Escape to Tiki Cove
By Steven Foster
Mark gazed at Mimi and she smiled. That was all he needed. Oh, how he loved her. With a wink of her blue eyes, he knew it was time to go.
To her right, a man in white tapped in a code to open a security door. Mimi watched from her wheelchair, then looked at Mark with that twinkle of an eye he’d first seen long ago. In a subtle gesture, she wiggled four fingers at her side to reveal a code number.
Mark peered from a doorway and memorized it. To his left, the commandant, as they called Ms. Waddle, strutted by with an imperious and cold demeanor.
She rushed to Mimi. “Not this time, you little escape artist.” She grabbed the wheelchair and pushed it past Mark and into their room.
“Good morning,” he said with a smirk on his face.
Commandant glared at him. “I know what you’re up to Mr. Kelly. We have inspectors coming in here. This time we need to pass. Do not try running off again.”
“Yes sir.” Mark saluted the director and felt a crick in his ancient sacroiliac. “Uh,” he winced.
“Stop that! Show some respect!” She snapped and marched down the hall.
“Oh, honey.” Mimi scooted the wheelchair closer and rubbed his lower back. “Did you pinch a nerve again?”
“I’m fine.” Mark turned and tried to smile through the pain. “Did you get any more numbers?”
“I don’t remember.” Mimi squeezed his hand. “Now, why don’t you sit down?”
“Okay.” He gripped the armrests of a chair and creaked on his rump with a sigh.
“Don’t worry, dear.” Mimi patted his knee. “We’ll find a way out.”
“How?” Mark frowned while staring at the walls of their tiny room. “It’s like a prison cell in here.” He puffed. “Why do they call this Paradise Villa anyway?”
“Well,” she giggled in a low voice. “It sounds better than Old Fart’s home.”
Mark noticed the mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “I see you,” he whispered with a passion that kept his ticker fluttering. It was like the first time he saw her; a clumsy boy tripping over his two left feet.
“I see you too.” Her silvery hair swayed to the side while she leaned closer and kissed his puckered lips.
“Ah, the wife of my youth.” He sighed and relaxed in his chair. “That reminds me of Tiki Cove.”
“Our honeymoon,” she whispered. “That was a long time ago but I remember everything.”
“Me too.” Mark adjusted his glasses with a far-off glint in his brown eyes. “We should go back there.”
“Okay. We need another plan to get out of here. Not get caught this time.” He laughed.
“I have an idea.” Mimi scooted the wheelchair over to a lamp stand. “Here it is.” She picked up a flyer and brought it to him.
Mark squinted his eyes to read the words, “Monthly Birthday Celebration.”
“It’s perfect,” Mimi whispered. “Everybody will be there. Even the commandant.”
“You’re right.” Mark snapped his arthritic fingers and regretted the sudden pain. “They’ll be distracted. Nobody will know we’ve escaped.”
“What did you say?”
Mark noticed she had that contorted expression again and seemed to have lost track of their conversation. “We were talking about our escape.”
“Oh, yeah.” Her eyes lit up like he turned on a switch. “Remember Tiki Cove?”
“I remember how beautiful you were in that bathing suit.”
She laughed and gazed into his eyes again. “You were so dashing in your Navy uniform.”
“Well, nobody noticed.” He chuckled. “They were too busy looking at you in that lovely wedding dress.”
“Let’s go back.”
“Friday.” Mark kissed her forehead. “Come hell or high water, like we said in the Navy.”
After lunch the next day, Mark and Mimi sat in a fenced garden under the shade of a magnolia tree and plotted an escape. They focused on the gate that led to a street with quaint homes and a route to the sea.
“Do you see that lock?” Mark asked.
“Yes.” Mimi giggled. “All we have to do is get the combination.”
They held hands and waited for that moment when the janitor would open the gate. Leaves sparkled in the sun. A breeze swooshed in from Hilo Bay.
“Do you smell that?” Mark breathed in the fresh air.
Mimi inhaled and sighed. “It reminds me of Tiki Cove.”
Mark glanced at his watch. It was 1:30. “Get ready.”
“This is so exciting.” Mimi wheeled closer to the back door. “All set.”
Just as she spoke, the janitor walked out lugging two large plastic bags of trash from the dining room. “Good morning, Juan,” Mimi said in a melodious tone.
“Aloha, Mrs. Kelly.” Juan kept walking over to the gate, then plopped the bags down and reached for the combination lock.
Mimi followed to his right side and smiled. “How’s your ohana?”
“My family is all good.” Juan configured a number on the lock.
Mark stepped closer on the janitor’s left while making a mental note of 38 on the combination. “Can I help you with the trash?” he asked.
“No thanks.” Juan turned to the next number.
“Do you think it’ll rain?” asked Mimi.
“No can say.” Juan glanced at the clouds. “Maybe.”
Mark memorized the second number. It was 9. “I like the rain.”
“Yeah.” Juan set the last code and unlocked the gate. “Me too.”
“Well, enjoy your day.” Mark waved as Juan carried the trash over to a dumpster by the street. He turned and walked back to the bench.
Mimi giggled and wheeled up to her husband. “Did you get it?”
“Yeah,” he whispered. “It’s 38, 9, 22.”
“Oh, we’re so bad,” she gushed with a sparkle of her youthful days that she kept alive in her heart.
“Shh. Not so loud.”
“What did you say?”
“There’s a cloud.” Mark chuckled and looked up. “It’s going to rain again.”
“Do you remember Tiki Cove?”
“I do.” He laughed. He loved to see her wide eyes of wonder. “I was with you.”
“Good.” She paused. “Um, how many days is that?”
“Two.” Mark leaned in, and their lips smacked together.
The next afternoon, Mark and Mimi waited in the garden. Like children counting the days before Christmas, they lived for that special moment of opening the gate and sneaking off to Tiki Cove. A door opened. Juan appeared with two trash bags and headed to the gate. Again, they hovered around like two sparrows and distracted him to be sure of the combination. They were relieved to see they had the correct numbers. The love birds perched under the shade of their favorite magnolia tree and chatted about the escape plan.
“We’ll sneak out of the party at 3:30,” Mark said. “That’s when Commandant will pass out presents to Mrs. Aikau and Mr. Ellison. People won’t notice us then.”
“This is so exciting.” Mimi snickered. “We’re so bad.”
“Like bank robbers.” Mark laughed. “We’ll unlock the gate and run like the dickens.”
“Chickens?” Mimi chuckled.
“No, I said...” Mark paused in midsentence, then looked at Mimi’s playful glint in her eyes, and he was delighted with her humor. “Yeah, we’ll run like chickens.”
“What’s our pecking order?” Mimi placed her palm on his cheek and smiled.
“I’m the old rooster and you’re my hot chick.”
They laughed. Mimi had a light-hearted way of reminding him to not take things so seriously. She had the effervesce of an uncorked champagne bottle. He was the bookish, stoic sort. Yet, they balanced each other’s personalities in a unique flow of yin and yang.
Mark and Mimi awakened to the orderly sounds of caregivers preparing residents for a new day. After showers and breakfast, they gathered with everyone in the social hall for bingo. They feigned interest in the activities.
Meanwhile, the ambitious director hurried through the halls with a clipboard and pen in hand. She jotted down details of bingo games and other activities to forge camaraderie among its residents in the corporate-run nursing facility. Everything had to be perfect. They must pass the government inspection this time.
Later, Mark and Mimi had lunch in the dining room and endured the ticking of each minute as they waited to escape. Anxious to break out, Mimi ignored the peas and corn on her plate. She kept fidgeting. “What time is it?” she asked her husband.
Mark sighed and glanced at his watch. “It’s 12:31.” He shoved a tiny morsel of fish into his mouth and chewed. Then, with a twang of irritation in his voice he added, “You asked me the same question a minute ago. Why don’t you wear your watch?”
“I have you.”
“Well, stop asking me then.”
“Oh, don’t be so snippy.” Mimi kept busy. She tucked two brownies into napkins and stashed them on the sides of her wheelchair. “I can’t wait to escape.”
“Me too.” Mark glimpsed at his watch. “Why is it that time slows down while we wait?”
“Then it speeds up while having fun.” Mimi laughed.
“I don’t know about that,” Mark grumbled. “Time has gotten faster the older we get. I don’t recall being old is all that fun.” He sighed. “I won’t be happy until we run off to Tiki Cove.”
“Uh, oh.” Mimi looked toward the door where Commandant watched the room. “I don’t like the way she’s staring at us. What if she knows?”
“Act like you’re enjoying the food.” Mark forked in some rice and ignored the bland taste.
Mimi picked up a pea in her fingers and tossed it, then laughed as it bounced off his chest. “I’d rather eat ice cream.”
“Hey,” Mark responded with a rolling chuckle and sprinkled a spoonful of corn into her lap.
“I see you two are at it again,” said Commandant while staring down at them. “You’re supposed to eat the food. Not play with it.”
Mimi covered her mouth and snickered.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourselves?” She stood with arms crossed and glared like a cop who had just busted two kids for stealing candy.
“We’re sorry sir, I mean Ms. Waddle.” Mark tried to keep a straight face but the side of his mouth uncontrollably slid up into a smirk.
“All right. The inspectors will be here soon. Don’t make me look bad. Do you hear me?”
“Yes Ms. Waddle,” the couple responded in unison.
“Good.” She tilted her head up, then with a downward glare through her glasses she huffed out of the dining room.
Mark and Mimi quietly watched her leave. When the afternoon birthday party started, they waited until gifts were opened, then sneaked out to the garden. At the gate, Mimi looked up wide-eyed from her wheelchair as Mark swiveled the nob on the combination lock and tried to open it. Nothing happened.
“Uh, oh.” Mimi leaned closer. “Did you forget the numbers, dear?”
“No.” Mark pulled on the lock. “I’m sure I had it right.”
“Try it again.” Mimi glanced toward the door, expecting it to open at any second. “Hurry!”
Mark winced from the pain in his arthritic fingers and meticulously lined up each number. He paused and rubbed his aching hands. “Well, it’s now or never.” He yanked the lock. It opened.
“Oh, goody!” Mimi clapped her hands. “You did it.”
“Freedom at last!” Mark leaned in and kissed her forehead.
“Go!” She laughed and nudged his shoulder.
Mark swung the gate opened and guided her out of the garden. While Mimi waited, he closed it and secured the lock again, then turned and pushed the wheelchair down a side street. “Tiki Cove here we come.”
“Wee!” Mimi screamed like a child on her first bike ride.
“We’re free!” Mark laughed and ignored the constriction in his hip joints while weaving along sidewalks.
Intoxicated with the excitement of their getaway, Mark realized gravity had taken over. He was headed downhill toward an intersection. “Whoa!” He dug in his heels and pulled up on the wheelchair. Pain shot through a sciatic nerve and his legs wobbled. He was losing control.
Oblivious to the danger, Mimi chuckled with the thrill of adventure.
Ahead, motor vehicles whizzed by. Trucks roared. A red pedestrian light glared to halt as they approached the crosswalk. Frantic, Mark kept his grip on the handles. But his feet began to slip.
Just as they were about to barrel into the traffic, a large man grabbed Mimi’s wheelchair. “Are you alright?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“Yeah, I think so.” Mark leaned in to check on Mimi. “You okay?”
“Oh, that was so much fun.” Mimi laughed. “Let’s do it again.”
“I’m so glad you’re safe,” said a petite young lady with long black hair. “Kekoa saved you.” She snuggled up to the man still blocking the wheelchair from disaster.
“Thank you.” Mark looked up and sighed. “We could’ve been killed.”
“It’s all good,” said Kekoa with a Hawaiian accent. “Here, let’s get you away from the intersection.” He turned the wheelchair around and pushed it over to a four-door pickup truck parked by the busy street.
“Thank you.” Mark began to feel light-headed and staggered on his feet.
Kekoa caught him by the hand. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Must be all the excitement.” Mark held on and steadied himself. “I’m fine now.”
“Where do you need to go?” asked Kekoa.
Wary of revealing their secret, Mark shrugged. “Coconut Island.”
“That’s three miles from here.” Kekoa shook his head. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Yeah, you can’t walk there,” said his wife. “My name is Leilani. We saw you struggling.” Her brown eyes sparkled in the sunlight. “We’ll be glad to take you.”
Kekoa stepped off the curb and opened a rear door.
Leilani looked at Mimi and reached out her hand. “Let me help you.”
“Thank you, dear.” Mimi held on and stood up. “I can walk a few steps.”
Leilani guided her into the truck. She clipped on a seatbelt and slid into the seat next to Mimi.
“Okay, we’ll get you there safely.” Kekoa placed her wheelchair in the bed of his truck, turned and opened the front passenger-side door. He said to Mark, “You can sit up here with me, my friend.”
“Thanks.” Mark got in and relaxed in his seat. “We appreciate your help.”
“You’re welcome.” Kekoa got in, started the ignition, and glanced over. “It’s important to care for our kupuna.”
“Ah,” Mark spoke with admiration. “That’s what we like about living on the island. “The young respect their elders.”
“It’s our kuleana.” Kekoa kept his eyes on the busy street as he drove toward Hilo Bay. “We’re now responsible for your safety.”
“Oh, look at all those sailboats,” Mimi gushed at the red and yellow sails billowing in the wind.
“Yeah,” Leilani said. “Good day for sailing.”
Kekoa turned onto Banyan Drive. “There’s Coconut Island.”
“Just drop us off at the gardens across the street.” Mark pointed to the ponds glistening in the sun. “We’ll take a stroll and enjoy the view.”
Kekoa parked near a tall Japanese Torii gate. He got out and paused to watch a group of children playing. “This is a nice, safe area for you to relax and walk around.”
Mark stepped down on the sidewalk and inhaled the fresh ocean air. “Yeah, we love it here.”
Leilani helped Mimi out of the truck and smiled. “It’s a nice day to be outside.”
“Do you have a way back?” Kekoa lifted the wheelchair from the truck bed.
“We’ll take the bus.” Mark didn’t want to worry this nice couple. He gripped the wheelchair handles. “Thank you for the lift.
“Oh, I have something for you.” Leilani reached into a small cooler in the back and pulled out two cans of passion fruit juice. She smiled and gave them to Mark. “You’ll need these.”
“Thanks.” Mark stashed them in a tote bag hanging on the wheelchair handles. Then, as he looked up, Leilani handed him two bananas.
“I just picked a bunch off our tree this morning,” she added.
“Thank you.” Mark admired her thoughtful gesture. “You are so kind.”
Leilani hugged him, then leaned in and kissed Mimi’s cheek. “May you both be blessed.”
“Enjoy your day.” Kekoa reached out and shook hands with Mark.
“We will.” Mimi looked up and shaded her eyes from the afternoon glare.
“Goodbye,” Mark pushed the wheelchair through the Torii gate and sat on a bench under an umbrella-shaped monkeypod tree.
From there, Mark and Mimi waved as the Hawaiian couple drove away. Then in a moment of reflection, they gazed at each other and listened to children laughing and playing nearby. After 60 years of marriage, they still held hands with a love that made them inseparable like opposite sides of the same coin.
“We’ve had a good life.” Mimi squeezed his hand.
“So many wonderful memories.” Mark leaned closer and kissed her cheek. “Ah, Tiki Cove on our honeymoon.”
“We kept the windows open all night.” Mimi had that twinkle in her blue eyes again. “Remember how we strolled in these gardens?”
“We got caught in the rain,” Mark whispered.
“Then we danced in puddles all soaking wet.” Mimi laughed.
Mark sighed and brushed his fingers through her hair like he’d done so many times before. “Are you ready to go back to Tiki Cove?”
Banyan trees beckoned them on, and massive branches pointed to a world of long ago. Driven by memories and the scent of pikake Mark pushed Mimi’s wheelchair one step, then another toward the tropical resort. Heart racing, knees weakening, he looked ahead to the moment they would see the tall tiki made from a koa tree welcoming them back.
“Faster!” Mimi squirmed and was about to leap out of her wheelchair and be transformed back to her vibrant youth.
“Almost there,” Mark gasped for breath.
“Oh, look at that big hotel.” Mimi pointed to their left. “I don’t remember seeing that before.”
“Yeah.” Mark gazed at the resort. “Everything is different. Where’s Tiki Cove?”
“Must be up ahead.” Mimi pointed down the tree-lined street. “Keep going.”
Mark pushed the wheelchair forward. He looked up at the tall building, a testimony to the years that had passed.Guests sat on balconies and gazed at the glistening shores of Hilo Bay. Nothing seemed the same as they remembered. Then just as they passed another banyan tree, a dilapidated structure appeared in the shadows like a haunted house.
Squeezed between mega-resorts, the three-story 50’s-style hotel was covered in moss and smelled of decaying wood. Moisture dribbled off the roof. A rotting sign leaned to the side with faded words, “Tiki Cove.” Nailed to the door one said, “Condemned. Do not enter.”
Hearts sinking like ships in the dreams of their past, Mark and Mimi gasped at the forlorn sight before them. Mice scurried in and out of cracks, and spider webs clung on rusty rails at the top of sagging balconies. In that moment, they felt old and decrepit.
“Mm…it looks like we can’t go back after all.” Mimi stared at the ruins.
Mark kicked a piece of rotten wood and it bounced against the wall with a clunk. “This.” He knelt beside her and groaned. “I wanted to take you back to the beautiful paradise we both remembered. Now it’s gone.”
“Oh, honey.” Mimi patted his hand. “As long as we’re together, that’s all I need.”
“I feel the same way.”
“Let’s go exploring.” Mimi smiled with a spirit of adventure that drove her on.
“Okay.” Mark stood up and pushed the wheelchair again as they set out on another path just so they could see what was around the next bend.
Soon they discovered a beach resort that provided an open-air café next to a pool. There, Mark, and Mimi sat at an intimate round table and admired a rainbow arcing over Mauna Kea Volcano. Above them, palm leaves swayed in the breeze like hands of hula dancers. They listened to the lapping of waves along a rocky shore.
While they relaxed in lounge chairs, a young server came over and placed two glasses of ice water on the table. “Aloha. My name is Coral. May I get you something?”
Mimi looked at Mark with that twinkle again. “Remember the Mai Tais?”
“How could I forget.” Mark wanted so much to order the drinks but knew they had no money. “Uh, we’ll just have water for now. Thank you.”
“Sure.” Coral smiled. “I’ll check back in a little while and see if you need anything.”
After Coral left, the couple sipped their ice water from straws and observed the billowing red sails on a catamaran heading out to sea. Then a heron landed on a nearby rock and entertained them by catching a fish in its beak. Happy together, they had the memory of Tiki Cove while drifting into a new experience.
Mimi unwrapped a napkin and placed two brownies on the table. She took a piece in her fingers, held it up to Mark’s lips, and he savored the taste in his mouth. He in turn, opened the second can of passion fruit drink, mixed it with their ice water and watched as Mimi sipped.
“Mm, that’s delicious,” she said.
“Aqua-Mai Tai,” Mark chuckled with his experiment.
Meanwhile, the commandant peered from a window at the concierge’s front desk and pointed in their direction. Unaware that time was fleeting, Mark and Mimi watched the water swirling in tide pools and sipped their drinks. To them, it was another celebration to remember.