Soul Food Cafe Patrons

Afternoon Squall
It Has Been Awhile

Introducing
Solomon Islands Resident
Mike Hemmer

Mike's Dubious Honour

I received a dubious honor today. One of those gigs where itıs a special thing to be apart of it all. But is was not fun or pleasurable in any way. One of those situations where, if given a chance, youıd have run for miles. Yet, being there, being a part of it: was good.

I heard the news early this morning. I was at workŠ Joe Chai had died early before dawn. After a stroke last week. I saw him in the hospital. Yesterday, I went to visit Ron. Joe was in the bed beside him. He was in a coma. Still big. But lying there. Beyond restful sleep.

Ronıs a cantankerous 56 year old Texan. Heıs been around for a number of years. Heıs kayaked all over these islands. Once, kayaked from Honiara to the Shortlands. Looking for WWII history. Heıs been sick this past week. Not much hope for recovery. I last saw Joe, alive, when I went to see Ron. Yesterday.

Joe ran a store here. With his Brother Allan. Their real names are Amoy, Joe; and Api, Allan. Their father was an early Chinese trader in these parts. They were both raised, if not born, here. They both have families in Hong Kong. Gizo has been their home. Theyıve been friends since I first arrived.

There are legendary stories of Joe. Their father raised one son, Joe, to be the seaman, run the ships. The other, Allan, he trained to be the store man. The trader. Both are cast straight out of a Bogart era movie. Joe was big. Strong. Fun loving. A rapscallion. Allan; smaller, more indoorsey, more refined.

Joe still kept a boat. The King Hong. A beauty of a little tub. Painted bright white. Blue trip. The brass polished. The engine, clean enough to eat from. He had traded copra in the past. Kept it around for the odd fishing trip. To just have a boat. Had an old choisuel guy as crew.

The Chioseul guy (Iıve neberknown his name) was Joeıs mate. First mate. Engineerıs mate. Stevedoring mate. Mate. The old guy had been with Joe s long as heıd had the King Hong. Theyıd been young together. Had probably talked of being old together. Theyıd shared adventures. Had lived together as friends. Joe was 59.

It was 2PM when I got to the Chai store. The front of the store was locked up. I went through the gate. Towards the wharf. The King Hong was tied up. Numerous people were sitting, milling around. They all represented an interesting mix of our island cultures. Gilbertese, Choisuelese, MalatiansŠ They all looked sad.

Allan was sitting on a stool. He was crying. One of Joeıs island sons, Chacha, sitting too. I shook hands first with Allan. Then Chacha. What do you say? Are there words? Anywhere? Of comfort? Of condolence? To express loss? A selfishness? A fear? Itıs really hard. Two grown men. Friends. Grieving. Words become inane.

Joe and Allan lived behind their shop. A complex of sheds and living space. Wharf. Boat. Like an old married couple. An odd couple. I am sure Allan did most of the cooking. I know for certain he disliked Joeıs propensity for grease. Heavy foods. Sugar. Joe was older. I am sure Allan was leader.

I went into what youıd call the parlor. A room, 20x20. Imitation wood paneling. Simple furniture.. An amazing combination of visual icons: High on one sideŠ Looking down: Father and Mother in big frames. Just below: The sacred heart. The last super. The sermon on the mount. A Chinese water fall. A Chinese calendar.