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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 116-119
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Pulling My Leg
"It's a lie."
Though I was sure of it, something icy squirmed in my small chest until my legs would no longer stay still. Not caring if I broke my neck and never once glancing aside, I dashed straight to the bottom of those stone steps.
I was perhaps five or six at the time, and my brother was ten years older. He told me this story as we climbed the steps up East Mountain.
"People call this Look-Out Mountain, but not because of the view. You be sure and face straight ahead till we get to the top, and do the same coming down. Look back and you'll turn into a stone."
He's pulling my leg, I thought. My brother squeezed my hand tight, and his voice echoed in my ears.
"Look at them all, if you think I'm lying," he added. "That's what's left of the people who turned around...Look, some more over there."
I was already short of breath. Dragging me along by one hand, my brother pointed with the other at the so-called human fossils that lay on both sides of the steps. His grave tone was making me afraid to look back, and soon I could barely manage to look from side to side.
One false blink might turn me to stone. I would have to spend eternity alone on this mountainside.
As if to give my disbelief the coup de grâce, he continued, "See that one about an inch long, off to the left? The fuller who used to live in the house behind us had a wife named Tomi. She'd climbed up to that spot one day when someone called her from below. Been there ever since."
I had never heard of this fuller's wife, or the fuller himself, but as my brother spoke, the stone he pointed to began to look like it might have been such a person. Though I was already winded, a sinking fear sent me sprinting to the top of the steps.
They led to Kodai Temple. From there we followed a winding path to the clearing where a new shrine for the Fatherland's Defender was to be built. My brother took me around the compound and eventually back to the steps.
Unbeknownst to me, his simple story of people turning into stones had settled in the deepest recesses of my mind. I still remember clearly how, [End Page 116] though I was sure he was lying, something icy squirmed in my small chest until my legs would no longer stay still. Not caring if I broke my neck and never once glancing aside, I dashed straight to the bottom of those stone steps.
I climbed them again years later and found the shrine had grown into a magnificent structure, dedicated to the legions of dead souls. If things were as our leaders said, all those who went to war and gave their lives for the Fatherland had been deified within the shrine's walls. I clasped my hands in prayer, yet none of the people I had known came to mind.
My brother told me a number of unforgettable stories. One evening he came running home from the bathhouse and exclaimed, "I just saw a man with a tail!" I let out a whoop of surprise and started somersaulting around the room. No matter how much my mother and the rest of us scolded him, saying, "Enough of your foolishness," my brother insisted he had lifted up the man's bath towel and seen it.
"Plenty of people cover themselves up front, but this guy was hiding his behind. He kept a towel wrapped around his waist even while scrubbing, so I got suspicious and took a peek. Sure enough, there it was: a tail about this long."
When he indicated the length with his thumb and forefinger, Mother got angry and slapped his hand. I remember being overcome by an indecorous and uncontrollable fit of laughter as...