Friday, January 27, 2017

A Short Story: Fate and Starlight

Trust me when I say I did not believe her. Trust me when I say—she says one thing and does another. The woman was an enigma of lies. A child of fate and starlight who shrugged off her destiny in favor of parting her legs and selling her soul to those with dark intentions. Momoka was a woman who believed women could have love, happiness, and then some. In this male dominated world, her beliefs were simply cast offs of a different age. An age long past, where women could lead and men would bow down in blood drenched soil.

We are united now. Women are no longer needed in leadership positions, we are born now to follow. And I believe this realization took Momoka's breath far before she scattered her own lifeblood upon the floorboards. Trust me when I say that none of us expected this.

Trust me when I say, I am sorry. But she will not be missed. For who could love a liar?

Hours before, during the evening of a day that feels like yesteryear, Momoka gathered the five of us in her quarters.

I remember her face so clearly because her corpse is an exact copy; she seemed drained. Papery skin was yellowed like old parchment, weathered around her red lips. Creases and lines bunched up like so many rivers on an old map. She could not kneel like the rest of us, and so she simply sat cross-legged. Hands on either knees, head bowed beneath the weight of her own hair.

She smiled at each of us in turn though would meet none of our eyes. I remember one of the girls snickering. Rocking back and forth on her knees, she stared into Momoka's tired eyes and giggled.

Getting old?” she said, in reference to Momoka's inability to kneel.

Momoka took the insult with care. Clasping her hands to her chest, she sighed, “Too old for this world.”

And the giggler chuckled loudly. Turning, she spewed her happiness upon the rest of us.

As a child, I was taught not to laugh at the misfortune of others. But as laughter rolled around the cozy room, I found myself giggling as well.

Momoka did not so much as flinch.

Poor old woman, I thought as she took a lock of wild hair and forced it behind her wilted ear. Old woman, I laugh at the title now because she was not old at the time—not in the typical sense of the word. Though older than all five of us, she was only in her late twenties when she decided that the world was not enough for her.

But she would tell us this point blank. As bluntly and as fully as she could. But not before the laughter died and a feeling of unease took over, the slow silence a thick blanket that choked.

Momoka held out her arms, the sleeves of her robe trailing upon the tatami matting, “I am taking my life tonight.”

My eyebrows furrowed, confusion twisting all of the girls faces.

They were quick to challenge her—we, were quick.

And what do you expect us to do, Momo?” asked the strongest of us, crossing her arms as she did so, “Do you want us to talk you out of it?”

Momoka shook her head, “No...” she breathed, “I just wanted to say good-bye.”

The first speaker snorted her disdain, “Right. Here I go Momo!” gently, crawling onto her hands and knees, she clasped her hands before herself in a pleading gesture, “Please don't go, Momo! The bordello will not be the same without you!” and she wreathed on the ground, earning a few chuckles from the others.

That is when the room gained strength, the girls beginning to believe that this was all for attention. For, with Momoka, it often was. Three times she has threatened to take her own life; first with a fistful of nameless herbs, second with a sword she could not find, and third—like this. In a nameless, nondescript, way with a calm and cold demeanor.

Let me say, it is hard to listen to the whistling bird when it screams its songs in the dead of night. Constantly, constantly, it sings and swells its breast when the moon is high. Yet, in the morning it is silent. As deathly quiet as a winter morning.

Momoka was all this, and more.

How do you plan to do it?” One girl asked.

Does Akane endorse this? We won't be blamed for it—will we?”

What will you use this time, Momo?” asked another, this one closer to me, “Will you use a letter opener? Oh—you know Akane doesn't let us have sharp things...”

I grimaced as if being pelted by these asinine questions—all that was left to ask now was--

When will you do it?” I found myself asking, “At what time? Do it late in the morning.” I said, chuckles rising all about me, “So that when Akane finds your body, we won't lose sleep.”

And the chuckles erupted into a roar of laughter, the girls closest to me touching my shoulder or thighs in recognition of a job well done.

Ah, I basked in the glory. If only to wallow in the lies and misfortune of another. Momoka stooped in her cross-legged position, eyes reddening. Face turning the color of burnt coal.

There was no—this is serious this time—nor any sort of counter against our harsh questions. Though she did not answer the hanging questions, we did not ask her to. For, we truly believed this was another gimmick to get eyes on her. We believed Momoka could not do it—she loved herself too much. She stewed in the bottomless pot of her lineage. Telling us over and over how she is better than us baseless prostitutes.

And a memory forces me to speak up once more. A memory of her.

As lattice-girls, we sit behind a crisscrossed face of wood during the height of the day. This is done to call paying customers to our bordello for a chance to take one of us. For a chance to buy and sell and trade in human flesh.

Momoka was the original lattice-girl. When a new girl arrived, Momo's was the first face she'd often see. Being the most senior of us all, Momo would take to showing the new girl around and laying down the ground rules we all had to follow.

I remember being new and terrified. Crying behind the lattice cage as faces peered in at me, their expressions blurred. The constant noise of Yoshiwara muffled by my cries. No crying—a rule I was told on day one. It was the first rule I broke and the first thing I was ever punished for.

I am more than the wood of this latticed cage.” I remember Momo hissing, eyes glaring through the wood bars of our waiting room. The heat in our cage was stifling and her agitation showed in her words, I am more than they could ever be.”

On that wood floor, I am wincing because she has dug her nails into my arm. Her talons cut deep—as deep as any knife. The nails draw blood and she backs away, stricken at what she has done to mark me.

And now, in the present, I touch the marks she so lovingly left me. Marks which quickly became infected and stole my right arm from me months ago. Perhaps years. There is a ghost there now. A phantom limb which I can touch and see and feel. Pain throbs from fingers which aren't there, and I close them—reminding myself. Reminding myself of who took my right arm from me.

Because of her, I tell myself, I am crippled.

And I realize, that I hope she does it. I realize, in that present moment surrounded by my fellow bordello sisters, that I want Momoka to pass on and leave this world—my world—behind.

I meet her eyes in that moment. I say: “I will help you.”

Silence. She blinks three times, wiping away tears with her eyelids. It is as if the entire room is holding its breath.

And she responds: “No you will not.”

It feels as if a heavy stone has been lifted from my chest when she says this. But I did not believe she would actually do it. None of us did.

But, nevertheless, my admonition quieted the room.

And then, other girls began to join in. From the junior to the most senior of us.

I will help you.” came a voice from behind me.

The strongest of us puffed out her chest, “I will help you.”

I will help you, Momo.” came another.

And it went on like this. All five of us pledging our allegiance to Momoka. Willing to help her pass on into the next life.

Of course, we believed this was an elaborate hoax.

But Momoka did not. Reserved as she was in this moment, she stood and bowed and turned her back to us. We stood as well, gathering to leave. Eyes fell upon me, grins meeting them as the girls nodded at me. One by one, the girls left Momoka's room. Roving down the dark hallway beyond in a gathering of high-pitched voices and giggles.

No one will miss you, you know.” I say before I leave.

I hear her shake. I hear her tremble and cry. ...

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