Mango Wars

Kirby Wright

"Are the mangoes picked yet?" my father asked me.

I knew it bugged him when I didn’t answer immediately so I finished soaping the roof and started in on the windows.  I whistled to the tune of “Help Me, Rhonda.”  I sensed he’d given up on me leaving a mark on the world and that infuriated me.  I knew I’d leave a mark, I just didn’t know how or when.

“I asked you a question, Kirby.”

"No,” I said, “the mangoes haven’t been picked.”

"Do it right now."

"After I wash Mom’s car."

"I said now.  If those mangoes fall, they’ll bust the shakes on the roof."

"They won’t bust."

My father glared, as if encountering a hostile witness in court.  He’d become senior partner at the firm and along with the title came more responsibility and worry.  His fellow partners had told him the lady paralegals called him "Simon Legree" behind his back.  He’d earned a reputation for chewing up secretaries and spitting them out: he gave Rita the Redhead a nervous breakdown; Miss Lau left the firm with a bleeding ulcer; Mrs. Takahashi said she'd rather swim in a sea full of stinging jellyfish than take his dictation. He’d told us his “Secretary Stories” as part of a spiel to prove women were the weaker sex.  I think he’d adopted his Women Are Weak attitude after his kanaka maoli grandmother signed over her 200-acre share of Palolo Valley to her brothers for the promise of $50 a month.  

My father took off his bifocals.  He chewed on one of the tortoiseshell stems.  "I'm getting sick and tired of your attitude, Kirby.”   

"What attitude?"

"You're constantly challenging me.  You and Barry do that every chance you get.  Now, as long as you're living under my roof, you do as I say.  Go pick the mangoes." 

“Mom’s birthday comes once a year.  You want her car peachy keen, don’t you?”

He slid on his bifocals, placed his jacket and briefcase on the hood of the Olds, and headed for the garage.  The mango picker was leaning against the wall and he grabbed it.  The picker was a 10-foot retractable pole with a scooper.  The scooper had a row of steel hook-like prongs.  He hustled over with the picker and shoved it in my face.  "I said N-O-W, wise guy. "     

"After I finish the Barracuda," I said, turning my back to him.  "Wise guy" was my clue, but I ignored him because I didn't want him thinking he had power over me.  Then came a swoosh.  The scooper hit me in the neck and the prongs felt like fingernails.  I dropped the sponge and leaned against the car to steady myself.  The skin stung where I’d been gouged.  My father grabbed my hair and smashed my head against the fender.  I fell to the ground and he kicked me in the back. 

"No, Daddy.  Stop!"

He kept kicking so I rolled under the car. 

"Get out," he said, "get the hell out!"  

I turned my head and saw his oxblood shoes.  He tried kicking me but his ankle banged the exhaust pipe.  “Kukae!” he said, hobbling around the driveway doing a pain dance.  He swung the door open and got in.  The Barracuda roared to life.  I rolled out and made a run for it.  When I looked back, my mother’s car was heading straight for me.  I jumped into the bamboo in front of the house.  The brakes squealed.  I peeked through the stalks and saw my father climbing out.  "Get outta the bamboo."


"You’re a coward, Kirby.  You’ll always be a goddamn coward.”

A burning sensation began in my stomach and rose to my chest.  My hands trembled.  Part of me wanted to die.  Another wanted to kill.  I squeezed through the stalks and charged out, flailing my arms like a madman.  He hit me with a straight left to the jaw, but my momentum carried me through the punch.  Our bodies collided and he fell back against the Barracuda.  His bifocals flew over the hood.  I slugged the soft of his belly and grabbed the end of his tie and yanked—his head jerked forward. 

"You're getting it," I said, slapping his face.  He put his hands up to protect himself and I grabbed his collar and pulled.  The shirt ripped down to his belly, exposing his undershirt.  He threw a hook that struck me in the chest. I kicked him in the shin and swung a wild left that found his eye.  I heard running.  A pair of big arms grabbed me from behind and got me in a bear hug. 

"Stop it, Kirby.  Stop it now!"

"Keep that pupule away from me," my father gasped.

My brother dragged me over the blacktop and used his weight to pin me down on the hood of the Olds.  He was forty pounds heavier and most of that was muscle.  My father was on his hands and knees searching for his bifocals under the Barracuda.  I used my head to butt his jacket and briefcase off the hood onto the wet asphalt.   

"Lemme go, Barry.  He needs it!  He really needs it.”

Barry didn't let me go.  I jabbed his ribs with an elbow but he only squeezed harder.  I stuck a foot between his legs and tried tripping him, but he widened his stance.  I elbowed again.  He lifted me up and slammed me down on the hood.  "You're not getting away."

"I want him dead, I want that bastard dead."

"You'll go to jail, is that what you want?  Listen to me, Kirby, listen.  He's your father."

"I'm doing it for you and me, and for Mom and Julie.  Please, Barry, please lemme kill him."

My father found his bifocals and looked over.

"I'm going to kill you,” I called.  “You’ll be dead someday!”

My father shook his head and stumbled into the house while Barry kept me pinned. 

"Calm down, Kirbo," he said, "it's okay.  I know how you feel.  Mom and Julie know how you feel."

The minutes went by and the red inside me turned to blue.  I wanted to find a way back to my father, some safe path through a field loaded with land mines.  I wanted him to put an arm over my shoulders and say everything would be all right. 

Barry pulled me off the hood.  My body went limp but he held me up.  It was the first time my brother had held me like that, and I began to weep.




hala:  pandanus tree

hanai:  raised not by parents but by extended family, usually the grandparents

hapa haole:  part-Hawaiian and part-white

kanaka:  derogatory term for Hawaiian man or boy

kanaka maoli:  having at least 50% Hawaiian blood

kukae:  shit

pakalolo:  marijuana

pupule:  crazy

<< 1 2