A geisha would never be alone with a man who wasn’t her danna, but in a group like this, with water covering our bodies, well, that was accepted. And we even have a word for sleeping in a group-zakone, «fish sleeping.» If you picture in your mind the way fish look in a basket, you’ll understand the name.
Nobu had been in the water for a long time, talking to the Chairman, but now he was sitting on a rock with only his legs in the water. He was rubbing the stump of his arm with the other hand and looking into the water.
I’d never seen his body before. His damaged shoulder looked as bad as his face. And now I was thinking about betraying him. He’d think I’d done it for only one reason, and would never understand the truth. I hated the thought of hurting Nobu or destroying his good opinion of me. Could I really do what I’d thought of on the airplane?
After breakfast the following morning, we all took a walk through the streets of the little village. Nobu was as cheerful as I’d ever seen him. found an old wood building with a sloped roof. We walked around to the back, where Nobu climbed stone steps to open a door at the corner. Sunlight fell across a dusty stage built out of wood; at one time this had obviously been the town’s theater.
I had a picture in my mind of me lying there on that wooden stage with Minister Sato as the door opened and sunlight fell on us. We’d have no place to hide; Nobu couldn’t possibly fail to see us.
As we walked back toward our inn, I walked behind the rest of the group because I wanted to take my handkerchief from my sleeve. It was very hot and the sun was shining full onto our faces. Nobu came walking back to ask if I was all right.
«You haven’t looked well all weekend, Sayuri,» he said. «Maybe you should have stayed in Kyoto.»
«But then I wouldn’t have seen this beautiful island.»
«I’m sure this is the farthest you’ve ever been from your home. We’re a long way from Kyoto now.»
I had the same thought that I’d had on the airplane; that Nobu didn’t understand me at all. Kyoto wasn’t my home. And at that moment, as I looked at him in the hot sun, I decided to betray Nobu, even though he was looking at me with kindness.
But I had no idea how I’d get Minister Sato to the theater with me, and even less idea how I’d arrange for Nobu to find us there. Maybe Pumpkin would take Nobu for a walk if I asked her to? I didn’t think I could ask Mameha. Pumpkin would be much less shocked at what I was planning than Mameha would be. I’d need to tell Pumpkin very clearly to bring Nobu to the old theater.
But first I had to speak to the Minister, who right now was putting fish into his lower jaw. He ate in the same way as he drank beer. It looked awful.
«Minister,» I said, «when you have finished your food why don’t you and I look around the inn together?»
I didn’t wait for him to reply, but walked from the room. I was relieved when he came out a moment later to join me.
«Minister,» I said, «why don’t we take a walk back down to the village together?»
He looked very confused by this.
«There’s something I would like to see again,» I added.
The Minister grunted a «yes» and I told him to wait while I went to find Pumpkin. She was in her room, looking through her trunk for something.
«Pumpkin,» I said, «I need to ask a favor.»
I waited for her to tell me she was happy to help, but she just stood with her eyes on me.
«I hope you won’t mind me asking…»
«Ask,» she said.
«The Minister and I are going for a walk. I’m going to take him to the old theater, and…»
«So that he and I can be alone.»
«You want to be alone? With the Minister? Are you crazy?»
«I’ll explain some other time, but this is what I want you to do. I want you to bring Nobu there and… Pumpkin, this will sound very strange. I want you to find us there together.»
«What game are you playing, Sayuri?»
«I don’t have time to explain it now. But it’s terribly important, Pumpkin. Truthfully, my entire future is in your hands. Just make sure that Nobu sees me and the Minister together. I’ll repay you in any way you like.»
She looked at me for a long moment. «So it’s time tor a favor from Pumpkin again, is it?» she said.
As I walked back to the village with the Minister, I remembered the day Mameha had cut me on the leg and taken me to see Dr. Crab. On that afternoon I’d felt in some sort of danger I couldn’t fully understand, and I felt much the same way now. But I kept talking in the hot sun as we walked all the way back to the theater.
«Will you come inside with me for a moment, Minister?»
He didn’t seem to know how to react to this, but when I climbed the stone steps and went into the theater he walked after me. But then he just stood there, like a man waiting for a bus.
My hands were shaking. I didn’t know if I could do what I’d planned to do.
«Minister,» I said. «Even if you can’t be my danna…»
A look of understanding spread slowly across the Minister s face.
«We’ll go over there,» he said, pointing to a corner of the theater.
That was no good. Nobu could miss us if we lay in a corner.
«Let’s go up on the stage,» I said.
I lay down on the stage, and the Minister lay down on top of me. When he touched me, I imagined life with Nobu as my danna and that helped me to let him do what he wanted. With his jaw on top of my face he looked more animal than human. I shut my eyes.
And then the door opened and there was sunlight over us as we lay there. With the Minister on top of me I had to look carefully but I could just recognize two people. One of them was Pumpkin. The other one was the Chairman.