the theory. I thread my fingers through his and look around. “Does it look like you remember?” Olly’s been here once before, on a family vacation when he was ten.
“I don’t really remember much. I remember my dad saying it wouldn’t kill them to spend a little money on first impressions.”
The terminal is dotted with greeters—Hawaiian women in long, flower-patterned dresses holding welcome signs and strands of purple and white orchid leis draped over their forearms. The air does not smell like the ocean. It smells industrial, like jet fuel and cleaning products. It’s a smell I could come to love because it would mean that I was traveling. All around us the noise level rises and falls, punctuated by choruses of alohas sung out by greeters and families alike. As first impressions go, this one isn’t bad. I wonder how his dad has managed to live in the world all his life without knowing what was precious in it.
“In your baggage theory, your mom is one of the bags that gets damaged?”
“And your sister? She’s one of the ones that gets lost, goes around and around forever?”
He nods again.
“Same as my sister.”
“And your dad?”
“He’s the carousel.”
I shake my head. “No,” I say, and grab his hand. “He doesn’t get to have everything, Olly.”
I’ve embarrassed him. He tugs his hand out of mine, moves a small distance away, studies the terminal.
“You, my dear, need a lei,” he says. He nods at a greeter who hasn’t yet found her party.
“I don’t,” I say.
“Oh, but you do,” he insists. “Wait here.” He makes his way over to her. At first she shakes her head no, but Olly persists, as he’s wont to do. A few seconds later they’re both looking over at me. I wave to prove to her that I’m nice and friendly, the sort of person you might want to give a free lei to.
She relents. Olly comes back triumphant. I reach out to take it, but he places it over my head instead.
“You know leis were traditionally given only to royalty,” I say, quoting from my guidebook. He gathers my hair into his hands and caresses the back of my neck before letting the lei fall into place.
“Who doesn’t know that, princess?”
I finger the strand, feeling as if the lei has transferred some of its beauty to me.
“Mahalo nui loa,” I say. “It means thank you very much.”
“You read every single word in that guidebook, didn’t you?”
I nod my head. “If I had a suitcase,” I say, “I would love it. I would shrink-wrap it when I traveled. I would put stickers from every place I’d ever been on it. And when I saw it on the carousel I would grab it with both hands and I’d be so happy to have it because then my adventures could really begin.”
He looks at me, a nonbeliever confronted with, if not evidence, then at least the possibility of God. He pulls me into his arms and we’re wrapped around each other, his face buried in my hair and my face pressed into his chest, no daylight between our bodies.
“Don’t die,” he says.
“I won’t,” I say back.
prom•ise (ˈpräməs) n. pl. -es. 1. The lie you want to keep. [2015, Whittier]
According to the guidebook, Maui is shaped like a head. Our cab ride will take us across the neck, along the jawline, over the chin, mouth, nose, and up to the wide forehead. I’ve booked us into a hotel in Ka’anapali, which is in the skull just beyond the hairline, geographically speaking.
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