I didn’t ask her to do it, and I don’t know how she did it. Probably she just said, «Hatsumomo, if your behavior causes trouble for Sayuri and costs this okiya money, you’ll be the one to pay it.»
Inside the okiya, life was almost pleasurable. As the adopted daughter I ate when I wanted. I chose my kimono first instead of waiting for Pumpkin to choose hers.
Of course, I didn’t mind that Hatsumomo hated me because I was treated better, but when Pumpkin passed me in the okiya with a worried look, avoiding my eyes, that caused me real pain.
With my mizuage behind me, Dr. Crab disappeared from my life almost completely. I say «almost» because I still saw him at parties in Gion; but he was a true «mizuage specialist» and so had no more interest in me.
At the next Iwamura Electric party I sat myself next to the Chairman, not Nobu. I didn’t mean to, but I ignored Nobu. The Chairman was friendly when I poured his sake, but he didn’t really look at me. But I noticed that Nobu was staring at me angrily because I wasn’t talking to him. So before the evening was over I spent a bit of time with him and I was careful never to ignore him again after this.
A month or two passed, and then one evening during a party,
I mentioned to Nobu that Mameha had arranged for me to appear at a festival in Hiroshima. I wasn’t sure he was listening when I told him, but the next day when I returned to the okiya after my lessons, I found in my room a new travel case he’d sent me as a gift.
I felt terribly ashamed of myself for thinking I could simply forget Nobu after he was no longer needed to bid for my mizuage. I wrote him a note of thanks for the travel case and told him I looked forward to seeing him at the next big party that Iwamura Electric planned in two months’ time.
But something strange happened. Just before the party, I received a message saying I wasn’t needed after all. I thought maybe they had canceled the party. But I was at the Ichiriki anyway, for another party, and I met a geisha called Katsue, who had just been to the Iwamura party.
«It’s a good party,» she said. «There must be twenty-five geisha there and nearly fifty men…»
«And… Chairman Iwamura and Nobu-san are both there?» I asked her.
«Not Nobu,» said Katsue. «Someone said he went home sick this morning. But the Chairman is there; why do you ask?»
I can’t remember what I said to that. But I felt deeply worried. I’d always somehow imagined that the Chairman wanted my company as much as Nobu did. Now I wasn’t so sure; maybe Nobu was the only one who cared about me.
The next day, Mother asked to see me in her room.
«This time next month you’ll have a danna,» she said.
«A danna? But, Mother, I’m only eighteen…»
«Yes. Hatsumomo didn’t have a danna until she was twenty. And of course that didn’t last… You should be very pleased.»
«Oh, I am very pleased,» I said untruthfully. «But… having a danna will take a lot of my time and… I’ll earn less from party fees.»
This didn’t deceive Mother. «Leave the business decisions to me,» she said. «Only a fool would turn down an offer like the one Nobu Toshikazu has made.»
My heart nearly stopped when I heard this. I suppose it was obvious that Nobu would one day propose himself as my danna.
He’d made an offer for my mizuage and since then he’d asked for my company at parties more than any other man.
But reaching the Chairman was the one hope that had helped me through my training. I couldn’t give myself to the one man who would put him out of reach forever. I almost ran across Gion to see Mameha.
Mameha knew all about it. «Nobu-san is a good man,» she said, ‘and very fond of you. I understand you may find Nobu difficult to look at, but…»
«Mameha-san, it isn’t that. Nobu-san is a good man, as you say. But, Mameha-san… I don’t know how to say it… this is never what I imagined!»
«What do you mean? Nobu-san has always treated you kindly.»
«But Mameha-san, I don’t want kindness!»
«Don’t you? I thought we all wanted kindness. Maybe what you mean is that you want something more than kindness. And that is something you’re in no position to ask for.»