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Chapter 22

At this time in my life I didn't even know where Hakone was- though I soon learned that it was in eastern Japan, quite some distance from Kyoto. But I had a most agreeable feeling of importance the rest of that week, reminding myself that a man as prominent as the Baron had invited me to travel from Kyoto to attend a party. In fact, I had trouble keeping my excitement from showing when at last I took my seat in a lovely second-class compartment-with Mr. Itchoda, Mameha's dresser, seated on the aisle to discourage anyone from trying to talk with me. I pretended to pass the time by reading a magazine, but in fact I was only turning the pages, for I was occupied instead with watching out of the corner of my eye as people who passed down the aisle slowed to look at me. I found myself enjoying the attention; but when we reached Shizuoka shortly after noon and I stood awaiting the train to Hakone, all at once I could feel something unpleasant welling up inside me. I'd spent the day keeping it veiled from my awareness, but now I saw in my mind much too clearly the image of myself at another time, standing on another platform, taking another train trip-this one with Mr. Bekku-on the day my sister and I were taken from our home. I'm ashamed to admit how hard I'd worked over the years to keep from thinking about Satsu, and my father and
mother, and our tipsy house on the sea cliffs. I'd been like a child with my head in a bag. All I'd seen day after day was Gion, so much so that I'd come to think Gion was everything, and that the only thing that mattered in the world was Gion. But now that I was outside Kyoto, I could see that for most people life had nothing to do with Gion at all; and of course, I couldn't stop from thinking of the other life I'd once led. Grief is a most peculiar thing; we're so helpless in the face of it. It's like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.

Late the following morning I was picked up at the little inn overlooking Mount Fuji, and taken by one of the Baron's motorcars to his summer house amid lovely woods at the edge of a lake. When we pulled into a circular drive and I stepped out wearing the full regalia of an apprentice geisha from Kyoto, many of the Baron's guests turned to stare at me. Among them I spotted a number of women, some in kimono and some in Western-style dresses. Later I came to realize they were mostly Tokyo geisha-for we were only a few hours from Tokyo by train. Then the Baron himself appeared, striding up a path from the woods with several other men.

"Now, this is what we've all been waiting for!" he said. "This lovely thing is Sayuri from Gion, who will probably one day be 'the great Sayuri from Gion.'You'll never see eyes like hers again, I can assure you. And just wait until you see the way she moves ... I invited you here, Sayuri, so all the men could have a chance to look at you; so you have an important job. You must wander all around-inside the house, down by the lake, all through the woods, everywhere! Now go along and get working!"

I began to wander around the estate as the Baron had asked, past the cherry trees heavy with their blossoms, bowing here and there to the guests and trying not to seem too obvious about looking around for the Chairman. I made little headway, because every few steps some man or other would stop me and say something like, "My heavens! An apprentice geisha from Kyoto!" And then he would take out his camera and have someone snap a picture of us standing together, or else walk me along the lake to the little moon-viewing pavilion, or wherever, so his friends could have a look at me-just as he might have done with some prehistoric creature he'd captured in a net. Mameha had warned me that everyone would be fascinated with my appearance; because there's nothing quite like an apprentice geisha from Gion, It's true that in the better geisha districts of Tokyo, such as Shimbashi and Akasaka, a girl must master the arts if she expects to make her debut. But many
of the Tokyo geisha at that time were very modern in their sensibilities, which is why some were walking around the Baron's estate in Western-style clothing.

The Baron's party seemed to go on and on. By midafternoon I'd practically given up any hope of finding the Chairman. I went into the house to look for a place to rest, but the very moment I stepped up into the entrance hall, I felt myself go numb. There he was, emerging from a tatami room in conversation with another man. They said good-bye to each other, and then the Chairman turned to me.

"Sayuri!" he said. "Now how did the Baron lure you here all the way from Kyoto? I didn't even realize you were acquainted with him."

I knew I ought to take my eyes off the Chairman, but it was like pulling nails from the wall. When I finally managed to do it, I gave him a bow and said:

"Mameha-san sent me in her place. I'm so pleased to have the honor of seeing the Chairman."

"Yes, and I'm pleased to see you too; you can give me your opinion about something. Come have a look at the present I've brought for the Baron. I'm tempted to leave without giving it to him."

I followed him into a tatami room, feeling like a kite pulled by a string. Here I was in Hakone so far-from anything I'd ever known, spending a few moments with the man I'd thought about more constantly than anyone, and it amazed me to think of it. While he walked ahead of me I had to admire how he moved so easily within his tailored wool suit. I could make out the swell of his calves, and even the hollow of his back like a cleft where the roots of a tree divide. He took something from the table and held it out for me to see. At first I thought it was an ornamented block of gold, but it turned out to be an antique cosmetics box for the Baron. This one, as the Chairman told me, was by an Edo period artist named Arata Gonroku. It was a pillow-shaped box in gold lacquer, with soft black images of flying cranes and leaping rabbits. When he put it into my hands, it was so dazzling I had to hold my breath as I looked at it.

"Do you think the Baron will be pleased?" he said. "I found it last week and thought of him at once, but-"

"Chairman, how can you even imagine that the Baron might not feel pleased?"

"Oh, that man has collections of everything. He'll probably see this as third-rate."

I assured the Chairman that no one could ever think such a thing; and when I gave him back the box, he tied it up in a silk cloth again and nodded toward the door for me to follow. In the entryway I helped him with his shoes. While I guided his foot with my fingertips, I found myself imagining that we'd spent the afternoon together and that a long evening lay ahead of us. This thought transported me into such a state, I don't know how much time passed before I became aware of myself again. The Chairman showed no signs of impatience, but I felt terribly self-conscious as I tried to slip my feet into my okobo and ended up taking much longer than I should have.

He led me down a path toward the lake, where we found the Baron sitting on a mat beneath a cherry tree with three Tokyo geisha. They all rose to their feet, though the Baron had a bit of trouble. His face had red splotches all over it from drink, so that it looked as if someone had swatted him again and again with a stick.

"Chairman!" the Baron said. "I'm so happy you came to my party. I always enjoy having you here, do you know that? That corporation of yours just won't stop growing, will it? Did Sayuri tell you Nobu came to my party in Kyoto last week?"

"I heard all about it from Nobu, who I'm sure was his usual self."

"He certainly was," said the Baron. "A peculiar little man, isn't he?"

I don't know what the Baron was thinking, for he himself was lit-tler than Nobu. The Chairman didn't seem to like this comment, and narrowed his eyes.

"I mean to say," the Baron began, but the Chairman cut him off.

"I have come to thank you and say good-bye, but first I have something to give you." And here he handed over the cosmetics box. The Baron was too drunk to untie the silk cloth around it, but he gave it to one of the geisha, who did it for him.

"What a beautiful thing!" the Baron said. "Doesn't everybody think so? Look at it. Why, it might be even lovelier than the exquisite creature standing beside you, Chairman. Do you know Sayuri? If not, let me introduce you."

"Oh, we're well acquainted, Sayuri and I," the Chairman said.

"How well acquainted, Chairman? Enough for me to envy you?" The Baron laughed at his own joke, but no one else did. "Anyway, this generous gift reminds me that I have something for you, Sayuri. But I can't give it to you until these other geisha have departed, because they'll start wanting one themselves. So you'll have to stay around until everyone has gone home."

"The Baron is too kind," I said, "but really, I don't wish to make a nuisance of myself."

"I see you've learned a good deal from Mameha about how to say no to everything. Just meet me in the front entrance hall after my guests have left. You'll persuade her for me, Chairman, while she walks you to your car."

If the Baron hadn't been so drunk, I'm sure it would have occurred to him to walk the Chairman out himself. But the two men said good-bye, and I followed the Chairman back to the house. While his driver held the door for him, I bowed and thanked him for all his kindness. He was about to get into the car, but he stopped.

"Sayuri," he began, and then seemed uncertain how to proceed. "What has Mameha told you about the Baron?"

"Not very much, sir. Or at least. . . well, I'm not sure what the Chairman means."

"Is Mameha a good older sister to you? Does she tell you the things you need to know?"

"Oh, yes, Chairman. Mameha has helped me more than I can say." "Well," he said, "I'd watch out, if I were you, when a man like the Baron decides he has something to give you."

I couldn't think of how to respond to this, so I said something about the Baron being kind to have thought of me at all.

"Yes, very kind, I'm sure. Just take care of yourself," he said, looking at me intently for a moment, and then getting into his car.

I spent the next hour strolling among the few remaining guests, remembering again and again all the things the Chairman had said to me during our encounter. Rather than feeling concerned about the warning he had given me, I felt elated that he had spoken with me for so long. In fact, I had no space in my mind at all to think about my meeting with the Baron, until at last I found myself standing alone in the entrance hall in the fading afternoon light. I took the liberty of going to kneel in a nearby tatami room, where I gazed out at the grounds through a plate-glass window.

Ten or fifteen minutes passed; finally the Baron came striding into the entrance hall. I felt myself go sick with worry the moment I saw him, for he wore nothing but a cotton dressing robe. He had a towel in one hand, which he rubbed against the long black hairs on his face that were supposed to be a beard. Clearly he'd just stepped out of the bath. I stood and bowed to him.

"Sayuri, do you know what a fool I am!" he said to me. "I've had too much to drink." That part was certainly true. "I forgot you were waiting for me! I hope you'll forgive rne when you see what I've put aside for you."

The Baron walked down the hallway toward the interior of the house, expecting me to follow him. But I remained where I was, think-

ing of what Mameha had said to me, that an apprentice on the point of having her mizuage was like a meal served on the table.

The Baron stopped. "Come along!" he said to me.

"Oh, Baron. I really mustn't. Please permit me to wait here."

"I have something I'd like to give you. Just come back into my quarters and sit down, and don't be a silly girl."

"Why, Baron," I said, "I can't help but be a silly girl; for that's what I am!"

"Tomorrow you'll be back under the watchful eyes of Mameha, eh? But there's no one watching you here."

If I'd had the least common sense at that moment, I would have thanked the Baron for inviting me to his lovely party and told him how much I regretted having to impose on him for the use of his motorcar to take me back to the inn. But everything had such a dreamlike quality ... I suppose I'd gone into a state of shock. All I knew for certain was how afraid I felt.

"Come back with ............

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