Thursday, September 6, 2007

Kino

I used to love to go to the swap meet to look for bargains. It was on one of these bargain-hunting days, March 19, 1995, that I noticed a boy looking at a used Nintendo game. He was sitting in a wheelchair; he was bald and he was missing his right leg. I heard the woman he was talking to say, “$10.” He put the game back down on the ground and started to wheel himself away. He passed by me. I picked up something and pretended to look at it. I watched him with my side-eye as he slowly wheeled himself further and further away. I put down whatever it was that I was looking at and proceeded on my way in the opposite direction. As I continued walking and browsing, my mind kept returning to this boy. I started thinking about all the Nintendo games my son, Landon, had stored away. He had about 30 old used Nintendo games idly collecting dust in his closet. Too bad, I thought. Too late. There was no way I could find that boy again.

I was at work the next day when I decided to make a phone call. I called Landon’s pediatrician’s office. I talked to Barbie. I told her, “I was at the swap meet yesterday. I saw this boy. He looks Hawaiianish, maybe about 15 years old; he’s missing his right leg and he’s bald. I’d like to give him Landon’s old Nintendo games, but I don’t know how to find him. He must be getting treatment somewhere. Can you help me?” I expected her to give me a few phone numbers, but she didn’t. She just said, “Hmmmm, okay I’ll give it a try.”

One week passed. Nothing. Two weeks passed. Nothing. I thought, oh well, I guess it didn’t work. At least I tried. Then three weeks later I got a phone call from a woman named Terry. She said that she was Dr. Shupe’s nurse and she thought she might know the boy I was looking for. She said his name was Kino Kintaro and he was from the Chuuk Islands. She said that he was living with his aunt while receiving treatment here at Tripler Army Medical Center. She said that the aunt’s name was Samiko. She gave me a phone number and warned me that I might have a hard time communicating with them. I decided to wait until I got home to make the call.

After I got home, I changed my clothes, made myself a glass of iced water and plopped down on the bed in front of the phone. I sat there and sat there. I was really nervous and full of apprehension. What if they can’t understand me? What if they live really, really far away? What if he’s not the right boy? What if they think I’m nuts? Finally, I dialed the number. Someone answered and I asked for Samiko. The person went looking for her, and I thought, okay, so far so good. Samiko came on the line and I explained about the Nintendo games. She asked how much I was selling them for, and I told her that I wasn’t selling them but that I wanted to give them to Kino. She said okay, and we agreed that I would drop them off the following Sunday morning. She said that they lived at Halawa Housing and she gave me the address. I hung up the phone and thought, “Oh my God, Halawa Housing??!! Yikes!!”

Well, Sunday morning came. With map in hand and my mom and my sister for backup I headed for Halawa Housing. The housing project was huge, but the buildings were clearly marked and finding Building A was no problem. As we approached the building, I saw a Polynesian-looking woman brushing her just-washed hair. I parked in front of her and waved. She smiled. As I exited my car, I asked if she was Samiko and she said yes. I was disappointed that Kino was nowhere to be seen. I was anxious to find out if he was indeed the boy that I had seen at the swap meet. As I walked towards the trunk of my car I asked Samiko if Kino was around. She nodded and pointed towards the building. Just then, I could see the wheels of a wheelchair start to slowly creep from behind a wall. I first noticed the missing leg. Then, as he fully emerged, I saw his face. I whispered to my sister, “It’s him. It’s him”. I just couldn’t believe it. I had found him!!! I later learned that he had been hiding because he was afraid of me. As I approached him he smiled. It was a huge, beautiful smile. He spoke in a very soft and gentle manner. We didn’t say much to each other. I could barely speak. I was very, very close to tears. Before leaving, I hugged him and managed to say, “Be strong.”

I got into my car, backed out of the parking space, and while waving goodbye, drove off. I drove just far enough to be out of their sight and pulled over. I couldn’t drive. I could only sob and sob.

In the days that followed, I couldn’t get Kino off my mind. I needed to see him again. I needed to talk to him again. I needed to know that he was okay. I called him again that same week. As soon as I heard that sweet, gentle voice on the phone, I felt a tug at my heart. He quietly said that he was fine and that he was enjoying the video games. I told him that I had an Easter basket for him and asked if it was okay if I dropped it off the following Sunday. He said it was okay.

I went by myself this time. Kino was already waiting outside for me as I pulled into the parking lot. We talked for a little longer this time. He proudly announced that he was all through with his chemotherapy session and was anxious to be going back to Chuuk. He had already been here a year, first to have surgery to remove parts of his lung and then for the chemotherapy. I left my name and phone number with him, and told him to call me if he ever needed anything. As I hugged him goodbye, I could feel his strength, and I felt confident that he was on the road to recovery.

So, it was with surprise that I received a phone call from Samiko the following week. She said that Kino was in the hospital. The doctor had noticed that his eyes looked a bit too yellow and they wanted to run some tests on him. I thanked her for informing me and told her that I would keep in touch.

A few days later, I called Samiko and found out that Kino was still in the hospital. I was puzzled. Why was he still in the hospital? Weren’t they just going to run some tests? I decided to visit him after work.

Tripler Army Medical Center is a huge labyrinth with passages and halls leading in every direction, but somehow finding Kino was a breeze. I peeked into his room and saw him sitting up in his bed. He was in good spirits and, to my relief, seemed so healthy that, except for the antibiotics he was receiving intravenously, really didn’t seem to belong there. I couldn’t stay long, so we talked for just a little while, but I promised to visit again.

I did return almost daily thereafter while he continued to receive intravenous antibiotics. He steadily improved.

Kino’s room was usually filled with friends and relatives, of which there were many. Uncles, aunts and cousins would often come to visit. His Aunty Kinie rarely left his side. She had come with him from Chuuk when he first came a year earlier. She was a school teacher back home and was his chief caregiver and interpreter. I soon learned that they were all deeply religious and would often watch Christian programs on the TV set in Kino’s room. They attended church every Sunday and every Thursday.

Kino’s English was limited and I spoke no Chuukese, but communication between the two of us came easily. He told me stories from back home of fishing and diving and hiking. He told me of how one day he and his cousin had gone off in a tiny boat far out to sea and with only a hand line and a chicken feather lure, had caught a huge billed fish. The capture of the fish has saved him from being severely punished for embarking on such a dangerous excursion. He also told me of once going hiking into the mountains with his friends and how they soon got tired of carrying him and so had just left him there. Kino told me that before coming to Hawaii he had started a farm with chickens and pigs and even a watermelon patch. He said he loved watermelon. There had also been a chicken hunting expedition with one of his brothers on a deserted island to gather wild chickens for his farm.

As he got bored with the hospital stay, I taught him to play games like Othello and Connect 4, and his favorite Battleship. It was hilarious watching Kino cheat while playing Battleship against his uncle, moving his ships out of harm’s way, with his uncle so deep in concentration not even noticing.

Finally, exactly two weeks after he entered the hospital, the IV was removed and Kino was scheduled to be released. He was thrilled. I guiltily admitted to him that although I too was happy that he was going home soon, I would miss the time we spent together. He was silent for awhile, and I was afraid that I might have offended him. He then nodded his head but remained silent.

The next day, I called the hospital as I usually did before visiting. Kinie told me that Kino had developed a fever and had been vomiting all night. My heart sank.

I think that way down deep in my heart, I knew that Kino was dying. I suspect that the reason we met was so that we could be together during his last days. As his body slowly started to fail him, I watched him suffer. I felt his uncertainty. I felt his fear. Yet, through it all, he continued to display the utmost faith in God and Christ. He admitted that he was afraid of dying, but said that he trusted God with all his heart. It was his faith that gave comfort and strength to all of those who loved and cared for him.

On the day that Kino died, five people were allowed to be with him in his intensive care room. The family allowed me to be one of the five. As life ebbed from his body I stroked his cheek and whispered “goodbye” into his ear.

18 comments:

Randism said...

wow; what an amazing story. life is so full of surprises; thank goodness, the two of you were able to hook up and connect before his passing...

jalna said...

Rand, meeting Kino was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

K and S said...

moving story, glad you were able to spend time together.

jalna said...

Me too, Kat.

Renee said...

Wow ... what a beauuutiful story! Thank you for sharing such a touching experience(sniff sniff).
Happy Holidays to you and your family! I look forward to your return in January. :O)

jalna said...

Hey Renee!! Happy Holidays to you and yours too!

alamea said...

i don't know how to start off Aunty jAlna, I mean, reading all this make me realize that everybody that we meet in life are the people that GOd knows and want us to help them out....as i write this comment...my heart is crying...not because Im sad..but I thank God for yOu...

i love you Aunty:)

jalna said...

You will always hold a very special place in my heart, Teisy.

Kanani said...

I was checking out your pics then came across the article on Micronesians and your story of Kino. Working with Micronesian students, I am always looking for ways to better meet their needs. The schools need to do more and we're not there yet. Your story touched my heart and reminded me that it just takes a simple gesture of kindness to reach someone and to understand their plight. I will share this with others at school. Your love and passion touched me deeply.

jalna said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here Kanani. I would love for you to share Kino's story and pass it on. If only to help people become a bit more open and willing to understand Kino's people.

Mariko said...

That is really heavy. I have so much respect for you for making a great friendship like that in such an unlikely way.

jalna said...

Mariko, I totally had to step out of my comfort zone, but I somehow felt compelled. I really think it was just meant to be.

Nippon Nin said...

So sad and beautiful story. It made me cry. It almost miracle that you found Kino again. I think God is watching over Kino so that he was able to spent short but wonderful time with you.

Susan said...

Such a beautiful experience. Being a school teacher on Guam, each year we have students from all over Micronesia and many from Chuuk. Tks for sharing.

jalna said...

Susan, many of Kino's relatives are on Guam.

Susan said...

I am not surprised. Maybe I've had some of his cousins in my class : )

Donovan said...

I didn't read this until you posted the link in your last blog. I was about to tear up, but I'm fighting it because I'm eating with Wendell and I don't want him to laugh lol. Amazing story.

jalna said...

You crack me up, Donovan!! And I do believe Wendell would laugh!