«Oh, Mother, I know just what you’re going to say. I felt terrible about the kimono. I tried to stop Chiyo before she put ink on it but it was too late. She must have thought it was mine. I don’t know why she’s hated me so much from the moment she came here…»
«Everybody knows that you hate Mameha,» Mrs. Nitta replied. «You hate anyone more successful than you. Now you listen to me, Hatsumomo. I won’t have this sort of behavior in the okiya, even from you. I have great respect for Mameha. And someone has to pay for the kimono. I don’t know what happened last night but it’s clear whose hand was holding the brush. Pumpkin saw the whole thing from her doorway. Chiyo will pay.»
Later that day, in our tiny room upstairs, Pumpkin and I lay on our futons and she explained it all to me.
«I’m sorry,» she said. «I tried to help you with Mrs. Nitta. But Hatsumomo’s little trick with the kimono is going to cost you more money than you’ve ever imagined in your life.»
«But… how will I pay?»
«When you begin working as a geisha, you’ll pay the okiya back for it. You’ll also pay back everything else you’ll owe-your meals and lessons; your doctor’s fees, if you get sick. Why do you think Mrs. Nitta spends all that time in her room with her account books? You owe the okiya even for the money it cost to bring you here.»
I thought of my father and Mr. Tanaka. In the weeks I’d spent in Gion, I’d certainly imagined that money had changed hands to bring me here. I saw my little house by the sea in my mind.
«I’m going home,» I said to Pumpkin.
«Oh no!» said Pumpkin. «They’ll bring you back. And then Mrs. Nitta will see you as a bad investment. She won’t put money into someone who might run away again. She won’t pay for your geisha lessons.»
But I didn’t care. At least, I didn’t care then; I cared a lot later.
Late that night I lay on my futon, waiting impatiently for darkness. If I could get home again, my mother wouldn’t send me back. Maybe she didn’t even know what father and Mr. Tanaka had done. I would look after her, she would get better…
I got up quietly and glanced at Pumpkin, sleeping next to me. I dressed in my peasant clothes and shoes and went out to the courtyard.
There was no moon. I went past the room where they keep the kimonos and pulled myself up to the low roof. Slowly, carefully, I felt my way along the roof on my hands and knees in the dark.
The roof of the building next door was a step lower than ours. I knew it was an okiya; all the houses in this block were. Someone would be waiting at the front door for the geisha to return and they would grab me by the arm as I dropped down. So I crossed to the next roof and then the next. And then one of my shoes came off.
I grabbed at it as it slipped down the roof and fell into the courtyard below. As I did this, I lost my balance and slid down the roof. I tried to stop myself sliding by holding onto the roof, but it was smooth and I fell, just as a woman came out into the courtyard. I hit the ground at her feet.
«What’s this? It’s raining little girls!»
I wanted to jump up and run away, but one whole side of my body hurt. I can’t remember getting back to the Nitta okiya but I remember Mrs. Nitta calling the doctor. And I remember the terrible pain.
The next day Mrs. Nitta called me into her room. «I paid seventy-five yen for you,» she said. «Then you ruined a kimono and now you’ve broken your arm so I have medical expenses too. Why should I pay for geisha training? You already owe more than you’ll ever repay. Who would invest another yen in a girl who runs away?»
At that moment Hatsumomo came in.
«You’re the most expensive maid in all of Gion,» she said. «And you’ll be a maid for the rest of your life.» She smiled. «You’ll never be a geisha now.»
All that was in the fall. When spring came, the cherry trees were at their most beautiful in Marayama Park and along the Shirakawa Stream. A letter came addressed to me. It was from Mr. Tanaka and it informed me that my mother and my father were no longer on this earth.