Guardians

Ala Moana Shopping Center is anchored, much like Sears and Liberty House used to do, replaced now by Nordstrom and Macy’s respectively, by two sculpture fountains. On the east side (Diamond Head end) stands Waiola, “living waters,” a huge bronze statue that overlooks 17 Japanese koi. The artist is George Tsutakawa, and the fountain was dedicated in 1966.

On the opposite end of the shopping center, the west side (‘Ewa side), there is a much smaller bronze sculpture called Kia‘i, “the guardian.” It too is a fountain, and, keeping it all in the family, the artist is Gerard Tustakawa, son of George. This one was dedicated in 2016.

There are no fish in this much smaller pond, so I make my penny wishes in this one whenever I pass it on my daily walk. That’s maybe four or five times a week. I wish for various things, but I always wish that no one harm any of the koi in the other ponds scattered throughout the center, including the 17 in Waiola.

You can throw coins into Kia‘i because there are no fish. If you throw coins into ponds where fish are present, the fish may eat them and choke to death. So I wish continued good health for all the koi, including praying for parents to keep their kids from trying to touch the fish.

I love both fountains, but for different reasons. Kia‘i is the more effervescent. Rather than simply fall, the water jets out the top, and the spray travels in whatever direction the wind blows. If it’s a windless day, the mist just travels up and away.

I’m actually glad there are no koi. The fewer spots where fish can be harmed by unthinking people, or intentionally by downright nasty people, the better. And I do like to make my wishes, to toss in my pennies without worrying about the fish trying to swallow them.

Waiola is massive, the sound deafening. As I told the man who feeds the koi in the various ponds, I like Waiola the best because it’s a huge pond where the fish have a chance to get the hell away from people trying to grab them. Not so in the others.

That too is one big reason I love Waiola: I often go by when the man who feeds the koi is doing so. They know him well and it’s wonderful to see them all swim to him when he arrives at the pond’s edge.

Another reason is that there are pigeons who come to drink and take baths in the Waiola sculpture. It’s constructed with several little “ponds” built into it, a regular condominium of birdbaths.

I actually now recognize many of the pigeons, and sometimes have one-sided conversations with them if they happen to perch next to me on the railing overlooking the pond when I stop to watch the man feed the fish.

One of the birds is absolutely distinctive. He or she is a kind of off-white with light grayish splotches that make me imagine someone threw watery gray paint on it. Its whole aura is something like Pig-Pen’s in Peanuts. I have named it “Scruffy,” a choice I hope is gender-neutral.

Besides the bird’s coloring, however, there is one characteristic that identifies it absolutely: it has only one leg. At the same time I feel sorry for the bird, especially when I see it hopping with effort, I admire its ability to function without appearing overall to be impaired in the least.

This morning, as I was walking up the stairs from the ground level to the mall level, I encountered Scruffy sitting on the railing near the top. I bid Scruffy good morning and continued on my way. When I’d concluded my walk, I went to my car. I always park on the Kia‘i end of the shopping center, the one opposite Waiola.

My car, then, was about half a mile away from where Scruffy and I engaged in our one-sided conversational greeting earlier in the morning. This would have been maybe an hour ago. My walks take off in all kinds of directions, but an hour seems about right.

Now whom do I see sitting beside my car? Why Scruffy. To my great surprise, I might add. How Scruffy even had any idea where I parked, and that it was on the opposite end of the shopping center, is beyond my comprehension.

“Why hello, Scruffy,” I said, “how did you know where I parked?”

Scruffy, of course, said nothing. For all I know, Scruffy may have replied with, “Have you heard of coincidences?”

But I did not see this as a coincidence. I saw it as my buddy coming to check me out.

Scruffy hopped closer to me. I was wondering about hunger. I said, “Scruffy, I’m afraid I have no snacks for you.”

Scruffy looked at me, probably thinking, “What? I go through all the trouble of seeking you out in this ocean of cars and people, and you got nothing for me?”

I could sense Scruffy’s irritation.

“Scruffy,” I continued, “if you come to see me the next time I’m parked here, I promise that I will have some kind of snack for you.”

Scruffy’s head bobbed side to side. I took this to mean, “I hope you’re serious about that offer.”

“Yes, Scruffy,” I said. “I give you my word that from now on I will always bring you something to eat when I park here to walk. Okay?”

Scruffy’s head bobbed some more.

“Now,” I said, opening my car door, “you are dangerously close to my front tire. Be careful, because I’ll be backing out.”

I closed the door, started up the engine, and very, very slowly reversed out of the parking space. Scruffy stood off to the side, watching me go, and thinking, I imagine, that we’d somehow become mutual guardians for one another.

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