«I may see you one evening quite soon at the Shirae Teahouse,» he said. «Let me see. I’ll be there…» Then he put his glasses back on again so he could look at a little book he took out of his pocket. «Yes, I’ll be there two evenings from now. I do hope to see you.»
Mameha assured him we’d be there. In the rickshaw on our way back to Gion she told me I’d done very well.
Later that week I was invited to the Ichiriki Teahouse by Iwamura Electric and then I was invited again without Mameha. Mameha told me not to stay too long, so it would look like I had plenty of other parties to go to. So, after an hour I bowed and said good-bye, as though I were on my way to another party. For some reason, Hatsumomo didn’t appear.
Then Iwamura Electric gave a party that was the smallest party I’d attended in Gion, with only two other geisha and four men, including the Chairman and Nobu. This time, Hatsumomo appeared. Her lovely smile grew as soon as Nobu entered the room.
Hatsumomo had missed my first meeting with Nobu at the wrestling, as there had been no maid there to let her know we were there. But she knew all about my «romantic relationship,» as she called it, with Nobu, who she called The Fried Man. This was a cruel reference to his face.
So I decided to show her the romantic relationship she’d come to see. I began by touching my neck and my hair all the time, as if I was worried about the way I looked. Then I leaned toward Nobu. I touched the flowers I wore in my hair until they fell into his lap. The flowers fell onto the tatami mat between his crossed legs. I’d planned to get the flowers out from his lap, with girlish laughter, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it.
Nobu picked the flowers up himself and turned them in his hand, instead of giving them back. «Get the young maid who greeted me,» he said to me. «Tell her I want the package I brought.»
I did as Nobu asked and returned to the room. Everyone was waiting and watching me. Nobu was still holding my flowers and didn’t take the package from me. «I was going to give it to you later, on your way out,» he said to me. «But I think I should give it to you now.»
He nodded toward the package in a way that suggested I should open it. I felt very embarrassed, but I opened the package and found a fabulous gold comb to be worn in the hair, in the shape of a half-circle.
«It’s an antique I found a few days ago,» Nobu said.
The Chairman moved his lips but seemed to have trouble speaking. Eventually he said, «Well, Nobu-san! I have never known you do such a thing before.» His face was pale and he looked shocked.
Hatsumomo stood and walked toward me. She knelt near me, took the gold comb and put it in my hair as gently as a mother with a baby.
«Isn’t she the loveliest creature,» she said to Nobu, nodding at me. Then she gave a deep sigh and soon afterward she left the party.
I was still an apprentice at that time, not a geisha, but for the first time in my life I felt like a geisha. Hatsumomo had not found a way to hurt me at the party; I’d beaten her, using my geisha skills. Of course, Hatsumomo still made trouble for me at parties when she could, and sometimes she won and I lost. But my ohana fees began to increase; I was in demand at parties, and I was becoming well-known.
When an apprentice geisha becomes available for mizuage, she gives boxes of ekubo to the men she knows. These ekubo are sweet-rice cakes and most geisha give them to at least a dozen men, maybe more. But I would give them only to Nobu and the Doctor-if we were lucky.
Dr. Crab hadn’t appeared at the Shirae Teahouse, as we’d arranged with him at the hospital. I managed to find Pumpkin alone, when she went out to buy sake for Hatsumomo, and on a bench by the Shirakawa Stream I finally managed to persuade her to tell me what had happened.
Pumpkin, please listen to me,» I said. «I wouldn’t ask this of you if there was any other way. But I don’t want to go back to being a maid and that is what will happen if Hatsumomo has her way. Either that or I will have to leave the okiya. Pumpkin, please.»
Suddenly tears ran down Pumpkin’s big cheeks, as if they’d been waiting to fall for years.
«Oh, I’m so unhappy, Chiyo-chan,» she said. She still called me Chiyo and I still called her Pumpkin, like everybody else did.
Pumpkin, just tell me, how did Hatsumomo stop Dr. Crab coming to the Shirae Teahouse?»
«Oh that,» said Pumpkin. «That was easy. The maid at the teahouse told us you and Mameha were on the guest list for a party there. Hatsumomo knew at once. Very few important people go to the Shirae. Crab only goes there because he knows it from his student days, before he made all his money. Hatsumomo thought of him at once. And besides, he is known in Gion as a mizuage specialist.’ As soon as Hatsumomo thought of him, she knew what Mameha was planning.»
«But why didn’t he come?»
«Well, you know Hatsumomo. She can make anyone believe anything. She told the Doctor that you have a boyfriend who spends the night with you in the okiya. Hatsumomo described him, he s a cook in a restaurant around the corner. She said she knows about it but Mrs. Nitta doesn’t and Mrs. Nitta would throw you out of the okiya if she ever found out.»