memoirs-of-a-geisha chapter 4


I said nothing. Mrs. Nitta made me say «sorry» to Hatsumomo, and then she made me say it again in a correct Kyoto accent.

When Hatsumomo left, smiling, Mrs. Nitta said, «I don’t think you understand your job here in the okiya.» She nodded at the accounts. «We all think of only one thing-how we can help Hatsumomo be successful as a geisha. I don’t want to hear that you’ve upset Hatsumomo again. If Pumpkin can stay out of her way, so can you.»

«Yes, Mrs. Nitta.»

But I couldn’t keep out of Hatsumomo’s way. She often hit me across the face when we were alone together. And she always criticized the way I looked, especially my eyes.

«I once saw a dead man fished out of the river,» she said to me one time, «and his tongue was just the same color as your eyes.»

Another time a man came to the okiya at night. He was wearing a traditional workman’s jacket.

«You’re a pretty one,» he said to me in a low voice. «What’s your name?»

I thought he must be a workman, though I didn’t know what he was doing in the okiya so late. I was frightened of answering him, but I said my name.

Then Hatsumomo appeared. As the man went off toward her room, she stopped and spoke to me. She sounded like an angry cat.

«I haven’t tried to make your life really miserable yet,» she said. «But if you ever mention that a man came here to see me, that will change.»

I wanted to say that she had succeeded in making my life really miserable, even if she hadn’t tried. But I didn’t say anything; I didn’t want her to hit me across the face again.

About a week later, very late at night, I was coming back from taking a drink of water at the well in the courtyard. I heard the outside door open and Hatsumomo came in with another, tall, geisha. Hatsumomo was carrying a package and I could see that she and the tall geisha had been drinking. Hatsumomo drank a lot of beer and amakuchi, a kind of light, sweet wine.

Hatsumomo caught me in the hall. «This is our stupid maid,» she said to the tall geisha. «She has a name, I think, but why don’t you just call her ‘The Little Fish Girl.'»

«Get us some more to drink, Little Fish Girl,» said the tall geisha.

«Oh, be quiet, Korin,» said Hatsumomo. «You don’t need more to drink. Just look at this.»

Hatsumomo opened the package. It was a beautiful kimono in different shades of green, with a pattern of red leaves.

Hatsumomo said, «Korin-san, guess whose kimono this is!»

«I wish it belonged to me,» said Korin.

«Well, it doesn’t,» said Hatsumomo. «It belongs to the geisha we hate more than anyone else in the world.»

Korin’s eyes widened. «Mameha! You have one of Mameha’s kimonos! How did you get it?»

«Her maid put the package down for a minute at the Kaburenjo Theater. Mameha is dancing there,» said Hatsumomo. «Now, Little Fish Girl, go up to my room and get some ink and one of those brushes I use for writing.»

I didn’t understand why Hatsumomo wanted these things in the hall in the middle of the night, but of course I did what she said and brought them. Hatsumomo put the end of the brush in the ink. Then she put it into my hand and held my hand over the lovely kimono.

«Practice your writing, little Chiyo,» she said.

«I can’t do it, Hatsumomo-san,» I cried. I heard the noise of a door opening upstairs, but I couldn’t see anyone.

«What a shame, Little Fish Girl,» said Hatsumomo, «because I definitely remember Mother saying that if you annoy me again you can’t start your training as a geisha.»

When the brush first touched the kimono, Korin wasn’t happy with my first few uncertain brushstrokes. So Hatsumomo instructed me exactly how to ruin the beautiful kimono with ink. When I’d done it, she wrapped the kimono again.

Hatsumomo and Korin opened the door to the street and Hatsumomo told me to follow them. We walked up the alley to a street running along the Shirakawa Stream. Back in those days, the streets and alleys of Gion still had beautiful stone sidewalks. We walked along in the moonlight, past cherry trees whose branches dropped down into the black water. We went over a wooden bridge into a part of Gion I’d never seen before.

Hatsumomo and Korin stopped in front of a wooden door.

«You’re going to give this kimono to the maid,» Hatsumomo said to me. «Or if Miss Perfect herself answers the door, you may give it to her.»

Even with so much fear in my heart, I couldn’t help noticing how beautiful Hatsumomo was, next to the tall, long-faced Korin. I took the package with the ruined kimono and knocked at the door.

The maid who opened it wasn’t a lot older than me. Behind her I saw a geisha and understood at once why they called her «Miss Perfect.» Her face was a perfect oval.

«Asami-san!» said the perfect geisha. «Who’s there?»

I put the package into the maid’s hands and ran back to the okiya without waiting for Hatsumomo and Korin.

The next morning I saw the maid, Asami, again. She was coming out of Mrs. Nitta’s room. Mrs. Nitta immediately sent me to bring Hatsumomo. Hatsumomo had seen Mameha’s maid too, and she started speaking before Mrs. Nitta even opened her mouth.


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