Memoirs of a Geisha (Chapter 7)

Chapter seven

I had never heard the word jorou-ya before; so the very next evening, when Auntie dropped a sewing tray onto the floor of the entrance I hall and asked my help in cleaning it up, I said to her:

“Auntie, what is a jorou-ya?”

Auntie didn’t answer, but just went on reeling up a spool of thread.

“Auntie?” I said again.

“It’s the sort of place Hatsumomo will end up, if she ever gets what she deserves,” she said.

She didn’t seem inclined to say more, so I had no choice but to leave it at that. My question certainly wasn’t answered; but I did form the impression that Satsu might be suffering even more than I was. So I began thinking about how I might sneak to this place called Tatsuyo the very next time I had an opportunity. Unfortunately, part of my punishment for ruining Mameha’s kimono was confinement in the okiya for fifty days. I was permitted to attend the school as long as Pumpkin accompanied me; but I was no longer permitted to run errands. I suppose I could have dashed out the door at any time, if I’d wanted to, but I knew better than to do something so foolish. To begin with, I wasn’t sure how to find the Tatsuyo. And what was worse, the moment I was discovered missing, Mr. Bekku or someone would be sent to look for me. A young maid had run away from the okiya next door only a few months earlier, and they brought her back the following morning. They beat her so badly over the next few days that her wailing was horrible. Sometimes I had to put my fingers in my ears to shut it out.

I decided I had no choice but to wait until my fifty-day confinement was over. In the meantime, I put my efforts into finding ways to repay Hatsumomo and Granny for their cruelty. Hatsumomo I repaid by scraping up pigeon droppings whenever I was supposed to clean them from the stepping-stones in the courtyard and mixing them in with her face cream. The cream already contained unguent of nightingale droppings, as I’ve mentioned; so maybe it did her no harm, but it did give me satisfaction. Granny I repaid by wiping the toilet rag around on the inside of her sleeping robe; and I was very pleased to see her sniffing at it in puzzlement, though she never took it off. Soon I discovered that the cook had taken it upon herself to punish me further over the kimono incident-even though no one had asked her to-by cutting back on my twice-monthly portions of dried fish. I couldn’t think of how to repay her for this until one day I saw her chasing a mouse down the corridor with a mallet. She hated mice worse than cats did, as it turned out. Sol swept mouse droppings from under the foundation of the main house and scattered them here and there in the kitchen. I even took a chopstick one day and gouged a hole in the bottom of a canvas bag of rice, so she’d have to take everything out of all the cabinets and search for signs of rodents.

One evening as I was waiting up for Hatsumomo, I heard the telephone ring, and Yoko came out a moment later and went up the stairs. When she came back down, she was holding Hatsumomo’s shamisen, disassembled in its lacquer carrying case.

“You’ll have to take this to the Mizuki Teahouse,” she said to me. “Hatsumomo has lost a bet and has to play a song on a shamisen. I don’t know what’s gotten into her, but she won’t use the one the teahouse has offered. I think she’s just stalling, since she hasn’t touched a shamisen in years.”

Yoko apparently didn’t know I was confined to the okiya, which was no surprise, really. She was rarely permitted to leave the maid’s room in case she should miss an important telephone call, and she wasn’t involved in the life of the okiya in any way. I took the shamisen from her while she put on her kimono overcoat to leave for the night.

And after she had explained to me where to find the Mizuki Teahouse, I slipped into my shoes in the entryway, tingling with nervousness that someone might stop me. The maids and Pumpkin-even the three older women-were all asleep, and Yoko would be gone in a matter of minutes. It seemed to me my chance to find my sister had come at last.

I heard thunder rumble overhead, and the air smelled of rain. So I hurried along the streets, past groups of men and geisha. Some of them gave me peculiar looks, because in those days we still had men and women in Gion who made their living as shamisen porters. They were often elderly; certainly none of them were children. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the people I passed thought I’d stolen that shamisen and was running away with it.

When I reached the Mizuki Teahouse, rain was beginning to fall; but the entrance was so elegant I was afraid to set foot in it. The walls beyond the little curtain that hung in the doorway were a soft orange hue, trimmed in dark wood. A path of polished stone led to a huge vase holding an arrangement of twisted branches from a maple tree with their brilliant red leaves of fall. At length I worked up my courage and brushed past the little curtain. Near the vase, a spacious entryway opened to one side, with a floor of coarsely polished granite. I remember being astounded that all the beauty I’d seen wasn’t even the entry-way to the teahouse, but only the path leading to the entryway. It was exquisitely lovely-as indeed it should have been; because although I didn’t know it, I was seeing for the first time one of the most exclusive teahouses in all of Japan. And a teahouse isn’t for tea, you see; it’s the place where men go to be entertained by geisha.

The moment I stepped into the entryway, the door before me rolled open. A young maid kneeling on the raised floor inside gazed down at me; she must have heard my wooden shoes on the stone. She was dressed in a beautiful dark blue kimono with a simple pattern in gray. A year earlier I would have taken her to be the young mistress of such an extravagant place, but now after my months in Gion, I recognized at once that her kimono-though more beautiful than anything in Yoroido-was far too simple for a geisha or for the mistress of a teahouse. And of course, her hairstyle was plain as well. Still, she was far more elegant than I was, and looked down at me with contempt.

“Go to the back,” she said.

“Hatsumomo has asked that-”

“Go to the back!” she said again, and rolled the door shut without waiting for me to reply.

The rain was falling more heavily now, so I ran, rather than walked, down a narrow alley alongside the teahouse. The door at the back entrance rolled open as I arrived, and the same maid knelt there waiting for me. She didn’t say a word but just took the shamisen case from my arms.

“Miss,” I said, “may I ask? . . . Can you tell me where the Miyagawa-cho district is?”

“Why do you want to go there?”

“I have to pick up something.”

She gave me a strange look, but then told me to walk along the river until I had passed the Minamiza Theater, and I would find myself in Miyagawa-cho. I decided to stay under the eaves of the teahouse until the rain stopped. As I stood looking around, I

discovered a wing of the building visible between the slats of the fence beside me. I put my eye to the fence and found myself looking across a beautiful garden at a window of glass. Inside a lovely tatami room, bathed in orange light, a party of men and geisha sat around a table scattered with sake cups and glasses of beer. Hatsumomo was there too, and a bleary-eyed old man who seemed to be in the middle of a story. Hatsumomo was amused about something, though evidently not by what the old man was

saying. She kept glancing at another geisha with her back to me. I found myself remembering the last time I had peered into a teahouse, with Mr. Tanaka’s little daughter, Kuniko, and began to feel that same sense of heaviness I’d felt so long ago at the graves of my father’s first family- as if the earth were pulling me down toward it. A certain thought was swelling in my head, growing until I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I wanted to turn away from it; but I was as powerless to stop that thought from taking over my mind as the wind is to stop itself from blowing. Sol stepped back and sank onto the stone step of the entry-way, with the door against my back, and began to cry. I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Tanaka. He had taken me from my mother and father, sold me into slavery, sold my sister into something even worse. I had taken him for a kind man. I had thought he was so refined, so worldly. What a stupid child I had been! I would never go back to Yoroido, I decided. Or if I did go back, it would only be to tell Mr. Tanaka how much I hated him.

When at last I got to my feet and wiped my eyes on my wet robe, the rain had eased to a mist. The paving stones in the alley sparkled gold from the reflection of the lanterns. I made my way back through the Tominaga-cho section of Gion to the Minamiza Theater, with its enormous tiled roof that had made me think of a palace the day Mr. Bekku brought Satsu and me from the train station. The maid at the Mizuki Teahouse had told me to walk along the river past the Minamiza; but the road running along the

river stopped at the theater. Sol followed the street behind the Minamiza instead. After a few blocks I found myself in an area without streetlights and nearly empty of people. I didn’t know it at the time, but the streets were empty mostly because of the Great Depression; in any other era Miyagawa-cho might have been busier even than Gion. That evening it seemed to me a very sad place-which indeed I think it has always been. The wooden facades looked like Gion, but the place had no trees, no lovely Shirakawa Stream, no beautiful entryways. The only illumination came from lightbulbs in the open doorways, where old women sat on stools, often with two or three women I took to be geisha on the street beside them. They wore kimono and hair ornaments similar to geisha, but their obi were tied in the front rather than the back. I’d never seen this before and didn’t understand it, but it’s the mark of a prostitute. A woman who must take her sash on and off all night can’t be bothered with tying it behind her again and again.

With the help of one of these women, I found the Tatsuyo in a dead-end alley with only three other houses. All were marked with placards near their doors. I can’t possibly describe how I felt when I saw the sign lettered “Tatsuyo,” but I will say that my body seemed to tingle everywhere, so much that I felt I might explode. In the doorway of the Tatsuyo sat an old woman on a stool, carrying on a conversation with a much younger woman on a stool across the alley-though really it was the old woman who did all the talking. She sat leaning back against the door frame with her gray robe sagging partway open and her feet stuck out in a pair of zori. These were zori woven coarsely from straw, of the sort you might have seen in Yoroido, and not at all like the beautifully lacquered zori Hatsumomo wore with her kimono. What was more, this old woman’s feet were bare, rather than fitted with the smooth silk tabi. And yet she thrust them out with their uneven nails just as though she were proud of the way they looked and wanted to be sure you noticed them.

“Just another three weeks, you know, and I’m not coming back,” she was saying. “The mistress thinks I am, but I’m not. My son’s wife is going to take good care of me, you know. She’s not clever, but she works hard. Didn’t you meet her?”

If I did I don’t remember,” the younger woman across the way said. “There’s a little girl waiting to talk with you. Don’t you see her?”

At this, the old woman looked at me for the first time. She didn’t say anything, but she gave a nod of her head to tell me she was listening.

“Please, ma’am,” I said, “do you have a girl here named Satsu?”

“We don’t have any Satsu,” she said.

I was too shocked to know what to say to this; but in any case, the old woman suddenly looked very alert, because a man was just walking past me toward the entrance. She stood partway and gave him several bows with her hands on her knees and told him, “Welcome!” When he’d entered, she put herself back down on the stool and stuck her feet out again.

“Why are you still here?” the old woman said to me. “I told you we don’t have any Satsu.”

“Yes, you do,” said the younger woman across the way. “Your Yukiyo. Her name used to be Satsu, I remember.”

“That’s as may be,” replied the old woman. “But we don’t have any Satsu for this girl. I don’t get myself into trouble for nothing.”

I didn’t know what she meant by this, until the younger woman muttered that I didn’t look as if I had even a single sen on me. And she was quite right. A sen-which was worth only one hundredth of a yen- was still commonly used in those days, though a single one wouldn’t buy even an empty cup from a vendor. I’d never held a coin of any kind in my hand since coming to Kyoto. When running errands, I asked that the goods be charged to the Nitta okiya.

“If it’s money you want,” I said, “Satsu will pay you.” “Why should she pay to speak to the likes of you?” “I’m her little sister.”

She beckoned me with her hand; and when I neared her, she took me by the arms and spun me around.

“Look at this girl,” she said to the woman across the alley. “Does she look like a little sister to Yukiyo? If our Yukiyo was as pretty as this one, we’d be the busiest house in town! You’re a liar, is what you are.” And with this, she gave me a little shove back out into the alley.

I’ll admit I was frightened. But I was more determined than frightened, and I’d already come this far; I certainly wasn’t going to leave just because this woman didn’t believe me. So I turned myself around and gave her a bow, and said to her, “I apologize if I seem to be a liar, ma’am. But I’m not. Yukiyo is my sister. If you’d be kind enough to tell her Chiyo is here, she’ll pay you what you want:”

This must have been the right thing to say, because at last she turned to the younger woman across the alley. “You go up for me. You’re not busy tonight. Besides, my neck is bothering me. I’ll stay here and keep an eye on this girl.”

The younger woman stood up from her stool and walked across into the Tatsuyo. I heard her climbing the stairs inside. Finally she came back down and said:

“Yukiyo has a customer. When he’s done, someone will tell her to come down.”

The old woman sent me into the shadows on the far side of the door to squat where I couldn’t be seen. I don’t know how much time passed, but I grew more and more worried that someone in the okiya might discover me gone. I had an excuse for leaving, though Mother would be angry with me just the same; but I didn’t have an excuse for staying away. Finally a man came out, picking at his teeth with a toothpick. The old woman stood to bow and thanked him for coming. And then I heard the most pleasing sound I’d heard since coming to Kyoto. “You wanted me, ma’am?” It was Satsu’s voice.

I sprang to my feet and rushed to where she stood in the doorway. Her skin looked pale, almost gray- though perhaps it was only because she wore a kimono of garish yellows and reds. And her mouth was painted with a bright lipstick like the kind Mother wore. She was just tying her sash in the front, like the women I’d seen on my way there. I felt such relief at seeing her, and such excitement, I could hardly keep from rushing into her arms; and Satsu too let out a cry and covered her hand with her mouth.

“The mistress will be angry with me,” the old woman said. “I’ll come right back,” Satsu told her, and disappeared inside the Tatsuyo again. A moment or so later she was back, and dropped several coins into the woman’s hand, who told her to take me into the spare room on the first floor.

“And if you hear me cough,” she added, “it means the mistress is coming. Now hurry up.”

I followed Satsu into the gloomy entrance hall of the Tatsuyo. Its light was brown more than yellow, and the air smelled like sweat. Beneath the staircase was a sliding door that had come off its track. Satsu tugged it open, and with difficulty managed to shut it behind us. We were standing in a tiny tatami room with only one window, covered by a paper screen. The light from outdoors was enough for me to see Satsu’s form, but nothing of her features.

“Oh, Chiyo,” she said, and then she reached up to scratch her face. Or at least, I thought she was scratching her face, for I couldn’t see well. It took me a moment to understand she was crying. After this I could do nothing to hold back my own tears.

“I’m so sorry, Satsu!” I told her. “It’s all my fault.” Somehow or other we stumbled toward each other in the dark until we were hugging. I found that all I could think about was how bony she’d grown. She stroked my hair in a way that made me think of my mother, which caused my eyes to well up so much I might as well have been underwater.

“Quiet, Chiyo-chan,” she whispered to me. With her face so close to mine, her breath had a pungent odor when she spoke. “I’ll get a beating if the mistress finds out you were here. Why did it take you so long!”

“Oh, Satsu, I’m so sorry! I know you came to my okiya …”

“Months ago.”

“The woman you spoke with there is a monster. She wouldn’t give me the message for the longest time.”

“I have to run away, Chiyo. I can’t stay here in this place any longer.”

“I’ll come with you!”

“I have a train schedule hidden under the tatami mats upstairs. I’ve been stealing money whenever I can. I have enough to pay off Mrs. Kishino. She gets beaten whenever a girl escapes. She won’t let me go unless I pay her first.”

“Mrs. Kishino . . . who is she?”

“The old lady at the front door. She’s going away. I don’t know who will take her place. I can’t wait any longer! This is a horrible spot. Never end up anywhere like this, Chiyo! You’d better go now. The mistress may be here at any moment.”

“But wait. When do we run away?”

“Wait in the corner there, and don’t say a word. I have to go upstairs.”

I did as she told me. While she was gone I heard the old woman at the front door greet a man, and then his heavy footsteps ascended the stairs over my head. Soon someone came down again hurriedly, and the door slid open. I felt panicked for a moment, but it was only Satsu, looking very pale.

“Tuesday. We’ll run away Tuesday late at night, five days from now. I have to go upstairs, Chiyo. A man has come forme.”

“But wait, Satsu. Where will we meet? What time?”

“I don’t know . . . one in the morning. But I don’t know where.”

I suggested we meet near the Minamiza Theater, but Satsu thought it would be too easy for people to find us. We agreed to meet at a spot exactly across the river from it.

“I have to go now,” she said.

“But, Satsu . . . what if I can’t get away? Or what if we don’t meet up?”

“Just be there, Chiyo! I’ll only have one chance. I’ve waited as long as I can. You have to go now before the mistress comes back. If she catches you here, I may never be able to run away.”

There were so many things I wanted to say to her, but she took me out into the hallway and wrenched the door shut behind us. I would have watched her go up the stairs, but in a moment the old woman from the doorway had taken me by the arm and pulled me out into the darkness of the street.

I ran back from Miyagawa-cho and was relieved to find the okiya as quiet as I’d left it. I crept inside and knelt in the dim light of the entrance hall, dabbing the sweat from my forehead and neck with the sleeve of my robe and trying to catch my breath. I was just beginning to settle down, now that I’d succeeded in not getting caught. But then I looked at the door to the maids’ room and saw that it stood open a bit, just wide enough to reach an arm through, and I felt myself go cold. No one ever left it that way. Except in

hot weather it was usually closed all the way. Now as I watched it, I felt certain I heard a rustling sound from within. I hoped it was a rat; because if it wasn’t a rat, it was Hatsumomo and her boyfriend again. I began to wish I hadn’t gone to Miyagawa-cho. I wished it so hard that if such a thing had been possible, I think time itself would have begun to run backward just from the force of all my wishing. I got to my feet and crept down onto the dirt corridor, feeling dizzy from worry, and with my throat as dry as a patch of dusty ground. When I reached the door of the maids’ room, I brought my eye to the crack to peer inside. I couldn’t see well. Because of the damp weather, Yoko had lit charcoal earlier that evening in the brazier set into the floor; only a faint glow remained, and in that dim light, something small and pale was squirming. I almost let out a scream when I saw it, because I was sure it was a rat, with its head bobbing around as it chewed at something. To my horror I could even hear the moist, smacking sounds of its mouth. It seemed to be standing up on top of something, I couldn’t tell what. Stretching out toward me were two bundles of what I thought were probably rolled-up fabric, which gave me the impression it had chewed its way up between them, spreading them apart as it went. It was eating something Yoko must have left there in the room. I was just about to shut the door, for I was frightened it might run out into the corridor with me, when I heard a woman’s moan. Then suddenly from beyond where the rat was chewing, a head raised up and Hatsumomo was looking straight at me. I jumped back from the door. What I’d thought were bundles of rolled-up fabric were her legs. And the rat wasn’t a rat at all. It was her boyfriend’s pale hand protruding from his sleeve.

“What is it?” I heard her boyfriend’s voice say. “Is someone there?”

“It’s nothing,” Hatsumomo whispered.

“Someone’s there.”

“No, it’s no one at all,” she said. “I thought I heard something, but it’s no one.”

There was no question in my mind Hatsumomo had seen me. But she apparently didn’t want her boyfriend to know. I hurried back to kneel in the hallway, feeling as shaken as if I’d almost been run over by a trolley. I heard groans and noises coming from the maids’ room for some time, and then they stopped. When Hatsumomo and her boyfriend finally stepped out into the corridor, her boyfriend looked right at me.

“That girl’s in the front hall,” he said. “She wasn’t there when I came in.”

“Oh, don’t pay her any attention. She was a bad girl tonight and went out of the okiya when she wasn’t supposed to. I’ll deal with her later.”

“So there was someone spying on us. Why did you lie to me?” “Koichi-san,” she said, “you’re in such a bad mood tonight!” “You aren’t the least surprised to see her. You knew she was there all along.”

Hatsumomo’s boyfriend came striding up to the front entrance hall and stopped to glower at me before stepping down into the entry-way. I kept my eyes to the floor, but I could feel myself blush a brilliant red. Hatsumomo rushed past me to help him with his shoes. I heard her speak to him as I’d never heard her speak to anyone before, in a pleading, almost whining voice.

“Koichi-san, please,” she said, “calm down. I don’t know what’s gotten into you tonight! Come again tomorrow …”

“I don’t want to see you tomorrow.”

“I hate when you make me wait so long. I’ll meet you anywhere you say, on the bottom of the riverbed, even.”

“I don’t have anywhere to meet you. My wife watches over me too much as it is.”

“Then come back here. We have the maids’ room-”

“Yes, if you like sneaking around and being spied on! Just let me go, Hatsumomo. I want to get home.”

“Please don’t be angry with me, Koichi-san. I don’t know why you get this way! Tell me you’ll come back, even if it isn’t tomorrow.”

“One day I won’t come back,” he said. “I’ve told you that all along.”

I heard the outside door roll open, and then it closed again; after a time Hatsumomo came back into the front entrance hall and stood peering down the corridor at nothing. Finally she turned to me and wiped the moisture from her eyes.

“Well, little Chiyo,” she said. “You went to visit that ugly sister of yours, didn’t you?”

“Please, Hatsumomo-san,” I said.

“And then you came back here to spy on me!” Hatsumomo said this so loudly, she woke one of the elderly maids, who propped herself on her elbow to look at us. Hatsumomo shouted at her, “Go back to sleep, you stupid old woman!” and the maid shook her head and lay back down again.

“Hatsumomo-san, I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” I said. “I don’t want to get in trouble with Mother.”

“Of course you’ll do whatever I want you to do. That isn’t even a subject for discussion! And you’re already in trouble.”

“I had to go out to deliver your shamisen.”

“That was more than an hour ago. You went to find your sister, and you made plans to run away with her. Do you think I’m stupid? And then you came back here to spy on me!”

“Please forgive me,” I said. “I didn’t know it was you there! I thought it was-”

I wanted to tell her I’d thought I’d seen a rat, but I didn’t think she’d take it kindly.

She peered at me for a time and then went upstairs to her room. When she came back down, she was holding something in her fist.

“You want to run away with your sister, don’t you?” she said. “I think that’s a fine idea. The sooner you’re out of the okiya, the better for me. Some people think I don’t have a heart, but it isn’t true. It’s touching to imagine you and that fat cow going off to try to make a living someplace, all alone in the world! The sooner you’re out of here, the better for me. Stand up.”

I stood, though I was afraid of what she was going to do to me. Whatever she was holding in her fist she wanted to tuck beneath the sash of my robe; but when she stepped toward me, I backed away.

“Look,” she said, and opened her hand. She was holding a number of folded bills-more money than I’d ever seen, though I don’t know how much. “I’ve brought this from my room for you. You don’t need to thank me. Just take it. You’ll repay me by getting yourself out of Kyoto so I’ll never have to see you again.”

Auntie had told me never to trust Hatsumomo, even if she offered to help me. But when I reminded myself how much Hatsumomo hated me, I understood that she wasn’t really helping me at all; she was helping herself to be rid of me. I stood still as she reached into my robe and tucked the bills under my sash. I felt her glassy nails brushing against my skin. She spun me around to retie the sash so the money wouldn’t slip, and then she did the strangest thing. She turned me around to face her again, and began to stroke the side of my head with her hand, wearing an almost motherly gaze. The very idea of Hatsu- momo behaving kindly toward me was so odd, I felt as if a poisonous snake had come up and begun to rub against me like a cat. Then before I knew what she was doing, she worked her fingers down to my scalp; and all at once she clenched her teeth in fury and took a great handful of my hair, and yanked it to one side so hard I fell to my knees and cried out. I couldn’t understand what was happening; but soon

Hatsumomo had pulled me to my feet again, and began leading me up the stairs yanking my hair this way and that. She was shouting at me in anger, while I screamed so loudly I wouldn’t have been surprised if we’d woken people all up and down the street.

When we reached the top of the stairs, Hatsumomo banged on Mother’s door and called out for her. Mother opened it very quickly, tying her sash around her middle and looking angry.

“What is the matter with the two of you!” she said,

“My jewelry!” Hatsumomo said: “This stupid, stupid girl!” And here she began to beat me. I could do nothing but huddle into a ball on the floor and cry out for her to stop until Mother managed to restrain her somehow. By that time Auntie had come to join her on the landing.

“Oh, Mother,” Hatsumomo said, “on my way back to the okiya this evening, I thought I saw little Chiyo at the end of the alleyway talking to a man. I didn’t think anything of it, because I knew it couldn’t be her. She isn’t supposed to be out of the okiya at all. But when I went up to my room, I found my jewelry box in disarray, and rushed back down just in time to see Chiyo handing something over to the man. She tried to run away, but I caught her!”

Mother was perfectly silent a long while, looking at me.

“The man got away,” Hatsumomo went on, “but I think Chiyo may have sold some of my jewelry to raise money. She’s planning to run away from the okiya, Mother, that’s what I think . . . after we’ve been so kind to her!”

“All right, Hatsumomo,” Mother said. “That’s quite enough. You and Auntie go into your room and find out what’s missing.”

The moment I was alone with Mother, I looked up at her from where I knelt on the floor and whispered, “Mother, it isn’t true . . .

Hatsumomo was in the maids’ room with her boyfriend. She’s angry about something, and she’s taking it out on me. I didn’t take anything from her!”

Mother didn’t speak. I wasn’t even sure she’d heard me. Soon Hatsumomo came out and said she was missing a brooch used for decorating the front of an obi.

“My emerald brooch, Mother!” she kept saying, and crying just like a fine actress. “She’s sold my emerald brooch to that horrible man! It was my broochl Who does she think she is to steal such a thing from me!”

“Search the girl,” Mother said.

Once when I was a little child of six or so, I watched a spider spinning its web in a corner of the house. Before the spider had even finished its job, a mosquito flew right into the web and was trapped there. The spider didn’t pay it any attention at first, but went on with what it was doing; only when it was finished did it creep over on its pointy toes and sting that poor mosquito to death. As I sat there on that wooden floor and watched Hatsumomo come reaching for me with her delicate fingers, I knew I was trapped in a web she had spun for me. I could do nothing to explain the cash I was carrying beneath my sash. When she drew it out, Mother took it from her and counted it.

“You’re a fool to sell an emerald brooch for so little,” she said to me. “Particularly since it will cost you a good deal more to replace it.”

She tucked the money into her own sleeping robe, and then said to Hatsumomo:

“You had a boyfriend here in the okiya tonight.”

Hatsumomo was taken aback by this; but she didn’t hesitate to reply, “Whatever gave you such an idea,


There was a long pause, and then Mother said to Auntie, “Hold her arms.”

Auntie took Hatsumomo by the arms and held her from behind, while Mother began to pull open the seams of Hatsumomo’s kimono at the thigh. I thought Hatsumomo would resist, but she didn’t. She looked at me with cold eyes as Mother gathered up the koshimaki and pushed her knees apart. Then Mother reached up between her legs, and when her hand came out again her fingertips were wet. She rubbed her thumb and fingers together for a time, and then smelled them. After this she drew back her

hand and slapped Hatsumomo across the face, leaving a streak of moisture.

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