My original intention was to have this be a oneshot, but, in the middle, I realized that this was going to be a very long piece. So I chopped it into pieces. Enjoy.
I should have been a star.
It was my right, my destiny to be much more. I was supposed to be immortal!
Then she came. That little whore came and stole everything.
Now look at me – wasting away in a dingy little joru-ya on the outskirts of Tokyo. I'm living in the worst conditions imaginable, servicing these disgusting peasants. Every once in a while a businessman comes, either to laugh or to live out a long held fantasy. They're all the same; symbols of what I've become, of what she made me. I was born to be a star, lived as a star, and now I'm dying a whore.
My life has always been this way – an unimaginable mess. I've done nothing, and here's where I end up. I suppose it's the spirit of my mother at work.
She always got in my way, even long after she died. But, she was famous; the great Akimitsu. She was a beautiful woman, and had the best of everything. She lived in the wealthiest okiya in Gion, was their principal earner, and her danna was a member of the royal family. She could've ridden her wave of good fortune until she died, if she hadn't been such a fool. In the spring of 1909, she did something that people in Gion would hail for years afterward as one of the dumbest things a geisha has ever done; she had me.
Plenty of geisha have children – many often encourage it, to give an air of prestige and to ensure future geisha. But only a fool of a woman would have one before she was retired, and Akimitsu was only twenty-nine. She didn't even know who the father was – her danna or an illicit boyfriend of hers.
It should've ruined her, foolish woman. Thankfully, the mistress of her okiya was a lot more clever and passed me off as the child of one of the maids. My name back then was Chihiro. Because I technically had no father and no mother (that anyone would acknowledge), I had no family name – just Chihiro. It caused a bit of a stir that she allowed a maid to get pregnant in the first place, let alone have the child, but it was still nowhere near the tsunami of a scandal that would've taken place had it been known that I was Akimitsu's.
I only wish someone had told me.
I grew up for the first few years of my life truly believing that I was born a maid. That is, until the day came when everything changed.
At age 8, I still had no clue that the biggest star in Gion was my mother. All I knew was that she was the empress of our okiya, and everyone was expected to treat her as such. I remember her giving no hints that she was my mother; she was cold and very distant, like she was to the other maids. But I was drawn to her, drawn to what she stood for – a life of ease and celebrity.
I have a memory of myself back then. One of the maids tried to tease me by asking me what I wanted to be growing up. I looked her right in the eye and said "I want to be like Akimitsu". The old crones laughed so hard they cried. For years after becoming a geisha, I replayed that memory in my head while looking in the mirror just before I went out for the night. For years after becoming a geisha, I left the okiya with a smile.
Then, it happened. I have no idea who he was, but it was rumored that her danna loved the water. I don't know if it was true or not, but he was acquainted with it enough to invite her and a few others to a boating excursion that summer. That day, she looked exquisite as always – delicate features placed upon a tall and willowy body. She was wrapped in a beige kimono with embroidered blue waves at the hem and sleeves, paired with an obi of flame-red with swirls in orange laqured thread. I knew I would have been reprimanded for staring, but I couldn't stop; everytime I saw her preparing to leave in those beautiful silk robes, it steeled my determination to become just like her. But, I never wanted to meet her end.
The excursion had lasted all afternoon. Later that evening, just as the sky began to darken, the drunken fools decided to shoot some fireworks off of the boat. It seemed a marvelous way to end the day, until they managed to set fire to the boat. On a wooden pleasure boat filled with sake, it took no time for it to go up in flames. Out of the seven or so people on the boat, three died. One of them was Akimitsu – she had drowned trying to swim to shore. So had her danna. Believe it or not, I mourned more for the loss of that beautiful kimono than for the death of my idol.
Arrangements for a rather humble ceremony had been made. I thought it odd that a woman so popular and beloved as Akimitsu had received such a plain and somber funeral, until I realized that the mistress had done so to avoid out-performing the funeral of a member of the royal family.
For weeks afterward we resumed life as usual, but minus our empress. Our other geisha were all popular and successful, but could never measure up to her, so I kept her image alive in my head, swearing to her spirit that I would take her place at the top of Gion.
Early January, we welcomed the New Year with guests from all over, many of them coming simply out of respect for my dead mother's memory. Then, one night, a week after New Years' day, a geisha named Hanayo came. I remembered her because she came to the okiya often, as she was one of Akimitsu's closest friends. I was coming back from the privy, and would have walked right past if I hadn't noticed her kimono. It looked like something Akimitsu would wear; a blue-gray piece with pure white snow banks reaching the hip, tied together with a black obi with a forest of dark evergreen trees. Little did I know, but it was Akimitsu's; she had given it to Hanayo as a gift. If it weren't for Hanayo's smaller, shapeless figure, I would have imagined that Akimitsu had risen from the dead.
She never took any notice of me before, but today, her eyes flashed with alarm and recognition when she saw me, though I couldn't imagine why. Whatever I made of it, it made no difference – the mistress shooed me away and swept her guest into her office.
Hours later, I had forgotten the experience and was preparing for bed, when the mistress called me in. I was immediately alarmed when I saw her – she was pale and she looked like she had just gained her composure after a fit of some sort.
"What's wrong, miss?"
"Just get in here child. Stop wasting time!" The old woman's tone rubbed me the wrong way, but I still went, curious as to what could've rattled our usually dignified mistress. In her office, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, just a letter on the desk, and a mass of used tobacco in the ashtray. After she seated herself, she took up the letter, read it one more time, looked at me, and sighed.
"Chihiro, what do you know of yourself?"
"Only that I am a maid. It's all I've ever known."
"Has Akimitsu ever said anything unusual to you? You remember Akimitsu, don't you?"
"I remember her quite well, miss. But, she's never said anything to me at all, unless it was an order."
"So you wouldn't know anything about a will?"
"Excuse me, but, what is a 'will'?" At this she sighed and glanced at the letter one last time.
"Can you read and write well yet, Chihiro?"
"Yes, very well." She shoved the paper into my hands and commanded me to read it. It was a short letter written in a flowing hand – undoubtedly a woman of class, most likely a geisha. I unfolded it and read it very carefully. I was shocked that it was addressed to me, and my astonishment only grew as I read on. It said:
I'm very sorry, but if you are reading this, it means that I have passed. I can
only hope that Hanayo didn't wait too long to get this to you. I'm sorry that
I had to treat you so coldly when I was alive, but I couldn't afford any
suspicion. The truth is I am your mother. You are my daughter, and as such
it is your right to be a geisha. I have the details all written out in my will, which
is with the mistress. Rest assured that all was for the best and still is.
That not only was the greatest geisha in Gion – and my idol – my mother, but that she meant for me to be a geisha also! I was shell-shocked. No wonder the mistress looked so devastated; if her having a child was enough of a scandal to ruin her star geisha, this would bring the whole okiya down! This was so unheard of that it was sure to rock all of Gion to its foundation. But I didn't know this back then, nor would I have cared; all I knew was that I was going to be a geisha. Or so I thought. No sooner than had I stopped reading, the mistress yanked the letter out of my hands.
"Idiot girl! Does she know what she's done?! This will be the death of us all. And don't even think anything she said in that letter is true! You will never become a geisha. If I can help it, no one will ever hear of this again! I've already paid off Hanayo. But you, child…" Here she rose up and grabbed the front of my robe. "You will never speak of this again, do you hear me? If you ever want to see the light of day, speak a word of this to no one! Don't even act like you've heard of it, for Heaven's sake. The only reason I'm showing you this is because it's your right to know who your mother was. But I never want to hear the word 'will' come out of your mouth! Is that clear?"
All I could say was a hurried "yes, miss". What else could I have said? When she was satisfied that she had thoroughly terrified me, she let me go and sent me to the maids' room. I was so flustered that I nearly passed it altogether. As I hid under the covers, my fear gave way to sadness for my dead mother. But soon, my sadness gave way to anger. How dare she! Dozens of geisha have given birth to daughters who had no problem becoming geisha themselves. Why was I to be excluded?
That night, I made a vow to myself, almost as solemn as the one to follow in Akimitsu's footsteps; I was going to become a geisha, no matter what. The life she lead – one of carefree extravagance, leisure, and celebrity – that life could only be attained by becoming a geisha. It was my birthright. I didn't care how bad of a scandal it would've caused; that will contained my right as Chihiro, daughter of Akimitsu, to be a geisha. And no one was going to take it from me.
If you enjoyed that – and you enjoy anime- please read some of my other pieces. Chapter 2 will be up shortly. Please review!