«I believe we’ve killed him.»
«You must take him out into the street and walk him around a bit to wake him up. The cold will do him good.»
«He’s lying in the snow. Isn’t that cold enough?»
«Nobu-san!» I said.
I went to get a maid to help because Nobu couldn’t get the Minister on his feet with only one arm. With the maid’s help we got the Minister back inside. The maid cleaned the Minister’s jacket and left us alone again.
«We need more geisha next time,» I said to Nobu, above the sleeping Minister. «And maybe you should bring the Chairman next time too.»
The Minister opened his eyes and managed to pull himself up a little.
«Well, Minister, this certainly has been a wonderful evening!» said Nobu. «Next time we’ll have even more fun. Instead of throwing up on just me, you might be able to throw up on the Chairman, and maybe another geisha or two as well!»
«I like this geisha,» said the Minister. «I don’t want another one.»
Whatever the Minister said, it was obvious that we needed more geisha next time. I’d ask Mameha, of course, but I wanted to ask Pumpkin too.
I knew almost nothing about Pumpkin’s circumstances, except that she was back in Gion, so I went to speak with Mother. Mother told me that Pumpkin had asked to come back to the okiya when it had reopened but that she, Mother, had refused because Pumpkin would be a poor investment.
«She’s living in a poor little okiya over in the Hanami-cho area,» Mother said. «But don’t go and see her. I think it would be foolish of you to speak with her.»
«I have to admit,» I said, «I’ve never felt right about what happened between Pumpkin and me…»
«Nothing happened between you. Pumpkin didn’t do well enough and you succeeded. Anyway, she s doing better these days. The Americans can’t get enough of her. She says exactly what she thinks. The Americans like that.»
That afternoon I crossed Shijo Avenue to the Hanami-cho area of Gion, and found the poor little okiya Mother had told me about. A young maid showed me into a room that didn’t smell too good, and came back later to bring me a cup of weak tea. I waited a long time before Pumpkin at last came and slid open the door.
I felt such warmth for her. I got up from the table, wanting to put my arms around her. She took a few steps into the room and then knelt and gave a formal bow, as if I was Mother. I didn’t know what to do and just stopped in the middle of the room.
«Really, Pumpkin… it’s only me!» I said.
She wouldn’t even look at me, but looked down at the mats like a maid waiting for orders. I felt very disappointed and went back to my place at the table.
When we’d last seen each other, during the war, Pumpkin’s face was still round and full, but now her heavy cheeks had thinned, leaving her with an elegance that was astonishing to me. I don’t mean that Pumpkin had suddenly become a beauty like Hatsumomo, but her face had a certain womanliness that had never been there before.
It was a long time later that I found out what had happened to Pumpkin. After the closing of the factory where she worked, she had to spend more than two years in Osaka, on the streets, selling herself.
«I’m sure the years have been difficult, Pumpkin,» I said to her, «but you look quite lovely.»
Pumpkin didn’t reply to this. She just moved her head to show that she’d heard me. I congratulated her on her popularity and tried asking about her life since the war, but her face showed no expression, so I began to feel sorry I’d come.
Finally, after an awkward silence, she spoke.
«Have you come here just to chat, Sayuri? Because I don’t have anything to say that will interest you.»
«The truth is,» I said, «I saw Nobu Toshikazu recently, and… actually Pumpkin, he’ll be bringing Deputy Minister Sato to Gion sometimes. I thought you’d be kind enough to help us entertain him.»
«I know you think I’m stupid…»
«But you probably have some other reason you’re not going to tell me about.»
«I suppose I do have another reason,» I said. «To tell the truth, I’d hoped that after all these years, you and I might be friends, as we once were. We’ve survived so many things together… including Hatsumomo!»
Pumpkin said nothing.
However, she accepted her invitation to the Ichiriki that Saturday, and she and Mameha and I entertained the Chairman, Nobu, and Sato all through that winter and the following spring, once or twice a week, as long as Sato was deciding the future of Iwamura Electric.
Pumpkin was very good with Sato. The first time she met him she said, in the direct way she now had, «Hey, Minister, I’ll bet you don’t remember me, but I know a lot about you.»
«What do you know?» said Mameha. «Tell us something.»
«I know the Minister has a younger sister who’s married to the mayor of Tokyo,» Pumpkin said. «And I know he broke his hand in a fight once.»
The Minister was looking surprised, so these things must have been true. But Pumpkin wasn’t finished yet.