memoirs-of-a-geisha chapter 7


«Hatsumomo has driven other attractive girls out of Gion.»

I felt strangely happy to hear that. I said, «I don’t know what I did to make her hate me so much.»

«Hatsumomo and I have known each other since I was a girl of six and she was nine,» said Mameha. «She’s no harder to understand than a cat. A cat that thinks another cat is eating from its dish…»

«But surely Hatsumomo doesn’t see me as a rival, ma’am?»

«Not in the teahouses of Gion, maybe. But inside the okiya. You see, Mrs. Nitta never adopted Hatsumomo. If she had, Hatsumomo would be her daughter and Mrs. Nitta would keep all Hatsumomo’s earnings. And Hatsumomo is a very successful geisha! Now, why would someone who’s as interested in money as Mrs. Nitta not adopt Hatsumomo? There must be a very good reason, don’t you think?»

This was all very new to me. I nodded and Mameha went on.

«Mrs. Nitta knows very well what sort of adopted daughter Hatsumomo would be. She would probably drive Mother out, or at least sell the okiya’s collection of kimonos and retire. So Mrs. Nitta will never adopt her. But she might adopt you, Chiyo. She might adopt Pumpkin too, but I don’t think Hatsumomo is worried about her.»

«No. Pumpkin… She finds the geisha training difficult.»

«I know. But you’re not training at all, Chiyo. You can’t become a geisha if you don’t train.»

I looked down and didn’t say anything.

«You’re a beautiful girl, Chiyo. And you don t look to me like someone who wants to live her life as a maid,» said Mameha.

I said nothing. There was silence in the room for a moment. And then:

«You tried to run away, didn’t you?»

With tears in my eyes, I told Mameha how I’d tried to escape along the rooftops.

«I’m sure you’re an intelligent girl, Chiyo,» said Mameha. «But I don’t think that was a very intelligent thing to do. People like you and me, who have water in our personalities, don’t choose where we’ll flow to.»

«Yes,» I said. «I’m like a river that’s stopped flowing because Hatsumomo is in the way.»

«Yes, that’s probably true,» said Mameha, looking at me calmly.

«But rivers can wash away anything in their path-in time.»

From the moment I arrived in Mameha’s apartment, I wondered why she’d asked me to come. But now my eyes opened. Mameha and Hatsumomo obviously hated each other- that was clear from the kimono incident. But now Mameha knew there was a young girl at the okiya and saw a way of using me to get revenge on Hatsumomo. Maybe not just revenge; maybe she felt the time was right to be rid of Hatsumomo completely.

«Anyhow,» Mameha went on, «nothing will change until Mrs. Nitta lets you start training.»

«I don’t have much hope of ever persuading her.»

«Then I will,» said Mameha.

Before I even had time to start feeling happy, Mameha was explaining her plan, beginning with the system of «Older Sister» and «Younger Sister,» as it was in those days in Gion.

As I now know, there’s a ceremony like a wedding when a geisha takes a young girl as her Younger Sister. Then the geisha introduces the Younger Sister to the owners of all the important teahouses, the ones that have the best parties.

The Older Sister takes her Younger Sister with her to entertain. Of course few men pay high ohana fees to sit and talk to a fifteen-year-old, so the Older Sister and the owner of the teahouse talk to a man until he does.

Eventually, the man who once needed so much persuading may become the Younger Sister’s danna, when she’s old enough to become a geisha herself.

Hatsumomo had in fact been an Older Sister, and a good one, to one or two younger geisha. But she wouldn’t be a good Older Sister to me, I was sure of that. Instead of taking me to the Mizuki Teahouse and introducing me there, she would, I was sure, introduce me to the Kamo River. And then push me in.

A few days after my visit to her apartment, Mameha went to see Mrs. Nitta. To my surprise, Mrs. Nitta sent for me.

«Now, Chiyo, you’ve been here in the okiya for a year…»

«Two years, ma’am.»

«In that time I’ve taken hardly any notice of you. And then today, along comes a geisha like Mameha to say she wants to be your Older Sister! How on earth am I to understand this?»

Much later, when I knew more about Mameha, I could understand just how surprised Mrs. Nitta was. Mameha, as I later learned, was one of the two or three best-known geisha in Japan. Her Older Sister, Mametsuki, had the Prime Minister of Japan as her danna, before World War I.

But as I saw it then, Mameha was more interested in harming Hatsumomo than helping me. That’s how Hatsumomo saw it too, when Mrs. Nitta sent for her. Mameha, of course, had asked for a fee to be my Older Sister but that didn’t fool Hatsumomo.

«Really, Mother…» Hatsumomo said to Mrs. Nitta. «Mameha doesn’t need Chiyo to make money. Do you think it’s an accident that she’s chosen a girl who lives in the same okiya as I do? Mameha would probably be Older Sister to your little dog if she thought it would drive me out of Gion.»

«Really, Hatsumomo,» said Mrs. Nitta. «Why would she want to drive you out of Gion?»

«Because I’m more beautiful. Does she need a better reason? She wants to humble me by telling everyone, ‘Oh please meet my new Younger Sister. She lives in the same okiya as Hatsumomo, but they’ve given her to me for training instead.'»

«I can’t imagine Mameha behaving that way,» said Mrs. Nitta, quietly. «Hatsumomo, you, of course, will be Pumpkin’s Older Sister,» she added.

«Of course,» said Hatsumomo. She spoke to Mameha for the first time, as Mameha looked calmly back at her. «If you think you can make Chiyo into a more successful geisha than Pumpkin, you can expect a big surprise.»

Mameha ignored her. «Will you arrange for Chiyo to start geisha training at school?» she said to Mrs. Nitta.

«Of course,» said Mrs. Nitta, bringing her account books. «I had no idea what a fine day this would be.»

And it was a fine day for Mrs. Nitta. Two famous geisha were fighting each other to increase the income of her two young girls. She needed to adopt one of the girls, so that the okiya continued when she died. She would choose the one who earned the most; all that girl’s earnings would go to the okiya.


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