«Let me see, where was I?» Hatsumomo began. «Oh yes. Well, this novice I mentioned… I can’t remember her name, but I ought to give her one or you will confuse her with this girl here. Tell me, little novice… what’s your name?»
Sayuri, ma’am,» I said, my face hot with nervousness. Everybody at the party looked at me and then looked back to Hatsumomo.
«Sayuri! How lovely! Somehow it doesn’t suit you. Well, let’s call this novice in the story ‘Mayuri.’ Oh yes, I remember now, Mayuri had funny-colored eyes. Some people thought they were the color of dead worms.»
I glanced at Mameha, but I could see there was nothing she could do. Hatsumomo, smiling, continued:
Anyway, this novice became an apprentice and then a geisha very quickly, and one day it was time for her mizuage.»
Some of the men at the party, drunk on sake, laughed at this. A geisha’s mizuage was taken the first time she spent a night with a man. Some men paid a high fee to be the first with a geisha.
Hatsumomo looked lovelier than ever as she continued her devilish story: «Well, after the mizuage, and this is the first time this has ever happened in Gion, the man who had thought himself so lucky at first, asked for his money back. Do you know why?»
There was a roar of laughter. Of course the drunken men had several suggestions, some ruder than others. Some of them glanced at me as they spoke.
Hatsumomo was laughing too. «No, really, this is serious. It seems that her whole body…» And here Hatsumomo waved her delicate hands to show the line of my body. «Her whole body… was the body of an old woman. Her face was still sixteen or seventeen but underneath, below the neck, well her…»
Hatsumomo was now looking at me directly as she began to describe my body as that of an old woman. Mameha led me from the room, without stopping to say good-bye to Naga Teruomi.
Mameha and I went down the steps of the teahouse. On the bottom step she stopped and waited. At last a young maid came to see us out-the same maid who had shown us up the stairs earlier.
«What a difficult life you must have as a maid!» Mameha said to her. «Probably you want so many things and have so little money to spend. Tell me, what will you do with the money you have just earned?»
«I haven’t earned any money, ma’am,» she said, but I could see she was lying.
«How much money did Hatsumomo promise you?»
The maid looked at the floor. It wasn’t until this moment that I understood what Mameha was thinking. As we learned some time afterward, Hatsumomo had paid at least one maid in every first-class teahouse in Gion to telephone the Nitta okiya as soon as they saw Mameha and me.
Out in the street Mameha said, «I’m trying to think where we can go, but… I can’t think of a single place. If that woman has found us here, she can find us anywhere in Gion. I think you should go back to your okiya, Sayuri, and stay there until I can think of a plan.»
I ought to have been attending formal parties every night, and ten or fifteen informal parties too, but instead I stayed in the okiya practicing shamisen and dance. My income from party fees was now zero.
In the next few days I went to Mameha’s apartment several times, each time hoping that she had thought of a plan, but she hadn’t.
«I’m sorry, but you must stay in the okiya for a little longer,» she said. «I’m more determined than ever to destroy that evil woman, but until I’ve thought of a plan it will do you no good at all to follow me around Gion.»
Of course I was disappointed to hear it, but Mameha was quite right. Another evening like Naga Teruomi’s party would do me more harm than good as a geisha.
Happily, Mameha could still take me with her to entertain outside Gion, where Hatsumomo couldn’t pay maids to tell her where we were. I went to Kobe when Mameha opened a new factory. Another time I went with Mameha and the president of the Nippon Telephone Company on a tour of Kyoto in a luxury car. This was the first time I saw how poor some people were in the Depression. We drove along the river, south of the city, and I saw dirty women feeding their babies under the trees and men with no shoes and no hope drinking next to them. I realized that even with Hatsumomo and her cruelty to me, I had a relatively fortunate life during the Depression.
One day Mameha and I were walking across Shijo Avenue Bridge when it was clear to me from her face that something was wrong.
«What is it Mameha-san?» I asked.
«Well, I’ll tell you because you’ll only hear it from someone else,» she said. «Your little friend Pumpkin has won the apprentice’s prize this year. She earned more money from ohana than any other apprentice geisha in Gion.»
«But… but how?» I said.
Mameha sighed. «In Gion,» she began, «a very popular geisha can always make sure her Younger Sister earns more than anyone else if she doesn’t mind damaging her own reputation.»
Mameha explained that apprentices like Pumpkin were expected to attend about five parties an evening and build relationships. Instead of this, Hatsumomo was taking Pumpkin with her everywhere, to as many as twenty parties a night. The men were paying two lots of ohana charges for a geisha and an apprentice who were spending very little time at the party. In the end both Hatsumomo’s and Pumpkin’s reputations would suffer. But before that Hatsumomo would have got what she wanted.
«Hatsumomo wants Pumpkin to look good so Mrs. Nitta will adopt her,» Mameha finished up. «If Pumpkin is made daughter of the okiya, Hatsumomo is safe. As Pumpkin’s Older Sister, Mrs. Nitta won’t throw her out. Do you understand what I’m saying, Sayuri? If Pumpkin is adopted, you’ll never be free of Hatsumomo, and it’s possible that you’ll be the one they throw out.»
A few days after our conversation, Pumpkin told me that Mrs. Nitta was going to adopt her. It was definite.