Last night, Maomao had a weird dream.
It was a dream from long ago, no, it was a dream from something a long time ago.
She didn’t expect to remember it, an incident that she wasn’t sure if it was true either.
An adult woman was looking down at Maomao from above. Messy hair and gaunt cheeks, she was glaring at her with starved glittering eyes. Her make-up had come off, the rouge was jutting out from her lips.
The woman stretched out her hand, grabbing onto Maomao’s left hand. It was a small, small hand like birch, where dimples could be seen.
The woman was grasping a blade with her right hand. The left hand that was holding onto Maomao’s hands was wrapped in several layers of red soaked cloth. The cloth that fluttered about stunk a bit like rust.
A sound that sounded like a cat’s mew leaked out from her vocal cords, she understood it to be her own crying voice.
As her left hand was pushed into the futon, the woman raised her large right hand overhead. Her twisted lips were trembling, her eyes swollen red welled up with tears.
(A stupid woman.)
Just like that, the woman swung the small blade downwards.
“Oh dear, are you sleepy? You’ll have to wait for a little for slumber time.”
Suiren said to the yawning Maomao.
She had said it politely, but since this old housekeeper was quite strict, Maomao fixed her attitude and steadily polished the silverware.
“Not at all,” Maomao said.
It was only because she had a slightly weird dream. She didn’t get enough sleep, the drowsiness had rushed in when night fell.
Why was that?
(It’s because of that discussion yesterday.)
The personnel Jinshi mentioned yesterday, that must have stuck to Maomao’s memories.
(It’s unpleasant. Forget it.)
There’s no way it could be that person, Maomao took in a deep breath.
She stacked the plates with a clatter, and when she turned to the shelves, she heard shuffling footsteps. The beeswax in the room was lit. It was time the master returned.
Recently, Jinshi, his face worn out, passed right through the living room, going as far as into the kitchen. Suiren served up a side dish on a plate that Maomao had wiped up nicely.
“A souvenir from a weirdo. Drink it with Suiren.” Jinshi placed the sake bottle on the table.
When Maomao pulled the stopper, she smelt the bittersweet scent of oranges. It must be fruit juice.
“From a weirdo?” Maomao replied in a measured tone.
Jinshi reclined on the couch when he entered the living room. Maomao added coal to the brazier.
Gaoshun left the room when he saw the declining stock of coal. Was he going out to get some? As expected of the diligent man.
Jinshi looked at Maomao as he scratched his head brusquely. “You know much about things like close friends at the Rokushoukan?”
To be suddenly given such a question, Maomao tilted her head. “If you’re talking about a person who conducts himself flashily.”
“What kind of guy is there?”
Jinshi knit his brows at the curt answer.
It seems he noticed that he made a mistake with the way he asked the question. He rephrased it. “Then, how does one lower a courtesan’s value?”
“You’re asking something unpleasant,” Maomao sighed lightly. “There are many ways. Especially for higher ranked courtesans.”
Becoming a top-class courtesan, the number of jobs are few even in a month. The popular ones don’t constantly take up guests. Rather, the ones who must take up guests every day are those called streetwalkers who toil for coins for the day.
High-class courtesans prefer the lack of exposure. By holding back exposure, all their guests arbitrarily raise their value.
Poetry and dance, studying music – they attend their guest with such culture.
At the Rokushoukan, the training takes up the entire period of being a kamuro. During that, those whose looks were not bad, the ones who have good prospects, are divided between those who are not.
The latter immediately attend guests as soon their debut ends. Selling not art but their body.
Those with good prospects start off with tea drinking. More than those who excel in the art of catching patrons with their talk, it is those who excel in wit and intelligence who steadily rise in value. And accordingly, as the popular courtesans purposely reduce their exposure, they become popular courtesans who exhaust one year’s of silver with just tea drinking.
That said, there were also courtesans who don’t work even once with a guest until their redeeming. Well, something like a man’s romance, they think that they want the one who first plucks the flower would be themselves.
“They have value because they are untouched flowers.”
Maomao burnt incense that had a calming effect. She lit it for Jinshi who had been worn out recently.
“If the flower is plucked, from just that alone their value is halved. Moreover,”
Maomao breathed in lightly, inhaling the calming scent.
“If they fall pregnant, their value becomes next to none.”
She expected herself to have said it unemotionally.
What is this about, Jinshi let out a deep breath as he stamped the documents.
“Excuse me.” With the sound of the door being knocked, a personage who grinned like a fox appeared just as he had said yesterday.
Just how long was he planning to stay here?
“Shall we continue where we left off yesterday?” Rakan poured himself some orange juice from the sake bottle he bought along.
He even brought in tea cakes. Baked sweets with smell of butter were set on the desk that was littered with documents. I want you to stop putting it directly on top, Gaoshun who saw the grease stains on the documents clutched his head.
“You seemed to have truly done quite a wily thing.” Jinshi said as he stamped the documents.
He couldn’t get the contents of the documents into his head, but since Gaoshun who was waiting at the back wasn’t saying anything, he figured there was no problem.
From Maomao’s reply, he could imagine what this sly madman did.
And so, another unwelcome guess came to his mind.
It wasn’t he couldn’t understand. It was consistent. Several points matched.
Why, he charged in from the talk of redeeming at the Rokushoukan.
Why, he talked about his old friendship.
However, he didn’t want to recognise that.
“Apologies for the wiliness. It was a story where I didn’t want to mention the black kite(This guy is mentioning part of a Japanese proverb, the rest is referenced below in the convo – To have one’s fried tofu snatched away by a black kite. To be robbed of one’s due. The important thing you expect to obtain is abruptly carried off from the side, and you’re left dumbfounded.).”
The eye behind his monocle squinting in delight, Rakan laughed. “Even though I finally persuaded the madam. It had taken more than a decade. You can see it as the body was snatched away from the side.”
Rakan tilted the cup with a clink. There were shards of ice floating in the fruit juice.
“You mean to return the fried tofu?” The ‘fried tofu’ that Jinshi was referring to was the unsociable short girl.
“Well yeah, I’ll pay you as much as you want. I don’t want to tread on the same path I did a long time ago.”
“And if I say no?” Jinshi asked.
“If it turns out that way, I won’t say anything. Those who oppose Milord will disappear as they were snapped by a finger.” Rakan was speaking in a roundabout way. Jinshi was extremely ill at ease.
His words made quite some sense.
Rakan removed his monocle and wiped it with a cloth. After checking that it wasn’t smudged, he put it back on his left eye. Since he was wearing in his right eye until just then, it was understood that it was just for show. He really was a weirdo.
“I just wonder what my daughter thinks about this.” Rakan emphasised the word ‘daughter’.
Ah, no way, so it was something like that.
Rakan was Maomao’s real father.
Jinshi’s stamping came to a complete stop.
“Can you tell her that I am going see her sooner or later?” Rakan licked his buttery fingers, and left the office.
Seeing as he left the couch there, this should mean that he will come again.
Jinshi and Gaoshun weren’t signalling each other, but they hung their heads in sync and let out a huge sigh.
“There’s an official who wants to meet you this time.”
As soon he returned to his room, Jinshi, who was reluctant to tell her, said to Maomao honestly.
“What kind of person?” Maomao seemed to be hiding something she was fidgety about in the depths of her indifference, but her tone was calm like the usual.
“Ah, he’s called Rakan….”
Without Jinshi finishing his words, Maomao’s expression changed.
Until now, she looked at him like she was looking at a bug, like a dried earthworm, like filthy mud, like trash, like a slug, like a dead frog, – tentatively, they were all looks of scorn – but he realised that this was from apathy.
It was impossible to describe.
If Jinshi was faced with this, he surely can’t live.
It was like it smashed the core of the heart into dust, poured into bubbling iron, until ashes aren’t even left.
That was the expression Maomao was making.
“…I’ll do whatever it takes to decline him,” he said.
“Thank you very much,” she replied.
Jinshi, while dazed, could only say that.
It was a miracle his heart didn’t stop.
Maomao returned to her former unsociable expression and went back to her own work.