«Yes, you’re right. What sort of help have you come to me for anyway?»
«Any help at all, General. We talk about nothing these days in Gion except how miserable life in a factory will be.»
«Life will be miserable for the lucky ones. The rest won’t even live to see the end of the war.»
«I don’t understand.»
«The bombs will fall soon,» the General said. «You can be certain the factories will receive more than their share. If you want to be alive when this war is over, you’d better find someone who can put you in a safe place. I’m sorry I’m not that man, Sayuri. I’ve already used any influence I had.»
The General asked about Mother’s health and then we said good-bye. I learned only much later what he meant about using all his influence. The mistress of the Suruya had a young daughter; the General had arranged to send her to a town in northern Japan.
I went to see Mameha. She was nearly as frightened as I was. Her relationship with her danna, the Baron, had ended, and she was now living in a much smaller apartment. She had no advice for me because she was unable to help herself.
«The Baron will do nothing to help me,» she said, her face pale with worry. «I’ve been unable to reach the other men I have in mind. You had better think of someone, Sayuri, and go to him as quickly as you can.»
Of course I thought of the Chairman. I would have taken any chance just to speak to him. But I could never have asked him for a favor. He was warm to me when we met by chance, but I wasn’t invited to Iwamura parties even when lesser geisha were. I felt hurt by this, but what could I do?
But even if the Chairman had wanted to help me, his problems with the military government had been in the newspapers lately. He had too many of his own troubles.
So I spent the rest of that afternoon going from teahouse to teahouse in the biting cold, asking about men I hadn’t seen in weeks or even months. None of the mistresses knew where to find them.
Just before General Tottori became my danna, Nobu used to watch me at the Ichiriki Teahouse, looking more and more puzzled. He’d expected to arrange everything with Mother quickly and to become my danna. I expected that myself, at the time. Even the mistress of the Ichiriki was worried by how angry Nobu was when it didn’t happen. I remember him at a party, walking past the mistress without looking at her, his jaw shut hard in anger. And I’ll never forget his angry eyes, watching me all through the evening while guests at the party were laughing and enjoying themselves. That was the last time I’d seen him, over four years ago.
That evening, the Ichiriki had a last party before it closed. Some of the geisha looked half dead with fear; others looked calm and lovely, painted with just a little sadness.
I don’t know how I looked. My mind was working all the time, thinking which man I’d talk to and how I’d do it. I hardly heard a maid tell me I was wanted in another room. I imagined a group of men had requested my company, but the maid led me to the small rooms at the back of the teahouse. She opened the door of a small tatami room I’d never entered before. And there at the table, alone with a glass of beer, sat Nobu.
There was a beer for me too. Beer was very unusual at this time. When the maid had left, I sat down at the table and we raised our glasses.
«Here’s a drink to your danna,» said Nobu. «Four years ago I told you he wasn’t good enough for you and I was right. Don’t you agree?»
«The truth is… he isn’t my danna any longer.»
«Exactly! And even if he were, he couldn’t do a thing for you, could he? Gion’s going to close and everyone’s terrified for their lives. I received a call at my office today from a certain geisha…
I won’t name her. She asked if I could find her a job at Iwamura Electric.»
«If you don’t mind me asking, what did you tell her?»
«I don’t have a job for anyone, hardly even myself. Even the Chairman may have no job soon. He’ll be in prison if he doesn’t do what the government says. They want us to make airplanes! I mean, honestly! Iwamura make refrigerators and heaters. Sometimes I ask myself what these people are thinking.»
«Nobu-san should speak more quietly.»
«Who’s going to hear me? Your General?»
Speaking of the General,» I said, «I did go to see him today, to ask for his help.»
«He didn’t help you, did he?»
«No, he said he’d already used the influence he had.»
«That wouldn’t have taken him long. Why didn’t he save his influence for you?»
«I haven’t seen him in more than a year…»
«You haven’t seen me in more than four years. And I have saved my best influence for you. Why didn’t you come to me before now?»
«Because I imagined you were angry with me all this time. Just look at you, Nobu-san. Look at the anger in your face. How could I have come to you?»
«How could you not come? I can save you from the factories.
I have something perfect for you. just like a nest for a bird. You’re the only one I’ll give it to, Sayuri. But I won’t give it until you’ve bowed to the floor and admitted how wrong you were, when you took General Tottori as your danna. Oh yes, I’m angry with you!»