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Plums and Cherries Chapter Three - Dangerous Names

We can separate ourselves from our minds, our bodies and our souls, but what we really need isn't within ourselves at all. It lies within something else ... something unknown and unexplainable. Like a pit in a plum, we have a hard rock in our chests that we can not dig out without destroying ourselves. Let it be wisdom, or experience itself, that we learn this before it's too late and the damage is done.

Chiyo folded her kimono, staring out the window gazing upon the grounds. If she were to escape, it would be through here. Down the paths and to the streets. Unfortunately, the gate was locked all day, unless Hatsumomo was gone. On her days off she either lounged around the house calling orders, or disappeared through the crack in the backyard between the house and the wall. She would be gone for hours at a time, only to return drunk and giggling. Once she came home smelling of some sort of perfume, that used by men, and grass. They did not question her as she was the sole income of the house.

But now that the sun was rising, its rays permeating the soft blue sky, it seemed like a logical thing to do: escape. But what about Pumpkin? Would her debt be pushed onto her? She didn't want that. They were close friends, as they were similar ages. Both taken from their families and sold to the okiya.

The girl shook her head and placed her evening gown in her small wardrobe, pulling out her morning kimono. She would be able to clean today, and as she did so she would listen in on Mother and Auntie as they talked in the Reception Hall, guests coming and going. It wouldn't be suspicious, a young girl cleaning the floors with her ear to the wall. If it were not allowed, no one would be allowed to clean during the mornings.

As Mother was now upstairs in her room, counting her money and on the telephone (which was a new item to Kyoto), Chiyo slipped from her room, tying her sash tightly around her tiny waist and crossed over the hall to the front of the okiya. She slipped on her shoes and slid open the door, stepping out into the fresh morning air. What would happen should she not be sent out this day? Punishment, for sure. But she had errands to do, running all over town and gathering things.

Pressing the front of her feet into the grass, she stared out at the world. It was like a great beast, a dragon. Waking up slowly, opening one eye and then the other. Soon it would stretch and yawn, shaking itself awake and lumber towards water. Everyone would be out in calm runs to the stores and shops. But soon they would all be back in their homes, talking with their families, or at work. Then, finally, at night, when the great beast seemed ready to sleep, it would jerk up and out, flashing all of its colors. That's when it was really awake, that's when Kyoto was alive. People were out, parties were being hosted, ochayas were reserved and geishas were entertaining. The night was the time when everything happened.

And that's when she was locked away in the okiya, prisoned like a lamb, ready for the slaughter for the dragon's next meal. Like a bird in front of a lion, where she resided is how she lived. Her the bird, Mother and Auntie and Grandmother the lion. Her the lamb, Hatsumomo the beast - the dragon.

Does a child know when it is dangerous to do something if no one has ever taught her? Or does she know when enough is too much and she has done something exceedingly, if no one's told her? That is how it was with young Chiyo. Being raised as the daughter of a fishmonger, she was not allowed on the boats, or near them, for that matter. And only taking care of herself and her mother, as her sister could take care of herself, it was a strange and difficult transition to take care of the entire okiya.

Pumpkin as tormented with this task as well, scrubbing the floors with hot water for hours, only to be told that she had missed a corner and had to do it all over again. It seemed an impossible task to make anyone in the house happy, as they were concerned with eating, beatings (punishment was a code word) and, of course, money. Income was the only thing that made Mother happy, and she was still in a sour mood most of the time.

As the cubby faced girl sat on her knees, exhausted, she wiping her forehead with her right forearm. Steam rose up from the rough-bristle brush and towards her face, making her sweat. It was not anything easy to be a Geisha. This is how Hatsumomo started out? That was hard to imagine, seeing as how she was so spoiled. Did anyone dare ask her to pick up after herself, let alone others?

She began to scrub the wooden floors, strands of hair sticking to her face. She did not want to be here, as neither did Chiyo. But they were stuck. Stuck here, in this place with the monster that lurked in her room during the day and appeared at night. The famed geisha of Gion: Hatsumomo.

Pumpkin heard the soft padding of feet outside of the okiya, echoing towards the front. She looked down the hall to see the door slide open and Chiyo step in, sliding off her shoes and rush towards her. The first did not except her to stop, but she did.

Sakamoto collapsed to her knees next to her friend, picking up a second brush, "Pumpkin," she began in a rushed voice, low and secretive, "you must help me."

"What? What has happened, Chiyo?"

"I have seen something."

"What is it?" What could possibly be wrong? And hadn't she just left to get groceries?

"I have spotted Hatsumomo," she breathed, leaning in close to her friend, "Please, I can not tell you here. Someone will hear us."

Pumpkin stared in wonder at the other girl. A secret? But how? Hatsumomo could be spotted anywhere all over Gion, except for in the pleasure district of course. So what made Chiyo so excited? Had she heard something? Did she hear if Hatsumomo had suddenly passed and now Pumpkin was free from being stuck with her as a maiko?

As the girls gathered their buckets and brushes, they hurried down the hallway towards the room they shared. Setting down the bucket, Chiyo slid open the door and let Pumpkin in. Then she picked up the wooden pail and stepped in, kneeling and closing the door.

"What? What is it, Chiyochan?"

"I have seen Hatsumomo - "

"Yes, she is all over Gion. Do you not know that?"

"No, Pumpkin. She was with a man!"

The girl fell silent, her eyes widening. With a man? "Not a patron?"

Chiyo shook her head, "No! It was someone else, someone .. ." she paused and leaned in, as did Pumpkin, "who, when she met him, she kissed."

The cubbier of the two gasped, pulling back and covering her mouth with her hands. "She is not allowed to do that."

"I know. I believe I heard her call him Koichi."

"Koich ... " Pumpkin paused, "I believe I have heard of him before, Chiyo. When she was with Korin ... she was talking about him ... Koichi ... "

As they mused over this new information, they did not hear the approaching footsteps that grew louder as they came closer. Chiyo and Pumpkin began to giggle, their voices carrying out towards the hall, along with names. Mother .. Hatsumomo ... Koichi.

At this the door slid open quickly, banging into the frame. Both girls turned suddenly, staring as the woman stepped in, her eyes narrowing.

"What did you say?"

Chiyo was frozen, staring in horror at the woman before her, her black eyes like polished stones, her lips pulled into a deep frown.

Hatsumomo.



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