Kowareta and Nana
By Jon Frank
He sat solemnly in the small boat as the oarsman paddled quietly behind him. The mist of the afternoon’s rain was beginning to settle on the water, and lanterns were already lit in a few of the shoreline Uchis where the fisher-folk lived.
He had been away a long time. The battles had been fierce and exhausting, but he was finally returning home. He pulled back a sleeve and allowed his hand to glide in the water, enjoying its silky coolness. The setting sun peeked through orange clouds, casting a golden glow on the palace above the village. Oh, how he had missed his house and gardens, his birds and writing desk. But there was something he must do before returning to those grand walls and furnishings.
As he approached the shore, his gaze scanned the shoreline and settled on a particular structure, a squat two-story dwelling with an ornate set of red lanterns festooning the front porch. Would she still be there, his favored one? Even on this return to his peaceful home, his mind and heart remained at war. He knew it was wrong to feel this way about a geisha. They had met when she was a Minarai, that second level of training when the girl is permitted to follow her teacher or onee-san into banquets. She had just achieved the third level when he departed for war over a year ago. Now a Maiko, she received the full benefits and courtesies of a geisha. She entertained, served her teas, and played the shamisen skillfully. She could attend a man in all manner of ways except physical intimacy – unless consent was given by both parties. Such consummation was rare and deeply frowned upon, however, for it was purity that made a geisha desirable to men. Geishas were tiny, delicate blossoms that any touch would shatter and taint for all time. And his favored one’s elusive, untouchable position is what attracted him to her. Yet he could not deny the truth, that he wanted all of her, to possess her. As a lord, he could choose to buy her outright. But then she would be no more than his concubine, and that was not enough.
The boat bumped the shore and he leaped forward, clearing the bow in one step. Landing surefooted, he drew a deep breath of his homeland, tasting the air and relishing the sounds. He knelt and placed his forehead on the rocky surface, thanking the spirits for a safe return. He stood and nodded to the boatman, who bowed in return.
“Welcome home, Daimyo-san.”
The samurai turned on his heel and climbed the three steps to the geisha house. The interior was bright and colorful. Two younger geishas approached and removed his outer clothing and weapons with the tenderness of a mother to her babe. A third girl led him further inside and bade him sit at a low table. She left and returned shortly with tea.
As she began preparing his tea, the samurai caught her eye and asked, “Is she here? Is Nana here?”
The girl nodded, rocked back on her feet, stood, and left silently. In a moment, someone else returned. It was his favored one! The samurai’s breath caught and his heart bent ribs back in its hunger for her. Could it be that his dreams and thoughts had betrayed him all this time? For they were ugly and horrid compared to the beauty before him. She glided like a koi in a stream. Her piercing eyes of the rarest jade green stabbed his soul. Her hair was black as the night sea, and he felt he might need several strong men to restrain him from touching it. She knelt, her back arrow-straight as she prepared the tea. A tiny smile flitted across the corner of her mouth. She remembered him! He clinched his fist in anguish at her tease.
He kept his eyes on the steaming teacup as attendants brought forth supplies for the meal. Unlike many houses, where food was prepared beforehand by a cook, a geisha in this house prepared the meal for her guest. The samurai’s beautiful host prepared a precise portion of his favorite dish, a refreshing Asian Kale Salad with Craisins. Each motion was carefully choreographed to emphasize the exquisite ivory beauty of her small hands. Working seamlessly between knife and bowl, she expertly carved delicate shapes into radishes and chestnuts and placed bamboo shoots and tiny cabbages in a pleasing arrangement. She completed the dish and set it before him, along with a fragrant dressing of ginger and essential oils. He ate vigorously, glancing at the burning incense stick used as a timekeeper. It showed precious few moments remaining, and he felt his heart ache for her once more.
“Delicate one, I would speak to you before we leave.”
She responded in the traditional “Oh-hoo,” accompanied by a polite nod.
“I have been away a long time,” the samurai said. “I see you have gone beyond your previous training and taken the mantle of Maiko. I have commanded men to die and been willing do to so myself. Yet in this moment I find courage fleeing like a petal on the wind. Your beauty is more formidable than any sword or arrow, and I am defenseless before you. Speak your wishes and I will raze the kingdom to fulfill them.” He punctuated his words by placing a hand at his hip where his sword normally hung. She bent her head lower, then brought her verdant eyes up to meet his own dark ones. She spoke, her voice a whispering wind on temple bells. “Kowareta-san, I too have longed for your return, but dared not speak of it. I feared for your safety, not from enemies’ weapons, but from the gaze and charms of another woman. For many nights have my dreams found you, and I blush to say you are every bit the man I long for. I have but one wish, yet my position will not allow me to say it.” She cast her gaze downward again. He reached forward to take her chin in his hand. There was an intake of breath from the attending geisha.
“Leave us!” the samurai commanded. Each girl cringed, bowed, and scattered. He turned back to his favored one. “Forgive my harshness, little flower. I mean for our words to be heard only by our ears.”
A sparkling tear ran down her soft, pale cheek before angling to the corner of her lips and finally to the thumb of his hand. He brought her eyes up again to meet his. “Please, speak,” he coaxed.
She took his hand with hers and placed it against her face, not concerned about the disruption of her makeup. “I long to become a full geisha, and yet I long to be joined with the other half of my soul.”
“I too wish to complete my soul.”
The geisha ran her hand along the samurai’s arm and felt the lean muscles there. She continued upward to his broad, stout shoulders and thick neck muscles. The tears came unchecked now, but they had become tears of happiness. He stood and brought her to her feet. The onee-san entered and bowed in respect, her face bright with worry. “Daimyo-san, what is the trouble? Has this one displeased you? I can replace her.” She snapped her fingers and another girl entered.
“Stop, old woman! Do not dishonor the moment. However, it is true you will need to find another to replace this one – I believe that to be impossible.” He gripped Nana-san’s shoulders and turned to leave.
“Please, Daimyo-san, if you must take her, then let us gather the small belongings from her room.”
“No,” he said firmly, “I will provide all she needs. She leaves tonight and takes nothing but her heart.”
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