memoirs-of-a-geisha chapter 31


The Chairman

Mameha was kneeling above me. I was puzzled to find that I wasn’t in the old theater any longer, but looking up from the tatami floor of a dark little room at the inn. I didn’t remember leaving the theater, but I must have done it somehow.

Later, as I walked unsteadily back to my room with a terrible feeling of fear, I saw Pumpkin just coming out of her room. She stopped when she saw me; but she didn’t apologize as I half-expected. She turned her head slowly and looked at me the way a snake might look at a mouse.

«Pumpkin,» I said, «I asked you to bring Nobu, not the Chairman. I don’t understand…»

«Yes, it must be difficult for you to understand, Sayuri, when life doesn’t work out perfectly!»

«Perfectly? Nothing worse could have happened… did you misunderstand what I was asking you?»

«You really do think I’m stupid!» she said.

I was confused, and just stood there in silence. «I thought you were my friend,» I said at last.

«I thought you were my friend too, once. But that was a long time ago.»

«You talk as if I’d done something to harm you, Pumpkin, but…»

«No, you’d never do anything like that, would you? Not the perfect Miss Nitta Sayuri! I suppose it doesn’t matter that you took my place as daughter of the okiya? Do you remember that, Sayuri? After I’d helped you about the Doctor-whatever his name was. After I’d risked making Hatsumomo mad at me for helping you! After all that, you stole what was mine.»

«But Pumpkin,» I interrupted, «couldn’t you just have refused to help me? Why did you have to bring the Chairman?»

She looked me in the eye. «I know perfectly well how you feel about him,» she said. «Whenever you think there’s nobody looking, you look at him like you were his dog. You took something from me a long time ago, Sayuri. Well, how does it feel now?»

During the rest of that evening I don’t remember anything very clearly; while the others were drinking and laughing, I could only pretend to laugh. I must have been red because from time to time Mameha touched my neck to see if I was feverish.

I sat as far away from the Chairman as I could, so that our eyes wouldn’t have to meet; and I did survive the evening without talking to him. But later, as we were all getting ready for bed, I passed the Chairman as he was going into his room. I should have moved out of his way, but I felt too ashamed. I gave a quick bow and hurried past him, not even trying to hide how unhappy I felt.

After everyone else was asleep, I left the inn with my head spinning and walked back to the ocean. It was dark, the wind was screaming, and the waves were crashing angrily. It was as though the wind and the water had taken on the spirit of my old girlhood enemy, Hatsumomo.

The screaming of the wind and the crashing of the waves seemed to laugh at me. Could it really be that the stream of my life had turned away from the Chairman forever? I took his handkerchief from my sleeve. I’d taken it to bed with me that evening as usual and then put it in my sleeve when I went out. I dried my face with it and then held it up into the wind.

I thought of letting it go and letting the wind take it, but then I thought of the letter Mr. Tanaka had sent me so many years earlier, telling me that my parents were dead. We must always keep something to remember those who have left us. The letter was all that remained of my childhood. The Chairman’s handkerchief would be what remained of the rest of my life.

On Wednesday morning, only three days after our return from Amami, I got a message that someone from Iwamura Electric had telephoned the Ichiriki Teahouse to request my presence that evening. This could only mean that everything was still all right after the events on Amami, and Nobu was ready to become my danna.

I dressed late in the afternoon in a yellow silk kimono with a green underskirt and a dark blue and gold obi. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a defeated woman. My face looked thin, even though as usual I’d put on western-style make-up; even my hair didn’t look right. I couldn’t think of any way to improve my appearance except to ask Mr. Bekku to re-tie my obi a little higher, to take away some of my sad look.

At the Ichiriki, a maid took me upstairs to the same room where Nobu had met with me on the night Gion was closing. This must mean that Nobu wanted us to meet in the same room to celebrate becoming my danna-though it wouldn’t be a celebration for me. But it would be a fine night for Nobu and I would try not to spoil it.

I knelt at one end of the table, careful to position myself so that Nobu could pour sake using his one arm. Could it really be that only five and a half years had passed since our last evening together in this room? So many people had come and gone; so many people I’d once known were now dead.

Was this the life I’d come back to Gion to lead? It was just as Mameha had once told me: we don’t become geisha because we want our lives to be happy; we become geisha because we have no choice. If my mother had lived, I might be a wife and mother in Yoroido, by the sea, thinking of Kyoto as a faraway place where the fish were sent.


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