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Chapter 13

During the spring of 1934, after I'd been in training for more than two 11 years, Hatsumomo and Mother decided that the time had come for I/ Pumpkin to make her debut as an apprentice geisha. Of course, no one told me anything about it, since Pumpkin was on orders not to speak with me, and Hatsumomo and Mother wouldn't waste their time even considering such a thing. I found out about it only when Pumpkin left the okiya early one afternoon and came back at the end of the day wearing the hairstyle of a young geisha-the so-called momaware, meaning "split peach." When I took my first look at her as she stepped up into the entrance hall, I felt sick with disappointment and jealousy. Her eyes never met mine for more than a flicker of an instant; probably she couldn't help thinking of the effect her debut was having on me. With her hair swept back in an orb so beautifully from her temples, rather than tied at the neck as it had always been, she looked very much like a young woman, though still with her same babyish face. For years she and I had envied the older girls who wore their hair so elegantly. Now Pumpkin would be setting out as a geisha while I remained behind, unable even to ask about her new life.

Then came the day Pumpkin dressed as an apprentice geisha for the first time and went with Hatsumomo to the Mizuki Teahouse, for the ceremony to bind them together as sisters. Mother and Auntie went, though I wasn't included. But I did stand among them in the formal entrance hall until Pumpkin came down the stairs assisted by the maids. She wore a magnificent black kimono with the crest of the Nitta okiya and a plum and gold obi; her face was painted white for the very first time. You might expect that with the ornaments in her hair and the brilliant red of her lips, she should have looked proud and lovely; but I thought she looked more worried than anything else. She had great difficulty walking; the regalia of an apprentice geisha is so cumbersome. Mother put a camera into Auntie's hands and told her to go outside and photograph Pumpkin having a flint sparked on her back for good luck the very first time. The rest of us remained crowded inside the entrance hall, out of view. The maids held Pumpkin's arms while she slipped her feet into the tall wooden shoes we call okobo, which an apprentice geisha always wears. Then Mother went to stand behind Pumpkin and struck a pose as though she were about to spark a flint, even though, in reality, it was always Auntie or one of the maids who did the job. When at last the photograph was taken, Pumpkin stumbled a few steps from the door and turned to look back. The others were on their way out to join her, but I was the one she looked at, with an expression that seemed to say she was very sorry for the way things had turned out.

By the end of that day, Pumpkin was officially known by her new geisha name of Hatsumiyo. The "Hatsu" came from Hatsumomo, and even though it ought to have helped Pumpkin to have a name derived from a geisha as well known as Hatsumomo, in the end it didn't work that way. Very few people ever knew her geisha name, you see; they just called her Pumpkin as we always had.

I was very eager to tell Mameha about Pumpkin's debut. But she'd been much busier than usual lately, traveling frequently to Tokyo at the request of her danna, with the result that we hadn't set eyes on each other in nearly six months. Another few weeks passed before she finally had time to summon me to her apartment. When I stepped inside, the maid let out a gasp; and then a moment later Mameha came walking out of the back room and let out a gasp as well. I couldn't think what was the matter. And then when I got on my knees to bow to Mameha and tell her how honored I was to see her again, she paid me no attention at all.

"My goodness, has it been so long, Tatsumi?" she said to her maid. "I hardly recognize her."

"I'm glad to hear you say it, ma'am," Tatsumi replied. "I thought something had gone wrong with my eyes!"

I certainly wondered at the time what they were talking about. But evidently in the six months since I'd last seen them, I'd changed more than I realized. Mameha told me to turn my head this way and that, and kept saying over and over, "My goodness, she's turned into quite a young woman!" At one point Tatsumi even made me stand and hold my arms out so she could measure my waist and hips with her hands, and then said to me, "Well, there's no doubt a kimono will fit your body just like a sock fits a foot." I'm sure she meant this as a compliment, for she had a kindly look on her face when she said it.

Finally Mameha asked Tatsumi to take me into the back room and put me into a proper kimono. I'd arrived in the blue and white cotton robe I'd worn that morning to my lessons at the school, but Tatsumi changed me into a dark blue silk covered with a design of tiny carriage wheels in shades of brilliant yellow and red. It wasn't the most beautiful kimono you would ever see, but when I looked at myself in the full-length mirror as Tatsumi was tying a bright green obi into place around my waist, I found that except for my plain hairstyle, I might have been taken for a young apprentice geisha on her way to a party. I felt quite proud when I walked out of the room, and thought Mameha would gasp again, or something of-the sort. But she only rose to her feet, tucked a handkerchief into her sleeve, and went directly to the door, where she slipped her feet into a green pair of lacquered zori and looked back over her shoulder at me.

"Well?" she said. "Aren't you coming?"

I had no idea where we were going, but I was thrilled at the thought of being seen on the street with Mameha. The maid had put out a pair of lacquered zori for me, in a soft gray. I put them on and followed Mameha down the dark tunnel of the stairwell. As we stepped out onto the street, an elderly woman slowed to bow to Mameha and then, in almost the same movement, turned to bow to me. I scarcely knew what to think of this, for hardly anyone ever took notice of me on the street. The bright sunlight had blinded my eyes so much, I couldn't make out whether or not I knew her. But I bowed back, and in a moment she was gone. I thought probably she was one of my teachers, but then an instant later the same thing happened again-this time with a young geisha I'd often admired, but who had never so much as glanced in my direction before.

We made our way up the street with nearly everyone we passed saying something to Mameha, or at the very least bowing to her, and then afterward giving me a little nod or bow as well. Several times
stopped to bow back, with the result that I fell a step or two behind Mameha. She could see the difficulty I was having, and took me to a quiet alleyway to show me the proper way of walking. My trouble, she explained, was that I hadn't learned to move the upper half of my body independently of the lower half. When I needed to bow to someone, I stopped my feet. "Slowing the feet is a way of showing respect," she said. "The more you slow up, the greater the respect. You might stop altogether to bow to one of your teachers, but for anyone else, don't slow more than you need to, for heaven's sake, or you'll never get anywhere. Go along at a constant pace when you can, taking little steps to keep the bottom of your kimono fluttering. When a woman walks, she should give the impression of waves rippling over a sandbar."

I practiced walking up and down the alley as Mameha had described, looking straight toward my feet to see if my kimono fluttered as it should. When Mameha was satisfied, we set out again.

Most of our greetings, I found, fell into one of two simple patterns. Young geisha, as we passed them, usually slowed or even stopped completely and gave Mameha a deep bow, to which Mameha responded with a kind word or two and a little nod; then the young geisha would give me something of a puzzled look and an uncertain bow, which I would return much more deeply-for I was junior to every woman we encountered. When we passed a middle-aged or elderly woman, however, Mameha nearly always bowed first; then the woman returned a respectful bow, but not as deep as Mameha's, and afterward looked me up and down before giving me a little nod. I always responded to these nods with the deepest bows I could manage while keeping my feet in motion.

I told Mameha that afternoon about Pumpkin's debut; and for months afterward I hoped she would say the time had come for my apprenticeship to begin as well. Instead, spring passed and summer too, without her saying anything of the sort. In contrast with the exciting life Pumpkin was now leading, I had only my lessons and my chores, as well as the fifteen or twenty minutes Mameha spent with me during the afternoons several times a week. Sometimes I sat in her apartment while she taught me about something I needed to know; but most often she dressed me in one of her kimono and walked me around Gion while running errands or calling on her fortune-teller or wig maker. Even when it rained and she had no errands to run, we walked under lacquered umbrellas, making our way from store to store to check ,when the new shipment of perfume would arrive from Italy, or whether a certain kimono repair was finished though it wasn't scheduled to be completed for another week.

At first I thought perhaps Mameha took me with her so that she could teach me things like proper posture-for she was constantly rapping me on the back with her closed folding fan to make me stand straighter-and about how to behave toward people. Mameha seemed to know everyone, and always made a point of smiling or saying something kind, even to the most junior m............

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