Under the Ulu Tree
My first kiss was under an ulu tree at the Bishop Museum. It was field trip day for St. Ann’s second-grade class. Instead of the stiff white, short-sleeved dress shirts tucked into confining blue plaid skirts and high-water slacks, we frolicked around in our red PE uniforms.
As we trekked to Hawaiian Hall, frazzled chaperones and tired teachers did their best to contain the chaos of 64 seven-year olds. I fell behind the group with my neighbor and youth ministry buddy Ali‘i Cruz, a Hawaiian-Chinese-Filipino boy who gave me Valentine’s Day cards year round.
“You like ulu?” Ali‘i asked, pointing at the bumpy, greenish-yellow fruit hanging from the tree above us.
“Ulu?” I asked. Whatever it was, it looked kind of gross.
“It tastes so ono,” Ali‘i said, rubbing his belly. “My mom make ‘em ‘cause das her favorite. Mines, too.”
“Yum! She can make it for me?” I didn’t trust my Japanese mom not to burn it.
Ali‘i shook his head and looked down. “Nah, she sick.”
I patted his shoulder, something I’d seen Mom do to Dad when Bachan died. “Let’s buy her a present,” I suggested, since I loved getting gifts. In fact, whenever I visited the Cruz house, Aunty Sharon gave me cool things my mom didn’t let me have like strawberry lip gloss and baggies of cereal mix without the yucky dark brown Chex.
Ali‘i shoved his hands into his red PE shorts pockets. “No money.”
I pulled my Jem backpack off my shoulder and rifled through it. “I have a quarter for icee after school.”
Ali‘i peered into my pack. “Eh! You get room.”
We looked at each other. “For u-LA!” I cried.
He giggled and corrected me, “U-LU, Lolo.”
I always made dumb mistakes, but Ali‘i didn’t care. “Right. U-LU! Let’s get one!”
Making sure no one was watching, we tried our best to reach the weird-looking orbs. But they were too high up. I stood on Ali‘i’s shoulders, he balanced on a trash can, and we even tried throwing our shoes to knock the prized fruit to the ground.
“Ugh!” Ali‘i said, his chubby fingers struggling to tie his shoelaces. “She no cook now, anyways.”
I felt even more determined to get that ulu. I kind of wanted to taste the breadfruit but mostly I wanted to make Ali‘i’s mom happy. Our families always hung out since we lived in the same cul de sac and went to the same church. Mrs. Cruz smelled good, like the Thin Mint cookies I had to sell for Girl Scouts. “Well,” I said, “we’ll make it!”
Ali‘i’s round face lit up. “Can?”
I nodded. “Can! After school come over, and I guess my mom can help us. We won’t let her mess it up. Then we’ll surprise your mom.”
We high-fived with renewed energy, and I looked around for anything that could help us. Then I spied another breadfruit tree at the bottom of a nearby hill. There was an ulu cheerfully dangling from a low-hanging branch. If we stood at the top of the hill, we could reach it!
“Come on,” I said, grabbing Ali‘i’s hand, leading him to the tree.
I gently pulled the ulu off the branch, wrapped it in my red knit sweater and tucked it safely into my backpack. I smiled proudly.
“Yeah!” Ali‘i said. He hugged me and gave me a peck on the lips.
I was shocked, but before I could say anything we heard someone scream our names. It was our teacher, Mrs. Gomez, holding the hem of her blue palaka muumuu as she stomped towards us. “Gunfunit! Wea you kids was?”
Ali‘i and I jumped away from each other. “We got lost,” Ali‘i said.
“You skea awe da parents an made da teechas look bad!” She shook her head, strands of white hair falling from her bun secured with a plastic plumeria clip. “And nevamine kissing unda da ulu tree. One pervert goin’ snatch you!”
I shrugged. “Sorry.”
“Sorry? No lunch fo’ eeda of you!” Mrs. Gomez grabbed our arms and roughly led us to the rest of the class.
“I goin’ call yo’ maddahs, an’ you goin’ get lickins,” Mrs. Gomez threatened.
I saw a panicked look in Ali‘i’s eyes.
“Aunty Sharon--I mean, his mom--Mrs. Cruz, is sick you know,” I said in my most adult voice.
“She loss all her hair,” Ali‘i said, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
Mrs. Gomez’s face softened. “We’ll see. Get inside.”
I looked back at the ulu tree, and found myself yelling, “Thank you!” Its branches swayed in the wind, waving goodbye.
Aloha, reader! Thank you for stopping by to read my short story.
I wrote this at a time when I was missing my own mother who passed away suddenly. I always wonder what it would've been like if we had time to prepare and say goodbye. But in this alternative world, would she have suffered?
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a comment below or pin this to Pinterest so you can read it whenever you want a good cry.
Professor Jay was ready for class. Making his way to the classroom, he spied one of his students passed out in a chair in a colleague’s office.
“Miss Martha!” Professor Jay said, peeking into the doorway. “Teddy can’t afford another tardy. His academic performance is already unsatisfactory at best.”
Miss Martha shrugged. “He does what he wants.”
The dedicated educator grabbed Teddy by the arm. “Come on,” he said, “you’re going to get a proper education whether you like it or not.”
Teddy did not resist as his teacher led him to their classroom, which was completely empty. “Where is everyone?” Professor Jay wondered out loud.
But Teddy had already fallen asleep at his desk.
The professor nudged Teddy’s leg with the tip of his shoe. “Hey! How do you expect to learn anything if you’re napping all the time? Osmosis?”
Teddy didn’t budge.
Professor Jay huffed. “You may rest your eyes while I gather your delinquent classmates.”
He found George monkeying around in the cafeteria, Ariel lounging by the pool, Joe working out in the gym, and Minnie chatting outside the bathroom with her friend, Daisy.
Once he dragged everyone to class, Professor Jay wrote two words on the chalkboard: Personal Responsibility. “This means that I shouldn’t have to hunt you down like animals! By the time class starts, you should be in your seats, ready to learn.”
There was a knock on the door.
“We’re in the middle of class!” Professor Jay called out.
The door swung open. Frank entered the classroom slowly. “You know what time it is.” He held a paper cup filled with colorful pills.
“Selling drugs now, Frank?” Professor Jay tsked. “So my former student has turned to a life of crime.
Frank glanced at Teddy. “His mother wants him home, now.”
Professor Jay walked briskly towards Teddy and placed his hand on his student’s shoulder. “Impossible. I haven’t dismissed class yet.”
Frank impatiently grabbed Teddy’s arm. “He’s coming with me.”
Professor Jay seized Teddy’s other arm. “No!”
Teddy remained silent, as though his mouth were sewn shut.
Frank and Professor Jay yanked Teddy’s arms back and forth.
Still holding on to Teddy, Frank used his walkie talkie to call for backup.
“Don’t you threaten me with your gang violence!”
Professor Jay used all his strength to free Teddy from Frank’s evil clutches.
To his horror, Teddy’s arm popped out of its socket. Shocked, both Professor Jay and Frank let go. Teddy fell to the ground.
“You monster!” Professor Jay cried, hovering over Teddy.
“It was your fault,” Frank said. “You’re gonna have to explain everything to his mother. You’re in so much trouble.”
An anger that started in Professor Jay’s belly spread rapidly throughout his body. He saw a pencil on the ground and grabbed it. “Stay away from my students!” he cried as he lunged at Frank, plunging the pencil into the side of his neck. After a fleshy squish, a red fountain of blood gushed from a screaming Frank.
Then, Frank’s gang members burst into the room and restrained Professor Jay. One ruffian prepared a needle and approached him, and before he could protest, the needle made its way into his vein. Everything went blurry, then black.
* * *
Professor Jay slowly opened his eyes to find Dr. Rose and Frank staring at him. Frank had a bandage on his neck. They were all seated in Dr. Rose’s office. Jay squirmed in his straightjacket.
“How are you feeling?” asked Dr. Rose. She leaned in towards her longtime patient, her eyebrows furrowed in concern.
Professor Jay sulked in his chair. His head was pounding.
“You owe Frank an apology,” Dr. Rose asked, patting Frank on the back. “You’re lucky he wasn’t seriously injured.”
“He disrupted my class,” Professor Jay said glaring at Frank. And then he remembered his student. “How’s Teddy?”
Dr. Rose held up a stuffed teddy bear missing its arm. White stuffing hung out of poor Teddy. “He’ll be fine.” She placed Teddy down. “In fact, we’re going to take a nice walk around the ward so you can return everyone’s belongings and apologize. But first, is there something you’d like to say to Frank?”
Professor Jay sighed, defeated. “Class dismissed.”
Hello reader! What did you think of the story? Have you ever had a professor or teacher who didn't seem all there?
This of course is fiction, but since I did work at a community college for a few years, you can guess Professor Jay is a composite of various people I met.
I'd love to know what you thought! Leave me a comment below or share this story on Pinterest. Mahalo, CT