A woman confesses her love to her nurse.
| “What will be your fee, Gai-sa-Gai?” The girl said weakly from her bed, solemnity coating the air. The said person brought the blood-soaked rag away from her arm. |
“There is no need to pay, Saito-san.” The weak woman nodded, clutching her baby through the cloth wrapped around him.
“Gai..you can take this child.” Gai’s neutral face stretched with a rueful smile, but she shook her head.
“Saito-san, you must have a family or someone more suitable that I can bring the child to.” The weak woman frowned at her baby, looking to the side where the woman was gathering up the bloodied sheets beneath her. Her hands were soft in their touch as they fluffed the new covers to her chest.
“Gai, you have such a funny accent. Like the father of this baby.” As Gai poured water into a basin, the woman reached out with her shaking fingers. Noticing this, Gai’s brows pulled in before putting the water down and sitting next to the futon.
“It’s hard to speak loudly, so I’m sorry I have to trouble you while you clean after me.” Gai shook her head.
“I know what you want to ask Saito-san. But I’m a foreigner, I won’t be able to raise the child well. I don’t belong here Saito-san. The feeling of being alone in the world,” Gai raised her hand to lay on the child’s head as Saito’s cheeks began to warm, “..should never be felt by a child, especially yours.” Saito shook her head faintly, raising the child.
“Your voice is so kind, Gai. You always were, even while I walked the streets, just for a bowl of soba..” Saito laughed gently, eyes not only looking with fondness, but admiration as she held Gai’s hand close to her.
“Gai..I always expected a man to marry me and then I’d be able to live nicely. But..” Breathing out shakily, Gai wiped the trail of her tears, waiting patiently as the woman’s hand begged her to come even closer.
“I fell for you Gai-san.” Gai tried to move her hand, but Saito held on desperately.
“I’m just going to hold your face..Chiyo..” Chiyo’s grip loosened and Gai held Chiyo’s cheek, the skin there weathered by the cold. Gai’s thumb made random shapes, staying near Chiyo’s eye to catch her tears.
Chiyo’s wide brown eyes blinked, but her raised brows lowered as her lower lip jutted out. “This is pretty mean to yourself, isn’t it?” Gai relaxed the wrinkles on her forehead and laid her elbow on Chiyo’s other side, careful of the baby. Letting herself down, she pressed her lips against Chiyo’s forehead.
Nothing, but howling cold outside and Chiyo's fast breathing made sound in this quiet room.
She felt her baby stir and Chiyo, with one hand lay her baby flat against her chest and neck, letting her hand come up to Gai’s shoulder, bunching up the material as she tried desperately to stifle her crying through her ragged breathing.
Those lips didn’t push down with love or want, but it was comfortable and her weak heart still fluttered as Gai pulled back, leveling those analyzing brown eyes to her own.
“Can you pretend?” Gai raised her brow, but softened it.
Will you be alright with that?
Inside her, Chiyo felt that question in Gai’s thumb pausing for just a second.
Chiyo nodded, her closed eye smile especially glistening tonight, both her calloused hands tugging on Gai’s kimono.
Her head felt lighter now, her faster pulse and breath kept reminding her death was near. All she could perceive was her child and Gai full of warmth.
Chiyo was pale, even with the glow of fire, her skin clammy.
Gai’s lip trembled, but she swallowed it down.
Wasting no time, she placed her lips on Chiyo’s temple. “I love you Chiyo.”
Chiyo’s world was spinning, but even with that deep ache, she felt the warmth of gentle lips on her eyelids and her cheeks, hushed whispers of compliments and praises she couldn’t understand with the cloud that hung heavy in her head.
But she understood when Gai’s lips tentatively pressed against her own.
In this Meiji period, Chiyo’s life was to attain the gracefulness and beauty that Yoshiwara demanded. But this kiss took her all in, her clumsy lips and awkward pulls, responding with a hand steadying her head, fingers threading through her sweaty hair. Elbow pushed further in the futon beside her, making Chiyo’s chest pleasantly warm, Gai was an anchor.
Gai pulled away slightly, Chiyo’s lips chased after.
“You'll be alright.” Gai’s voice trembled as Chiyo lay below her, a satisfied smile spreading on her face.
Maybe if I could see her face, I could see it crumple as her face would twist as she tried to lie.
But, right now, she had a feeling Gai’s face was soft, just like always.
“Gai, I- take care of my child till I wake up?” Gai’s eyes, dark due to the shadows of the fire, shimmered now with tears as her shoulders shook. She sat up now, holding Chiyo’s weak hand and sat, her other hand in the futon next to her thigh.
Gai was warm and soft against her side.
At least I got a kiss, at least Gai would know she fulfilled her wish, she wouldn’t feel guilty-
“I’m sorry I was late, Chiyo. If-
Chiyo’s thumb made a few weak circles onto Gai’s hand,“Those were demons Gai-san. Two hands made for healing against that. You weren’t late, I lived this long didn’t I?” Gai blinked through the tears, desperately wishing for her vision to clear to see these last moments, Chiyo’s voice was soft now, barely perceptible.
“I’ll be here until you wake up.” Chiyo smiled and nodded, falling into the sleep that lulled her while Gai’s hand gently laid onto her forehead.
As Chiyo breathed out, the warmth the fire seemed to give off faded, instead the cold of winter set harshly into the air.
The sheer cold of loneliness laid on her shoulders like a cloak on Gai as she laid Chiyo’s hands to her chest and the newborn to her side, her eyes softening at the baby.
With the cloth swaddled around him, his hands and toes covered with little mittens, she bent over, feeling the baby’s gentle breaths of sleep on her neck. It felt mechanical, with her occasional glances towards Chiyo. Her body was still warm and moved as if she was alive when she picked up her hand that lay over her baby, but there was no breathing.
Amazingly the baby whined lightly, but even earlier, just quietly cooing and looking everywhere with those big brown eyes.
Just like his mother who laid on the sidewalk..offering her everything for enough yen to buy a cutlet bowl or maybe a bowl of soba. That made Gai bow her head as those times flashed through her mind, making tears threaten her eyes again.
It was chilly, something that usually comforted her made her vision blur with tears and her chest tighten. Supporting him with her hands, the cloth came below him. Another knot and she stood up. At that, the howl of the wind sounded through the shoddy cottage.
She swallowed as she brought another fleece around them, and her arm pulsed, just like that time. That time when she could only grab Chiyo and run into the rising sun. Gai’s fingers, stiff because of the cold buttoned up the fur lined coat, fastened the straps holding the hood around the baby.
But before she could leave that cottage, she leaned down to lay the blanket over Chiyo’s face.
The fingers brushing her forehead, paused in the air as she was..a bit colder now.
Gai’s brown eyes blinked at the woman. That's why it was bothering her. Chiyo's delicate features should've been warm and moving with life, not cold.
“Saito Chiyo when you reach the afterlife..name me as a witness.You are kind and accepting, I’m sorry I couldn’t love you like you wanted..” Gai’s throat clammed up as she pressed her hands further into each other.
She wouldn’t close her eyes, because Saito Chiyo deserved to be looked at, even to the last moment.
“But you lived life the best you could, giving love, even to those who gave you up.” Gai’s voice was a strained whisper now.
“You believed in everyone, even your parents despite them selling their eldest daughter for their debt. You did it so that your younger sister wouldn’t have to.” Her fingers pressed into her hand as she bit her bottom lip.
“No matter what, you are..” She looked about her as she came down to her knees, the sentence hanging half-finished in the air.
Nobody deserves this.
But at the baby’s little cry, she stood up, lips pressed straight.
It was a short walk to the door. Only a few seconds.
With her hand on the edge of the door and the cool wind making her nose twitch, Gai couldn’t help but to look back regretfully.
If proper, in the earth she would be warmer, but instead she had to leave Chiyo out in the cold, to be as cold as that night.
The baby’s coos quickly brought her out of her trance as she stepped out with a stick into the howling night.
Food was in Yoshiwara, a few miles that she could cover fast.
If they wanted to survive, they had to run.