The day he left, the whole family accompanied Papa to the harborRachel up front in Mama's lap, Ben, Kimo, and Sarah riding in the back of the lurching wagon. Papa tied up at the Esplanade, his children putting on a brave face as they escorted him back to the SS Mariposa, all of them quietly determined not to cry.
But almost as though someone were taking their secret thoughts, their hidden grief, and vocalizing it, there camefrom the pier immediately aheada terrible, anguished wail. It was not one voice but many, a chorus of lament; and as the cry died away, another promptly began, rising and falling like the wind. It was, Henry and Dorothy both knew, not merely a wail, but a word: auwé, Hawaiian for "alas." Auwé! Auwwayy! (Alas! Alas!)
It sounded exactly like the cries of grief and loss that Rachel had heard the day the king had come home. "Mama," she said, fearfully, "is the Queen dead, too?"
"No, child, no," Dorothy said.
Moored off Pier 10 was a small, decrepit interisland steamer, the Mokoli'i. A distraught crowd huddled behind a wooden barricade, sighing their mournful dirge as a procession of othersyoung and old, men and women, predominantly Hawaiians and Chinesewere herded by police onto the old cattle boat. Now and then one of the people behind the barricade would reach out to touch someone boarding the ship: a man grasping for a woman, a child reaching for his mother, a friend clasping another's hand for the last time.
"Ma'i paké," Kimo said softly.
"What?" Rachel asked.
"They're lepers, you ninny," Sarah admonished. "Going to Moloka'i."
"What's a leper?"
Someone in the crowd threw a flower lei onto the water, but contrary to legend, it was not likely to ever bring any of these travelers back to Honolulu.
"They're sick, baby. Very sick," Mama explained. Rachel didn't understand. The people didn't look sick; they didn't look much different than anyone on the other side of the barricade.
"If they're sick," Rachel asked, "why isn't someone taking care of them?"
No one answered her; and as that word, leper, hung in the still humid air, Dorothy dug her fingers into Rachel's shoulders and turned her away from the Mokoli'i.
"Come on. Go! Alla you, go!" Henry and Dorothy shepherded their children away from the pier, away from the hapless procession marching onto the grimy little steamer, away from the crowd that mourned for them as though they were already dead; but they couldn't escape the crowd's lament, the sad chorale which followed them like some plaintive ghost, all the way to the Mariposa.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition, at the end of chapter 1. Copyright © 2003 by Alan Brennert.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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