A little light reading for a Sunday morning .... starting today, I will post the first chapter from a Romance Noire novel. If you like the idea, when one chapter has been posted from each, I will move on to the next chapter.
Think of it as a tasting menu!
Today, the opening pages of "The Giesha With the Green Eyes"
All the other girls had enticing names. Carpi (Koi). Masaki (Blossom). Kiku (Chrysanthemum Blossom). Naruko (Chirping Child).
My own mother was called Terue (Shining Blessing). But me? I was just Midori No Me.
“Living only for the moment, giving all our time to the pleasures of the moon,
the snow, cherry blossoms and maple leaves. Singing songs, drinking
sake, caressing each other, just drifting, drifting. Never giving a care
if we had no money, never sad in our hearts. Only like a plant moving
on the river’s current; this is what is called The Floating World.”
Tales of the Floating World
Asai Ryoi, 1661
At the approach of winter.
As do I.
The first time I was with a man I was only thirteen years old.
But of course, this was normal for any geisha. After all, until one has undergone the ceremony of mizuage – which in English means “hoisting from water” – one is still only a half-jewel, a hangyouku, as we were called in Edo. Elsewhere, the term was maiko, and this is the word I shall use from now on, as I know it is easier for your Western tongue to pronounce.
Sometimes maiko undergo the mizuage ceremony a little later; it all depends on the girl. Occasionally, a maiko would not have her mizuage ceremony until she was as old as sixteen or even seventeen, quite elderly for a maiko! But of course, those were the girls who came late to life in the Yoshiwara - the Floating World in Edo, Japan’s capital city.
I was born in the Floating World.
I cannot remember a time when I did not expect to undergo the mizuage. It was expected of me. After all, how else did I expect to pay back my okasan – my Aunty – for all the years she had fed me, clothed me, kept me warm, kept me safe? How else was I going to start to pay her back for my clothes and my samisen? Apart from all of those important matters, if I declined – if I should dare! – to undergo my mizuage, where would I go? What would become of me? The Floating World was my world, my family; I knew nothing else. Knew nowhere else.
Of course I would undergo the mizuage.
One heard tales, of course, from the other girls who had undergone their mizuage. Both from the girls who shared the Hidden House with me, and occasionally those geisha who lived in the Green Tea House across the courtyard. Some laughed about it, said it was nothing at all. I now think those girls were either lying or had had the good fortune to have an extremely thoughtful danna for their first time. Kiku even had two mizuage! She wasn’t that unusual, either; if Aunty thought she might get away with it, some girls had two or three deflowering ceremonies. Kiku had two because she was so very fat. On the first occasion her danna didn’t actually get what he paid for, though she made sure that he thought that he had. That is the way of the Floating World, after all. It is all shadow and illusion. As long as pleasure is sought and found, nothing else matters. Even on the second occasion she said that it really wasn’t too bad. Other girls shrugged and said it was done with, and that was all there was to it. Others refused to talk about it. Inevitably, it was those who would not speak about it at all that we all wanted to hear from. Was it really bad? Would we hate it? Did it hurt?
Those girls shrugged and looked away, lowering their eyes as if to say, “You will find out.”
And I did, of course.
I could say I remember it well, but that would only be a half-truth. I not only remember it, I dream of it sometimes, even now, long after I have left the Floating World.
The banquet was finished. Teruki-san, my danna, burped loudly, and the girls tittered behind their fans politely. Aunty inclined her head regally and all of the girls immediately got to their feet. Two maids had to help Kiku stand. For a second I thought that Teruki-san was diverted by Kiku as he watched her with covetous eyes, but I was only being silly. He had paid an enormous sum to deflower me; he would not be distracted now. The girls – and Aunty – made their bows to my danna, and filed out, one behind the other.
The maids scurried to remove the dishes and would have taken the sake flasks as well, but Teruki-san gestured to them to leave the charcoal burner and the flasks. I kneeled with my eyes lowered, waiting. Bedding was laid on the mats and then the maids approached me and stood on each side, waiting for my danna’s signal. It seemed to me that the hands of the clock must have gone round at least twice before he clapped his hands. Instantly, the girls helped me to my feet and began to ceremonially disrobe me.
It took them even longer to remove my obi and kimono and undergarments than it had to put them on. Finally, I was naked except for my tabi. I don’t suppose Teruki-san was prolonging the moment, no doubt it just felt that way to me, but I thought it was an age before he clapped his hands again and the girls wrapped me in a loose, comfortable robe before bowing themselves out of the room.
I was very glad to sink to my knees on the mats. If another second had passed, I think I would have simply folded gracelessly to the floor.
My danna was an old man. A very old man. He still had some hair, but not a great deal of it. The crown of his head was completely bare of hair, and what was left was gathered and tied at the nape of his neck. Oddly, his bald head was as smooth as an egg, in cruel contrast to his face, which was a nest of wrinkles. His eyebrows were very bushy and vigorous, as though all the life of his hair had somehow taken possession of them. He was a heavy pipe smoker, I guessed, as his upper lip was a darker brown than the rest of his face. I stared at the mat and fixed a smile to my lips.
The silence was so profound I could hear Teruki-san breathing. A sudden thought made me feel physically sick: what if Teruki-san decided he didn’t want me after all? What if he demanded his money back? What if he complained to Aunty that I was inept? What would become of me then? Would Aunty sell me to one of the cheap houses of prostitution, where men could leer at me through the bars and I would be at every passer-by’s disposal? I almost wailed in fear at the thought.
The sound of my own breathing in my ears was so deafening that for a second I did not realize that Teruki-san had spoken to me. He had to repeat his words and I could hear from his voice that he was not pleased. I was so terrified that suddenly I was desperate to pee. What if I did? There, on the tatami matting in front of this man who had paid so well for me. I couldn’t help myself. I moaned out loud with fear and worry.
My obvious distress seemed to please Teruki-san. He didn’t speak again, but patted the matting at his side. I shuffled over on my knees and bowed deeply to him, more worried about my bladder than my patron.
“Closer.” He said. Obediently, I inched a little nearer; close enough for him to touch me.
He wafted his hands at me, indicating that I should straighten up from my abject crouch. I did so, keeping my eyes deferentially lowered. I thought, of course, that he was going to loosen my robe to see what he had paid for, and I clenched my buttocks tight to stop myself from flinching. At least the insane desire to pee had receded, for which I gave thanks.
But he did not loosen my robe. Not at all. He reached out and poked at my wig.
“Take that off.”
I stared at him, unable to believe he was talking about my beautiful wig, or rather, Carpi’s wig. But he nodded at it, and so I reached up and tugged it free. He waved his hand at the side of the matting, and I placed it where he had indicated, reverently. If any damage came to that wig, Carpi would skin me. He leaned forward and patted my hair, which was pinned up carefully to contain it under the wig. Pursing his lips, he began to pull out the pins which held my own hair in place.
Strands of auburn hair began to fall with each pin that came out. Finally, it was all down, trailing nearly to my waist. I heard Teruki-san clear his throat, a small noise of evident satisfaction.
He spat on his fingers and took a tendril of hair in his fist, first tugging it and then rubbing it between his wet fingers. He glanced at his fingers, and then repeated the process with another lock of hair. Appearing satisfied, he let the hair fall loose and then leaned forward, pushing my chin up with his thumb.
“Open your eyes, wide.”
I did so, and Teruki-san leaned forward and pulled my left eye wide open, holding the eyelid tightly between his thumb and first finger. With his free hand, he rubbed the ball of his thumb across my eye, quite hard. It hurt and I tried to blink, but could not as his grip was too tight.
He inspected his thumb carefully, and then repeated the process with my other eye.
Curiously, this strange inspection quelled my terror. He was making sure that he had got what he had paid for; that my strange, reddish hair and green eyes were natural, not tinted in some way. He had no doubt paid a huge sum to deflower me, it was only fair that he inspect his purchase. But this irreverent inspection made me feel as if I was some sort of exotic fruit on a market stall, not a person at all. I gritted my teeth hard to prevent myself from telling him to stop it, to get on with what he had paid for. Had I done so, then it would have been a matter of hours before I was, indeed, behind one of the barred prisons of the prostitutes in the slum areas of the Floating World. And although I knew it, it did nothing to diminish my fury; rather, it seemed to increase it.
I sent up a silent prayer to any god who might be listening to make me keep my temper. To stop me striking out at this horrible old man, this man who smelled like the inside of a chest that has not been opened for years. To stop me from telling him exactly what I thought of him. Took a deep breath and made myself wait silently for him to finish his inspection.
Teruki-san finally finished rubbing my eyeballs and was ready to accept that I was genuine. A real half-breed. He smiled at me. His teeth were horrible, brown and yellow and most of them little more than stumps. Perhaps it was those dreadfully neglected teeth that did it, but the fury that had risen far enough to bubble as insults in my throat unexpectedly turned to bitter contempt for my dannaMy eyes hurt where he had rubbed them and I was suddenly deeply envious of those geisha outside the Hidden House, who never had to suffer humiliation like this in their mizuage. But I was just as much a geisha as they were, so I smiled as coquettishly as I could manage. I lowered my eyes and peeped at this horrible old man from under my eyelashes.
This was my mizuage, and no matter what, I was determined it would be done in true geisha style.My danna had paid a fortune for me. I was not going to disappoint him – or Aunty. I raised my eyes and smiled. Properly. Not flirtatiously or shyly. Properly.
Teruki-san seemed quite amused at my boldness. He tapped my breastbone sharply and grinned. I smiled back.
“Well, it’s good to see you really are a White Barbarian.” He chuckled, and I realized that this was his way of trying to flirt. “Stand up, dear, and take that robe off.”
I did as I was told, of course. But not how he had expected. I undid the sash slowly, and let it fall to the floor. I shrugged the robe off my shoulders and let it hang for the space of a second before it followed the sash. I stood before this horrible old man naked and unashamed, not even pretending to stoop to hide my height, still less cover my breasts and black moss.
Suddenly, I was worried that I had gone too far in the opposite direction in my new-found daring. Teruki-san drew in a deep breath, and I could see he was shuddering with excitement. He reached forward abruptly and thrust his fingers into my black moss. Not that it was black, in my case it was much, much redder than the hair on my head. This seemed to excite my danna immensely, and for one, truly glorious moment I thought perhaps the stimulation might be too much for his aging heart and he might fall over with a seizure.
Alas, no. He parted my moss with eager fingers and then split my vagina with his hand. His face fell, and he probed still further.
“Aie.” He scowled. “I had thought that White Barbarian women’s sex was different from that of Japanese women. I have heard tales that they were crossways. Yours is perfectly normal.”
Even as he spoke, his index finger was flicking in and out of my opening. His fingernail was long and ragged, and it caught on my moss uncomfortably. I raised my shoulders in bewilderment. What could I say? I was sure that I could hear a hiss of breath from the other side of the screen and I knew that Aunty was listening, and probably watching, from the other side. She was not pleased with me.
My fear of Aunty was far greater than my contempt for Teruki-san. Aunty held my life in her very hands. I licked my lips and words suddenly spilled out.
“Teruki-san, I am only half White Barbarian. I think that the half that is Japanese lives behind my black moss and the Barbarian half is in my eyes and my hair.”
He paused in his groping and probing for a second and then shrugged.
“That may be so. Well, we shall see what you can do for me, child.”
He sat back comfortably and loosened his robe. He was propped on one elbow, waiting for me, and I thought, oh, let’s get this over with. It was a very brave thought, but of course I had no idea what was about to happen.
I kneeled down and bowed. Anything was better than having to look at him. He clapped his hands and nodded at his tree of flesh. Or at least, where his tree of flesh should have been. But I could see nothing except the twin swellings of his testicles and something that looked exactly like the mouth parts of a sea slug. I swallowed, my new found confidence evaporating as quickly as it had arisen. What was I supposed to do? What did he expect of me?
His hand closed around the mouth part of the sea slug and he tugged at it. I realized with dismay that this limp, disgusting thing was his tree of flesh. He waggled it at me and gestured with his head. I realized he wanted me to touch it, to bring it to life. Or at least, that’s what I thought he wanted.
I was wrong.
I reached out cautiously, and he let me fondle it for a few moments. It was even more disgusting than I had expected. It was slightly moist and quite cold. And thoroughly disgusting. I rubbed it between my fingers and looked at him hopefully, to see if that was what he wanted.
His lips were pursed like a button. He reached out and grabbed my hair, forcing my head down to his groin. I had a moment to think, oh, no, and then he was mashing my head against his limp tree.
I had two choices. I could keep my mouth obstinately shut, in which case he would no doubt beat me until I did what he wanted anyway. Or I could open my lips now and try and coax some life into his tree. I chose the latter. Really I had no choice in the matter. Even sucking at this disgusting bit of withered flesh was better than facing Aunty’s anger. If I refused to obey my danna, tomorrow would find me in a low-class whore house, at the whim of any man who fancied me.
So I folded my lips around his sad little organ and nibbled at it with my teeth. Abruptly, I stopped nibbling and bit, quite hard. I do not remember consciously thinking that I would do it, so perhaps instinct took over.
I immediately feared I had made a bad mistake. I braced myself, expecting at the very least a hard slap or even a punch from my danna. Instead, he inhaled sharply and suddenly his tree of flesh was no longer a wilting sapling, ready to be blown away by any stray breeze, but a vigorous, hard pine of a tree. He thrust it hard into my mouth and almost down my throat, nearly cutting off my breath.
I couldn’t even bite the disgusting thing. It filled my mouth and left no room for me to do anything. I could feel it brushing the back of my throat and I retched, worried anew that I might not be able to prevent myself vomiting.
So I did the only thing I could, under the circumstances. I sucked that horrible old tree of flesh. Sucked it as if my very life depended on it, which was not far from the truth. I could hear Teruki-san moaning, even over the drumming of blood in my ears. He began to thrust his hips forward and I thought, please, no! I thought his fruit was about to burst. In my mouth.
I moaned in my turn at the thought, and perhaps the god who had heard me earlier took pity on me yet again, as Teruki-san suddenly fastened his hand in my hair and pulled me up. He did it so unexpectedly that I was unable to give his tree of flesh a parting nip. I regretted that, but it was very much secondary to the relief of being able to breathe again.
He was leaning back on his elbows, panting. I pushed the hair out of my eyes and fastened my gaze, modestly, as was proper, on the mat. For an instant, I had a surge of hope. Was that it? Was my danna satisfied? He was, after all, a very old man. Perhaps he was not capable of more? Hard on the heels of the thought came another; if that really was the case, then I would have to go through this all over again, with another danna. I reached out hurriedly to his tree, worried it would shrink without my attentions.
I had no need to worry.
Teruki-san allowed me to grasp his tree. I gripped it with my fingers and moved my hand back and forward, no doubt clumsily. He paused, silent, for a moment or two and then wrapped his hand around my fingers, clenching my grip on him. He grunted. I took this to be approval and worked a bit quicker.
After what seemed like hours, Teruki-san slapped my hand bruskly. I stared at him hopefully, waiting for some sort of signal. Faster? Slower? Let go? Harder? He spoke harshly.
“Enough. On your hands and knees, woman.”
I did as he asked – or rather commanded. In any event, anything, anything at all, that would bring my mizuage to an end was welcomed. My hair swung across my face, and I was glad of that, as it meant I did not even have to try to look happy.
I heard Teruki-san scrambling to his feet, and then he was behind me, squatting on the mat. For one horrible instant, I was sure he was going to ram himself into my behind, to “split the melon.” He did finger my bottom, running his fingers up and down the cleft, and pushed an enquiring finger into my anus. I bared my teeth so hard that the tendons of my neck hurt. But no, he made his mind up and next second his tree of flesh was exploring the entrance to my vagina.
I was rigid with fear and anticipation. My private parts were as dry as an old, sun-weathered canvas with terror. I could hear him muttering to himself as he tried to thrust into me, but I was so tense and dry that he could make no progress. He sat back. I had no idea what he was about to do, even what he was thinking. I was trembling so hard I could barely keep my balance. My mind was blank, apart from one thought, one thought that repeated over and over again, like a never-ending circle: This old man, this horrible, wrinkled old man, with his yellow flesh and bald head and long fingernails, was going to put himself inside me. I had no say in the matter. None at all. I was nothing. Less than nothing. He had paid to do this to me.
Teruki-san suddenly got tired of playing the waiting game. I felt him move away from me, and tears of relief came to my eyes. He couldn’t manage it. I would have to go through this again, undoubtedly. Even more certainly, Aunty would be furious with me. But perhaps – just perhaps – when she found me another danna, he might be a younger man? A man who did not make me feel sick at the thought of having him inside me? I had raised my head, about to apologize to Teruki-san, when he hit me.
He hit me hard, just at the base of my skull, at the point where the head meets the neck. He must have used his clenched fist. In spite of the fact that he was an old man, he still had a stringy strength to his arms, and the blow felt like a rock, thrown with deadly accuracy. It was not quite hard enough to knock me unconscious – more the pity! – but it was hard enough to make my vision spin. Suddenly, my world was filled with pain and I lost my balance, falling forward onto my elbows. With the strange clarity of pain, I could hear Teruki-san grunting with satisfaction. He placed his hands on each side of my hips and lugged my bottom into the air. When I was positioned to his final satisfaction, he simply leaned into me, pushing his tree of flesh into my dryness.
I shrieked out loud at the pain, which was much worse than the pain in my head. Teruki-san seemed to take it as encouragement. He leaned back, almost withdrawing from me, and then thrust down again hard, hard, hard. I tried to hold my breath, hoping that I would pass out from lack of air, but my body wouldn’t obey me and after a minute or so I found myself panting for breath, whether I wanted to or not.
I could do nothing. The more I shouted in pain, the more Teruki-san’s vigor seemed to increase. I thought it would never end, that I would live in pain and indignity and shame for the rest of my life, which I prayed would end quickly.
I was almost at the stage of fainting with pain and horror when he finally burst his fruit. At least, I assumed that that was what had happened. All I knew was that he slowed and finally stopped, sliding out of me and falling back on the matting.
I could not move. I stayed where I was, my head touching the matting, my bottom pointing toward the ceiling. Teruki-san finally rose. He gave my bottom a playful slap and I could hear him moving about. Then the screen door opened and closed. A moment later there was the faintest of rustles from the other room. Aunty, taking herself off to her own futon, satisfied that all had gone well. Eventually I persuaded my unwilling bones to move andcrawled beneath the bedding. Slowly, like a very, very old woman.
I hurt. Everywhere. My skin shuddered with the memory of his touch. I would dearly have liked to have gone to the bath, to cleanse my private parts and wash away his seed, but I daredn’t leave the room. My danna had bought me for the whole of the night. Although it was unlikely that he would return, if he came back I had to be here for him. Ready and waiting. And willing. At least I was spared the worry of becoming pregnant by him. We girls were too precious to risk that. Tomorrow, Aunty would give me special tea that would kill his seed.
But until morning, I would be left where I was. Undisturbed. I lay and cried, alone and without comfort until sleep finally claimed me. And then dreamed of Teruki-san shoving his tree of flesh into me. Over and over again.
The morning bought no relief.. I heard the little maid come in, heard her bustling about the room. Smelled the charcoal burner as she made tea. Heard her calling a cheerful good morning to me. But I couldn’t move. Couldn’t so much as open my eyes. I tried so very hard, but the more I tried, the more impossible it was. Eventually, the maid crouched by my side – I heard her knees crack, quite distinctly – and I felt her touch my face and then pull the bedding back. But still I could not move. I could tell from her movements that she was leaning across me, putting her ear to my mouth – probably to see if I was actually breathing – but still I could not move. Could not make a sound.
It was terrible. I felt as if I had been buried alive. Then the thought came to me that perhaps I was dead, that this was my karma. That I was fated to be like this, perhaps forever. Alive yet dead. Feeling nothing, but hearing everything. Perhaps even more dreadful, I could not even move enough muscles to cry at the thought.
The maid had scurried off, but returned quickly. I knew from the rhythm of the footsteps that she had returned with Aunty.As the maid had done, Aunty leaned across and I felt her breath on my face. Immediately, she shouted orders and within a few seconds there were more people in the room. I was lifted to my feet and dragged out, supported by many hands. My head lolled on my neck; I lacked the ability to lift it up.
“Throw her in.”
Aunty gave the order briskly, and all at once I was lifted and found myself flying through thin air.
The bath water was very hot. The splash as I hit the water hurt, then I was sinking to the bottom of the sulfurous pool. I inhaled water, and the shock restored life to my petrified limbs. I thrashed out, raising to the surface and then falling back. I gulped more scalding water, and it seemed to me that the water revived me from the inside out. I opened my eyes and managed to stagger to my feet.
Aunty, Kiku, Carpi, Naruko and three of the maids, ringed the bath, all staring down at me as I sputtered and fought for balance. Aunty and Carpi exchanged a glance and then Aunty clapped her hands, dismissing the other girls. When they had gone, she leaned over the bath and peered down at me.
“Midori. Do you hear me, now?”
“Then listen, and listen well. You are no different from any of the other girls here. I will not stand for this sort of dramatic nonsense. If you try to play your silly tricks once more, then I will let the boys play with you. Do you understand?”
I stood in the bath, stark naked and bewildered and in pain. And nodded.
“Yes, Aunty,” I said, quietly enough. But something in my tone must have been wrong because Aunty frowned and glared at me before deciding that she had imagined it and she turned away.
Once she was gone, I scrubbed myself until my skin burned.
But I still could not get rid of Teruki-san.
Just as I could never wash away all the others that followed him.