“A Matter of Time”
MauiTime — March 10, 2011 — Volume 14, Issue 38
by Anu Yagi
How small was Great Grandma? Her crib was a cigar box. In fact, she was so tiny, nobody wanted her (except her grandmother, who was a very nice lady).
Four-year-old me figures that if Great Grandma didn’t die from being too small (and thanks to Great Great Great Grandma, we’re proof of it), the new baby certainly won’t die from being too small—especially because everyone wants him very much.
But no matter how much the world wants you, being that little isn’t preferable. To avoid this happening to the new baby, it’s very important that I be very quiet. Mommy needs her sleep. Three months of strict bed rest, the doctor says, or else the baby will be born too soon and too small.
So, Mommy rests. But I sometimes check on her just to be sure she’s following doctor’s orders. Creeping as quietly as fat little kanak feet can on plantation house floorboards, I sneak into her room.
Hardly taller than the mattress’s lip, I rest my nose at the edge of the bed and peer at Mommy, asleep. Like the curtains puckering in the Waikapu breeze, Mommy’s body rises and falls with her breath, exaggerated at the round mound of her belly. I try to match the rhythm of my inhalations to hers, stifling my exhalations in the cascading comforter.
But for all my careful effort, Mommy still wakes up—on the hour, every hour. The big, buzzing beast on the bedside table makes sure of it.
See, as much as Mommy needs rest, Mommy needs medicine. She needs a very particular kind of medicine that will allow the new baby the three months it needs to finish growing and not be too small. But waking up every hour for three months is harder than it sounds, so Aunty Judy and Uncle Howell (the overly generous sort) loan us their special clock.
Even more important than me being quiet, it’s important I never, ever touch this special clock. Mommy’s life depends on it and the new baby’s life depends on it, too.
The clock belonged to Aunty Judy’s grandfather, Mamoru Takitani, who started Star Ice and Soda Works and Hawaiian Host. Back in the day, people used this kind of James Manufacturing Co. “Remind-O-Timer” at railroad stations, in hospitals and at hotels. It’s the sort of clock an enterprising businessman might have, allowing its user to set up to four alarms per hour, in increments as finite as five minutes.
It’s fine with me that I never, ever touch the special clock, because why would I want to? Massive and menacing, the million metal levers around its face look like the legs of the fat, coiled centipedes sleeping under the old Hawaiian orange tree, and its hourly banshee cry is worse than every too-small baby with no one to soothe it.
Fearful as I am of the special clock, I revere it. And because of it, the new baby is born right on time—after which the clock goes back to live with Aunty Judy and Uncle Howell.
Sorry, all my wrapping paper is packed up,” laughs Aunty Judy, as Mom unties a thin, white piece of rope around a small, plain cardboard box. It’s exactly 20 years later, and we’re sitting on our lanai in Kula. Dad looks on from his post at the grill. I stuff my face with another cone sushi from Takamiya Market, because I don’t have words for how much I’ll miss Aunty Judy and Uncle Howell after they move to Oahu to be closer to their growing grandkids.
Mom opens the box’s lid, and out from the tissue paper coils a thin brown wire with an old, old plug. Jayson sees this and is already laughing. The tissue is pushed back and Mom and I both gleefully scream. Dad joins in with Jayson’s chuckle. In the box, of course, is the special clock.
Later, I catch Jayson inspecting the clock, face to face. “I’d never seen it before,” he says. “But from the stories, I knew exactly what it was.” He plugs it in and tests the levers, the alarm. Then, lifting it carefully in his wrench-worn hands, he sets it in the hutch that holds our family’s most special things—in the space that seems to be waiting for it, next to Great Grandma’s radio.
My eyes watering, I hug Jayson. He’s a man now, and turned out a lot like the clock that saved him: mysterious, mechanical, punctual, nostalgic. He’s a patient, thoughtful person who doesn’t make noise unless he needs to—and when he does, you listen. I often think he’s better than the world deserves, and it’s no wonder we all wanted him so much. ■