If I ever lose my hands,
lose my plough, lose my land,
If I ever lose my hands,
I won’t have to work no more.
The scientist sat at his laptop computer in the spare bedroom of the rented house, perched on the slopes of Hualalai volcano in Hawai‘i, that he, his lady, and a succession of occupiers of the adjoining, upstairs ‘ohana shared. The spare bedroom was now part office space, part music room. It was early on a Saturday morning in December, and the scientist had a mound of virtual paperwork to complete for his employer, plus a set of tasks for the upcoming holiday concerts competing for his attention. So, of course, he was goofing off, browsing the Internet and playing games. His lady was preparing their breakfast in the adjoining kitchen.
Abruptly, from that kitchen, there was a wet, splatting thud, followed immediately by a sound that was somewhere between a squawk and a shriek. The scientist paused his game and went around the corner to investigate.
He found a ceramic coffee cup in the middle of the tile-covered kitchen floor, sitting in the middle of a brown puddle that had been its contents. Standing above it was his lady, emitting frustration like radiators emit heat on those cold winter days that Hawai‘i never has.
“I was going to bring you your tea”, she complained, “but my thumb had other ideas!”
“You are OK?”, the scientist asked. “Tea is expendable. So are cups. You are not.”
“I’m fine”, his lady replied, still frustrated. “But I thought this was fixed! Guess it isn’t.”
“The cortisone shot must have worn off. They usually do after a few months, and I think that’s what the physicians said would happen in this case too, hm? Get another?”
“The physicians want to do surgery“, she retorted. “They say it’s a simple, quick procedure, with fast recovery and lasting results. But I’m still nervous about it. Besides, even with insurance it costs money!” The scientist could only nod ruefully in response to that.
“But I need my hands! How am I going to get my work done without them? How am I going to keep my classroom going? How am I going to bring you your tea?”
The scientist bent down, reached for the undamaged cup on the floor.
“Don’t you dare”, his lady warned. “I did this, I’ll clean it up. It’s my job. You go do yours!”
The scientist once again nodded and bent over, this time to kiss his lady. Then he returned to his office and his waiting tasks. As he sat down to the computer, his right hand twinged. The pain shot all the way to his shoulder. They were short-handed at work, and he had been doing a lot more computer and lab work, spending a lot longer at the microscope … He shook the pain off. A mentor of his, a hard-working man in a business full of hard-working people, had repeatedly told anyone who asked about his schedule that it was better to wear out than rust out. “Well,” the scientist said to himself, “I trust this isn’t rust. And whatever, there are jobs to be done and the hands are just going to have to suck it up. Ain’t nobody but us going to be paying the rent.” He started typing.
* * * * *
And if I ever lose my legs,
I won’t moan, and I won’t beg,
If I ever lose my legs,
I won’t have to walk no more.
The scientist’s left hip buzzed. He reached down to it, opened the pouch clipped to the belt line of his trousers, pulled out his phone, read the message. It was a calendar reminder: meeting in half an hour in his company’s main administration building. His office was at the research center, half a mile away. The company’s employees used golf carts to get around the 100-acre facility and get their various jobs done. Two of those were assigned to the research department, so that (for example) the scientist could get to meetings half a mile away from his office.
He peeked out his office window to where the carts were parked.
Gone. Both of them. As usual.
“OK”, he said to himself, “plan B”. He had started on it before he finished the thought. This was not exactly a rare occurrence.
He opened a desk drawer, pulled out a company T-shirt and socks. He shut his office door. He took off his “I am management” Hawaiian shirt, which his lady had made for him, and put the company shirt on instead. He took off his office loafers, put on the socks and sturdier work shoes. He took a worn backpack off a peg on the wall and checked its contents.
“Work documents on clipboard. Check. Pens, check.” (The company work shirt had no pockets.) “Glasses and sunglasses, check.” (Ditto.) “Water bottle, check. Microfiber towel, check. Hat, check.” He put the broad-brimmed Australian-style bush hat on his head, slung the backpack across his shoulders, reopened his office door, and started the hike to the meeting place.
The walk took about fifteen minutes, each way. He made both walks easily. No pain, no shortness of breath, good. He was watching out for these things, these days. Though he was grateful for the water, and the towel. Fellow workers ten, twenty, thirty, forty years younger than he flew by on golf carts. One colleague offered him a ride to the meeting. If he had been running late, he might have accepted. But today he was ahead of time, so he said no. “I don’t want to interfere with your production schedule”, he explained. “Besides”, he added, pointing to his paunch, “I need all the exercise I can get”.
Just as he was returning to his office, his left hip buzzed again. This time, it was a text from his lady.
“Ready for pickup.”
“OK. I’ll get it on the way home. I guess you’ll be glad to have it.”
“Yes. I really need it to get around while at work.”
The sun was minutes from falling into the Pacific Ocean when the scientist pulled into the repair shop in the Old Industrial district of Kailua Kona. A large Hawaiian dude in a welding apron met the scientist at the door of the shop with the object he came to get.
“What do I owe you?”, he asked.
“Nothing”, the Hawaiian answered. “Know your wife well, my kids love her, happy to help her out.”
The two men walked out to the scientist’s car. The scientist opened the hatchback, and the Hawaiian stowed the four-wheeled walker in the trunk space.
* * * * *
And if I ever lose my eyes,
if my colours all run dry,
If I ever lose my eyes,
I won’t have to cry no more.
The scientist played for a local concert band, a descendant of bands that had been commissioned by the monarchs of Hawai‘i back in the 19th century. As happened every Christmas season, his band had been asked to play for one of the local retirement homes. He was the emcee on this occasion, introducing the band and saying a little about each tune before it was played. Writing the script was one of those home-office tasks that had been waiting for him when his lady’s oppositional thumb spilled the tea.
“As if you didn’t already know that the holiday season is upon us”, he proclaimed to the retirement home audience as he introduced the first tune, “the Kailua Kona Christmas Parade is tomorrow! We will be there, marching to Christmas songs. Did you know that you could march to Christmas songs?” A hand shot up. It belonged to an elderly gentleman with whom the scientist had spoken while the band was setting up. “Aha!”, the scientist responded. “There’s a drummer in the house! He knows!”
The drummer came up to the scientist after the show was over. He was a slim, wiry gentleman of perhaps 70 years of age, slightly below middle height, with close-cropped gray hair, gray-blue eyes, erect bearing, and an open, earnest expression on his face, very much alive. “Thank you, very much“, he said. “You did very well, and I enjoyed it!”
“Thank you, sir, we appreciate it”, the scientist solemnly responded. Something in the gentleman’s manner stopped him from asking whether he’d like to take up his drumkit and join the band, which needed and welcomed all the musicians it could get.
“No, thank you,” the gentleman continued, looking the scientist in the eye. “It was a great pleasure to hear this kind of music again. It brings back memories …” His voice tailed off. He stood tall, his gaze remained focused, but his face took on the slightly-stressed cast of one who was trying desperately not to weep.
All the scientist could think of at that moment was to say, “God bless.”
At that, the gentleman returned to his seat, one of the few remaining as the house staff worked to pack up the rest. He sat down, and, with his right hand, took the left hand of the woman with whom he had been sitting. A heavy, gnarled, liver-spotted hand which accepted his touch with no obvious response, no visible emotion. It belonged to a heavy-set woman who slouched in her wheelchair, lower lip slightly and unevenly pendulous, staring straight ahead but with eyes unfocused, unseeing, oblivious, vacant.
The scientist turned away, to attend to his own duties, packing his instruments and assisting in loading out the other band gear. When he turned back again, the couple was gone.
And if I ever lose my mouth,
all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth,
I won’t have to talk