To Carve a Pumpkin
I couldn't help but feel a little angry. I knew Chiyo hadn't actually stolen Hatsumomo's emerald brooch, but finding myself kneeling at the door, waiting for Hatsumomo to return from the teahouse, when it was no longer supposed to be my responsibility made me a bit upset. I stared blankly at the new lock at the door, knowing that even though Hatsumomo wouldn't be back until late in the night, I couldn't move a muscle, less I risk the very unlikely chance of something coming up and her arriving earlier. I didn't want to be punished any more then I already was--it was going to be in for a long night.
I probably could have recited the song we'd learned in school today and made good use of the time, but instead I sat fantasizing about Mother adopting me and what I would do once I had the okiya under my control. The Nitta okiya would be the best in all of Gion, I'd make sure of that. Of course, by that point, I would already be a renowned geisha myself, drifting from teahouse to teahouse, making even more then poor Hatsumomo, who will have started to wrinkle and grey from all her concentrated meanness. It was a wonderful dream I'd spent much time constructing whenever I had time to think. Running this okiya was the single goal I wanted more the anything.
It only took a few hours for my mind to get sick of itself. I had grown tired of even my wonderfully imagined future. My futon seemed to be calling to me, promising to be soft and comfortable, but I could not answer its most intriguing offer. My eyelids were getting heavy and they kept drifting shut, only to be snapped open several seconds later when I realized I start to nod off. Despite how easy it would be to nap, I knew I couldn't. However, after spending many months sitting in this precise spot for hours on end, I'd learned a little technique to drift off in a restful state without actually losing consciousness.
I shifted slightly, a little closer to the wall, and leaned on it. The wood was cool against my cheek and the sound of voices in the street became magnified as my ear pressed to it. They sounded strange and warped, but it wasn't the voices I was listening for. This would alert me to the sound of Hatsumomo's footsteps so I could jump up and open the door as if I'd been sitting alert as ever. Only then did I allow my eyes to close and my body to fall into a state of utter peace.
I wasn't sure how much time had passed, but the sound of footsteps alerted me to Hatsumomo's presence. I scooted forward quickly, back to the correct spot, and hurriedly opened the door. I stared down at the floor, expecting to see her to step in, but instead, a there was a voice. My head snapped upwards to see a maid I did not recognize standing there. It was incredibly unusual for someone to be making a call so late, I kneeled there a little dumbfounded until the woman spoke again.
"Hello? Are you missing a small girl with eyes of water?"
I whipped around, looking over at Chiyo's futon to see it completely empty. I could feel the blood drain from my face and my stomach lurch with a jolt of fear. Chiyo had escaped? Impossible! I'd been sitting at the door since she'd gone to bed. There was no possible way she could have left the okiya without me knowing. The terror that built up in me formed a tangible force that kept me completely frozen as I realized I'd be blamed. Even though it was not my fault Chiyo had run away, I'd let her slip through somehow, and I already knew I was going to be punished.
"Little girl, are you missing a member of your okiya or not?"
Her voice managed to snap me out of my head. I slowly turned to look at her again and gave a single nod, pulling myself up so I was standing. I knew I was condemning myself as I quietly pattered up the stairs, but I knew I had no other choice. I went to the person who was least likely to slap me first. Auntie woke, a hand automatically going to the key dangling around her neck so she could go lock the door behind Hatsumomo. It was only with great reluctance that I spoke up, making her go still for a moment.
"There is a woman here. She has found Chiyo outside the okiya." I heard myself say quietly, eyes dropped to the wooden floors.
There was a brief silence before Auntie launched herself up, her expression a mixture of anger and regret. Without paying me any mind, she quickly composed herself and stepped passed me, to go greet our guest. Only at the doorway did she stop and turn to me.
"Go wake Mother. Tell her what has happened."
That was the last thing I wanted to do, but I most certainly could not protest--I was lucky Auntie hadn't already hit me there. Without waiting for me to confirm that I would--we both knew I was going to--she quickly rushed downstairs; at least as quickly as she could hobble. It took some convincing to get my legs to move, but the next thing I knew, I was standing outside Mother's door, trying to summon up the courage to actually open it. When I did, Mother awoke with little trouble, looking up at me with her hard yellowed eyes, obviously confused and irritated by my presence.
"What, Pumpkin?" she demanded, sitting up in her bed.
I fixed my eyes on the pattern of the sheets, speaking quietly, the quiver in my voice apparent despite my attempt to conceal it, "Chiyo has escaped. Auntie is going to fetch her now."
What happened next was a blur. Mother lashed out at me with the speed of a praying mantis and before I could recover from the hit, I felt myself being dragged by my clothing towards the door. I cried out and that was the noise that doomed me, although I didn't realize that in that instant. I heard a loud grumble come from the direction of Granny's room. I'd woken her up. I couldn't focus on that, though, because now I was being pulled up to my feet and shoved down the staircase. I barely caught myself, but I managed to stop myself from tumbling forward. I had no choice but to keep moving as Mother grabbed a fistful of my night robe and steered me in the direction she wanted me to go. My heart skipped as I realized our destination.
Once we were in the courtyard, Mother threw me down, so I scraped my palms on the laid stone, began to yell at me, "You idiot! How could you have let her escape? Did you decide you deserved a nap? Did you think you were too important to do your duty?"
She smacked me with a bamboo stick I hadn't realized she'd grabbed, ushering a cry as the sting settled on me.
No, Mother!" I pleaded, raising my hands to defend my head, "I was there the whole time! I don't know how Chiyo escaped!"
"What is going on here?" Granny had worked her way down the stairs and was standing at the sliding door of the okiya, watching me with narrowed eyes.
I didn't hear as Mother explained to Granny what had happened, because Chiyo was pulled into the courtyard as well, dragged by Auntie who was chastising her about running away. I watched her get splashed with water and then smacked with a stick as well. I couldn't help but feel she deserved it, because she'd run away and now I had to be punished. Chiyo had only thought of herself; why should I be concerned for her when she couldn't extend the same courtesy to me?
I did notice, however, when Mother handed the rod to Granny. I looked up at her in horror, realizing that I was going to get much more hurt then Chiyo ever would. A beating by Granny was something to be avoided at all costs. I didn't recognize the scream that ripped from my throat after it came crashing down on me. The pain bloomed in almost a beautiful way, throwing tremors through my body as I curled up on the ground. Over and over again, the bamboo stick sprang down, until I was almost numb to it, shaking violently as my cries colored the night.
Then just as quickly as it had started, it was over. I was left lying there, oblivious to the world around me. It took me several minutes to even want to move. I slowly turned my head, looking in the direction of the okiya. Chiyo was also lying on the ground, looking shaken, but in much better shape than I most certainly was. Our eyes met and I could see the guilt and sorrow reflected in her unusually grey eyes. I felt like she'd betrayed me entirely. This was all her fault.
I looked at her and for the first time, I realized I was capable of hating her.