Dear Nitasha,

The workers file in every morning at nine and grab coffee from the huge percolator I found while cleaning out the garage. I direct them with words I have recently learned: spackle, valance, WD-40. There is Reid, a squat hapa with gelled curls who does the electrical; he is quiet, a little moody, like you when you first come home and must adjust to being a child again. Terrance is redoing the bathroom tile. Such a talented singer—a finalist on Hawaiian Idol—and so good looking! I think he’s Filipino. Finally, there is Mani, the Fijian painter who says he went to high school with you. He owns his own painting company. Do you remember him? He tells me his mother was part Indian; that she died. I suppose I could tell by his long, tapered nose, his upturned eyes. When he is done here, I will give him the Ganesh that hangs above our doorway. As the realtor advised, I’ve cleared away most of the Indian things for the open house next week.

I started with the statues, Shiva first because he symbolizes change. He weighs a ton but I managed to lift him from the mantle by taking hold of his trishul, and binding him with a beach towel. I wrapped the wooden Vishnu in some old winter scarves I found in your closet along with yearbooks and letters from friends I set aside, though you told me to dump everything. For the silver Krishna that belonged to your grandfather I used some old sheets. The toothpick-sized flute seems to have gone missing.

I put the statues in the study where your books used to be. I miss those books, those reminders of you, but I’m glad you’ve found a place for them in your new home with Vinay. Do you think he would like one of our statues? Parvati maybe? At the moment she is next to Krishna, where the computer used to be. I donated that to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Sometimes I wonder if Shiva is good enough for Parvati, but then I remember that even Krishna is a womanizer, what with his gopis and all. It doesn’t really matter where I put the goddess, because soon she will belong somewhere else, to someone else.

Next week strangers will be stomping through our hallways, flinging open our closets, asking about water pressure, drainage, cross breeze, security. I’m prepared. Don’t worry about not coming until later. I know Vinay needs you in New York now. I showed Aunty Jasbiner the photographs you sent of the new condo. We both love the curved balcony, the view of Central Park. It looks like a dream. Do you ever think you will have your own place again?

I know you keep insisting that this is a bad time to sell, what with the economy in shambles, but I feel it is the right time. And, rest assured, I have help. The guys are more like sons than workers—really I am starting to love having them around, especially when they take control of the radio. At noon, I go to Burger King and load up on Whoppers and fries (for myself, a salad). When we all sit at the table, elbows touching, I think I should have done this long ago—filled my house with the sounds of improvement, the laughter of men.

                                                                            • • •

This morning a new worker came, Ken. You wouldn’t believe that he has spent most of his life working outside, or that he is Hawaiian, as his ad in the paper claimed: “Hawaiian-Owned Business,” At Your Tree’s Service. He is white as paper, with a head of graying blond curls and a slightly hunched back. I led him around to the backyard and he admired the trees. Kind of like a mini-forest, he said, appraising soil, sniffing flowers, testing the branches. I laughed out loud when he fondled one of the mangoes, then I felt so embarrassed, and busied myself with folding up the hem of my jeans.

I told him I was worried about the plumeria tree. Do you remember when you picked every flower to make graduation leis for your friends? I was so angry with you, and now regret the way I spoke. I screamed about how ugly the tree looked, depleted and ravaged, like my mother when my father died, and like all widows, she was forced to shave her head.

In any case, Ken was impressed that I diagnosed the plumeria problem in time. Apparently the infection is rare. I don’t think I was bragging about my gardening skills, but even then, why not?

As we took the wooden path up the hill, I pictured you in the house, watching me disappear with Ken behind the waving arms of the neem trees, the bougainvillea bushes exploding with purple. You would have been pleased, hearing me talk with another man. Or maybe you would have been suspicious, and brought us water as an excuse to spy.

When we made it to the royal palm at the top, I asked him, Can you just cut this damn tree? I repeated what Hiram told me about the roots.

Too deep, too strong, the gardener had said. Eventually, they will creep down to the other plants and strangle them.

It shades the house nicely, Ken said, pointing to our sloping roof. Keeps it cool.

But it was planted in the wrong place, I said. I didn’t tell him that your father planted the tree twenty years ago.

That palm is such a pain, Nitasha. Since you were here for Christmas two years ago (I can’t believe you haven’t been home in two years!), it has shot up so much that it blocks the view of the ocean, and bends forward on its gangly trunk, which, by the way, is the same ashy white of Ken’s arms. A “phenomenon,” Ken called this growth, and from the way he inspected the tree I got the sense that he thought it was magic.

I found you on the floor of your room, sitting cross-legged, a pillow clutched to your stomach. Sometimes, I don’t know whose body I am in, you said, your voice flat as a cardboard box.

I pointed to the thin leaves. See how yellow they are? I said. Again I thought of you, how you had jaundice when you were born, 22 days early. Your father and I had an argument. He threw a hot cup of tea on me. I think the stress of it all hurried you into the world.

I watched Ken pull a leaf like one would a child’s finger. He paused for a moment, and I noticed he was not wearing a ring, which made me very nervous, that I was so close to a man who wasn’t married, that I was starting to like the look of his eyes, that I wondered what his arms would feel like around me.

I think this tree is beautiful, Ken said. You should try to save it.

That’s when I told him we were moving. I’ve been here 32 years, I stressed, because it is always necessary to emphasize how much time one has lived in Hawai’i.

Still, Ken asked, Will you go to India?

I know you want me to settle in Pune when this is over, to be surrounded by protective family and watchmen and city curfews, but I had the urge to invent a new possibility.

Morocco, I said, or Peru. I have always wanted to climb Machu Picchu. I imagined myself in safari clothes and a fanny pack, riding buses through South American jungles. Ken took a long gulp of water and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

I told him I would think about the palm while he dealt with the other trees. Once the whirring began, I couldn’t watch the scalping, the stacking of leaves and branches like a funeral pyre.

                                                                            • • •

Back in the house I worked with Mani. Together we moved your bed and dresser out to the yard.

Remember Christmas Day, two years ago? We’d opened presents and I’d given Vinay a T-shirt with a turtle on it. Instead of thanking me, he stormed out of the living room and you followed, leaving me sitting in a pile of torn paper.

Why didn’t you tell me you guys did this shit? he shouted from your bedroom, Now I look like a dick for not bringing anything. You did this on purpose.

When Vinay’s voice rose you began to plead. I escaped to the garden. It is so easy to hear things in our house, with the thin walls, the tiled floor. How many fights between your father and I kept you awake as a child? I ran up to the palm, where I struck at the hard soil with a hammer. I hacked and hacked, stirring up dry dust until it burned my throat and eyes. You witnessed years of my misery, but at that moment, I could not tolerate the sound of yours.

When I came down the hill, sweating in my silk pajamas, which I always wear on Christmas, I must have looked crazy. I might even have had twigs in my hair.

I found you on the floor of your room, sitting cross-legged, a pillow clutched to your stomach. Sometimes, I don’t know whose body I am in, you said, your voice flat as a cardboard box.

That evening, Vinay came home with flowers. Sorry about the fight, he said. I made you both quesadillas, which you ate ravenously, thankfully, your face still puffy and streaked with tears.

After we put your clothes in the donation pile, Mani and I covered the floor of your room with a tarp and began to paint your walls. When we got to your closets, Mani noticed a photograph peeking out from under the door. I can’t believe this is the same Nitasha from high school, he said, holding the creased photo out to me like a winning lottery ticket, and I thought the same.

Does she have a boyfriend? he said, laughing nervously.

I laughed too. I said you were always changing your mind about men. I said you were very independent, like your mother.

In the photo you are barefoot; your eyes closed. The sky behind you is purplish blue, a color that reminds me of that Van Gogh print you sent me on Valentine’s Day. You are sitting on an upturned canoe, wearing those cut-off jeans I am always trying to hem, looking more relaxed than I have ever seen you.

Tasha, do you think you will marry Vinay? I know lawyers are better husbands than restaurant owners, but in the photos you sent of his birthday (you’re feeding him cake, wearing a black dress with a plunging neckline and earrings that look like bird feathers), it looks like he is devouring your fingers. You look like you are vanishing.

Mani and I went back to painting, beginning in opposite corners. Eventually we worked ourselves to the middle, to each other, until your room was quiet and white.

                                                                            • • •

Most days the workers leave around five. But today Terrance was sneezing uncontrollably, and Reid had to pick up his daughter at hula, so I told them both to go early. Mani and I were still cleaning brushes when the sun was setting, so I invited him to stay for pakoras.

Ken was testing the strength of the palm’s roots. It was getting dark, and so I thought it right to offer him a beer. I have started to drink myself. Corona, like you. I put a lime inside, which is how I have seen you do it.

I have to talk to you about the palm tree, Ken said, before I had the chance to invite him in. I think you can save it without harming the others.

I looked at the palm, which seemed so arrogant to me at the moment. I told Ken I had to think about it, and asked him if he wanted to have a snack with me and Mani. Awaiting his answer, I trembled.

Ken cracked his knuckles. He checked his beeper. There were sweat stains under his nipples, but he smelled like pine trees.

He followed me to the house, and when he got to the door it took him ten minutes to get the dirt off of his shoes. Then he hovered close to the entrance, standing in front of the fan while I took out the beer.

We sat at the dining table and drank. Like many white people, Ken wanted to know how I got to Hawai’i, so I told him about my hurried marriage in Pune and how your father decided to drop out of UH’s business school to open a restaurant near the campus. We built it there because we thought the students would like it, but those days there weren’t enough Indians to keep the place afloat. Most people who wanted to eat something exotic went to the falafel stand owned by that Egyptian man who recently returned to California.

‘People here want sticky rice,’ he complained. . . . ‘They expect me to serve them rice with an ice-cream scooper.’

Delhi Palace, Mani said knowingly, shaking his head. My father would always take me there after soccer practice, when I wanted steak. He chuckled. Or katsu. He said it reminded him of ma.

I asked him if he liked the food. It seemed like an important question.

Do you know, Mani said, and here his nostrils flared a little. On the table he flexed his arm. My mother’s parents wouldn’t let us bury her? Even though she said it was what she wanted. They said she was born a Hindu and that’s how she should die.

I’m sorry, I said, ashamed. I felt as though I should apologize for all Indians. Sometimes, we can be jerks, I said. Really, I know what you mean.

We didn’t even get her ashes, Mani said, his eyes reddening.

Ken’s forehead beaded with sweat. She’s with you still, he said. At that point I realized I’d forgotten the limes. I hurried to the kitchen. Ken steered the conversation back to the restaurant, and so I described how business was terrible in the ’80s, before Madonna found yoga.

Our failure comes down to one thing, I remember your father coming home to say, after he had to let go of another waiter. Rice. Local people want sticky rice, he complained. Not basmati. They expect me to serve them rice with an ice cream scooper. Can you believe this?

For a while I tried to help him at Delhi Palace; after all, he was so stressed, so angry. After my nursing school classes I’d head straight to the restaurant, where I chopped onions, washed dishes, hacked chicken, until my hands blistered, the scent of curry patta and garlic never leaving my hair, my nails. I couldn’t take it. Thank god I got pregnant with you and had an excuse to stay home.

Mani’s face never changed as I told him the story of your father. I brought out salad in a bag, and Ken whipped up a dressing with mustard and balsamic vinegar. He said his ex-wife was a terrible cook, and that after she left him and moved to Las Vegas, he had plans to travel too. New Zealand was where he wanted to go. One day I will get there, he said, and I said I hoped so.

I made pakoras with the last of the flour. There was just enough oil for frying. We dipped them in ketchup when they were still piping hot. We drank more beer, and then Mani went to the fridge and pulled out some roast chicken.

Do you mind? he asked, and I said no, because I loved that he felt comfortable enough to feed himself. Remember when you used to tear through the fridge as a girl?

The wind picked up, blowing the newspapers I’d saved for packing all over the place, and I shut the blinds. The three of us moved to the couch, beneath the space on the wall where your high school photo had hung until this morning. I know you despise that picture; you say you look fat and furious, so unlike the delicate creature you have become. But I regretted the emptiness, the fact that you were not with me at this moment.

Outside it was dark. We could not make out the shape of the garden, not even the palm. I could hear leaves rustling, and the sea pounding. The wind was slamming doors. The guys went through the house, closing up windows. If there were more paintings on the wall, they would have all fallen. Sitting there, with the cold beer in my hand, I wondered what the yard would look like tomorrow.

Mani got up to make coffee for the drive home. Ken settled his beer on his stomach and I did the same, puffing it out like you do when you think you have eaten too much, and you call yourself pregnant.

I’m burnt, Ken laughed, touching his lobster pink arm and wincing. I am a sunburned Hawaiian.

Mani returned with two styrofoam cups full of coffee.

How are you doing? Ken asked Mani, who nodded.

I know it’s late, Mani said. But I don’t want to go home.

All three of us looked at the ceiling.

There is a story behind that tree, I said. I never had boyfriends before your father, so I worried I was flirting by keeping the conversation alive.

I figured that tree had a history, Ken said.

My husband planted it, I said. It was a gesture. I suppose he was trying.

Nitasha, I should have been sitting with you at this moment, not these strangers. But now I must tell you what I told them.

After Nitasha was born, I said, feeling my eyelids close, it was a very difficult period. I was doing shifts at the hospital, but we had no money. This house had only one bedroom. Can you believe it? I raised my empty beer bottle to the walls.

I started working in the restaurant again. I dropped out of school. I was supposed to be on the pill, but one day I stopped, and it worked, I got pregnant.

I snapped open my eyes and turned to Mani. I made plans, I said. I bought blue blankets, blue curtains. I called my mother, my sisters. They sent mithai all the way from Pune.

Nitasha was only three, I said. I told her she was going to have a brother, but she seems to have no memory of this, which is a blessing. My husband didn’t want another child. I suppose God was punishing me for tricking him.

Ken put a hand over mine. He had golden tufts on his knuckles. I felt like touching them.

I ended it, I said. I drove myself home from the clinic.

The day after the abortion, Nitasha’s father went to a nursery in Waimanalo. He bought the palm. He planted it himself, and even wept, and wrote a letter of apology—a failure, sort of like Bill Clinton’s letter to the Hawaiian people, in which he reprimands the government for stealing their land. This letter I have not found in my excavation of the house.

Like Nitasha, the palm had strange growth patterns. During the divorce, it shot up happily, but when her father returned to Jaipur, remarried, and began exporting blood diamonds, its growth was stunted. It survived two hurricanes, Ewa and Iniki. The palm would not die.

                                                                            • • •

I don’t know how long I sat there with the men in silence. Eventually I felt Ken rising up from the couch. I walked them both to the door.

When I go home, Mani said softly, I am going to kiss my daughter.

Picking up his bag of tools, Ken surveyed the living room. Now, he said, you are free.

I awoke on the couch, my hands covered with dust. I took a few half-open boxes to the street, along with whatever else I could carry down the driveway: old lamps, a walkman, a snorkel, and two threadbare pillows.

The branches of the royal palm were completely bare, and that’s when I remembered how royal palms survive—by shedding their leaves rapidly in strong winds.

I called Mani and when he didn’t answer I left a voicemail. I told him that I wanted him to have the royal palm. I repeated what Ken told me about the palm’s place in Hawaiian culture, about how it represents majesty, longevity. I asked him to come for it after we have left the house for good, and to have Ken remove and replant it.

I know it won’t be difficult. In one swift pull the tree will belong to someone else. Already I can feel its absence.

I think of this house as our old life, until I realize that there is no such thing as an old life, only one that gets younger, smaller, until it grows invisible, like the unborn.