The Kabuki Dancer

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 7 (v.1) - Part One: The Miko - Chapter 6

Submitted: October 21, 2016

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Submitted: October 21, 2016

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As Hana and the rest of the miko apprentices departed, I followed Okuni across the floor to the matronly woman who had been dancing so beautifully just moments earlier.Okuni stopped in front of her and got to her knees, bowing her forehead to the ground.  I followed suit. 

“Priestess Jitsuko,” she said with a touch of reverence, “I have a friend who wishes to join our shrine as a miko apprentice.”  I peeked up to see Jitsuko regarding me with a half smile.  “Well, I suppose I should get to know her a little better,” she stated.  Her voice was quite melodious, and she motioned for both of us to rise.  “Please, bring your guest and come with me, Okuni,” she said, using her long tapering fingers to beckon us.

Leaving the large main hall, we followed close behind as the priestess strode to one of the smaller wooden buildings lining the courtyard.Opening the screen doors, she motioned us inside.  Okuni and I entered to find a rather sparse room, with only a small table and a few cushions around it.The two of us knelt on two of the cushions as Jitsuko entered and closed the door.  She turned to us and said, “If you two would excuse me for a moment I shall return.”  She turned to one of the doors on the side and opened it, disappearing inside and sliding the door behind her shut with a snap.

I looked to Okuni, and asked, “That woman is the Priestess of the shrine?” Okuni smiled as she exclaimed, “Yes!  She has been with the shrine for such a long time now.  Not only is she a talented dancer, she runs the whole grounds of the shrine with such dignity and grace!  Nothing ever seems to get to her.”  I fidgeted nervously in the kimono, and Okuni laughed as she noticed.  “Don’t worry!” she said.  “I am quite sure she likes you already.”  I wasn’t so sure myself, but trusted in Okuni’s words.

A few more minutes passed before Priestess Jitsuko reentered the room.  She had changed from the dark blue kimono she had been wearing a few moments before, and now was garbed in the haori and hakama of a traditional miko.Unlike Okuni, her hair fell unbound around her shoulders now and small bits of jewelry and bells adorned her outfit.Every time she moved, she tinkled. 

She looked at us and smiled, saying, “May I offer you some tea girls?” Both of us politely declined, as was the custom, but in the end the priestess summoned another apprentice to bring some green tea to us.  “Now,” Jitsuko said as she settled on the one remaining cushion in the room, “Why don’t you tell me how you two met?”

Okuni started to tell the story about me as Umi and how I was from Aomori, but Jitsuko held up a slender hand to stop her tale.  “That story will work with many others, my dear Okuni,” she reprimanded softly.  “But in order for me to determine if your young friend would have a place here as an apprentice alongside you and the others, I must have her true story.”  Okuni gaped and stammered, “But how…?” Jitsuko chuckled, saying, “Okuni, you know the ways of our shrine.  Truly you did not think I would know?” Okuni bowed her head, saying, “I ask for your apology, Jitsuko-san.”  Jitsuko reached out and patted her on her shoulder. “There is no harm done my dear.  Now,” she said, turning to me.  I was sweating profusely as her clear brown eyes looked me over.  “Why don’t you tell me your real name and your story, my dear girl?” she asked politely.

I don’t know why, but in that moment I felt I could trust the priestess with anything, even my deepest secrets.  I told my sad tale, from my horrible treatment at the hands of my family, the rape of my sister, and how I came to be outside Okuni’s house on that chilly night.As Okuni listened, Jitsuko had a thoughtful look on her face.  At the description of my sister’s rape, she shook her head and murmured to herself.  Finally I came to the end of my story, allowing silence to descend on the three of us.

For a moment, nothing happened.  Then a knock sounded at the door and the apprentice entered with the green tea. She placed the steaming kettle on the table along with three small bowls before bowing to Jitsuko and leaving the room.As she left her sharp eyes darted to me, and a quick look of disdain crossed her face.  Quick as it appeared, it vanished, and she exited the room without a sound.

Okuni offered to pour and soon three bowls of steaming green tea sat in front of us.  Jitsuko clasped one and took a long sip before lowering the bowl to the table and looking at me again.  “Well, my dear Sachiko.  Or should I say Umi,” she stated.  “Your tale is one of sadness and woe, and I can understand how lucky you are to have found Okuni and to have her protection from the horrors of your home and family.You certainly have my sympathies.”  I took a drink at the same time she took a breath then continued.

“However, your background concerns me,” she intoned.  Okuni seemed to want to protest, but Jitsuko raised her hand, silencing her apprentice.  “At this shrine,” she explained, “We only allow women of high class and stature to serve.Having a member of the eta …” and she seemed to nearly choke on the word, “…community is not something that the aristocracy and the priesthood would smile upon.”  I looked down at my hands, my lip quivering as I saw my new hopes evaporating in front of me.

Okuni’s hand slipped into mine and I looked up.  Okuni’s face was set in stone determination as she turned to the Priestess.  “I can tell that this girl has much potential and will be a great help to the shrine as an apprentice and one day a miko if the kami will it,” she said smoothly.  “I will take responsibility for her and make sure she does not falter or fail.  All that I ask is that you might give her a chance.”  Jitsuko looked at Okuni, then back to me.  My heart pulsed hard.

Sighing, she shook her head and smiled. “As long as you promise that, Okuni, how can I say no?  However,” she stated, raising her hand to quell my thanks, “We must keep it an absolute secret that that you are from an eta community, and of your past with Kurosami. I know of the man you speak,” she said, a grimace crossing her pretty face.  “A man who abuses his position as a samurai to take what he wishes.  But, we will keep your identity a secret, as only me, Okuni, and her family knows where you are from.This should help keep your protected.You will serve as an apprentice alongside Okuni and the others.  Do well, serve this shrine to the best of your ability, and one day, you may become a miko.  That day is not far off for Okuni.” 

I turned to look at Okuni and she shyly said, “I will become a full fledged miko soon and will move into the shrine full time.”  I was stunned at this revelation.  What would I do if Okuni left me all by myself?  Would I have to go back to the eta community to live with my family?The thought shook me. 

But Okuni clasped my hand again and said assuredly, “Umi-chan, my parents will not throw you out.  It is not so long that you may become a miko as well, maybe only a year or two behind me.  They will let you stay while you do your training.  I promise.” She squeezed my hand.

Jitsuko stood and said, “Well, that is settled.  Welcome to our sisterhood, Umi.  Okuni, you may take her to Atsuko, and she will provide her with her apprentice robes.  She will start training with you and the other apprentices tomorrow.”  She walked over and knelt, kissing me on the forehead and embracing me.  “Now,” she said standing, “I must attend to some other shrine duties.  I look forward to seeing you both tomorrow.”  She turned and opened the door, exiting gracefully.  We followed and watched her cross the courtyard back to the main shrine. 

Okuni tugged on my arm, saying “Come with me!”  She led me to another one of the small buildings.  Atsuko was a peasant woman who worked in the shrine doing laundry and caring for the outfits of the mikos and apprentices.  She was round and jovial, reminding me very much of Miyuri.I warmed to her instantly.  She whisked out a pure white haori and held it up to me.  “Hmmm,” she said.  “It’s a little loose, but hopefully, you will grow into it.”  She swiped up a red hakama and handed both garments to me, saying, “I am sure I do not need to tell you, but be careful with these, as they are sacred garments.”  I nodded and took the folded material from her, bowing my head in thanks 

Okuni and I exited and were making the way to the front of the shrine compound when the pretty girl who had brought tea from earlier strode up and blocked our way.  Two other girls were with her.  “So,” she sneered, “The priestess has let an eta into our shrine, no doubt thanks to your urging, Okuni.”  Okuni clenched her hands and jaw, saying, “What do you want, Kumiko?”  The pretty girl widened her eyes and minced, saying “Oh nothing.  It’s just that this shrine is going downhill fast.  First a blacksmith’s daughter…” She indicated Okuni with a wave of her hand “… And now, even worse, a nobody.”  She looked at me with a serpent’s smile.

“Hey!” A shout from across the courtyard came as Hana hurried across.  She smiled brightly at me and Okuni.  “How did it go with the priestess?” she inquired breathlessly, before noticing Kumiko and her two friends.  Her smile turned down and growled “Hello Kumiko.”  The tension in the air was thick, and the two stared at each other.  Kumiko flung up her hands, saying, “Whatever! But you, girl …” she pointed at me.  “I know your secret, and you better be nice to me if you want me to keep it.”  She strode by me and shoved her shoulder against me.  I lost my balance and fell to the dirt, the garments that were so neatly folded now lying on the ground.  I bit back a cry as Kumiko looked at me smugly, saying, “Watch where you are going in the future.”  She walked off with her head held high, her friends’ laughter ringing.

I sat up and gathered the garments.  Okuni and Hana rushed to my side, helping me to rise and brushing me off.  “That Kumiko is so nasty,” spat Okuni.  “Honestly, Hana-chan, how you both are sisters I will never know.”  I looked at Hana open mouthed.  “Sisters?” I asked incredulously.  Hana shuffled her feet, looking at the ground.  “Well, half sisters,” she admitted.  “My mother was a palace servant when she had the affair with my father and I was born soon after.  Kumiko’s mother is the emperor’s cousin and a lady of noble birth.  My mother actually brought me to the shrine when I was very young.  I practically grew up here.  Kumiko only came so she would not have to marry and lose her independence.  Because of her closeness to the emperor in blood and rank, she feels she can lord it over us.” 

Okuni looked after her, saying, “Well one day she will fall lower than any of us.  I swear.”  Coming from Okuni, I thought it sounded like a curse.But then she smiled at me.  “Now, Umi, hurry home and I’ll be home later today.  We will get those robes clean before tomorrow, I promise” she said as she and Hana led me to the front gate.  They both waved goodbye and I waved back as they headed back to their duties.  I looked at the robes in my arms and smiled.  Tomorrow everything would begin for me, and my heart sang at the thought. I headed home with great dreams and hopes in my heart. 


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