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Noriko let herself through the massive wooden gate and into the wondrous garden in Nanpeidai. She supposed a bell sounded in the house. The old woman slid the door open with a rattle, as if the panes of glass might fall to the cobble. They didn’t. She was again shown to the bright western style sitting room with the wall of glass doors looking out into Meiko’s private garden. They sat in two wooden armchairs with upholstered cushions, facing one another over a low tea table.
“So, you have decided,” the old woman asserted after the interminable ritual of the weather and tea.
“No, not yet,” Noriko replied in her most professional tone.
The old woman raised an inquiring eyebrow.
“I am interested in working with you, of course; flattered even, for having been asked.” Noriko’s demeanor was still almost imperious, in the manner of reporters who recognize their importance to politicians. “But this is a very dangerous undertaking for a writer’s career.”
“Yes, I suppose it can be.” The old woman spoke like a wizened grandmother.
“But I have an idea,” Noriko said.
A smile of foreknowledge crinkled in the wrinkles next to the timeless eyes.
“How would you feel if I wrote this book under a pseudonym; a nom de plume?” Noriko’s sudden animation betrayed her enthusiasm for the project.
“The work does not need my name to carry it.
Certainly the memoirs of Japan’s first woman Prime Minister will command an audience no matter who writes it.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” the old woman cackled like a witch from Macbeth. “I have no objection to a pseudonym.
“But there’s more.”
“What is it?”
“I propose to use the name of a western man.”
The old forehead narrowed for a moment. Then a smile spread below and Meiko’s voice almost laughed. “What a good idea! Yes, no need to impugn the respectability of a Japanese man, or risk the professional reputation of a Japanese woman. A western man is just right. Everyone will believe one would be so bold as to write what I want to say.”
“There’s one more thing.”
“Yes, what is it?” Meiko’s voice disclosed a little stress.
“I’m worried about the explicit descriptions contained in these manuscripts you gave me.” Noriko spoke earnestly now, pulling the pages from her attaché case. “We cannot include most of these or your memoirs will be labeled pornographic.”
“Pornographic!” The old woman spoke with mock surprise.
“This is not pornographic! This is my life! And these matters will be treated or I must find another writer,” she said adamantly. “No girl, anywhere in the world, should have to go through what I went through. And many suffer worse! If my life is to stand for something among women, let it stand for that. It still happens! Here in Japan as well as around the world. Let my story be a testament to this inhumanity. Oh, I agree that true equality for all women is a long way away, centuries perhaps, but we can take the first step now. I will not rest until this is done. Am I very clear on this point?”
“Yes, Prime Minister.” Noriko felt her buttocks relax as she recovered from the onslaught. It wasn’t over.
“We women, especially we Japanese, have too long collaborated in a conspiracy of silence about these matters. No one will speak out. But I will! I am old now, and I have a lesson to teach the daughters of Japan. That is my purpose.” Meiko sat back in her chair, breathing easier again. “Shall we go on together?”
“Yes, Prime Minister,” Noriko said, tensely bowing from the waist.
“Call me Meiko,” she said kindly, knowing she had won. “That is my name. I was once Prime Minister, but not now. My time in politics will never end, mind you, but that kind of politics is dead for me now.
“Very well, Prime ….” Noriko examined the face of her mother. Or was it the timeless face of all women? She gave her head a jerky bow of compliance. “Very well, Meiko-sama.”
“Noriko-san, if we are to work together for many months, perhaps years, you must learn to be less formal.
“Very well, Meiko-san.” Noriko’s hesitation still carried through her voice.
Meiko gave a little devilish grin, and the wrinkles by her eyes crinkled again. She always won now.
“So, have you selected a pen name?” Meiko asked with her customary mischievousness, trying to ease the tension.
“If you approve, Meiko-san. My fiancé, Akio, suggested Gerritsan as a family name. He thinks we should use a name that sounds real, but probably is not used any longer. Gerritsan is an ancient family name which, according to Akio, has been changed to something completely different in modern times.”
“That sounds like a good idea. And for the given name?”
“David. I’ve always loved that name since I saw Michelangelo’s ‘David’ in Rome.”
Meiko grinned, remembering Hayama, as she always did when the name David was mentioned. “I knew a David once,” she said wistfully, staring past Noriko’s face at a pine tree in the garden.
“It’s David Gerritsan then,” Meiko said. “That’s fine. I like the name.”
“Perhaps we should go back to events in the manuscript then,” Noriko said tentatively.
Meiko nodded her assent.
“Is it true that after you were taken you never saw your parents again?”
“Yes, it is true. Of course, when I was fifteen I hoped to return someday and be with my mother again. Perhaps I was unusually naive. But somehow I knew, I think. It was a long time ago.”
“Were you afraid of what was to come?”
“Assuredly not! Others had disappeared from our village. And it was said they had gone to Tokyo to earn their dowry. Some came back; not all. They lived their lives, but …” Meiko trailed off, a tear forming in her eye as the pain of six decades washed through her mind.
“But I knew I would never return. My life as I had known it was gone. The day before I left I bought a kokeshi doll. It must have been a very humble thing. I only had a few yen. I spent much of the night before I left painting its face to look like me. You know the custom of my region?”
“No,” Noriko responded delicately, hoping not to slow the flow of precious remembrance.
“We paint the face of a dead child on a kokeshi doll, as a remembrance. I don’t know why I did it.” A tear ran down her cheek and her voice cracked, “I intended to go home.”
“You never had further contact with your parents?”
“Things were very different then. Telephones barely worked at all, and I was not given access to one in any case. It was unthinkable to travel back to Sendai in my circumstances. By the time I could, it was too late.”