Memoirs of a Geisha (Chapter 10)

Chapter ten 

One morning quite some months later, while we were putting away the ro underrobes-the ones made of lightweight silk gauze for hot weather-and bringing out the hitoe underrobes instead-the ones with no lining, used in September-I came upon a smell in the entry-way so horrible that I dropped the armload of robes I was carrying. The smell was coming from Granny’s room. I ran upstairs to fetch Auntie, because I knew at once that something must be terribly wrong. Auntie hobbled down the stairs as quickly as she could and went in to find Granny dead on the floor; and she had died in a most peculiar manner. Granny had the only electric space heater in our okiya. She used it every single night except during the summer. Now that the month of September had begun and we were putting away the summer-weight underrobes, 

Granny had begun to use her heater again. That doesn’t mean the weather was necessarily cool; we change the weight of our clothing by the calendar, not by the actual temperature outdoors, and Granny used her heater just the same way. She was unreasonably attached to it, probably because she’d spent so many nights of her life suffering miserably from the cold. 

Granny’s usual routine in the morning was to wrap the cord around the heater before pushing it back against the wall. Over time the hot metal burned all the way through the cord, so that the wire finally came into contact with it, and the whole thing became electrified. The police said that when Granny touched it that morning she must have been immobilized at once, maybe even killed instantly. When she slid down onto the floor, she ended up with her face pressed against the hot metal surface. This was what caused the horrible smell. Happily I didn’t see her after she’d died, except for her legs, which were visible from the doorway and looked like slender tree limbs wrapped in wrinkled silk. 

For a week or two after Granny died, we were as busy as you can imagine, not only with cleaning the house thoroughly-because in Shinto, death is the most impure of all the things that can happen-but with preparing the house by setting out candles, trays with meal offerings, lanterns at the entrance, tea stands, trays for money that visitors brought, and so on. We were so busy that one evening the cook became ill and a doctor was summoned; it turned out her only problem was that she’d slept no more than two hours the night before, hadn’t sat down all day, and had eaten only a single bowl of clear soup. I was surprised too to see Mother spending money almost unrestrainedly, making plans for sutras to be chanted “on Granny’s behalf at the Chion-in Temple, purchasing lotus-bud arrangements from the undertaker- all of it right in the midst of the Great Depression. I wondered at first if her behavior was a testament to how deeply she felt about Granny; but later I realized what it really meant: practically all of Gion would come tramping through our okiya to pay respects to Granny, and would attend the funeral at the temple later in the week; Mother had to put on the proper kind of show. 

For a few days all of Gion did indeed come through our okiya, or so it seemed; and we had to feed tea and sweets to all of them. Mother and Auntie received the mistresses of the various teahouses and okiya, as well as a number of maids who were acquainted with Granny; also shopkeepers, wig makers, and hairdressers, most of whom were men; and of course, dozens and dozens of geisha. The older geisha knew Granny from her working days, but the younger ones had never even heard of her; they came out of respect for Mother-or in some cases because they had a relationship of one kind or another with Hatsumomo. 

My job during this busy period was to show visitors into the reception room, where Mother and Auntie were waiting for them. It was a distance of only a few steps; but the visitors couldn’t very well show themselves in; and besides, I had to keep track of which faces belonged to which shoes, for it was my job to take the shoes to the maids’ room to keep the entry way from being too cluttered, and then bring them back again at the proper moment. I had trouble with this at first. I couldn’t peer right into the eyes of our visitors without seeming rude, but a simple glimpse of their faces wasn’t enough for me to remember them. Very soon I learned to look closely at the kimono they wore. 

On about the second or third afternoon the door rolled open, and in came a kimono that at once struck me as the loveliest I’d seen any of our visitors wear. It was somber because of the occasion-a simple black robe bearing a crest-but its pattern of green and gold grasses sweeping around the hem was so rich- looking, I found myself imagining how astounded the wives and daughters of the fishermen back in Yoroido would be to see such a thing. The visitor had a maid with her as well, which made me think perhaps she was the mistress of a teahouse or okiya-because very few geisha could afford such an expense. While she looked at the tiny Shinto shrine in our entryway, I took the opportunity to steal a peek at her face. It was such a perfect oval that I thought at once of a certain scroll in Auntie’s room, showing an ink painting of a courtesan from the Heian period a thousand years earlier. She wasn’t as striking a woman as Hatsumomo, but her features were so perfectly formed that at once I began to feel even more insignificant than usual. And then suddenly I realized who she was. Mameha, the geisha whose kimono Hatsumomo had made me ruin. 

What had happened to her kimono wasn’t really my fault; but still, I would have given up the robe I was wearing not to run into her. I lowered my head to keep my face hidden while I showed her and her maid into the reception room. I didn’t think she would recognize me, since I felt certain she hadn’t seen my face when I’d returned the kimono; and even if she had, two years had passed since then. The maid who accompanied her now wasn’t the same young woman who’d taken the kimono from me that night and whose eyes had filled with tears. Still, I was relieved when the time came for me to bow and leave them in the reception room. 

Twenty minutes later, when Mameha and her maid were ready to leave, I fetched their shoes and arranged them on the step in the entryway, still keeping my head down and feeling every bit as nervous as I had earlier. When her maid rolled open the door, I felt that my ordeal was over. But instead of walking out, Mameha just went on standing there. I began to worry; and I’m afraid my eyes and my mind weren’t communicating well, because even though I knew I shouldn’t do it, I let my eyes flick up. I was horrified to see that Mameha was peering down at me. 

“What is your name, little girl?” she said, in what I took to be a very stern tone. 

I told her that my name was Chiyo. 

“Stand up a moment, Chiyo. I’d like to have a look at you.” 

I rose to my feet as she had asked; but if it had been possible to make my face shrivel up and disappear, just like slurping down a noodle, I’m sure I would have done it. 

“Come now, I want to have a look at you!” she said. “Here you are acting like you’re counting the toes on your feet.” 

I raised my head, though not my eyes, and then Mameha let out a long sigh and ordered me to look up at her. 

“What unusual eyes!” she said. “I thought I might have imagined it. What color would you call them, Tatsumi?” 

Her maid came back into the entryway and took a look at me. “Blue-gray, ma’am,” she replied. 

“That’s just what I would have said. Now, how many girls in Gion do you think have eyes like that?” 

I didn’t know if Mameha was speaking to me or Tatsumi, but neither of us answered. She was looking at me with a peculiar expression-concentrating on something, it seemed to me. And then to my great relief, she excused herself and left. 

Granny’s funeral was held about a week later, on a morning chosen by a fortune-teller. Afterward we began putting the okiya back in order, but with several changes. Auntie moved downstairs into the room that had been Granny’s, while Pumpkin-who was to begin her apprenticeship as a geisha before long- took the second-floor room where Auntie had lived. In addition, two new maids arrived the following week, both of them middle-aged and very energetic. It may seem odd that Mother added maids although the family was now fewer in number; but in fact the okiya had always been understaffed because Granny couldn’t tolerate crowding. 

The final change was that Pumpkin’s chores were taken away from her. She was told instead to spend her time practicing the various arts she would depend upon as a geisha. Usually girls weren’t given so much opportunity for practice, but poor Pumpkin was a slow learner and needed the extra time if anyone ever did. I had difficulty watching her as she knelt on the wooden walkway every day and practiced her shamisen for hours, with her tongue poking out the side of her mouth like she was trying to lick her cheek clean. She gave me little smiles whenever our eyes met; and really, her disposition was as sweet and kind as could be. But already I was finding it difficult to bear the burden of patience in my life, waiting for some tiny opening that might never come and that would certainly be the only chance I’d ever get. Now I had to watch as the door of opportunity was held wide open for someone else. Some nights when I went to bed, I took the handkerchief the Chairman had given me and lay on my futon smelling its rich talc scent. I cleared my mind of everything but the image of him and the feeling of warm sun on my face and the hard stone wall where I’d sat that day when I met him. He was my bodhisattva with a thousand arms who would help me. I couldn’t imagine how his help would come to me, but I prayed that it would. 

Toward the end of the first month after Granny’s death, one of our new maids came to me one day to say I had a visitor at the door. It was an unseasonably hot October afternoon, and my whole body was damp with perspiration from using our old hand-operated vacuum to clean the tatami mats upstairs in Pumpkin’s new room, which had only recently beenAuntie’s; Pumpkin was in the habit of sneaking rice crackers upstairs, so the tatami needed to be cleaned frequently. I mopped myself with a wet towel as quickly as I could and rushed down, to find a young woman in the entryway, dressed in a kimono like a maid’s. I got to my knees and bowed to her. Only when I looked at her a second time did I recognize her as the maid who had accompanied Mameha to our okiya a few weeks earlier. I was very sorry to see her there. I felt certain I was in trouble. But when she gestured for me to step down into the entryway, I slipped my feet into my shoes and followed her out to the street. 

“Are you sent on errands from time to time, Chiyo?” she asked me. 

So much time had passed since I’d tried to run away that I was no longer confined to the okiya. I had no idea why she was asking; but I told her that I was. 

“Good,” she said. “Arrange for yourself to be sent out tomorrow afternoon at three o’clock, and meet me at the little bridge that arches over the Shirakawa Stream.” 

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, “but may I ask why?” 

“You’ll find out tomorrow, won’t you?” she answered, with a little crinkle of her nose that made me wonder if she was teasing me. 

I certainly wasn’t pleased that Mameha’s maid wanted me to accompany her somewhere-probably to Mameha, I thought, to be scolded for what I’d done. But just the same, the following day I talked Pumpkin into sending me on an errand that didn’t really need to be run. She was worried about getting into trouble, until I promised to find a way of repaying her. So at three o’clock, she called to me from the courtyard: 

“Chiyo-san, could you please go out and buy me some new shamisen strings and a few Kabuki magazines?” She had been instructed to read Kabuki magazines for the sake of her education. Then I heard her say in an even louder voice, “Is that all right, Auntie?” But Auntie didn’t answer, for she was upstairs taking a nap. 

I left the okiya and walked along the Shirakawa Stream to the arched bridge leading into the Motoyoshi- cho section of Gion. With the weather so warm and lovely, quite a number of men and geisha were strolling along, admiring the weeping cherry trees whose tendrils drooped onto the surface of the water. While I waited near the bridge, I watched a group of foreign tourists who had come to see the famous Gion district. They weren’t the only foreigners I’d ever seen in Kyoto, but they certainly looked peculiar to me, the big-nosed women with their long dresses and their brightly colored hair, the men so tall and confident, with heels that clicked on the pavement. One of the men pointed at me and said something in a foreign language, and they all turned to have a look. I felt so embarrassed I pretended to find something on the ground so I could crouch down and hide myself. 

Finally Mameha’s maid came; and just as I’d feared, she led me over the bridge and along the stream to the very same doorway where Hatsumomo and Korin had handed me the kimono and sent me up the stairs. It seemed terribly unfair to me that this same incident was about to cause still more trouble for me- and after so much time had passed. But when the maid rolled open the door for me, I climbed up into the gray light of the stairway. At the top we both stepped out of our shoes and went into the apartment. 

“Chiyo is here, ma’am!” she cried. 

Then I heard Mameha call from the back room, “All right, thank you, Tatsumi!” 

The young woman led me to a table by an open window, where I knelt on one of the cushions and tried not to look nervous. Very shortly another maid came out with a cup of tea for me-because as it turned out, Mameha had not one maid, but two. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be served tea; and in fact, nothing like this had happened to me since dinner at Mr. Tanaka’s house years earlier. I bowed to thank her and took a few sips, so as not to seem rude. Afterward I found myself sitting for a long while with nothing to do but listen to the sound of water passing over the knee-high cascade in 

the Shirakawa Stream outside. 

Mameha’s apartment wasn’t large, but it was extremely elegant, with beautiful tatami mats that were obviously new, for they had a lovely yellow-green sheen and smelled richly of straw. If you’ve ever looked closely enough at a tatami mat, you’d notice that the border around it is edged in fabric, usually just a strip of dark cotton or linen; but these were edged in a strip of silk with a pattern of green and gold. Not far away in an alcove hung a scroll written in a beautiful hand, which turned out to be a gift to Mameha from the famous calligrapher Matsudaira Koichi. Beneath it, on the wooden base of the alcove, an arrangement of blossoming dogwood branches rose up out of a shallow dish that was irregular in shape with a cracked glaze of the deepest black. I found it very peculiar, but actually it had been presented to Mameha by none other than Yoshida Sakuhei, the great master of the setoguro style of ceramics who became a Living National Treasure in the years after World War II. 

At last Mameha came out from the back room, dressed exquisitely in a cream kimono with a water design at the hem. I turned and bowed very low on the mats while she drifted over to the table; and when she was there, she arranged herself on her knees opposite me, took a sip of tea the maid served to her, and then said this: 

“Now . . . Chiyo, isn’t it? Why don’t you tell me how you managed to get out of your okiya this afternoon? I’m sure Mrs. Nitta doesn’t like it when her maids attend to personal business in the middle of the day.” 

I certainly hadn’t expected this sort of question. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything at all to say, even though I knew it would be rude not to respond. Mameha just sipped at her tea and looked at me with a benign expression on her perfect, oval face. Finally she said: 

“You think I’m trying to scold you. But I’m only interested to know if you’ve gotten yourself into trouble by coming here.” 

I was very relieved to hear her say this. “No, ma’am,” I said. “I’m supposed to be on an errand fetching Kabuki magazines and shamisen strings.” 

“Oh, well, I’ve got plenty of those,” she said, and then called her maid over and told her to fetch some and put them on the table before me. “When you go back to your okiya, take them with you, and no onewill wonder where you’ve been. Now, tell me something. When I came to your okiya to pay my respects, 

I saw another girl your age.” 

“That must have been Pumpkin. With a very round face?” 

Mameha asked why I called her Pumpkin, and when I explained, she gave a laugh. 

“This Pumpkin girl,” Mameha said, “how do she and Hatsumomo get along?” 

“Well, ma’am,” I said, “I suppose Hatsumomo pays her no more attention than she would a leaf that has fluttered into the courtyard.” 

“How very poetic … a leaf that has fluttered into the courtyard. Is that the way Hatsumomo treats you as well?” 

I opened my mouth to speak, but the truth is, I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew very little about Mameha, and it would be improper to speak ill of Hatsumomo to someone outside the okiya. Mameha seemed to sense what I was thinking, for she said to me: 

“You needn’t answer. I know perfectly well how Hatsumomo treats you: about like a serpent treats its next meal, I should think.” 

“If I may ask, ma’am, who has told you?” 

“No one has told me,” she said. “Hatsumomo and I have known each other since I was a girl of six and she was nine. When you’ve watched a creature misbehaving itself over such a long period, there’s no secret in knowing what it will do next.” 

“I don’t know what I did to make her hate me so,” I said. 

“Hatsumomo is no harder to understand than a cat. A cat is happy so long as it’s lying in the sun with no other cats around. But if it should think someone else is poking around its meal dish . . . Has anyone told you the story of how Hatsumomo drove young Hatsuoki out of Gion?” 

I told her no one had. 

“What an attractive girl Hatsuoki was,” Mameha began. “And a very dear friend of mine. She and your Hatsumomo were sisters. That is to say, they’d both been trained by the same geisha-in this case, the great Tomihatsu, who.was already an old woman at the time. Your Hatsumomo never liked young 

Hatsuoki, and when they both became apprentice geisha, she couldn’t bear having her as a rival. So she began to spread a rumor around Gion that Hatsuoki had been caught in a public alleyway one night doing something very improper with a young policeman. Of course there was no truth in it. If Hatsumomo had simply gone around telling the story, no one in Gion would have believed her. People knew how jealous she felt about Hatsuoki. So here’s what she did: whenever she came upon someone very drunk-a geisha, or a maid, or even a man visiting Gion, it didn’t matter-she whispered the story about Hatsuoki in such a way that the next day the person who’d heard it didn’t remember that Hatsumomo had been the source. Soon poor Hatsuoki’s reputation was so damaged, it was an easy matter for Hatsumomo to put a few more of her little tricks to use and drive her out.” 

I felt a strange relief at hearing that someone besides me had been treated monstrously by Hatsumomo. 

“She can’t bear to have rivals,” Mameha went on. “That’s the reason she treats you as she does.” 

“Surely Hatsumomo doesn’t see me as a rival, ma’am,” I said. “I’m no more a rival to her than a puddle is a rival to the ocean. ” 

“Not in the teahouses of Gion, perhaps. But within your okiya . . . Don’t you find it odd that Mrs. Nitta has never adopted Hatsumomo as her daughter? The Nitta okiya must be the wealthiest in Gion without an heir. By adopting Hatsumomo, not only would Mrs. Nitta solve that problem, but all of Hatsumomo’s earnings would then be kept by the okiya, without a single sen of it paid out to Hatsumomo herself. And Hatsumomo is a very successful geisha! You’d think Mrs. Nitta, who’s as fond of money as anyone, would have adopted her a long time ago. She must have a very good reason not to do so, don’t you think?” 

I’d certainly never thought of any of this before, but after listening to Mameha, I felt certain I knew exactly what the reason was. 

“Adopting Hatsumomo,” I said, “would be like releasing the tiger from its cage.” 

“It certainly would. I’m sure Mrs. Nitta knows perfectly well what sort of adopted daughter Hatsumomo would turn out to be-the sort that finds a way to drive the Mother out. In any case, Hatsumomo has no more patience than a child. I don’t think she could keep even a cricket alive in a wicker cage. After a year or two, she’d probably sell the okiya’s collection of kimono and retire. That, young Chiyo, is the reason Hatsumomo hates you so very much. The Pumpkin girl, I don’t imagine Hatsumomo feels too worried about Mrs. Nitta adopting her.” 

‘Mameha-san,” I said, “I’m sure you recall the kimono of yours that was ruined …” 

“You’re going to tell me you’re the girl who put ink on it.” 

“Well . . . yes, ma’am. And even though I’m sure you know Hatsumomo was behind it, I do hope that someday I’ll be able to show how sorry I am for what happened.” 

Mameha gazed at me a long while. I had no notion what she was thinking until she said: 

“You may apologize, if you wish.” 

I backed away from the table and bowed low to the mats; but before I had a chance to say anything at all, Mameha interrupted me. 

“That would be a lovely bow, if only you were a farmer visiting Kyoto for the first time,” she said. “But since you want to appear cultivated, you must do it like this. Look at me; move farther away from the table. All right, there you are on your knees; now straighten out your arms and put your fingertips onto the mats in front of you. Just the tips of your fingers; not your whole hand. And you mustn’t spread your fingers at all; I can still see space between them. Very well, put them on the mats . . . hands together . . . there! Now that looks lovely. Bow as low as you can, but keep your neck perfectly straight, don’t let your head drop that way. And for heaven’s sake, don’t put any weight onto your hands or you’ll look like a man! That’s fine. Now you may try it again.” 

So I bowed to her once more, and told her again how deeply sorry I was for having played a role in ruining her beautiful kimono. 

“It was a beautiful kimono, wasn’t it?” she said. “Well, now we’ll forget about it. I want to know why you’re no longer training to be a geisha. Your teachers at the school tell me you were doing well right up until the moment you stopped taking lessons. You ought to be on your way to a successful career in Gion. Why would Mrs. Nitta stop your training?” 

I told her about my debts, including the kimono and the brooch Hatsumomo had accused me of stealing. Even after I was finished, she went on looking coldly at me. Finally she said: 

“There’s something more you’re not telling me. Considering your debts, I’d expect Mrs. Nitta to feel only more determined to see you succeed as a geisha. You’ll certainly never repay her by working as a maid. ” 

When I heard this, I must have lowered my eyes in shame without realizing it; for in an instant Mameha seemed able to read my very thoughts. 

“You tried to run away, didn’t you?” 

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I had a sister. We’d been separated but we managed to find each other. We were supposed to meet on a certain night to run away together . . . but then I fell off the roof and broke my arm.” 

“The roof! You must be joking. Did you go up there to take a last look at Kyoto?” 

I explained to her why I’d done it. “I know it was foolish of me,” I said afterward. “Now Mother won’t invest another sen in my training, since she’s afraid I may run away again.” 

“There’s more to it than that. A girl who runs away makes the mistress of her okiya look bad. That’s the way people think here in Gion. 

‘My goodness, she can’t even keep her own maids from running away!’ That sort of thing. But what will you do with yourself now, Chiyo? You don’t look to me like a girl who wants to live her life as a maid.” 

“Oh, ma’am … I’d give anything to undo my mistakes,” I said. “It’s been more than two years now. I’ve waited so patiently in the hopes that some opportunity might come along.” 

“Waiting patiently doesn’t suit you. I can see you have a great deal of water in your personality. Water never waits. It changes shape and flows around things, and finds the secret paths no one else has thought about-the tiny hole through the roof or the bottom of a box. There’s no doubt it’s the most versatile of the five elements. It can wash away earth; it can put out fire; it can wear a piece of metal down and sweep it away. Even wood, which is its natural complement, can’t survive without being nurtured by water. And yet, you haven’t drawn on those strengths in living your life, have you?” 

“Well, actually, ma’am, water flowing was what gave me the idea of escaping over the roof.” 

“I’m sure you’re a clever girl, Chiyo, but I don’t think that was your cleverest moment. Those of us with water in our personalities don’t pick where we’ll flow to. All we can do is flow where the landscape of our lives carries us.” 

“I suppose I’m like a river that has come up against a dam, and that dam is Hatsumomo.” 

“Yes, probably that’s true,” she said, looking at me calmly. “But rivers sometimes wash dams away.” 

From the moment of my arrival in her apartment, I’d been wondering why Mameha had summoned me. I’d already decided that it had nothing to do with the kimono; but it wasn’t until now that my eyes finally opened to what had been right before me all along. Mameha must have made up her mind to use me in seeking her revenge on Hatsumomo. It was obvious to me they were rivals; why else would Hatsumomo have destroyed Mameha’s kimono two years earlier? No doubt Mameha had been waiting for just the right moment, and now, it seemed, she’d found it. She was going to use me in the role of a weed that chokes out other plants in the garden. She wasn’t simply looking for revenge; unless I was mistaken, she wanted to be rid of Hatsumomo completely. 

“In any case,” Mameha went on, “nothing will change until Mrs. Nitta lets you resume your training.” 

“I don’t have much hope,” I said, “of ever persuading her.” 

“Don’t worry just now about persuading her. Worry about finding the proper time to do it.” 

I’d certainly learned a great many lessons from life already; but I knew nothing at all about patience-not even enough to understand what Mameha meant about finding the proper time. I told her that if she could suggest what I ought to say, I would be eager to speak with Mother tomorrow. 

“Now, Chiyo, stumbling along in life is a poor way to proceed. You must learn how to find the time and place for things. A mouse who wishes to fool the cat doesn’t simply scamper out of its hole when it feels the slightest urge. Don’t you know how to check your almanac?” 

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an almanac. To open one and flip through the pages, you’d find it crammed with the most complicated charts and obscure characters. Geisha are a very superstitious lot, as I’ve said. Auntie and Mother, and even the cook and the maids, scarcely made a decision as simple as buying a new pair of shoes without consulting an almanac. But I’d never checked one in my life. 

“It’s no wonder, all the misfortunes you’ve experienced,” Mameha told me. “Do you mean to say that you tried to run away without checking if the day was auspicious?” 

I told her my sister had made the decision when we would leave. Mameha wanted to know if I could remember the date, which I managed to do after looking at a calendar with her; it had been the last Tuesday in October 1929, only a few months after Satsu and I were taken from our home. 

Mameha told her maid to bring an almanac for that year; and then after asking my sign-the year of the monkey-she spent some time checking and cross-checking various charts, as well as a page that gave my general outlook for the month. Finally she read aloud: 

” ‘A most inauspicious time. Needles, unusual foods, and travel must be avoided at all costs.’ ” Here she stopped to look up at me. “Do you hear that? Travel: After that it goes on to say that you must avoid the following things . . . let’s see . . . ‘bathing during the hour of the rooster,’ ‘acquiring new clothing,’ ‘embarking on new enterprises,’ and listen to this one, ‘changing residences.'” Here Mameha closed the 

book and peered at me. “Were you careful about any of those things?” 

Many people have doubts about this sort of fortune-telling; but any doubts you might have would certainly have been swept away if you’d been there to see what happened next. Mameha asked my sister’s sign and looked up the same information about her. “Well,” she said after looking at it for a 

while, “it reads, ‘An auspicious day for small changes.’ Perhaps not the best day for something as ambitious as running away, but certainly better than the other days that week or the next.” And then came the surprising thing. “It goes on to say, ‘A good day for travel in the direction of the Sheep,'” 

Mameha read. And when she brought out a map and found Yoroido, it lay to the north northeast of Kyoto, which was indeed the direction corresponding to the zodiac sign of the Sheep. Satsu had checked her almanac. That was probably what she’d done when she left me there in the room under the stairwell at the Tatsuyo for a few minutes. And she’d certainly been right to do it; she had escaped, while I hadn’t. 

This was the moment when I began to understand how unaware I’d been-not only in planning to run away, but in everything. I’d never understood how closely things are connected to one another. And it isn’t just the zodiac I’m talking about. We human beings are only a part of something very much larger. When we walk along, we may crush a beetle or simply cause a change in the air so that a fly ends up where it might never have gone otherwise. And if we think of the same example but with ourselves in the role of the insect, and the larger universe in the role we’ve just played, it’s perfectly clear that we’re affected every day by forces over which we have no more control than the poor beetle has over our gigantic foot as it descends upon it. What are we to do? We must use whatever methods we can to understand the movement of the universe around us and time our actions so that we are not fighting the currents, but moving with them. 

Mameha took up my almanac again and this time selected several dates over the following weeks that would be auspicious for significant change. I asked whether I should try to speak with Mother on one of the dates, and exactly what I should say. 

“It isn’t my intention to have you speak with Mrs. Nitta yourself,” she said. “She’ll turn you down in an instant. If I were her, so would I! As far as she knows, there’s no one in Gion willing to be your older sister.” 

I was very sorry to hear her say this. “In that case, Mameha-san, what should I do?” 

“You should go back to your okiya, Chiyo,” she said, “and mention to no one that you’ve spoken with me.” 

After this, she gave me a look that meant I should bow and excuse myself right then, which I did. I was so flustered I left without the Kabuki magazines and shamisen strings Mameha had given me. Her maid had to come running down the street with them. 

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