Kahi felt like an idiot. He’d seen this so many times on TV, read about it in stories. If you don’t ask, sure as taxes and death, you find out when you reach the counter that you’ve been waiting in the wrong line. Just ask. Ask. But guys don’t ask, right?
“Next!” came from the direction of the possibly wrong window.
Everyone moved forward a few steps. A drop of sweat rolled from his hairline down the middle of his back. He thought about trade winds and shave ice. The psychological game helped for a second or two. He wiped at a drop of sweat starting down his right temple.
Damn this weather. Damn death certificates. The need to buy them in person, the need to provide them to the SSA, the funeral home, the banks. And they weren’t free. What was it his sister had said? Ten bucks each. How many did he need again? Better get more than he thought he figured, just in case the need for another one popped up. He would not stand in this line again. Or possibly the right one either.
“Excuse me,” came a woman’s voice from behind him.
Kahi turned to face her, an elderly Japanese lady. “Yes ma’am?”
“Is this the line for death certificates?”
There was a moment of panic. “Ah, yes, I think so.”
“Oh good,” she said, taking his word for it, apparently not detecting the note of doubt in his voice.
Kahi turned around. Great, he thought. Now he’d be responsible for having this woman find out she’d been in the wrong line as well. What an idiot he was. Why not just ask?
He tapped the shoulder of the man in front of him. “Excuse me,” he said.
The tall Haole man turned around. “Yes?”
“Is this the line for ordering death certificates?” asked Kahi.
The man smiled. “Yes, I believe so. So many lines of people so close together. You’d think they could make everything a little clearer for us. It’s hard to think clearly at a time like this, right?.”
Kahi nodded, thanked him, noted that there was not what he’d call 100% certainty in this guy’s words either. He turned around. “I’m pretty sure this is the right line,” he said to the Japanese woman.
She smiled. “Thank you for confirming,” she said.
Kahi gave a grimaced smile, then turned back to look at the Haole man’s bald head.
Confirmation? Yeah right. Maybe.
“Next!” came the voice from behind the counter.
Everyone moved forward a bit.
There were things Kahi had found out about his father, things he’d not known about before he died. For instance, his father had been the consummate insurance salesman. A man who prided himself on making sure all his relatives and friends were fully insured, he conscientiously sold them every policy he believed each one would need. Many had purchased life insurance coverage of a million dollars or more so their survivors would be well taken care of, could pay off all debts, and have money left over to help them.
And Kahi’s father? He’d never bought life insurance for himself. All debts would be paid out of his small personal savings accounts, two of them for some reason, which meant Kahi and the others would have to pool their resources to try to pay those debts. The largest one right now was the home equity loan. Kahi and his siblings weren’t sure they’d even be to handle that one, so what about the other debts?
Kahi and the rest shuffled forward. He could glimpse the woman behind the counter now, a stout Japanese woman with thick glasses attached to a long, black cord around her neck. She looked familiar but from where?
Were there any hard feelings? He loved his dad, but to saddle them with all his financial problems. Oh well. At least he’d enjoyed himself, traveling the world, not to mention Las Vegas four times a year. His dad always wanted to travel but never had, not until he’d retired from the insurance business.
The Haole man in front of him walked forward to the window. Now Kahi could see the woman clearly. Where had they met before? Kahi watched nervously to see if the Haole man would walk away, finding that he was in the wrong line. Surprisingly, the man turned around, smiled at Kahi, gave him a thumbs up. This was the right line. Hallelujah.
Kahi turned to the Japanese woman behind him. “This definitely is the right line,” he said to her. She smiled and thanked him.
But that woman at the counter. She looked like someone he’d known, should know somehow.
The tall haole man walked away from the window smiling and waving to Kahi. Kahi smiled back and stepped forward just as the familiar woman called, “Next!”
At the window, he pushed the application for the death certificates across.
“License or a form of picture ID, please,” the woman said in a matter-of-fact manner. Not unfriendly, but not warm. How could you blame her, he thought. She’d probably gone numb from doing this job forever. What a way to make a living. Selling death certificates. Geez. Is that what you were supposed to call it?
Kahi pulled his driver’s license out of his wallet and handed it to her.
“Oh no no,” the woman said. “You’ve written the wrong name here.”
“What?” Kahi was confused. “My name or my dad’s?”
The woman said, “Who’s John Kealoha?”
“That’s my dad,” said Kahi.
“And you’re Kahi?” the woman asked.
“Yes, say,” Kahi changed gears, “do we know each other?”
The woman looked up from the paperwork. “Know each other? You and me? I doubt it. To tell you the truth, I only ever see people once.”
“Only once? What?” said Kahi. “What if I order more death certificates? What if I come back to this line? You see me twice, wouldn’t you?”
The woman chuckled. “Twice? Honey, how? Is it like you see the tunnel of light with your relatives beckoning you, but you turn back?”
“Huh?” This further confused Kahi. “What? Ma’am, I don’t know. I’m sure I know you,” he said.
“I assure you, honey, that unless you’ve had one of those near-death experiences, you have never seen me before.”
“Near death,” Kahi said. “And then it hit him. When he’d been in that car accident, a long time ago, as a teenager, the doctor told him that he’d stopped breathing, his heart stopped, too, and he had to be resuscitated. He remembered the doctor saying that he’d been dead for several minutes.
“You know,” said Kahi, “I have had a near-death-experience, now that you mention it. But that was a long time ago. Fifty years. You sure don’t look old enough to have been working here way back then.”
The woman chuckled again. “Mr. Kealoha, believe it or not, I have been here forever.”
Kahi laughed. “So what would my near-death experience have to do with seeing you before?”
“If you’ve been dead before, honey, you’ve seen me before.”
Kahi stared at the woman. What on earth was she talking about?
“So look here,” the woman said, “for some reason you’ve put your father’s name here where yours should be.”
Kahi looked where the woman’s index finger was pointing.
“But that is my dad’s name. I’m here to get his death certificates.”
The woman cocked her head to one side and gave him a strange look.
“Kahi, you only need one death certificate, and you don’t pick up a death certificate here for your father. I’m assuming he’s already passed, right?”
“Then he already has his, honey. You seem a little confused. This death certificate you’re picking up here in this line, this one is for you, Kahi.”
The woman crossed out his father’s name and wrote in his. “Okay, Kahi, you need to initial here to indicate that you’re here to pick up your death certificate.”
Kahi did so. He couldn’t make sense of what he was hearing. “So you’re saying that I’m, you know, that I’m dead?”
“So far,” said the woman, smiling. “But if it’s like the last time, you may be back in this line again sometime.”
Kahi felt as if his entire body were perspiring now. He could not wrap his head around this information. The woman printed the certificate and handed it to him.
“Here you go, honey. Now just take this to that green door down there on the right. Give it to that gentelman, and he’ll let you in. Welcome to heaven, Kahi, you must have been a good man.”
And with that, Kahi turned and drifted over to the green door. The man dressed in black stood there smiling, waiting for him to hand over his official certification of death.