I didn’t fall asleep, but I lost myself for a time in my sadness. And then I had a dream. I dreamt that I felt the Chairman’s hand touching my shoulder. I knew it was the Chairman’s hand because when I opened my eyes he was there.
For a moment I wondered if I was really awake; but it wasn’t a dream. The Chairman was sitting exactly where I’d expected Nobu to sit.
«Nobu-san is… quite all right, is he?» I said.
«Oh yes,» said the Chairman. «Quite all right. But he won’t be coming this evening.»
I was relieved to hear this; but at the same time I was ashamed. I remembered how the Chairman had seen me on Amami, with Minister Sato on top of me with his pants down.
«May I please say, Chairman,» I began as steadily as I could, «that my behavior on Amami…»
«I know what you’re thinking, Sayuri. But I haven’t come here to ask for your apology. Sit quietly a moment. I want to tell you about something that happened a long time ago.»
«Chairman, I feel so confused,» I managed to say. «Please forgive me, but…»
«Just listen,» said the Chairman. «One day, eighteen years ago, I was with a geisha and some friends, taking a walk by the Shirakawa Stream on our way to the theater.»
I took the Chairman’s handkerchief from my obi and silently put it on the table.
«Where did you get this?»
«Chairman,» I said, «all these years I’ve wondered if you knew I was the little girl you’d spoken to. You gave me your handkerchief on the way to see the play Shibaraku.»
«Do you mean to say… even when you were an apprentice, you knew that I was the man who’d spoken to you?»
«I recognized the Chairman the moment I saw him again at the sumo exhibition. But I’m amazed the Chairman remembered we.»
«Well, maybe you should look at yourself in the mirror sometimes, Sayuri. Your eyes… I can’t explain it. I spend so much of my time talking to men who are never quite telling me the truth; and here was a girl who let me look into her eyes and see straight into her.»
And then the Chairman interrupted himself.
«Didn’t you ever wonder why Mameha became your Older Sister?» he asked me.
«Mameha? What does Mameha have to do with all this?»
«Sayuri, I am the one who asked Mameha to look after you. I told her about a beautiful young girl I’d met, with amazing gray eyes. I asked her to help you if she ever met you in Gion. And she did meet you. It was two years later, but Mameha remembered. You would certainly never have become a geisha without her help.»
It’s almost impossible to describe the effect the Chairman’s words had on me. I’d always thought that Mameha’s reason for helping me was personal-to get rid of Hatsumomo because she hated her. So Mameha was suddenly a different woman in my eyes, and I was a different woman too.
«Chairman, forgive me, but I wish that at some time years ago you could have told me about… all of this. I can t say how much it would have meant to me.»
«There’s a reason why I never could, Sayuri, and why I had to tell Mameha not to say anything, either. The reason is Nobu. There’s something I want to discuss with you, he continued. «It’s something Pumpkin said after she took me down to the theater on Amami. I was extremely angry with her, and I demanded to know why she’d done it. For a long time she wouldn’t say anything. Then she told me something that made no sense at first. She said you’d asked her to bring Nobu.
«Chairman, please,» I began unsteadily. «I made such a terrible mistake…»
«All right, Sayuri,» he said. «Now you must understand my relationship with Nobu. Then it will be clear why I’ve treated you as I have over the years and it will also be clear why I’ve come here tonight.»
And then the Chairman told me all the things I already knew from magazines; how Nobu saved Iwamura Electric in the 1920s, and how Nobu was like a brother to him.
«One day when I’d known you only a short time, he said, «Nobu brought you a present of a comb, and gave it to you in front of everyone at the party. That was when I realized how strong his feelings for you were. Well, I knew in a moment that I couldn’t take away from him the thing he so clearly wanted.
«I like Nobu very much,» I said, «but what I did on Amami… What I did on Amami, I did because of my feelings for you, Chairman. Every step I have taken in my life since I was a child in Gion, I have taken in the hope of bringing myself closer to you.»
«Look at me, Sayuri.»
I wanted to do as the Chairman asked, but I couldn’t.
«When I saw you there with the Minister, you had a look in your eyes just like the one I saw so many years ago at the Shirakawa Stream. You seemed so desperate, as if you might drown if someone didn’t save you. After Pumpkin told me you had intended Nobu to see you with the Minister, I decided to tell him what I’d seen. And when he reacted so angrily… well, if Nobu couldn’t forgive you for what you’d done, it was clear to me that he was never truly the man for you. Nobu has given you up, Sayuri. So I’ve taken nothing away from him.»
I was still struggling to understand what was happening to me and what I ought to do or say when the Chairman pulled me close to him and kissed me.
It may surprise you to hear that this was the first time in my life that anyone had really kissed me. General Tottori had sometimes pressed his lips against mine when he was my danna, but there was so little love in it that I wondered if he just needed somewhere to rest his face.