Mineko left the back door of theokiya (i)with a habitual dainty step. Sighing with disdain, she maneuvered through the trash with her usual unconscious grace, despite her awkward koma-geta (ii). Her cat Izumi, a silly little white thing with black patches that Mineko adored irrationally, had not been home to visit her mistress for three days' time now. This fact had, admittedly, almost slipped the willowy maiko's mind—those last few days had passed with much hard work. Hopefully there would be no men to entertain tomorrow. It was already late night—probably early morning—and Mineko knew that she should have gone to sleep hours ago. But sleep was impossible with the thought of her little cat starving on these cold, trash-filled streets…

Mineko shook her head. A woman her age was supposed to be caring for children, not cats. True, she was far from elderly—only 18, and she still looked like a twelve-year old maiden. Nevertheless, both of her young sisters had already begun families of their own. Mineko had enough experience with married men to question whether she ever wanted to be the wife of one. Of course, she had until she was twenty, and a true geisha, to decide. Her debts would likely be paid off, and, if she chose to do so, her art could then be forsaken for normalcy. But until that time came, she would entertain men she could not love and care for a cat she loved with a child's sweet silliness.

She picked her way through the dirt and garbage, calling for the little beast, with her white hand carrying an equally pale dish. Within it lay scraps of fish—gourmet fare for most people in 1870 Kyoto, and an extravagant delicacy for a mere cat.

Mineko, despite her occasional oddities and indiscretions, was the favorite of the okiya. Unlike most apprentices, she was intelligent, and, like most, she had perfected the art of being an empty headed flirt. Personality, no matter how contrived, was ultimately more important than looks—which she did not have. Not ugly, still, no one would rave about her plain lack of beauty. Her face and nose were too broad, and she had a distracting gap between her oft-blackened front teeth. Nevertheless, clients loved her and she was often asked for, making her the most desired geisha in Miyagawacho district—and one of the best paid. This gave her a sort of freedom that she took advantage of, but did not exploit.

Finally, Mineko heard a small noise coming from behind a pile of papers shifting in the wind. She tottered over with a bemused look on her face. The cat did not come out at the sight of her mistress or the smell of the fish. Mineko laughed lightly. "Naughty cat—why haven't you—"

Her expression turned to shock as she saw that the noises were produced not by a cat, but by a small human bundle with a tiny pink face. Mineko reached out a gentle hand to the infant, who was awake and content-looking despite his—her?—unfortunate position. Laying the fish down, Mineko picked the tiny thing up and held it closer so she could inspect it better.

Despite the child's situation, it seemed to be in fairly good health. Its face was round with a delicate light pink color and its skin seemed to be healthy and free of infection. Mineko noticed, however, that there was something unusual about the infant.

Whereas one would expect a child found on the streets of Japan to have yellow-tinted skin, dark straight hair and slanted brown eyes, this baby looked much different. Its skin was like china painted over with rose, the round little eyes were the color of a rainy sky, and the sparse strands of hair covering the scalp were a light brown.

Mineko looked at these noticeably odd features, and decided they were unquestionably Western. But how could a gaijin child come to alight in the pile of trash near a Kyoto okiya? It was possible that the child was the half-Japanese, illegitimate offspring of another geisha. While geishas were officially not allowed to prostitute themselves (though this it was Miyagawacho, where under-the-table flesh dealings were commonplace) it was also not uncommon for them to have affairs with their clients—even Westerners. Mineko often wondered how any woman could bear such intimacy with such…such…well, unclean men. Prostitutes were not allowed to come near the hanamachis (iii) where the geisha lived but it was possible that one had come through. Still, though, even half-Japanese children usually had Asian, not European features—the trademark slanted dark eyes, perfectly straight black hair and pale yellow to dark orange-brown skin usually seemed to override any Western characteristics. This definitely looked like the child of foreigners—-an improbable possibility, thought Mineko. Even more perplexingly, the baby had a healthy look and was wrapped with a fair amount of care. Surely a throwaway would not be given such consideration.

"Well, you're quite a puzzle to me." Mineko stood up with the child still clutched in her arms. There was not a doubt in her mind—she wouldn't leave this child on the streets. Perhaps it wasn't practical, but Mineko's conscience would not even consider such a thing. Thoughtlessly setting down her fish-filled dish, she walked back to the okiya with her head bent low towards to the little creature nestled so naturally within the enclave of her arms.

----------------------- i Building where geisha/maiko reside

ii Wooden sandal-like footwear

iii Districts where geisha are found within Japanese cities