The girl so clearly did not belong to the gay quarters. Perhaps even dressed up in Dayū’s radiant, expensive attire, everyone would see that she belonged somewhere else, a whole different world. It was not her face. Any face can belong to the gay quarters.
It was her manners.
She sat on her heels and stared at the floor, flustered. Her visit was supposed to be brief, then Dayū somehow compelled her to stay. Takuan thought that what the girl needed, after years of chasing after a reluctant man, was to go home to her village and wait.
“Surely,” Dayū thought when she invited her. “It does not matter how long you wait for a man who has no heart to return. Why won’t you stay here, and spend some time with me? Even if you return to your village a few days later, it will not make a difference to him.”
Otsū, perhaps only because she did not want Takuan and Jōtarō’s pitiful gaze on her anymore, and more so did not want to become a hindrance to them, accepted. Ever since they left, she sat by herself, overwhelmed and shy.
Dayū always thought that for men, two types of beautiful girls existed. Herself was one of them. Graceful and perfect from head to toe. Educated in the arts and always ready for smart banter, a spar of words. Her type, if they were not locked away in the depths of the pleasure quarters, for everyone to see and use and marvel at, were considered catty, and unbearable by men. What men pay good money to see in a space they consider safe, was so different from what they wanted to surround themselves with in real life.
For real life, there was the type of Otsū. She was pretty, perhaps, but wore her prettiness without pride or awareness. Even her clothes were more functional than showy since she had been on the road for so long, her looks were never a priority. Still, she must be popular, Dayū thought. Her charms came from the purity of her thoughts and the genuineness of her feelings that she was willing to live to the fullest. Men loved a pretty face, but as much as they loved it, they could not care less.
Men loved something else much more, and that was being in control.
Whether they enjoyed Yoshino Dayū’s companionship for the good money they paid, knowing that their patronage kept her well-fed and alive, or they enjoyed the obedient, soft, and innocent nature of girls like Otsū, the results were all the same. Men liked to flatter themselves with the fact that they had power.
They were so much like children. Always there to win, to flaunt.
“Otsū,” she called.
The girl lifted her head up obediently.
“To tell the truth, I asked you to stay because I think you could use some female company,” Dayū told her. “When I look at you, I see a girl with the loneliness of the moon, surrounded by so many stars, but never one of her kind.”
Her voice was clear but rang of sadness. “Back in the village, I would have Musashi’s sister, Ogin, to keep me company.”
“How long as it been?”
Long years, since then. Dayū understood the loneliness in her eyes then and admired her for keeping to the only affection she ever knew in her life. People without affection had the artificiality of Sasaki Kojirō, who outshone anyone near or far him, but even his radiance was a performance, an act he put on for other people.
In that manner, he was a lot like Yoshino Dayū.
The last time she saw him, he was finally alive. At that moment, Dayū felt envious of him, too. Much like Otsū, finally he also only lived his life for one single sentiment, flaring up with the flames of his passion. Dayū had her passions everywhere and nowhere at the same time, struggling in a world that wanted her affections but did not accept them for what they were worth.
She wished she could be alive once as Sasaki Kojirō was, with Miyamoto Musashi in his arms, as he dragged him to safety. That, a childish desire to conquer or not, was affection. Sentiment.
“This is not your world,” she said. “But these few days, I wish you belonged to me. You and I meet the same men: you on the road, and I, in the pleasure quarters. They may show us a whole different face but the tragic thing is that these men are still the same people.”
She laughed at the face Otsū made.
“Do not be afraid. You know what I am talking about,” Dayū added, softly. “I think you know just as much of the dangers of this floating world as I do. If not more.”
“In this world, even men are afraid.”
“Men, however, are afraid of the world they created themselves. Is that not silly? They create something out of their own bloodlust and will to fight and live in fear of their own. What sort of order would you create in the world, if you had the chance, Otsū?”
Rin’ya brought in some tea for them, and rice cakes for her guest to relish after a long day of walking. Otsū quickly turned her attention towards the teacup.
“I have not thought about that before.”
“Perhaps it would benefit you to think about that every now and then.” She stood up and closed her overcoat at her chest with her hands and left them there for a moment.
People sometimes thought that Dayū’s composure was genuine in its unearthly manner, and that was only because they wanted to believe that women of Dayū’s posture naturally existed in the world. They were created, from the way Dayū’s voice sounded to her small, elegant steps.
Even though she was performing for this world, and outside of her own terms, she decided to do this while keeping to her own thoughts and observations. People wanted to see a special sort of woman when they entered the pleasure quarters, and she acted as their ideal woman, the way she carefully shaped her based on thorough research.
Her real thoughts about the world were hidden under thousands of veils. The private, true Yoshino Dayū was inaccessible to all. Most men did not want access to her true personality, either. Most of them also never noticed that something was amiss.
Sasaki Kojirō was the first to take notice, but perhaps he only saw a reflection of his own soul hidden deep behind her gaze. Only one in hiding understands the truth concealed with flowery, gaudy deceit.
“Will thinking about an ideal world change anything?”
“In our world? Perhaps nothing. In your world, however? You may find everything you believed now turned upside down.”
Which woman had not encountered a man who called himself an enlightened teacher and blamed all of mankind’s misdeeds on the other sex? Educated, eloquent and full of passionate disdain, these men could convince most, even if they were to say that white was black.
How would that not break most girls’ spirit, to hear that merely their existence was equated with sin, based on their birth: that they could never catch up with their peers, and in fact would drag them down to perhaps the worst levels of hell. And more so, wouldn’t hearing this from all sources make their lives colourless and spent in bad spirits?
Pleasure was only a threat to those who became beasts at pleasure’s feet. Women were no icons of pleasure or frivolity either, Dayū came to think. She, after all, could not name a woman who owned a golden tearoom.
“But if the world cannot change, what comfort can it ever bring us?” Otsū questioned.
“Comfort sometimes comes in strange forms. Does your beloved not make you cry, and yet, you chase him through the provinces? It is because you have faith.”
Otsū’s face turned slightly pink, and she tried to hide behind her sleeves.
“Do you think faith is laughable?”
Dayū sat down on her heels once again. “Faith is admirable, Otsū. Though, I cannot help but wonder: why do you run after a man who clearly has no intention of being with you, or connecting your lives together? Do you truly think a time will come when he will stop, to settle down with you?”
That made Otsū cry. They were more tears of awareness than tears prompted by harsh words. In this world it was perhaps Otsū who knew the most about Musashi’s nature, and even so, knowing no other sentiment, she clung to him ever so desperately. Dayū was as fascinated by that as she was puzzled.
She wondered if she ever met a force strong enough in her life that would make her want to give up everything (although there was not much she had) and lay all her life and pride down for one person.
(Again, she called out in her head for Sasaki Kojirō. How did you do it? How did you give up?)
Living one’s whole life for one sentiment was the purest thing she could imagine: and was the only thing she could never achieve. Her life was genuine in many ways, but not in the purity of affections. She lived her nights for pleasure and for fast-paced, witty conversations, but beyond that laid nothing. Dayū knew more than most in the world how ephemeral her existence was.
Tonight, celebrated as the most beautiful peony on a field, and tomorrow her petals would be scattered, long forgotten. Beauty and charms were short lived. What entertained men in one second ran boring in the next, and nothing could ever rekindle the fire of interest. Her position was the most fleeting in the world.
But what path was really open before her in these years of turmoil? They said many women warriors rode to battle with Hideyoshi. Some received training in the martial arts, walking on the same path many men chose for themselves.
It did not matter to Dayū, who wielded the sword, after all. She would not have been more satisfied with the path men were free to choose and women had to fight for. What she saw in the sword was destruction.
Kōetsu looked past the use and worshipped the art behind the craft, dreaming of a world where swords did not exist to hurt. For sure, some men believed that the path of the sword was not inherently a violent one and that the sword, much like the sacred sword of the imperial regalia, represented valour and virtue.
She always thought that against practice, ideologies did not hold up. One may believe ever so firmly that the sword was not meant for destruction, but their ideal world fell powerless before the state of the current world. What she knew, and what people knew for generations before her, was an endless struggle for power, a terrifying turmoil of political disagreements and far-fetched ambitions.
In their times, anyone could pick up a sword and call themselves a warrior. A world that is free for all may open its gates towards paradise, as well as the greatest depths of hell. And so, picking up a sword and marvelling at what it meant for a handful of people who appreciate its delicacy was nothing to her.
In the large scheme of things, swords killed. Destroyed. She did not want to be part of that. If there was a tiny glimmer of hope and pleasure one could get their hands on, no matter how crooked and false those pleasures were, she would rather hold up the harmless arts and pleasures one could find in this world.
And thus, there she was.
“I do not,” Otsū answered, through her tears. “I know that his path is not coinciding with mine and that perhaps it never will. I know that if he decided to stay back, he would not be the same person I loved. I long for him, and yet... I chase him for a chance to meet, in between the challenges he takes, knowing his path will not allow him to settle down.”
Dayū laughed, not only at the purity of her despair but at the whimsical nature of humankind.
“It is interesting, how humans will cling to any sort of affection they know, even if they understand it does no good for them. Your man says you are a hindrance to the path he takes because your feelings and tears deter him. However, are you not the greatest teacher? Of love and patience and loyalty?”
People like Musashi and Sasaki Kojirō ran around waving their swords about and making all sorts of enemies into their masters, weak or strong. Growing more sensitive to the world around them, they would still make the fine arts their teachers first, not seeing that they miss half of the population in the realm they live in who could serve as their masters. Dayū never resented them for this, she simply thought them childish and slow.
Otsū’s face changed once she was called by that name. These names and titles felt powerful on anyone’s tongue, recalling stories and memories they had perhaps long forgotten.
Dayū loved to observe all sorts of people who came to the pleasure quarters: but especially those who did not belong there. She edged a bit closer to Otsū.
“I heard from Takuan that you played the flute. Today, you must be tired but one day I wish to hear you play.”
Otsū smiled through her tears. “And what is more, they also relentlessly gossip, men…”
But Takuan’s manners cheered her up and drew her thoughts away from a lover who would never let her catch up.
“I will play - but will you play the lute for me in return?”
Her songs and smiles were sold mostly to men who needed company, but she would not mind giving them away for such a lonely creature for free. It was not often that she could have such exchanges with laywomen that came from the real world. And Otsū was charmingly shy, wayward and yet bashful. Dayū knew that at times she felt jealous of the manner she presented herself with, of her gaudy hairstyle, and the carefully applied makeup.
Clearly, the girl was not used to applying anything to her face, and always carried herself in a simple manner. She did not realize that it was just the sweetness of her simplicity that made her so likeable to others.
Dayū was mesmerised by her clear, high voice, her beady black eyes, and most of all, her stubborn faith in others. She did not have the privilege to meet anyone in this world she could put her trust in, be it a playmate like Kōetsu, or a pupil like Musashi. For Otsū to trust Musashi was perhaps a mistake, although she could not bring herself to call it foolish.
Her heart chose a path, and it was the path of one single sentiment. Admirable.
“Man would not fault another man for stepping on the path of the sword and thinking of nothing else but improving himself through it,” Dayū thought. “Yet, they would fault a woman for having the same resolve, walking a different path. You mastered the art of pouring your feelings into the sound of the flute.”
Otsū disagreed. “This is nothing more than a child’s play.”
“Then children in Miyamoto have refined skills in music.”
“My flute and your lute resonate the same melody,” the girl added. “I think when you talk about the lonely moon in the sky, you talk about yourself, as well.”
The tune of loneliness sounds empty to her because it was not filled with pining for another. Her loneliness was a pang in her chest as if her heart felt hungry for something she never knew. Otsū was longing for the company of someone she used to know, but Dayū alone, surrounded by a crowd. Even if she forced herself to be the merrymaker, under the makeup and the golden glitter, emptiness was waiting for her.
And so, and even more so, before her time was over as the famous Yoshino Dayū, she wanted to become a teacher. She wanted to break herself up into pieces and hand them away to anyone who cared to take them, leaving behind a form of a legacy for when someone else will be the starlet of the Kyoto pleasure quarters.
Great warriors may go down in history for a remarkable deed, or an unprecedented atrocity. Her fame was fleeting as their current world though, remembered today, forgotten tomorrow. If she could transmit what she knew for at least one soul who would then carry her teachings with them, she would be satisfied. She would live on, in the heart of someone else.
She decided she would learn while Otsū was there with her. It was a rare opportunity, to meet someone so different from her in nature, and observe the way her heartstrings responded to being teased by new feelings. As she knew that all things were bound to end, she also knew that their days were numbered. A young, innocent girl like Otsū can only be hosted at the dwellings of a courtesan for so long.
And knowing that Otsū’s life revolved around moving from one place to another, treating her whole life as an endless wayfare, it was more than expected that she would sooner or later find herself wanting to move on.
“Sometimes I wish you did not listen to Takuan,” Dayū told her. “The road is surely dangerous for a young girl like you, but hiding away in a village, waiting for something that may never come back to you…”
Tears welled up in Otsū’s eyes again, reminded of her whimsical fate.
“It is destiny,” she said.
“But if you heard word of where he went… would you go home, or would you head in the same direction?”
She did not need even a moment to consider everything. “I would chase after him.”
Of course, she would. Perhaps if she gave another answer, she would stop being herself. Dayū smiled, for she understood if even only for a moment, the manner in which Otsū lived her life. No doubt, it was lonely.
But it was not about the loneliness. It was the devotion. Devotion to someone that may very well never be yours, and ever with knowing that your thoughts were never clouded with thoughts of disdain or resentment. Even those traits that stood between the two of you would resonate fondly with your heart, for it all belonged to the person you longed for and loved.
That peek into Otsū’s heart also came with the realization that it was time for the girl to leave.
Dayū wanted to be called someone’s great teacher and in all her efforts, found herself someone to look on as a great teacher. It was good that way, she told herself. If she did not find new ways to refine her heart, soul, and mind anymore, she may as well disappear from the world. She found her momentary hubris entertaining.
Not only that but the whims of her heart. Less than a week ago, she condemned Otsū for pining for someone that may never want to be hers.
Tonight, the yearning of her heart colours the sound of her lute silver, like the beautiful, beautiful, dangerous edge of a blade.
“Dayū,” Kōetsu mewls. “Your music is full of forbidden longing tonight.”
His smile told a story different from what was dwelling in her chest. But she returned it without sadness in her eyes.
“I had a great teacher; whose art was much more refined than mine.”
“My my, Dayū. Always moving forward. You may as well be called the woman of our times.”
“The woman of our fleeting, ever-changing times. Yoshino Dayū will change face many times.”
Soon enough, the time will come when another courtesan would be called by this name. No matter how much one despaired, change could not be stopped. Painful or comforting, all great men and women are bound to fall, just as the bells of the Gion Shōja echo. That echo is the only truth in this world, the only truth they should all live by.
Dayū waited for her end with graceful resignation, for she chose pride as her way to fade away.
When she returned to her living quarters at the early hours of the morning, Otsū was fast asleep in the grey morning light.
She remembered thinking Otsū was worthy of being jealous of, but by today, it was Musashi she envied. If she could live her whole life, burned up by her feelings, so true and genuine, she would not need to ask anything else from this world.
Dayū anticipated that the girl would be gone by the time she woke, but Otsū was still in the house. Of course, she would not leave without at least a short goodbye.
“I wish you would continue your journeys,” Dayū told her. “Your meetings of chance and experiences are worthy of travel diaries.”
Otsū knew more than she ever showed and in her goodbye, she allowed her to know for the first time.
“Perhaps once you should set out on a journey yourself if you wish for the admirable sceneries and the people you meet along the way. Even more so, perhaps one day you may find yourself following me, following someone else, and in the right place and time, we may reunite.”
She gave a lesson to Musashi as a keepsake, but there were no lessons she would be able to give to Otsū. To give a personal object would take a toll too heavy on her. Even poetry would fall short on all the things she
“There is nothing I could give you to take with you on the road. But think of me sometimes, when you happen to hear the distant sound of the lute.”
“I will have a thousand memories to remember you by.”
She escorted her to the back entrance of her dwellings, ensuring she would leave safely and unnoticed. The sun was still high on the sky, so she knew that Otsū would have enough time to find a new dwelling for the night.
“I wish you luck on your journeys.”
A few minutes later, Otsū’s figure disappeared from before her eyes.
With straw hat on and leggings at place, sandals fixed to her feet, face plain and unpainted, hiding from sight, after a woman who leaves no trace, after a man who gained renown and fame.
It is hard to expect from destiny to work out in ways you always asked for.
It is hard to ask fate to be kind to you and leave the way open towards your most earnest wishes.
Hundreds of years ago it would be possible to reunite on a stormy night for a round of prayers, and tearful celebration. And yet today it may be that on a hot summer afternoon paths meet again on the highways, straw hats come off, and hands meet hands.
It may be that they later then, they meet under the moonlight again, shining silver and lonely.
For thousands of years and longer, the moon did not lose its spark: although courtesans did, and so, after all, she could not be called the moon, she found.
But perhaps, if the moon could speak, she would rather lose its brilliance in favour of company of her likes. Perhaps, if she were to say, she won this silent contest.
Happiness was not something she ever called hers, but upon the sight of her great teacher, she dared to think she was nothing less than lucky in this life: to have met, to have reunited, to have fallen in love.