The Geisha and the Phantom.
It was the early afternoon after my Debut as an Apprentice Kyoto Geisha. My dresser had just finished tying my obi and I was sitting down at the dressing table to apply my makeup when Mother came in looking rather puzzled. I turned to ask her what was it that was making her look so upset, as it was unusual for her to be agitated in any way.
"Your Older Sister Ichikume wants you to get dressed and go to her apartment as soon as you can. She says there is a special engagement she wishes you to attend at the Shirae Teahouse."
"Thank you Mother," I said, "I shall leave directly."
After this I was thinking about this odd event so much that I messed up my Makeup and had to do it all again, so it was half an hour before I reached my Older Sister's Apartment. It seemed very strange to me that my Older Sister and I had been engaged to attend the Shirae Teahouse that evening, as it was not one of the places Geisha of our rank would be seen. Indeed, I had never set foot in there before, and had my misgivings about whether this was the correct message.
When her Attendant let me in I was to find Ichikume fully dressed in one of her best Kimono, one I had often admired. It was of bright orange silk, with a pattern of green bamboo leaves from the hem to the waist, and her obi was of green and gold squares. I had always thought her very beautiful, but it seemed to me that tonight she had made a special effort in her appearance.
When she saw me come in she said-
"Kiyuti, what are you wearing? Didn't your Mother tell you this was a very Formal Engagement?"
I looked down at my grey Kimono, with its obi of white and silver. It was one of my plainer ones, but I had thought it would be good enough for the Shirae.
"Does my Older Sister wish me to change my kimono?" I asked.
Ichikume looked at me critically.
"I think you should wear one of mine tonight. Tell my attendant to put you in my Cherry blossom. You'll look nice in that."
At this I was most amazed. It was very unusual for even a kind Older Sister to share her Kimono with her Younger Sister, and especially one of the best in her collection.
The Kimono was beautiful. Pale pink silk with white satin cherry blossoms edged in silver, with an obi of oyster silk, and a hair ornament of cut glass blossoms to go with it, and consequently I found myself almost speechless with the perfection of my borrowed ensemble. When I was dressed to Ichikume's satisfaction we knelt in her main room to take tea before we went to our engagement.
"Why is this engagement so important, my Sister?" I asked respectfully.
"Because the man who is holding this party is a good friend of my Danna, and he is bringing with him a Western gentleman."
This I understood. As a young girl I had not yet begun my training as a geisha, and had attended a normal school. There I had learnt a number of western languages and customs, and I was occasionally called upon to attend parties with Westerners who had problems with our language. It also explained why we were dressed so well, so Ichikume's Danna, her patron, would think well of her attention to his friend, and also why the party was at a lower class teahouse, as westerners were not welcome in most of the higher rank ones unless they were of great importance.
"Am I to be their translator?" I asked, almost certain of the reply.
"I understand the gentleman speaks good Japanese, so probably not. From what I am told by my Danna, this man is very…unusual. It is important that you treat him as you would any other. I want you to be at your most charming and sweet. Do you understand?" Ichikume looked at me with her most serious expression.
"Yes, My Sister." I said, puzzled about the entire event.
When we arrived at the Shirae I perceived how strange this evening was to be. Instead of the usual twenty or thirty Men and Geisha there were just five men and no other Geisha. Ichikume went straight to sit by the four men sitting on one side of the semi-circle seating arrangement. It seemed the party had been going for a while before we had got there as the Sake had been flowing and the four men seemed in a jovial mood. As I moved to sit beside Ichikume I became aware of the man sitting away from the others.
His face was hidden under the shadow of a wide brimmed hat and he was wearing western style clothes the first I had seen. He sat in absolute silence as if watching the others with quiet distain. As I looked over I noticed his cup was empty, and as a Geisha one of my duties was to keep cups filled.
I approached the Western Gentleman and poured sake into his cup and knelt to offer it to him.
"Forgive me Sir, I am an Apprentice and beg your indulgence. My name is Kiyuti."
"Thank you, Kiyuti. As to my indulgence, that is earned, and by the end of our meeting I doubt you would want it." His voice was just how I had hoped it would be, soft and dark like velvet, each word enunciated in perfectly accented Japanese. I found myself wondering how that voice would sound in another language, or in song. I mentally shook myself from this reverie. My Older Sister often scolded me for my little lapses of concentration.
As he leaned forward to speak the light showed his face. Fortunately my Older Sister had taught me well, and not a flicker passed over my face. He was wearing a white porcelain mask that covered his whole face, with dramatic uplifted eyeholes and a tiny slit for a mouth. It looked a bit like the masks worn in Noh theatre, and I was able to think of it as such, without wondering too much about why he was wearing it.
"In that case I hope that you will find me worthy of your indulgence, as I would be most upset if you found my company tiresome."
"My Dear, how old are you?" he said, sounding somewhat irritated.
I looked down and blushed, as an apprentice is meant to appear innocent and naïve.
"I am fifteen years old, Sir, I am year of the Tiger."
"Then you are too young to know how tiresome people can be. A Tiger, you say? I am year of the Dragon."
I nodded, smiling. Not many westerners knew how our astrology worked.
"I had though so, sir."
"Why would you think that? Do I scare you?"
"Of course not Sir! It is only that the Dragon trait is that of intelligence, grace and mystery, all three you exhibit to me, if I may say so Sir."
"Do they teach you how to flatter and tease so easily, or is it just a talent you have?" he said with what sounded like a snarl.
I looked down again, this time with shame. I had only been honest, and this strange man had made me feel like I had just received a slap to my cheek.
"Very well Sir. I am sorry to have been a trouble to you." I said stifly, blinking to clear the tears gathering in my eyes. I didn't understand why he disliked me so suddenly- I was one of the most popular apprentices in Gion. I rose to join my Older Sister at the other side of the room when he spoke again.
"Wait…I'm sorry. Please, sit down."
I looked at him, uncertain as to my course of action. In the end I resumed my position across from him and poured myself a cup of sake. As an apprentice this was unusual, but I felt in need of it to lessen the tension I could feel in my muscles. As I took a sip of the warm drink I regarded him.
At that moment I looked into his eyes and almost felt my heart break. I had never seen such eyes in my life. They were both of a different colour; one was the colour of Emeralds, and the other a dark Sapphire, and both were filled with more sadness than I had thought it possible for any one person to contain. At that moment I made a promise with myself that if I could make his pain any less then I would do anything I could. It was then that I had my first premonition of how important this man was to be to me. As I looked into his eyes, I became aware of the contrast between his tortured eyes and the placid expression of his mask.
"Do you come to Gion often, Sir?" I asked, feeling at a loss for conversation.
"No. This is my first time. My friend over there, enjoying the attentions of your companion, insisted that I come to his party. As I understand Japanese custom it would have been impolite to refuse an invitation from someone who I am working with."
"That is true Sir. If I may ask, what is it that you do?" I felt sure that this most unusual man could have no ordinary profession.
"Many things…I do what amuses me from time to time. Right now I am designing buildings. I am an Architect."
"That sounds very interesting Sir. What kind of buildings do you design?" I was feeling much better to have something to discuss, although I was not normally this inept. I had been taught the fine art of amusing conversation and could readily converse with knowledge and ease about a great many subjects, but this masked man had me parroting like a Maiko.
"My friend over there is interested in constructing a Theatre in Tokyo and wants me to see the Traditional buildings you have here. I must admit I find these buildings inspiring."
"I grew up here, so maybe I'm biased, but the buildings in the west seem so plain and somewhat angular to me. I love the buildings here, especially in Gion."
"You grew up here? I had not thought this area would harbour children."
"How do you think we get here? A little Geisha must be grown like any other child. I came here to start my training at eight years old, but before that I went to school in Pontocho."
"You start that young? Is there so much to learn?" he asked, sounding animated once more. I often talked about being a Geisha to Westerners, as they tended to find my life interesting, and it was always a good topic to fall back on.
"I think that there is not so much, only that you must grow up with it, then it comes naturally and there is not the difficulty that the older apprentices experience. There are some girls I know who are just starting their training and they are perfectly miserable."
"Why would they be miserable? It hardly seems like a hard life, going to parties all the time."
I shook my head. This was a common misconception.
"Whilst we do spend a lot of time at Parties, all of our other time is spent in instruction. We never stop going to lessons all the time we are Geisha. In fact I was lucky, as before I begun my training I had already begun learning Dance, Kouta and Shamisen."
"I see. There is nothing so strict where I come from."
"Where is that, Sir?"
"France. And now, I'm afraid I must take my leave of you."
Before he got up to go I handed him my calling card, that he might be able to contact my Okiya if he wanted my company again. He looked at it thoughtfully before putting it in his pocket.
"Please send for me if you ever want my company." I said, and found myself desperately wanting him to.
As he rose and said his goodbyes I moved over to the other side of the room to join my Older Sister, who was conducting a drinking game with the other guests. I turned to watch him go, and was rewarded with a wave of his hand from the doorway as he left. Such a small gesture, but I found it created a flutter in my heart, and the room seemed so empty without his commanding and enigmatic presence.
The rest of the night went without problems. We eventually went onto a few more parties, and the festivities wound down by about two o'clock.
As we approached my Okiya Ichikume stopped to talk to me.
"Kiyuti, you did very well today. Especially at the first party we went to. I had hoped you would talk to Erik-San and you did."
"Is that his name? Erik-San?"
"Yes. He is a very important man. You must be thinking about why he wears that mask. My advice is to just think that it is his face, or you might not be so polite next time you meet him."
"Will I be meeting him again, Ichikume?"
She smiled at me, her perfect white face in the shadows looking eerily like the mask of the man I had met that evening.
"I believe that he liked you, Kiyuti, and according to the friend of my Danna, that makes you important too."
"Why ever could that be, My Sister?" I was genuinely puzzled why Erik-San's liking me could be so important.
"He is Very Rich, Kiyuti."
That night as I lay waiting for sleep to come to me, I thought on the words of my Sister. I could only think of one reason why Ichikume would want a rich man to like me. Next year I was to have Mizu-age. Obviously I should get a high price for my virginity, or what was the point in keeping it? Did Ichikume intend this strange masked man for me? I got little sleep that night.
I did not see Erik-San again for many months. While I occasionally thought of him, particularly when we passed the Shirae, it was with very mixed emotions. Some times it was with wonder at why he wore a mask, and sometimes I thought of our next meeting, should such a thing ever happen. But mostly my mind was filled with that terrible sadness I had glimpsed in his eyes, and a burning desire to relive him of it. But what could an apprentice do to please such a man? As yet I was still considered a child by most other Geisha, still unversed in the intuitive observational skills needed to interpret men's particular tastes in entertainment. However, I had been taught by one of the best Geisha in Gion since I became a Maiko at the age of ten. I was very young by Gion's Standards, but not in the tradition of older Geisha. Now it was only the girl children of Geisha who began their training at the traditional age of three years and three days.
I had known I was to be a Geisha at a young age too. My family had been quite prosperous when I was very small, but had fallen on very hard times. Realising they could not make a good marriage for me so young, they decided that at least I should have a profession, and would be cared for.
The last of their money was used to prepare me for the hard life ahead. I had lessons, at which I learned the Arts that a Geisha would be required to learn like Shamisen and singing and attended School at the same time. It was there that I learnt English and French, mathematics, history, calligraphy and homemaking.
These skills stayed with me and I found I was able to make good use of them as a Geisha. As my Older Sister so often told me, in tones of high praise, not many other Geisha would be able to understand what Westerners were saying around her, or calculate whether she was being paid correctly for her time. Even my lessons in History were of use, as past events occasionally cropped up in conversation, and I was able to talk candidly and entertainingly about them. I thank my parents often for this schooling they gave me, as I believe without it I would never have been chosen by Ichikume to be her Younger Sister, which meant I was immediately elevated to Tenth Rank, even as a Maiko.
Ichikume regarded me as her Prodigy, I believe. As one of the highest ranking Geisha she was inundated with requests to take on promising young girls and could afford to be selective. As I was a good student, quite pretty and most importantly, obedient and alert, she chose me as her best investment. The better a Geisha I became, the more money she earned. It seemed clear to me then why Ichikume wanted me to be popular with the rich men who came to Gion.
It was a whole season later that I was to Meet Erik-San again, and by then the Cherry Blossoms were in full bloom. This was an extraordinarily busy time for Geisha, as aside from the usual round of parties in the evenings, there were daytime engagements too, like trips to the Hot Springs, rehearsals for the Spring Dances and cherry blossom viewing parties. It was at one of these that I glimpsed Erik-san, unmistakable even from the back, in his western suit and wide brimmed hat. As I watched him from below the Balcony where he stood, I observed him tentatively, lest he should notice. He was watching the other guests as they walked beneath the heaving branches, a cup of Sake in his hand. As I watched, he quickly lifted his mask to take a sip and just as quickly replaced it, suddenly frustrating me with curiosity as to what lay under it.
Just then a strong gust of wind blew around me, and a waterfall of pink and white petals danced in the air like a delicate lace veil, and as I lifted my eyes to the balcony once more I was to see Erik-San gazing down at me with such a penetrating stare. I smiled up at him, exuberant suddenly in his attention and lifted my hand in greeting. When the wind stopped showering me in blossoms he had gone from the balcony, and I saw him no more that day.
During the Rehearsals for the Spring Dances, in which I had a minor part, I was to overhear a conversation between two Geisha whilst they practiced their fan movements. As I was not needed for a while I was waiting behind the curtain and could hear them plainly.
"Did you go to the Gankari last night?" asked one.
"No. I was at the Shimitsu. Why, was there anyone interesting there?"
"Yes, if you like ghosts."
"Now you are being silly, Hatsuoko. You expect me to believe there was a ghost attending a party at the Gankari?"
"Indeed there was, Maiyaha. A ghost in a black suit and white mask."
At this I stood up and moved closer to the Geisha, so as to hear them better.
"You mean an actor. It is not surprising. After all, many people, even actors come to Gion for the Dances."
"No, I swear, he was a ghost! He sat away from everyone else and no one even looked at him, like he was not there! After an hour or so, he got up and left."
"Hatsu, this is a very childish tale. Have you no sense? He was probably waiting for people to come, or waited behind from another party. I suggest you forget about it and concentrate on your fan."
My heart became heavy after hearing this conversation. Erik-San had attended another Party in Gion and had not sent for me. I felt curiously disappointed that I had not entertained him sufficiently to make a good impression upon him. By this time I was going to Parties on my own and was free to attend any that I was requested to, even without my Older Sister. I decided to ask Ichikume on my way home if she had heard anything about him from other Geisha. My fascination with this masked man was growing, and I felt I must see him again soon, or I did not know what I would do.
Fortunately, Ichikume was pleased I had enquired after Erik-San and did not scold me for being impertinent. She told me only that he attended very few Parties in Gion and had excluded himself at every one. As far as she was aware, I had been the only Geisha to approach him, and that she had no doubt that I had made a favourable impression. When I told her of my wish to speak with him again she promised to try and get me invited to a party that he was sure to attend. In the mean time, she warned me, he might come to the Spring Dances, as many rich and influential men came, often paying for parts for their Geisha as a gift.
I understood that Ichikume would try and find out if Erik-San was going to attend and I threw myself into my part with a will.
The Spring Dances in Gion are always Themed, with the stories told revolving around this theme. This year it was "The Royal Dragons" and the premier Geisha, including Ichikume, were all given the parts of the Dragons. Ichikume was to play a Red Dragon, one of the Lucky Dragons and a very auspicious portent for me as the Red Dragon is the smartest and most cunning in the story we were to act out. I myself played a salamander attendant of hers who finds the Emperor's Daughter in the clutches of the Grey Dragon, and leads her Master to her, allowing her to be rescued by the Red Dragon. The rest of the story is about how the Red Dragon restores the Emperor's Daughter to him and is given her as his bride as a reward. I thought it a beautiful story, and the dances for each scene particularly moving.
One week later, a few days before the Performance I chanced to ask Ichikume whether she had heard anything about Erik-San, worried she might find me impatient and scold me for it. Instead she smiled at me and said,
"Seeing how hard you have worked on your Salamander Dance it would be a pity if he did not come wouldn't it? But I believe that many performers work better under some kind of stress, and so I am not going to tell you if I know or not."
I knew better than to appear upset with this apparent show of cruelty from my beloved Older Sister. I relied upon her for so much that if she believed I would perform better with this tension like a rope twisting my insides then I would endure it, and continue to hope that Erik-San would be there.
On the first night of the dances I scanned the audience every chance I could, but did not see him. I would have been consoled by talking to my Older Sister about my feelings, but her Danna had taken her away as soon as the Performance ended, not even waiting to collect all the cards and gifts that the audience had sent.
I was not my usual self at my engagements that night, but this was not of note to anyone, as they assumed I had simply been tired out by the performance, but I felt like crying behind my carefully schooled indulgent smile. I left early that night under the pretence that I needed my rest for the Performance the next day. As I walked home alone through the dark streets my heart lay so heavy in my breast that I felt I should surely sink into the ground underneath my feet and disappear from view.
The next night I felt sure he would be there. After all, I reasoned, tickets for the first night were very expensive, and only available to the most influential people. He did not come to the second performance either, nor the next. By the last night this tension I had been suffering for weeks had become almost routine for me and I moved through my dance like an automaton, every move exact and as perfect as I could make it. At the very end as all the performers assembled on stage to thank the audience I looked around tentatively, not daring to hope that Erik-San might actually have been in attendance. Suddenly I glimpsed the familiar white mask and the hat that kept it in shadow up on the high gallery. He stood, looking down upon us in all our exhausted finery, his gaze fixed upon the area of stage upon which I stood. Enraptured, I lifted my hand to him, feeling suddenly as if I knew how the westerners felt when they talked about their god in the sky who looked down and saw all things.
Upon my return to my Okiya that night I found a note addressed to me, with its most simple message;
"Your performance touched no one tonight so much as it did I. E."
A week after the Dances a request came in for me to attend the Shimitsu Teahouse later that night. Naturally I hoped that this was the invitation Ichikume had told me Erik-San might send, so I spent longer on my makeup than usual, and wore one of my best Kimonos. The one I chose was a blue the colour of a winter sky, decorated in golden leaves, with a green and blue obi. I also put on a hair ornament in the shape of a golden sun, and a small fan of bamboo leaves. When I thought I looked good enough for the night ahead I went to sit with Mother while I waited for the rest of my appointments to be finalised.
I talked for a while about the maids we had in the house and how Mother though two of them should begin their training next week, and how another girl was unsuitable and might remain a maid if she did not improve. She impressed upon me the notion that I might have a talk with this girl about how important it is to work hard and I agreed. After one of the maids gave me my pocket book with my appointments written in it I left for the Shimitsu, hoping, of course, to see Erik-San there.
When I arrived there were already quite a large number of men and Geisha already seated. As I introduced myself and greeted the other Geisha I knew I looked about for Erik-San and found him seated some way away from the festivities, as usual. After taking a cup of Sake with a regular patron of mine and telling a few jokes to the other men, I excused myself and went to sit by Erik-San.
"Good evening Erik-San. Are you enjoying the Party?" I asked, smiling what I knew was my most innocent smile.
"No, Kiyuti, I am not. I have the most dreadful case of ennui."
"Why could that be? Erik-San is in the company of several most entertaining and accomplished Geisha. Surely we are not so tiresome to you?" I was pleased that he had remembered my name.
"No, My Dear," he said with his usual drawl that was like velvet to my ears.
"I find them to be charming from afar, although I hesitate to think what they would make of me. No, it is the men I find tiresome. As soon as their work is over they think of nothing but Sake and Geisha. I, however, have different interests."
"Perhaps Erik-San might care to talk about what interests him?" I said eagerly, hoping my nervousness was not showing. He had not said anything about the note, and I was beginning to fear that he had not in fact sent it.
"How do you know my Name, Kiyuti? I feel sure I would have remembered if I told it to you."
"My Older Sister told it to me." I said puzzled at this change in subject.
"My name is not something I am used to hearing, Kiyuti. I tell it to few, and still fewer I would allow to use it as they would like."
"Why would that be, Sir?" I quickly reverted to calling him by something other than his name, regretting immediately the loss of the illusion of intimacy it had given me.
"Names have power, Kiyuti. A power that I know how to use…amongst others...but I suppose in your case I will make an exception."
I did not know what to say to this, although my heart lifted with joy, so I filled his cup with spring Sake, sweeter than normal. My only thought was to change the subject, turn it around so as to find out more about this man who so intrigued me, without seeming to pry or be impertinent.
"Then do you know what the meanings of our names are?"
"I do, though not in context. Your name means Fox Flower, does it not?
I laughed; genuinely please that someone had worked it out who wasn't a geisha. It was in truth an odd name for a Geisha, as the Fox Flower was a type of Wildflower, not a garden bloom, as would be a normal choice.
"Yes, It does. What does your name mean, Sir?"
"Well, it is not a Japanese name. In my country it means Victor, or Conqueror. If it were Japanese it would mean…Turning. Hmm, quite appropriate, I think."
"Our language is a complicated thing I know. But one thing Japanese and French share- we both use ennui, although it has a different meaning for us. Whist you might be bored, we would be with our families!"
"Yes, Ennui in Japanese means Kin, or Family. Tell me, do you speak any other languages?" he sounded suddenly interested, or maybe it was my childish desire for him to seem so.
"But of course, monsieur," I said in French. "I know both French and English, although, only enough to get by.
"I leaned them both when I was young, and have continued my studies as a geisha." I said, in English.
He laughed then, a joyful musical sound that I had never imagined I would ever hear. I looked into his eyes then, smiling widely, exuberated that I had taken away his pain for however long I could amuse him.
He sighed when he looked at me, and I realised we had been looking into each other's eyes for some time, a thing that, as a demure and innocent apprentice, would have been considered familiar and impertinent. I quickly looked away and sipped from my cup of Sake.
When I glanced back at him he seemed suddenly serious, as if what had passed between us just before had never happened.
"Why are you here?" he asked, his tone almost accusing.
"I was requested to come, Sir. If you would rather I not sit by you, you need only say. I would not inflict myself upon you if you did not wish it, Sir." I felt my forehead crease unbidden into a frown. I had believed this meeting to be going well.
"At all the other parties I have been obliged to attend, you are the only Geisha who has attempted to make conversation with me. I find that suspicious. Why would you want to spend your time with one such as me? Why?" this last word was almost barked at me, so sharp was its tone, and so contrasted to the sound of his laughter of moments ago.
I felt very hurt by his distrust, although what he thought my motives to be eluded me. What harm could I do? I had only thought to entertain him, to please him in the small ways I could.
I let my confusion show on my face and composed myself to speak what I thought might appease him.
"Sir, I mean no harm to you. I had thought that my company might be pleasing to you, as it seemed to me the last time we met. If I was under the wrong impression then please forgive me. When I saw you at the Cherry Blossom Viewing and the Spring Dances I was so pleased that you were there and hoped to speak to you then, but you were nowhere to be found, though I searched."
"I left very soon after I saw you. I had to catch a train to Tokyo that afternoon, and could not afford to tarry long. I apologise if I seemed rude. I had hoped the note I had sent might have made up for it."
He said this with some difficulty, and I had a glimpse of the man that lay under his imperious and distaining manner to the gentle and thoughtful man within. He did not seem the kind to apologise readily for his behaviour, so I accepted his assurances with pleasure, and said so. Soon after this he expressed his intention to leave, but I got up and followed him into the hall. As he put on his long black cape he opened the door and stepped out into the crisp night air, still heavy with the scent of blossom and spice that is the continual scent of spring in Gion.
"Sir!" I called out to him, and he turned back to me.
"What do you want, Kiyuti?" he said, sounding puzzled at my approach.
"Only your gracious favour, Sir. Next time you attend a Party, please do not hesitate to request me. Please do not think me forward, but I enjoy your company, Sir."
At this he seemed to change in his demeanour and suddenly it was as if the air between us had grown heavy and was filled with tiny sparks. He walked back to me slowly, reminding me of a cat stalking a bird with the grace and surety of his movements. He stopped not five inches away from me and I was suddenly made aware of how tall and broad he was. He seemed both powerful and imperious at that moment and I felt my heart fluttering like a caged bird in my chest.
He reached out as if to touch my face then drew back as if burned.
"I will send for you." He whispered, very softly, before turning away and walking through the gate.
Over the next three months I attended parties and concerts at Erik-San's request several times, and although nothing was said about it, I felt that he was growing accustomed to my attention.
By this time it was summer, and the hot springs were soon calling everyone of importance away from Gion for a while.
It was during this time that Erik-San himself expressed a wish to visit the hot springs, and the wish that I should come with him. Of course, I was delighted to go, as I had not seen the springs before as I was too young, and now I was a Geisha all my time spent with Patrons must be paid for. The cost of bringing me with him must have been great, as instead of paying only my usual hourly rate, and then only for a few hours at a time, he would be paying full rate for days of my company. Of course many men brought their favourite geisha with them, although according to some of the cruder geisha I knew, this was only an excuse to see them naked in the water without having to pay extra for the privilege!
While I tried to relax and enjoy this little interlude my head was full of thoughts about Erik-San. We stayed but a few days and for most of the day he was nowhere to be found, but left notes telling me where he had gone, sometimes with gifts of English sweets or orchids. Although I enjoyed the time I spent alone or with the other geisha, I always longed for the lengthening of the shadows that would bring him back to me. The teahouses by the Resort were large and gaudy affairs, the rooms themselves large as banqueting halls, with small circles of tables filling it. Every evening Erik-San would choose the most secluded seating area, paying for a screen to be erected around us to prevent the inquisitive stares he attracted everywhere he went. While we ate and drank Erik-San would talk of his travels across the whole of the continent, his journey across Siberia and his fascination with the Fakirs of India. Suddenly he changed the subject.
"Do Geisha ever fall in love, Kiyuti?" he asked with a sigh.
At this I gave a little thoughtful frown. This was a difficult question, although it might not seem so for a westerner.
"Some Geisha have Sir. But as it is unlikely her love will be requited, the Geisha who do are considered most unfortunate. Geisha should not love anyone, if their lives are to be bearable."
After I had said this I found Erik-San looking at me with his penetrating stare, as if he would see right through me.
"You are a very intelligent girl, aren't you? You watch yourself constantly, changing yourself at every word I speak. I'm beginning to think that I don't know you as well as I had thought."
I was shocked at this, but I knew what he meant. It was true.
"Sir, I am a Geisha. This is…what we have to do…to be pleasing." I stuttered.
"But is it you I'm talking to? All this finery, your makeup, the kimono. I have never seen you without some sort of cover for your real self."
I looked at him, my eyes wide.
"I could say the same about you, Sir!"
He left the room in such a hurry that I was scared of what he meant to do. But my training came to me again and after a couple of gulps of sake I went back to my chamber and instructed my dresser to lay out my futon and sent the maid for tea and some more rice wine.
I sat in solitude for some time, thinking about what Erik-San had said. Was I really this collection of garments and ornaments? Was there someone in me who did not always watch what she did?
I had thought before this day that I knew who I was, but now…I had no idea. Every other thought I had was a Geisha thought-I could not seem to find another girl in my mind. With this search still in mind I sent the maid for some hot water, and took off my kimono. I washed away all of the makeup on my body, from my face, my neck and hands. I undid my hair from its traditional style, the Momoware, and brushed it out. It had been so long since I had seen myself like this. I stood before the mirror and saw a thin Japanese girl, not especially pretty, with waist length black hair. For the first time, I studied myself as if I was to be tested. My hips were large for my frame, as were my breasts, and my waist seemed tiny to me. My face, that I had painted white every day for five years, was a mystery. I could not see me in my eyes, no matter what expression I used. Sinking into a bath, I thought, is this me? This naked, unadorned one? I cried, my tears splashing into the water like raindrops.
It was much later, as I sat in my nightgown preparing for bed, that I heard a tapping at my door. I opened it to find Erik-San, his head in his hands and shaking from head to foot. I hastily begged him to come in and sit down and have some sake with me, which he did, his hands still covering his mask.
"I'm so sorry…" he whispered as I poured him a drink. I handed it to him as I replied,
"You have nothing to be sorry about. It is I who should be sorry. I should not have spoken to you as I did. I beg your forgiveness, Erik-San."
"You've never even asked…never wanted…Why?" he whispered between sobs. I was wracked with pain for him by this time. His weeping threw me. I had seen him so powerful and imperious before, and now his tears made me feel so much more.
" I have never asked anything of you, except for some of your time." I was struggling not to begin crying again.
"Please…" he whispered, and I opened my arms to him and held him tenderly as he cried.
"Do you want to see?" he asked when his breathing calmed. In all the time we had known each other I had often wondered what lay behind his mask, but I thought that this should not be the time for that.
"Do you still want to know who I am?" I asked. He had not looked at me since he had entered the room.
He slowly raised his eyes to mine and saw me for the first time without all the falseness of makeup and ornaments. His eyes, looking so deep into mine, held such sorrow and heartbreak that I felt my tears begin again. I blinked them away, so as not to blur this vision before me. We sat tangled together on the floor, and I realised I had never been so close to a man before. I thought I should draw back, but then another voice in my head told me no, that this was right. It was my voice. I had found the real girl in my head.
"I'm Samiho again! Oh Erik-San!" I laughed through my tears. "Erik san, I'm Samiho!"
"You are? Then Kiyuti…?"
"Is the Geisha. That is my Geisha name. My parents named me Samiho, and you have helped me find her again."
"I'm sorry…I did not realise…that the very thing I had accused you of was something you had tolerated in me since the beginning! …I will show you, you know…if you want to see me. I trust you, Ki…Samiho."
I felt how hard this was for him, but understood that he wanted me to know him, as he wanted to know me.
"Erik…I wont be frightened, I promise."
He took off the mask and laid it aside, and lifted his eyes, once again to mine.
It seemed I had imagined worse in my idle daydreams.
His whole face was deeply scared, the flesh veined and red, smooth in some places and rough in others. Only his lashless eyes looked out of that face which seemed to me like another mask, but I knew was his real face, and the reason he moved through the world as he did. I looked with compassion and tenderness upon that which was his only flaw, and thought about his life, how people must have reacted to him. I was not frightened. I loved him.
I gathered him to me and held him close for some time, feeling his rapid heard beat slow, with the realisation that I was not frightened or disgusted with his face, and that I still desired his company. I did not know that I loved him then, but from this encounter, an understanding developed between us.
That night as I lay alone on my futon I thought about what it would be like to have him lie next to me, to hold me…to kiss me.