«I have a task for you to do in Gion,» said Nobu. «If it works out as I hope, our company will be trading again in a year or two. Then the time will have come at last for me to become your danna.»
My skin went cold when I heard this, but I showed no sign of it. «How mysterious, Nobu-san. A task I could do, which would be helpful to Iwamura Electric?»
«It’s an awful task. I won’t lie to you. I want you to entertain a man called Sato. He looks and behaves like a pig. He tells me he always sat across the table so he could stare at you. You’re the only thing he ever talks about-when he talks at all; most of the time he just sits.»
I had to laugh when I heard this. «How awful a task can that be? However much Nobu-san dislikes him, I’m sure I’ve entertained worse. But how would that help Iwamura?
Nobu sighed. «All through the war, the Chairman resisted the government’s orders. When he finally agreed to cooperate, the war was almost over, and nothing we ever made for them-not one thing-was used in the war. But now we have to prove that to the Americans. If they don’t believe us, they will take Iwamura, sell it, and use the money to help victims of the war. Sato is the man who will make the decision about Iwamura tor the Americans. He’s the new Deputy Minister of Finance.»
«Nobu-san,» I said, «if it’s important to make a good impression on Deputy Minister Sato, maybe you should ask the Chairman to be there when you entertain him.»
«The Chairman is a busy man. Sayuri, you do look like a peasant.»
And then Nobu got up and left.
The next day I said a tearful good-bye to the Arashinos and, at the age of nearly thirty, I went back to Gion. Mother and I spent four or five days cleaning the okiya, helped by one cook, one maid, and a girl called Etsuko. She was the daughter of the man who owned the farm where Mother had lived during the war. Etsuko was twelve, the same age as I was when I first came to Kyoto.
When the okiya was clean, I went to see Mameha. She was now in a one-room apartment near the Gion Shrine. She was shocked when she first saw me because I was so thin. The truth was, I was just as shocked at the changes in her. Her face was still as lovely as ever, but her neck looked too old for her face. Her mouth showed the problems she’d had with her teeth during the war.
We talked for a long time, and then I asked her if she thought Dances of the Old Capital would start again, the following spring. It hadn’t been performed for a number of years.
«With all the American soldiers in Gion these days,» she said, «English will get you further than dance. Anyway, the Kaburenjo Theater has been turned into an American cabaret. There’s even a new Japanese word for it-kyaberei.»
About a week after my return, I was finally ready to make my first appearance as a geisha again. Since I was nearing thirty, I would no longer be expected to wear white make-up except on special occasions. But I did spend half an hour trying western-style make-up to try to hide how thin I’d become.
When Mr. Bekku came to dress me, young Etsuko stood and watched just as I’d once watched Hatsumomo. It was the astonishment in her eyes, more than anything I saw while looking in the mirror, that persuaded me I truly looked like a geisha again.
When at last I set out that evening, snow covered Gion. There were soldiers here and there on the streets and I didn’t want to think about what I might find when I reached the Ichiriki. But the only differences were the black shoes of the officers in the entrance, and strangely enough the teahouse was quieter than before the war.
I waited for Nobu and Deputy Minister Sato in an empty room next to the room where I would entertain them. No geisha likes to be seen doing nothing; it makes her look unpopular. This gave me a chance to listen to Nobu struggling to be pleasant as he brought the Minister in.
«Isn’t this a nice room, Minister?» said Nobu. I heard a grunt in reply. The Minister really did sound like a pig. Nobu continued, «It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it? Did I already ask you if you tasted the Ichiriki Teahouse’s own special sake?»
When I left my empty room and joined Nobu and the Deputy Minister, Nobu looked very pleased to see me.
I got my first good look at the Minister only after introducing myself and going to kneel at the table. I didn’t remember him, even if he had said he’d spent hours staring at me. He kept his chin down on his chest and made no sound except grunts.
When the maid arrived with sake, the Minister poured the drink directly into his lower jaw. He didn’t seem to swallow it at all but it disappeared like water down a drain.
Things went on like this for about fifteen minutes; the Minister grunted and poured sake into his jaw. Then he finally said something. He asked me if I was a dancer.
«Yes! Yes, I am,» I said. «Would the Minister like me to perform a short dance?»
«No,» he said. And that was the end of that.
Very soon we began to play a drinking game. The Minister had never played it before. He kept losing, kept drinking, and Nobu and I just got him out to the snow-covered garden before he threw up. Then the Minister lay very still on his back in the snow.