DISCLAIMER: I do not own Ghost Hunt characters. Even though I'm using facts, explanations that cannot be found in any reference come from my own cognition or imagination.
It's still early in the evening, but I haven't slept well last night because of Missus's lecture on what I should do on my initiation and an untimely physician visit in the middle of the night. Now that I'm starting to feel drowsy, I might wake up tomorrow and think of everything that happened tonight as a dream and this fine gentleman in front of me as a mere fantasy.
"I'm tired..." I mutter and peek at Shibuya-san with drooping eyes. "Since we're not doing anything, can I sleep now? You can tell the clerks below that nothing happened between us and that you're getting your money back... It doesn't matter anymore... The physician will know you're telling the truth anyway..." Worn out, I flop down on the futon before I can even hear a reply.
But one thought swirls in my mind before my consciousness sinks into the mire of sleep: Tomorrow...will be cloudless.
End of Review
I arise, sit upright, and find myself alone as I'd expected.
Beyond the now-opened red lattice window of the room, the sun casts a sheen outside. Past the moat surrounding Yoshiwara, the withering, tall sakura trees block the view of the town nearby, but I can see through the gaps of its branches as they sway with the wind. Far away, the newly flooded paddy fields shimmer. The thatched roofs of numerous huts appear inviting with their protection from sultriness.
The view is cruel and the Missus more so for giving me a room that has a vista of Yoshiwara's outskirts—of the town outside the towering walls and gates that seclude the whole pleasure district. The sight gives off a bitter aftertaste, a pang in the stomach, and a lump in my throat. Such longing to go outside just frustrates me more.
But... The mid-morning looks different. I admire the sky past the red windows.
Yet...it's cloudless... Did I just imagine that last night a cloud has become a rung, a step forward to the sky? Did I just suddenly start dreaming of attaining the unreachable sky because of a stranger? Did 'last night' even occur? Does such a stranger exist? Or could I have been simply dreaming?
But if I had been dreaming... Why am I in one of the pleasure rooms?
I swish my head around and confirm Shibuya-san's absence. Is he just my dream's figment? A manifestation of my wishful thinking? A guardian angel appearing in dreams to satisfy my hope that someone exists to save me from this hell of a place?
I feel despicable. When did I start to rely on someone to take me out of here? How could I be so pathetic to depend on someone, a figment of a dream or whoever, to give me freedom?
I have long ago sworn to myself that I will get out of this place by my own strength, even if it looks impossible. But... Hopelessness makes me lazy and exhausted. Even if I've sworn to myself about escaping... the times are hard, and thoughts change.
I've stopped dreaming about escaping ever since kami-knows-when. So why dream of escaping again right now? Why dream of a stranger who offers me some key to freedom? It doesn't make any sense...
I sigh and hang my head low. It is foolish of me, but the outsider who appeared in my slumber or whatever revives the dying hope within me. If it were another vivid dream, it is quite the tempting one. Every part of my soul wants to leap out the window and dash through the streets beyond the moat—going as far away as another country if possible.
But that scheme isn't really plausible for any human, especially from the seventh floor. One can't jump into the deep-looking moat unless one has an elaborate plan for crossing over that particular gulf to the adjacent town. If I fall with ease from a window, a breezy landing doesn't really follow—and I don't think it'll even be called landing (but rather a splash instead). An instant suicide isn't really my idea of a great escapade from this mundane-type of perdition.
My orbs drift to the floor, and what I spot makes me rethink, reorganize, and redivide my real mind's eye from the mere bubbles. Splintered and unswept, the mask... The mask of Shibuya-san remains on the floor. Elation blankets me in entirety. It's as if the broken demon mask transfers some residual energy to me...
An energy to break free.
I've never really acted rebellious. My mind is rebellious, but the rebellion only stays in my mind. I've...never really done anything to get what I want... I've never tried at all.
But then what? If I get out of Orihime, where will I even go? Who will even take me in? How can I even survive? I may be able to find a job. But then what? That's it? My life is no more than being emancipated, obtaining a job I'll at least be satisfied and not revolted of, and subsisting through it? Those are the only things I want to get out of this life? It sounds so empty, lacking, and uninteresting.
If it's going to be just like that then, am I not just doing the same thing through working in Orihime? Is my life solely one of survival and nothing more? What composes an unreachable sky exactly? What is my unreachable sky? How can I get there? The broken mask stands as a proof that there's something else I can do rather than simply strive for survival.
"Dream seer..." I murmur to myself. I reflect about what ensued yesternight. In the end it's preposterous to live differently. That young man won't ever come back... I...rejected his offer after all... He'll probably find some other girl who has the ability...
Yes, that's possible.
I've never run away not because I'm fearful to be imprisoned in one of the chambers of the fifth floor; it's because I've got nowhere else to go. I...have become accustomed to the planned life. I...truthfully find it troublesome to wander again. There's something good in being trapped too... Security, shelter, clothes, and food—who doesn't want to stay in a place with all of these?
Straightening and stretching my body, I issue a pent-up breath. Now that the supposed 'first' night has passed, another night will come. So for the real first night, I have to prepare again.
There'll be no escape this time.
Listless at that thought, I inspect the flaming bird on the paper walls. I'm hungry, and I need to wash... But what I told Shibuya-san before knocking into sleep resurfaces in my mind. The Missus may be furious with me this time... I can only hope she won't fetter and lock me up on the fifth floor.
Yet that will be my obvious punishment... especially if Shibuya-san complained about my rejection and took his money back.
And that nothing happened... Missus will be giving me hell today...
I discharge a heavy sigh.
A knock on the frame of the shoji door intercepts my morose thoughts. Before I can speak, the door slides open and in comes the bane of my existence.
Kami-sama, oh please help me!
"You're awake," Missus observes and watches me with disdain. "And still nearly wholly dressed, I see."
She knows... She knows that nothing happened... My heart thumps wildly.
Missus views me disapprovingly, and I gulp as she slits her eyes at me. I wait silently for her next venomous words, and I'm not disappointed.
"It's indescribable how your first customer could praise you to such an extent." She presses her lips together. "Of all people, the masked wolf at that! There I was thinking you'll fail smoothly, but it seems I've underestimated you. I expect numerous customers will also personally tell me good things about you in the future."
Stupefied, I blink at her. What did she just say? Shibuya-san...praised me? WHAT?
If Missus isn't in the room with me, I may have let my jaw drop. But she is, so instead I worry my lip over with my teeth.
Why...did Shibuya-san do that? How could he spend his money on me without even really benefiting from it?
Again, my view of men has altered. Not only does gentlemanliness exist, inexplicable kindness too...
It's really unbelievable.
"Sora!" Missus calls, and I whirl to her straightaway in curiosity. She presents me a wry face. "It seems like your temporary success is already getting in your head."
Restraining a retort, I continue nibbling my lip. If I don't know I'll be punished if I hiss back my animosity for her, I will be shouting my throat out.
After some embittered quiet, Missus huffs at me. "I don't know what to do with you." She glowers. "But it is a reality that your first customer enjoyed your company. Get dressed. Your meal is already prepared downstairs. Afterwards, cleanse yourself properly. You're already reserved for three people tonight."
I clamp my mouth shut to prevent myself from gaping at her. I bow low, and Missus departs with nary a fuss. At first, a hush permeates the bedchamber. Then the meaning of her words smacks me in the face, and it dawns on me: I won't be able to retreat again.
Since Shibuya-san did not touch me yesterday, the wicked gods most likely have something worse in store for me tonight. Yesternight was just water's boiling—some sort of ruse to make me think everything will be fine and that not everything isn't as gloomy as it seems.
Tonight will be the brewing of the storm.
And if I'll be lucky enough to handle the waves, there's still mercy for me then.
So... the cloud does not form the staircase towards the sky. It comprises the storm that eludes from it.
Air flows out of my mouth, and I shoot a glance at the shattered mask on the floor once more. The Missus didn't see it, did she...?I stare at the mask until as if it's blushing because of my scrutiny.
I should sweep it off the floor.
And maybe I'll keep some of it in my flowery cloth pouch for luck.
I watch callously as the other oiran squat outside the tub with their cute attendants scrubbing their backs. I just finished scrubbing my own, washed with plum and sakura ashes, and sank into the warm-water filled bath. The other oiran have been glaring at me ever since I entered. I guess I made them more frustrated when I just shrugged off their dagger-filled looks during the midday meal. Everyone has most likely heard already of my 'success' and the advance reservations made for me, that's why.
Missus has got to be the nastiest garrulous woman in the world.
Competition is really unavoidable when everyone is trying to survive. And when you're an oiran, you need all the guts there is to last longer. I need the unwavering spunk all the time, and it's quite tiresome retaining it.
I release a breath. They may think I'm getting so full of myself by telling Missus that I don't need attendants now that I became an oiran—what really happened with Shibuya-san is still unknown to them. Truthfully, I don't want to have something to be guilty about. You see, if I will have an attendant, the cute girl will be following my every move, observing whatever comes out of my mouth, and emulating every word and action of mine later on. For sure, the little girl will meet her destruction because of me. I don't want that. Other oiran may think that their position is something to be proud of, and such arrogance is unwittingly passed on to those cute attendants of theirs. I don't want to do that. I don't want them to lose sight of themselves like I almost did as Ume-nee-san's attendant.
If anything, being an oiran has proven to be a job of suffering, not a job to be proud of. Those cute attendants ought to become anything but an oiran. They ought to be following their own...dreams—not the dreams dictated to them.
But then, who am I really to say that, right, Kami-sama? We're all actually snared now, so I can't blame all of them—oiran and attendants alike—for taking a bite and wishing for more of only one bad apple—the only prize almost everyone, who has lived to become an oiran or whatever in Yoshiwara, has always dreamed of sinking one's teeth into.
And...I chose to be beguiled too.
However, I do not want to trap somebody else with my way of life. It will make me so contrite knowing that someone has become a reflection of me... So I will rather scrub my own back than ruin a little girl's character.
After gazing at nothing and making bubbles in the water with my mouth, I finally straighten and get out of the bath, patting my body with my towel and covering myself with my newly cleaned nagajuban and dark blue yukata.
It's already noon when I roused. It seems like I came to my senses only after Shibuya-san had spoken to Missus about me. The mid-afternoon sun continuously incinerates the people outside while the cloudless sky has become paler than ever. It's still early, but I need to prepare already for my first client of the day.
Usually, new and veteran oiran only have two customers at most everyday. To have three...is naturally pushing it...
I sough and traipse to my new chamber on the ground floor. It's smaller than other rooms and quite old-looking and unkempt, yet I don't really mind. It somehow...mirrors my unfurnished meager life.
The papers on my shoji doors and walls are torn. The tatami mat where I lay my futon is worn and sooty. The paint on the ceiling is flaking off. Only a lacquered dresser drawer and a persimmon-tree-painted folding screen are new and out of place in the room.
I breathe in the the musky fragrance. It's not pleasant, but it's what I'll have now.
A knock echoes in the room, and I jerk my head to my dressing attendant for the day.
And I'm facing the weight monsters once again.
As hateful as what the Missus had instructed was, I've obliged; I undressed from the very heavy and time-consuming oiran ensemble and lay down on the futon as bare as a fish without scales—some kind of food display and preparation before cooking.
When the Missus saw me doing what she had instructed, she finally left. Only when the Missus was out of earshot did I sit upright, take the blanket, and conceal myself with it.
It's not cold; it's already early summer. But being bare like this makes me feel less of a person and more like a pig in a slaughterhouse.
I hate it.
But if there's a way out of all of this... If there's a place that will offer me food, shelter, bath, security, and freedom, I won't even move an inch at Missus's commands. However, there isn't a place like that. There's no place that'll proffer me something like that without the expense of one of those things I wanted: freedom.
I have most of those things in Orihime but not liberty. I'll have most of those things if I'll get married off to some rich man, but still I'm just transferring my bondage. So how can I even attain those things without forsaking one of them? How can such a simple life be impossible?
The slamming open of the shoji door interrupts my thoughts, and I goggle at the old man who comes in. By his intrusion, I already feel eternal damnation beginning.
I nip my lip and resist scrunching my face in disgust. Oh kami-sama, of all things, why a shabby, wrinkled old man in a loincloth as my real first client? Why, why, why?
"You're set?" The old man shuts the door and gives me a titillated toothy grin. "Very good! We're having a blast tonight."
It's not that I did not have a foreshadowing already. Missus had hinted while she ordered me to disrobe that it would make things easier for the customer. I had a sense of foreboding about what she meant, but every fiber of my being ignored it.
The wolf in a loincloth approaches, and everything in me is shrieking in panic. Appalled and not knowing what to do, I freeze on the futon. And I know...this is going to be the reality I'll be facing over and over again.
Not caring anymore if Missus will punish me for being gutless, I bow my head and close my eyes. I grip the blanket covering me from my toes to my chest tighter.
I hate this! I really, really hate this!
But no one cares.
Exactly when I'm thinking of committing something similar to seppuku, the door slams open again. And there, to my greatest relief, stands a panting demon-masked stranger I had the heavenly fortune to meet.
It has taken some time for us to gather our thoughts and speak, so we just stare at one another mutely.
"What are you doing here? Get out! This room is reserved for me and this fresh girl!" the old man shouts at my disguised savior.
I'm about to puke, honestly.
The shrouded stranger straightens, finally eases and halts his panting (from running, perhaps), and then says coolly in his melodious voice, "I'm here because she's reserved for me, of course. You're the one who should vacate this room."
My glimmering hope tosses a rather bulky pouch, clinking when it dropped a few steps before the old man.
"Your money's back. So leave." I can hear a smirk behind the mask.
The old man fumes, "You insolent brat! This is my reservation, and you have no right to take it away from me! I reserved her for the week!" Determined to oppose the hidden Shibuya-san, the senior points at me so covetously.
But Shibuya-san is unshakable. "She's not reserved for you anymore, and she's not going to be reserved to anyone in the future. You reserved her for a week, but I reserved her for eternity."
My mouth goes agape at this young man who dazzles me like the sun. He's going to—?
"Foolish brat, you cannot━!"
"Yes, I can." Another smug sound, and then Shibuya-san calls, "You clerks out there, take this old man away."
The clerks come rushing to the room to haul the disbelieving old man off. The latter thrashes (quite robust for his age) and yells curses to Shibuya-san as he is dragged out in his horrifying loincloth. Shortly, Shibuya-san fully slips inside the bedroom and closes the door—at least blocking the old man's yells a bit.
My clutch on the blanket loosens, but I keep my body covered with it—all the tension seeping out. I take a deep breath in and out. I can feel the spine-tingling cold sweat I haven't noticed forming on my uncovered back. The feeling of it running down my spine is chilling... but... The presence of Shibuya-san gives me such an inexplicable warmth I never thought existed.
I don't need to be naked physically for Shibuya-san to see me completely; he can already see through my guise. Perhaps, it's some masked-people-discovering-other-masked-people kind of thing.
I look up at his masked face as he approaches me beside the futon I'm on.
"Did he touch you?" He squints his eyes behind his mask, his expression unreadable. There is concern in his voice—something I've never heard and felt from men at Yoshiwara before.
I shake my head; words of gratitude are sticking in my throat. Unguarded, I do what I've never done in front of men or anyone before: I cry. Because truthfully I am very scared. I am trying to be tough and strong, unconcerned that my dignity will be stripped off. But that is all pretense.
I am truly sensitive. I am weak and helpless. I am not the aloof young woman that I show the world. I am never indomitable.
How can this stranger care for someone like me? How can he care when no one usually does? How can he fill me up with emotions and make me reveal myself to him so unguardedly? What kind of talent does he possess?
All the wonders of this fine young man before me creates an overwhelming emotion to be with him. He's like a safe haven, a peculiarity I need so much in this bleak and plain habitual life. I'm aware now that I've longed for someone to care—for someone to take me out of this ill-natured place when I cannot.
That must have been why my eyes look unreachable; I've been dreaming of a faraway place where I belong and where I can be free—a place that I can call home.
That...is my unreachable sky.
Finally decisive, Shibuya-san shucks off his black haori and gently drapes it over my bare back. It's the sweetest thing someone has ever done. All the men I've seen, heard, and known will rather leave women undressed than cover them.
He doesn't speak or offer me anything. He keeps his silence and lets me cry for a long while. He seems helpless and...hesitant to give me comfort—probably in case he might make me feel worse than ever.
After what felt like hours, I become tired and puffy and sucked dry. I wipe my tears with the back of my hands—a messy and shattered girl contrary to how I should act.
A person who doesn't put in effort to comfort me...somehow gives me comfort. All the men I know... they waste their energy for quite selfish goals... for ulterior motives. But the person in front of me now does his best to sympathize with me without even doing anything superfluous... so I won't feel wronged.
How sweet and kind can this person become? Why...is he so different?
But then... I know it: He is a rung closer to my unreachable sky. But stepping on him... relying on him to possess it... I need to build my strength to make the huge step. And so I've decided...
To step on the rung in front of me.
"You're good," I praise him with a nod, and then I smile genuinely, tearfully, and knowingly. "You're actually very good at pretending to be the 'other Shibuya-san.' "
Yukata= summer kimono, but was and is still used as a kimono donned after bath
Seppuku=ritual suicide usually done by samurai either as punishment or for honor
A/N: Surprised? Heehee ^^ What do you think did he mean by 'reserved her for eternity'? See you next chapter! How was this chap? You may share your thoughts ^^