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Chapter 18

Now that I knew the identity of the Chairman, I began that very night to read every discarded news magazine I could find in the hopes of learning more about him. Within a week I'd accumulated such a stack of them in my room that Auntie gave me a look as if I'd lost my mind. I did find mention of him in a number of articles, but only in passing, and none told me the sorts of things I really wanted to know. Still, I went on picking up every magazine I found poking out of a trash basket, until one day I came upon a stack of old papers tied in a bundle behind one of the teahouses. Buried in it was a two-year-old issue of a news magazine that happened to feature an article on Iwa-mura Electric.

It seemed that Iwamura Electric had celebrated its twentieth anniversary in April of 1931. It astonishes me even now to think of it, but this was the same month when I met the Chairman on the banks or the Shirakawa Stream; I would have seen his face in all the magazines, if only I'd looked in them. Now that I knew a date to search for, I managed over the course of time to find many more articles about the anniversary. Most of them came from a collection of junk thrown out after the death of the old granny who lived in an okiya across the alley.

The Chairman had been born in 1890, as I learned, which meant that despite his gray hair he'd been a little over forty when I met him. I'd formed the impression that day he was probably chairman of an unimportant company, but I was quite wrong. Iwamura Electric wasn't as big as Osaka Electric-its chief rival in western Japan, according to all the articles. But the Chairman and Nobu, because of their celebrated partnership, were much better known than the chiefs of much larger companies. In any case, Iwamura Electric was considered more innovative and had a better reputation.

At seventeen the Chairman had gone to work at a small electric company in Osaka. Soon he was supervising the crew that installed wiring for machinery at factories in the area. The demand for electric lighting in households and offices was growing at this time, and during the evenings the Chairman designed a fixture to allow the use of two lightbulbs in a socket built for only one. The director of the company wouldn't build it, however, and so at the age of twenty-two, in 1912, shortly after marrying, the Chairman left to establish his own company.

For a few years things were difficult; then in 1914, the Chairman's new company won the electrical wiring contract for a new building on a military base in Osaka. Nobu was still in the military at this time, since his war wounds made it difficult for him to find a job anywhere else. He was given the task of overseeing the work done by the new Iwamura Electric Company. He and the Chairman quickly became friends, and when the Chairman offered him a job the following year, Nobu took it.

The more I read about their partnership, the more I understood just how well suited they really were to each other. Nearly all the articles showed the same photograph of them, with the Chairman in a stylish three-piece suit of heavy wool, holding in his hand the ceramic two-bulb socket that had been the company's first product. He looked as if someone had just handed it to him and he hadn't yet decided what he was going to do with it. His mouth was slightly open, showing his teeth, and he stared at the camera with an almost menacing look, as though he were about to throw the fixture. By contrast, Nobu stood beside him, half a head shorter and at full attention, with his one hand in a fist at his side. He wore a morning coat and pin-striped trousers. His scarred face was completely without expression, and his eyes looked sleepy. The Chairman-perhaps because of his prematurely gray hair and the difference in their sizes-might almost have been Nobu's father, though he was only two years older. The articles said that while the Chairman was responsible for the company's growth and direction,

Nobu was responsible for managing it. He was the less glamorous man with the less glamorous job, but apparently he did it so well that the Chairman often said publicly that the company would never have survived several crises without Nobu's talents. It was Nobu who'd brought in a group of investors and saved the company from ruin in the early 19205. "I owe Nobu a debt I can never repay," the Chairman was quoted more than once as saying.

Several weeks passed, and then one day I received a note to come to Mameha's apartment the following afternoon. By this time I'd grown accustomed to the priceless kimono ensembles that Mameha's maid usually laid out for me; but when I arrived and began changing into an autumn-weight silk of scarlet and yellow, which showed leaves scattered in a field of golden grasses, I was taken aback to find a tear in the back of the gown large enough to put two fingers through. Mameha hadn't yet returned, but I took the robe in my arms and went to speak with her maid.

"Tatsumi-san," I said, "the most upsetting thing . . . this kimono is ruined."

"It isn't ruined, miss. It needs to be repaired is all. Mistress borrowed it this morning from an okiya down the street."

"She must not have known," I said. "And with my reputation for ruining kimono, she'll probably think-"

"Oh, she knows it's torn," Tatsumi interrupted. "In fact, the under-robe is torn as well, in just the same place." I'd already put on the cream-colored underrobe, and when I reached back and felt in the area of my thigh, I saw that Tatsumi was right.

"East year an apprentice geisha caught it by accident on a nail," Tatsumi told me. "But Mistress was very clear that she wanted you to put it on."

This made very little sense to me; but I did as Tatsumi said. When at last Mameha rushed in, I went to ask her about it while she touched up her makeup.

"I told you that according to my plan," she said, "two men will be important to your future. You met Nobu a few weeks ago. The other man has been out of town until now, but with the help of this torn kimono, you re about to meet him. That sumo wrestler gave me such a wonderful idea! I can hardly wait to see how Hatsumomo reacts when you come back from the dead. Do you know what she said to me the other day? She couldn't thank me enough for taking you to the exhibition. It
was worth all her trouble getting there, she said, just to see you making big eyes at 'Mr. Lizard.' I'm sure she'll leave you alone when you entertain him, unless it's to drop by and have a look for herself. In fact, the more you talk about Nobu around her, the better-though you're not to mention a word about the man you'll meet this afternoon."

I began to feel sick inside when I heard this, even as I tried to seem pleased at what she'd said; because you see, a man will never have an intimate relationship with a geisha who has been the mistress of a close associate. One afternoon in a bathhouse not many months earlier, I'd listened as a young woman tried to console another geisha who'd just learned that her new danna would be the business partner of the man she'd dreamed about. It had never occurred to me as I watched her that I might one day be in the same position myself.

"Ma'am," I said, "may I ask? Is it part of your plan that Nobu-san will one day become my danna?"

Mameha answered me by lowering her makeup brush and staring at me in the mirror with a look that I honestly think would have stopped a train. "Nobu-san is a fine man. Are you suggesting you'd be ashamed to have him for a danna?" she asked.

"No, ma'am, I don't mean it that way. I'm just wondering . . ."

"Very well. Then I have only two things to say to you. First, you're a fourteen-year-old girl with no reputation whatever. You'll be very fortunate ever to become a geisha with sufficient status for a man like Nobu to consider proposing himself as your danna. Secondly, Nobu-san has never found a geisha he likes well enough to take as a mistress. If you're the first, I expect you to feel very flattered."

I blushed with so much heat in my face I might almost have caught fire. Mameha was quite right; whatever became of me in the years ahead, I would be fortunate even to attract the notice of a man like Nobu. If Nobu'was beyond my reach, how much more unreach-able the Chairman must be. Since finding him again at the sumo exhibition, I'd begun to think of all the possibilities life presented to me. But now after Mameha's words I felt myself wading through an ocean of sorrow.

I dressed in a hurry, and Mameha led me up the street to the okiya where she'd lived until six years earlier, when she'd gained her independence. At the door we were greeted by an elderly maid, who smacked her lips and gave her head a shake.

"We called the hospital earlier," the maid said. "The Doctor goes home at four o'clock today. It's nearly three-thirty already, you know.

"We'll phone him before we go, Kazuko-san," Mameha replied. "I'm sure he'll wait for me."

"I hope so. It would be terrible to leave the poor girl bleeding."

"Who's bleeding?" I asked in alarm; but the maid only looked at me with a sigh and led us up the stairs to a crowded little hallway on the second floor. In a space about the size of two tatami mats were gathered not only Mameha and me, as well as the maid who'd shown us up, but also three other young women and a tall, thin cook in a crisp apron. They all looked at me warily, except for the cook, who draped a towel over her shoulder and began to whet a knife of the sort used to chop the heads off fish. I felt like a slab of tuna the grocer had just delivered, because I could see now that I was the one who was going to do the bleeding.

"Mameha-san ..." I said.

"Now, Sayuri, I know what you're going to say," she told me- which was interesting, because I had no idea myself what I was going to say. "Before I became your older sister, didn't you promise to do exactly as I told you?"

"If I'd known it would include having my liver cut out-"

"No one's going to cut out your liver," said the cook, in a tone that was supposed to make me feel much better, but didn't.

"Sayuri, we're going to put a little cut in your skin," Mameha said. "Just a little one, so you can go to the hospital and meet a certain doctor. You know the man I mentioned to you? He's a doctor."

"Can't I just pretend to have a stomachache?"

I was perfectly serious when I said this, but everyone seemed to think I'd made a clever joke, for they all laughed, even Mameha.

"Sayuri, we all have your best interests at heart," Mameha said. "We only need to make you bleed a little, just enough so the Doctor will be willing to look at you."

In a moment the cook finished sharpening the knife and came to stand before me as calmly as if she were going to help me with my makeup-except that she was holding a knife, for heaven's sake. Kazuko, the elderly maid who had shown us in, pulled my collar aside with both hands. I felt myself beginning to panic; but fortunately Mameha spoke up.

"We're going to put the cut on her leg," she said.

"Not the leg," said Kazuko. "The neck is so much more erotic."

"Sayuri, please turn around and show Kazuko the hole in the back of your kimono," Mameha said to me. When I'd done as she asked, she went on, "Now, Kazuko-san, how will we explain this tear in the back of her kimono if the cut is on her neck and not her leg?"

"How are the two things related?" Kazuko said. "She's wearing a torn kimono, and she has a cut on her neck."

"I don't know what Kazuko keeps gabbing on about," the cook said. "Just tell me where you want me to cut her, Mameha-san, and I'll cut her."

I'm sure I should have been pleased to hear this, but somehow I wasn't.

Mameha sent one of the young maids to fetch a red pigment stick of the sort used for shading the lips, and then put it through the hole in my kimono and swiftly rubbed a mark high up on the back of my thigh.

"You must place the cut exactly there," Mameha said to the cook.

I opened my mouth, but before I could even speak, Mameha told me, "Just lie down and be quiet, Sayuri. If you slow us down any further, I'm going to be very angry."

I'd be lying if I said I wanted to obey her; but of course, I had no choice. So I lay down on a sheet spread out on the wooden floor and closed my eyes while Mameha pulled my robe up until I was exposed almost to the hip.

"Remember that if the cut needs to be deeper, you can always do it again," Mameha said. "Start with the shallowest cut you can make."

I bit my lip the moment I felt the tip of the knife. I'm afraid I may have let out a little squeal as well, though I can't be sure. In any case, I felt some pressure, and then Mameha said:

"Not that shallow. You've scarcely cut through the first layer of skin."

"It looks like lips," Kazuko said to the cook. "You've put a line right in the middle of a red smudge, and it looks like a pair of lips. The Doctor's going to laugh."

Mameha agreed and wiped off the makeup after the cook assured her she could find the spot. In a moment I felt the pressure of the knife again.

I've never been good at the sight of blood. You may recall how I fainted after cutting my lip the day I met Mr. Tanaka. So you can probably imagine how I felt when I twisted around and saw a rivulet of blood snaking down my leg onto a towel Mameha held against the inside of my thigh. I lapsed into such a state when I saw it that I have no memory at all of what happened next-of being helped into the rickshaw, or of anything at all about the ride, until we neared the hospital and Mameha rocked my head from side to side to get my attention.

"Now listen to me! I'm sure you've heard over and over that your job as an apprentice is to impress other geisha, since they're the ones who will help you in your career, and not to worry about what the men think. Well, forget about all that! It isn't going to work that way in your case. Your future depends on two men, as I've told you, and you're about to meet one of them. You must make the right impression. Are you listening to me?"

"Yes, ma'am, every word," I muttered.

"When you're asked how you cut your leg, the answer is, you were trying to go to the bathroom in kimono, and you fell onto something sharp. You don't even know what it was, because you fainted. Make up all the details you want; just be sure to sound very childish. And act helpless when we go inside. Let me see you do it."

Well, I laid my head back and let my eyes roll up into my head. I suppose that's how I was really feeling, but Mameha wasn't at all pleased.

"I didn't say act dead. I said act helpless. Like this . . ."

Mameha put on a dazed look, as if she couldn't make up her mind even where she should point her eyes, and kept her hand to her cheek as though she were feeling faint. She made me imitate that look until she was satisfied. I began my performance as the driver helped me to the entrance of the hospital. Mameha walked beside me, tugging my robe this way and that to be sure I still looked attractive.

We entered through the swinging wooden doors and asked for the hospital director; Mameha said he was expecting us. Finally a nurse showed us down a long hallway to a dusty room with a wooden table and a plain folding screen blocking the windows. While we waited, Mameha took off the towel she'd wrapped around my leg and threw it into a wastebasket.

"Remember, Sayuri," she nearly hissed, "we want the Doctor to see you looking as innocent and as helpless as possible. Lie back and try to look weak."

I had no difficulty at all with this. A moment later the door opened and in came Dr. Crab. Of course, his name wasn't really Dr. Crab, but if you'd seen him I'm sure the same name would have o............

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