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HOME > Classical Novels > Memoirs Of A Geisha > Chapter 27
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Chapter 27

During the summer of that year, 1939, I was so busy with engagements, occasional meetings with the General, dance performances, I/ and the like, that in the morning when I tried to get up from my futon, I often felt like a bucket filled with nails. Usually by midafter-noon I managed to forget my fatigue, but I often wondered how much I was earning through all my efforts. I never really expected to find out, however, so I was quite taken aback when Mother called me into her room one afternoon and told me I'd earned more in the past six months than both Hatsumomo and Pumpkin combined.

"Which means," she said, "that it's time for you to exchange rooms with them."

I wasn't as pleased to hear this as you might imagine. Hatsumomo and I had managed to live side by side these past few years by keeping away from each other. But I regarded her as a sleeping tiger, not a defeated one. Hatsumomo certainly wasn't going to think of Mother's plan as "exchanging rooms"; she was going to feel that her room had been taken away from her.

When I saw Mameha that evening, I told her what Mother had said to me, and mentioned my fears that the fire inside Hatsumomo might flare up again.

"Oh, well, that's fine," said Mameha. "That woman won't be beaten once and for all until we see blood. And we haven't seen it yet. Let's give her a bit of a chance and see what sort of a mess she makes for herself this time."

Early the next morning, Auntie came upstairs in the okiya to lay down the rules for moving our belongings. She began by taking me into Hatsumomo's room and announcing that a certain corner now belonged to me; I could put anything I wanted there, and no one else could touch it. Then she brought Hatsumomo and Pumpkin into my smaller room and set up a similar space for the two of them. After we'd swapped all our belongings, the move would be complete.

I set to work that very afternoon carrying my things through the hall. I wish I could say I'd accumulated a collection of beautiful objects as Mameha probably had by my age; but the mood of the nation had changed greatly. Cosmetics and permanents had recently been banned as luxuries by the military government-though of course those of us in Gion, as playthings of the men in power, still did more or less as we pleased. Lavish gifts, however, were almost unheard of, so I'd accumulated nothing more over the years than a few scrolls, inkstones, and bowls, as well as a collection of-stereoscopic photos of famous views, with a lovely viewer made of sterling silver, which the Kabuki actor Onoe Yoegoro XVII had given to me. In any case, I carried these things across the hall-along with my makeup, undergarments, books, and magazines-and piled them in the corner of the room. But as late as the following evening, Hatsumomo and Pumpkin still hadn't begun moving their things out. On the way back from my lessons at noon on the third day, I made up my mind that if Hatsumomo's bottles and ointments were still crowded together on the makeup stand, I would go ask Auntie to help me.

When I reached, the top of the stairs, I was surprised to see both Hatsumomo's door and mine standing open. A jar of white ointment lay broken on the hallway floor. Something seemed to be amiss, and when I stepped into my room, I saw what it was. Hatsumomo was sitting at my little table, sipping at what looked like a small glass of water-and reading a notebook that belonged to me!.

Geisha are expected to be discreet about the men they know; so you may be puzzled to hear that several years earlier while still an apprentice, I'd gone into a paper store one afternoon and bought a beautiful book of blank pages to begin keeping a diary about my life. I wasn't foolish enough to write down the sorts of things a geisha is never expected to reveal. I wrote only about my thoughts and feelings. When

I had something to say about a particular man, I gave him a code name. So for example, I referred to Nobu as "Mr. Tsu," because he sometimes made a little scornful noise with his mouth that sounded like "Tsu!" And I referred to the Chairman as "Mr. Haa," because on one occasion he'd taken in a deep breath and let it out slowly in a way that sounded like "Haa," and I'd imagined him waking up beside me as he said it- so of course, it made a strong impression on me. But I'd never thought for a moment that anyone would see the things I'd written.

"Why, Sayuri, I'm so pleased to see you!" Hatsumomo said. "I've been waiting to tell you how much I'm enjoying your diary. Some of the entries are most interesting . . . and really, your writing style is charming! I'm not much impressed with your calligraphy, but-"

"Did you happen to notice the interesting thing I wrote on the front page?"

"I don't think I did. Let's see ... 'Private.'Well, now here's an example of what I'm talking about with your calligraphy."

"Hatsumomo, please put the book down on the table and leave my room."

"Really! I'm shocked at you, Sayuri. I'm only trying to be helpful! Just listen for a moment, and you'll see. For example: Why did you choose to give Nobu Toshikazu the name 'Mr. Tsu'? It doesn't suit him at all. I think you should have called him 'Mr. Blister' or maybe 'Mr. One-Arm.' Don't you agree? You can change it if you want, and you don't even have to give me any credit."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Hatsumomo. I haven't written anything about Nobu at all."

Hatsumomo sighed, as if to tell me what an inept liar I was, and then began paging through my journal. "If it isn't Nobu you were writing about, I want you to tell me the name of the man you're referring to here. Let's see ... ah, here it is: 'Sometimes I see Mr. Tsu's face blooming with anger when a geisha has been staring at him. But for my part, I can look at him as long as I want, and he seems to be pleased by it. I think his fondness for me grows from his feeling that I don't find the look of his skin and his missing arm as strange and frightening as so many girls do.' So I guess what you're telling me is that you know someone else who looks just like Nobu. I think you should introduce them! Think how much they'll have in common."

By this time I was feeling sick at heart-I can't think of any better way of describing it. For it's one thing to find your secrets suddenly exposed, but when your own foolishness has exposed them . . . well, if I was prepared to curse anyone, it was myself for keeping the journal in the first place and stowing it where Hatsumomo could find it. A shopkeeper who leaves his window open can hardly be angry at the rainstorm for ruining his wares.

I went to the table to take the journal from Hatsumomo, but she clutched it to her chest and stood. In her other hand she picked up the glass of what I'd thought was water. Now that I stood close to her I could smell the odor of sake. It wasn't water at all. She was drunk.

"Sayuri, of course you want your journal back, and of course I'm going to give it to you," she said. But she was walking toward the door as she said it. "The trouble is, I haven't finished reading it. So I'll take it back to my room . . . unless you'd rather I took it to Mother. I'm sure she'll be pleased to see the passages you've written about her."

I mentioned earlier that a broken bottle of ointment lay on the floor of the hallway. This was how Hatsumomo did things, making a mess and not even bothering to tell the maids. But now as she left my room, she got what she deserved. Probably she'd forgotten about the bottle because she was drunk; in any case she stepped right into the broken glass and let out a little shriek. I saw her look at her foot a moment and make a gasping noise, but then she kept on going.

I felt myself panicking as she stepped into her room. I thought of trying to wrestle the book from her hands . . . but then I remembered Mameha's realization at the sumo tournament. To rush after Hatsumomo was the obvious thing. I'd be better off to wait until she began to relax, thinking she'd won, and then take the journal from her when she wasn't expecting it. This seemed to me a fine idea . . . until a moment later when I had an image of her hiding it in a place I might never find.

By now she'd closed the door. I went to stand outside it and called out quietly, "Hatsumomo-san, I'm sorry if I seemed angry. May I come in?"

"No, you may not," she said.

I slid the door open anyway. The room was in terrible disarray, because Hatsumomo had put things everywhere in her efforts at moving. The journal was sitting on the table while Hatsumomo held a towel against her foot. I had no idea how I would distract her, but I certainly didn't intend to leave the room without the journal.

She may have had the personality of a water rat, but Hatsumomo was no fool. If she'd been sober, I wouldn't even have tried to outsmart her right then. But considering her state at the moment ... I looked around the floor at the piles of underclothing, bottles of perfume, and all the other things she'd scattered in disarray. The closet door was open, and the tiny safe where she kept her jewelry stood ajar; pieces were spilling out onto the mats as though she'd sat there earlier in the morning drinking and trying them on. And then one object caught my eye as clearly as a single star burning in a black sky.

It was an emerald obi brooch, the very one Hatsumomo had accused me of stealing years earlier, on the night I'd found her and her boyfriend in the maids' room. I'd never expected to see it again. I walked directly to the closet and reached down to pluck it from among the jewelry lying there.

"What a wonderful idea!" Hatsumomo said. "Go ahead and steal a piece of my jewelry. Truthfully, I'd rather have the cash you'll have to pay me."

"I'm so pleased you don't mind!" I told her. "But how much cash will I have to pay for this?"

As I said these words, I walked over and held the brooch up before her. The radiant smile she'd worn now faded, just as the darkness fades from a valley when the sun rises on it. In that moment, while Hatsumomo sat stunned, I simply reached down to the table with my other hand and took the journal away.

I had no notion how Hatsumomo would react, but I walked out the door and closed it behind me. I thought of going straight to Mother to show her what I'd found, but of course, I couldn't very well go there with the journal in my hand. As quickly as I could, I slid open the door to the closet where in-season kimono were kept and stashed the journal on a shelf between two robes wrapped in tissue paper. It took no more than a few seconds; but all the while my back tingled from the sensation that at any moment Hatsumomo might open her door and spot me. After I'd shut the closet door again, I rushed into my room and began opening and closing the drawers to my makeup stand to give Hatsumomo the impression I'd hid the journal there.

When I came out into the hallway, she was watching me from the doorway of her room, wearing a little smile as though she found the whole situation amusing. I tried to look worried-which wasn't too difficult-and carried the brooch with me into Mother's room to lay it on the table before her. She put aside the magazine she was reading and held it up to admire it.

"This is a lovely piece," she said, "but it won't go far on the black market these days. No one pays much for jewels like this one."

"I'm sure Hatsumomo will pay very dearly for it, Mother," I said. "Do you remember the brooch I'm supposed to have stolen from her years ago, the one that was added to my debts? This is it. I've just found it on the floor near her jewelry box."

"Do you know," said Hatsumomo, who had come into the room and now stood behind me. "I believe Sayuri is right. That is the brooch I lost! Or at least, it looks like it. I never thought I'd see it again!"

"Yes, it's very difficult to find things when you're drunk all the time," I said. "If only you'd looked in your jewelry box more closely."

Mother put the brooch down on the table and went on glowering at Hatsumomo.

"I found it in her room," Hatsumomo said. "She'd hidden it in her makeup stand."

"Why were you looking through her makeup stand?" Mother said.

"I didn't want to have to tell you this, Mother, but Sayuri left something on her table and I was trying to hide it for her. I know I should have brought it to you at once, but . . . she's been keeping a journal, you see. She showed it to me last year. She's written some very incriminating things about certain men, and . . . truthfully, there are some passages about you too, Mother."

I thought of insisting it wasn't true; but none of it mattered in any case. Hatsumomo was in trouble, and nothing she was going to say would change the situation. Ten years earlier when she had been the okiya's principal earner, she probably could have accused me of anything she'd wanted. She could have claimed I'd eaten the tatami mats in her room, and Mother would have charged me the cost of new ones. But now at last the season had changed; Hatsumomo's brilliant career was dying on the branch, while mine had begun to blossom. I was the daughter of the okiya and its prime geisha. I don't think Mother even cared where the truth lay.

"There is no journal, Mother," I said. "Hatsumomo is making it up."

"Am I?" said Hatsumomo. "I'll just go find it, then, and while Mother reads through it, you can tell her how I made it up."

Hatsumomo went to my room, with Mother following. The hallway floor was a terrible mess. Not only had Hatsumomo broken a bottle and then stepped on it, she'd tracked ointment and blood all around the upstairs hall-and much worse, onto the tatami mats in her own room, Mother's room, and now mine as well. She was kneeling at my dressing table when I looked in, closing the drawers very slowly and looking a bit defeated.

"What journal is Hatsumomo talking about?" Mother asked me. "If there's a journal, I'm certain Hatsumomo will find it," I said. At this, Hatsumomo put her hands into her lap and gave a little laugh as though the whole thing had been some sort of game, and she'd been cleverly outwitted.

"Hatsumomo," Mother said to her, "you'll repay Sayuri for the brooch you accused her of stealing. What's more, I won't have the tatami in this okiya defiled with blood. They'll be replaced, and at your expense. This has been a very costly day for you, and it's hardly past noon. Shall I hold off calculating the total, just in case you're not quite finished?"

I don't know if Hatsumomo heard what Mother said. She was too busy glaring at me, and with a look on her face I wasn't accustomed to seeing.

If you'd asked me, while I was still a young woman, to tell you the turning point in my relationship with Hatsumomo, I would have said it was my mizuage. But even though it's quite true that my mizuage lifted me onto a high shelf where Hatsumomo could no longer reach me, she and I might well have gone on living side by side until we were old women, if nothing else had happened between us. This is why the real turning point, as I've since come to see it, occurred the day when Hatsumomo read my journal, and I discovered the obi brooch she'd accused me of stealing.

By way of explaining why this is so, let me tell you something Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku once said during an evening at the Ichiriki Teahouse. I can't pretend I was well acquainted with Admiral Yamamoto-who's usually described as the father of the Japanese Imperial Navy-but I was privileged to attend parties with him on a number of occasions. He was a small man; but keep in mind that a stick of dynamite is small too. Parties always grew noisier after the Admiral arrived. That night, he and another man were in the final round of a drinking game, and had agreed that the loser would go buy a condom at the nearest pharmacy-just for the embarrassment of it, you understand; not for any other purpose. Of course, the Admiral ended up winning, and the whole crowd broke into cheers and applause.

"It's a good thing you didn't lose, Admiral," said one of his aides. "Think of the poor pharmacist looking up to find Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku on the other side of the counter!"

Everyone thought this was very funny, but the Admiral replied that he'd never had any doubt about winning.

"Oh, come now!" said one of the geisha. "Everyone loses from time to time! Even you, Admiral!"

"I suppose it's true that everyone loses at some time," he said. "But never me."

Some in the room may have considered this an arrogant thing to say, but I wasn't one of them. The Admiral seemed to me the sort of man who really was accustomed to winning. Finally someone asked him the secret of his success.

"I never seek to defeat the man I am fighting," he explained. "I seek to defeat his confidence. A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory. Two men are equals-true equals-only when they both have equal confidence."

I don't think I realized it at the time, but after Hatsumomo and I quarreled over my journal, her mind-as the Admiral would have put it-began to be troubled by doubt. She knew that under no circumstances would Mother take her side against me any longer; and because of that, she was like a fabric taken from its warm closet and hung out of doors where the harsh weather will gradually consume it.

If Mameha were to hear me explaining things in this way, she would certainly speak up and say how much she disagreed. Her view of Hatsumomo was quite different from mine. She believed Hatsumomo was a woman bent on self-destruction, and that all we needed to do was to coax her along a path she was certain to follow in any case. Perhaps Mameha was right; I don't know. It's true that in the years since my mizuage, Hatsumomo had gradually been afflicted by some sort of disease of the character-if such a thing exists. She'd lost all control over her drinking, for example, and of her bouts of cruelty too. Until her life began to fray, she'd always used her cruelty for a purpose, just as a samurai draws his sword-not for slashing at random, but for slashing at enemies. But by this time in her life, Hatsumomo seemed to have lost sight of who her enemies were, and sometimes struck out even at Pumpkin. From time to time during parties, she even made insulting comments to the men she was entertaining. And another thing: she was no longer as beautiful as 'she'd once been. Her skin was waxy-looking, and her features puffy. Or perhaps I was only seeing her that way. A tree may look as beautiful as ever; but when you notice the insects infesting it, and the tips of the branches that are brown from disease, even the trunk seems to lose some of its magnificence.

Everyone knows that a wounded tiger is a dangerous beast; and for this reason, Mameha insisted that we follow Hatsumomo around Gion during the evenings over the next few weeks. Partly, Mameha want............

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