«Forgive me for my foolishness,» I said.
All the kimono-makers were now making parachutes because they were used to working with silk. Nobu had arranged for me to stay with one of them, a family called Arashino. They lived in the country, outside Kyoto.
The Arashinos were very kind to me during the years I lived in their home. By day I worked with them, sewing parachutes. At night I slept next to their daughter and grandson on a futon on the floor of the workshop where we made the parachutes.
Of course, there wasn’t much food. You can’t imagine some of the things we learned to eat. We ate food that was usually given to animals. And there was something called nukapan that looked like old dry leather, though the leather would probably have tasted better.
I grew so thin during those years that nobody would have recognized me on the streets of Gion. Some days the Arashinos’ little grandson, Juntaro, cried from hunger-and then Mr. Arashino sold one of the kimonos he used to make. This was what we Japanese called the «onion life»-removing layer after layer, and crying all the time.
One night in the spring of 1944 we saw the first bombs dropped on Japan. The bombers passed over us, not only that night but every night. They were flying to the factories in Osaka and Tokyo. I was desperately worried about the Chairman and Nobu, working at the Iwamura factory in Osaka.
The Kamo River flowed below our workshop before it ran to Osaka and then out into the sea. Day after day I threw flowers into the river, hoping that the Chairman, sitting at his desk in Osaka, might look out of the window and see them and think of me. But even if he saw the flowers, I feared he wouldn’t think of me. He’d often been kind to me, it was true, but he was a kind man. He’d never shown any sign of recognizing that I was the girl on the bridge or that I cared for him or thought of him.
If I came to the end of my life and had spent every day watching for a man who never came to me, what life would I have had? I’d be like a dancer who had practiced since childhood for a performance she would never give.
I learned during those years that nothing is as unpredictable as who will survive a war and who won’t. Mameha survived, working as a nurse in a small hospital, but her maid, Asami, was killed by the terrible bomb that fell on Nagasaki.
Some of the people in the most dangerous places survived. Hatsumomo’s dresser, Mr. Bekku, who had taken me from my home in Yoroido, worked for the navy in Osaka and survived somehow. Pumpkin worked in a factory in Osaka that was bombed five times, but she also survived. So did General Tottori, who lived in the Suyura Inn until his death in the mid-1950s. But the geisha Korin and Katsue and the wrestler Miyagiyama were all killed by firebombs in Tokyo.
There was never any doubt that Mother would survive. She spent the war buying and selling, growing richer not poorer. When Mr. Arashino needed to sell a kimono, who do you think bought it from him? And then sold it again for much more than she paid for it.
The war ended for us in August of 1945. Almost everyone who lived in Japan at this time will tell you that it was the blackest moment in a long night of darkness. For a year or more I never once heard the sound of laughter.
But by the spring of 1946 there was again talk of Japan’s rebirth. All the stories about American soldiers killing us were shown to be wrong; the Americans were extremely kind. As they drove past on trucks, throwing candy to our children, they had no eyes for me: a thin woman in worn peasant clothes, with hands rough from work on the parachutes. But why had we been taught to hate them?
One cold November afternoon, three years after the end of the war, Mr. Arashino told me there was somebody to see me. By this time Mr. Arashino was making kimonos again and I was helping him.
My visitor was Nobu. He told me that Gion was open again.