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Erotic Death Tales by Hitomi
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The Second Button

(1)

Click! Click! Click!
The echo of my wooden sandal sounded like the strikes of a hammer on my racing heart.
“Faster! Faster! Please run faster!” I pleaded to my tiring legs, restricted in movement by the fabrics
of my yukata. I might already be too late.
Why did Yamada sansei retained only me for more dancing practice when she let everyone else go?  
She must have noticed my disappointment and anxiety when she announced the decision.  It was
true that I made several careless mistakes in steps but so had Ayako.  But she let her go and I was
ordered to stay.
“Hikari! Why are you thinking? Concentrate and do this once again.” It was not her  words that filled
my eyes with tears.  I would not mind if she was so harsh on me.  Not today, please. Not today.
There was no choice but to comply with her order.  Obedience is the most important quality for a
Geisha-trainee, which both Ayako and I were one of them.  To be precise, we were trained to be
maikos.  Only when we became successful in this role could we became full-fledge geishas.  We
were also required to sell off our first nights to the highest bidder, the money a chief remuneration
for our trainers. Under ordinary circumstances, it might take some more years before that was going
to happen.  But the time was anything but ordinary.  We were at war and like soldiers hastily trained
and then sent off to war, we were given only basic training as entertainers before we found
ourselves serving the Emperor and war effort by entertaining.
War.
How I hate the word.
We were told that this war was inevitable, even desirable. Inevitable because the western power
would never tolerate a rising Japan, desirable because this is a golden opportunity for our nation to
prove our worth as a great country and an honor to serve and die for His Majesty.
So, Ayako and I were taken from schools and trained as geishas.  For the same reason, Takashi and
Kentai had to join the navy. Takashi, Kentai, Ayako and I, Kikari, the four inseparables.
This day was when Takashi and Kentai would leave our town and join the war: the two Watanabes
from the same town, without any blood relationship to each other and yet treating each other like
brothers.  They even looked like brothers, Takashi being a bit taller and stronger built, Kentai, who
wanted to become a pianist one day were march off to war and changed their school uniform for that
in navy white.
Click! Click! Click!
I was out of breadth already.  I had raced down the steep slope where the geisha school was
situated towards the small railway station once Yamada sensei finally let me go.  Am I already too
late?  Where have all the people gone?  To the station, of course, to see their husbands and sons
off.  That was the only relief I had: if I could not see anyone coming back from the station, that meant
the train had not yet departed.
I sped up, ignoring my arching calves.  I had to.  I had always loved Watanabe Takashi, even when I
was a child. I would never forgive myself I cannot go and say farewell to him.

(2)

I reached the station.  It was packed with people.  Parents, wives, children, all smiling to reflect such
joy as they waved the assigned flags bearing the symbol of the rising sun.  There was no tears.  Of
course I knew why: the watching eyes of the military police ensured that.  To feel sorrow when called
upon to serve the Emperor could be a serious crime, even treason.  I elbowed my way through the
crowd, eyes darting from one group to another.  There were so many young men in uniform: many of
their second buttons missing.  I panted for breath, and for despair. How could I find him?
“Hikari! Over here!”
It was Ayako.  
I followed the lead of the sound and finally, there they were. Kentai and Ayako were standing on the
platform where the train was stationed.  There was no sign of Takashi.
“We thought you would never make it.” Ayako held out her hands and caught the sleeves of my blue
yukata. She was like a sister to me.
I was in no mood to reply her, my eyes desperately searching for any sign of Takashi.
“Do not worry. He had not yet departed.” Kentai eased my anxiety.  “He told me he had to speak to
his teacher first.  I think he will be back very soon.”
I nodded absent-mindedly.  This was understandable.  Takashi was an orphan and it was his teacher,
Wada sensei, who had brought him up.  He was almost like a father to him.
I turned to Kentai. “Please take care of Takashi for me.” I bowed.
“Of course, Kikari-kun.  But it was more probable that it was Takashi who would be taking care of me.  
He is always the best.”
“Still…”
“Do not worry.  If anyone of us can survive this war, it would be Takashi.” He pat on my shoulder to
reassure me.
It was then I noticed his second button was missing. I turned towards Ayako, who understood
immediately what I found out.  Blushing she open up her right palm and showed it to me, the plated
gold sparkling under the morning sun.
My tears flowed down my cheeks. I was so happy for her.
Tradition has it that a young man going off to war would cut off his second button from his school
uniform and give it to the girl he treasures most.  It has to be the second button as it is the one
closest to his heart.  By accepting the second button, the girl has then made the tacit promise that
she will wait his return and in the unfortunate event that he cannot come back, will keep it as a life-
long keepsake.
“I am so happy for you, Ayako.” Geishas were normally not allowed to have personal love lives but
we were not real-sense geishas and it was normal to lax a bit about this rule in time of national
conflict.
“I am sure Takashi will also give his second button to you, Hikari-san.”Ayako said.
“There he is.” Kentai pointed his finger at an approaching figure.
He was right.  
I could identify him even if he was a mile away; the height, the posture, the subtle confidence that he
carried.
“Thank you for coming.” He bowed at me and I bowed back in return.
“I wish you safe and glorious return.” I said, citing the officially allowed words of departure.
He bowed a second time, his deep eyes never left my face for a second during that deep bow, as if
trying to memorize every single feature and carry them off to war.
The shrill of the train whistle jolted us out of our dream like feelings.
“It is time to go. Please take care of yourselves.” Takashi said to Ayako and me and then turned his
back.
“Wait. Watanabe-san, didn’t you forget something?” Ayako tried hard to remind him with movements
of her eyeballs towards the missing button on Kentai’s uniform.
Tenkashi paused for a second, made a shallow smile and bowed again.
In the next instance, he was up the train and disappeared into the cabin.
“What the…?” Kentai leapt up after him. “I will speak to him, Hikari.”
I stood there, rooted into the platform as tears flooded down my cheeks.  
The cries of Banzai was beginning to ring out from the sending off crowd.  A military band of sort was
playing up a marching team.  Flags were waved. The train pulled away from the station.
I was heart-broken.

(2)

That was three years ago.
There were more sending off at the same station as the years went by, the recruits became ever
younger, the mood more solemn, the fear in the eyes of those left behind more difficult to hide.  The
war had not progressed well for us.  Apart from the beginning victories which sent the country wild
with euphoria, news of set backs were whispered through grapevines.  On the radio, we could only
hear of another victory won by our brave soldiers and sailors for the Emperor.  We were not
deceived for long, the home-letter, though censored, told disheartening news of friends giving up
their lives for the empire in distant lands.  Even more fear were the village policemen.  No, they were
not like the military police.  Usually they were old men not fit to be sent to the war.  It was the
contents they carry that brought fear into our hearts.  Whenever someone was confirmed killed in
action, he would bring the letter of condolences from the units to the bereaved family.  We tried to
avoid him like he was a ghost.  There were quiet weeping inside shut off houses on many days.
Meanwhile, we continued our training.  Being a small town in the countryside of Izu, we were spared
the direct horror of war.  Senior officers on vocation after their round of battle sometimes were
entertained here and we, as apprentices of geishas, would do the entertaining, a kind of national
service.  We did not mind.  Most of them were gentlemen officers who would find a night of peace
with our singing and dancing and comforting through pouring their hearts out.  We were not
required to offer our bodies, though we knew some of the older geishas elsewhere did so.
I was the best student and soon was put in charge to help train the others.  Yamada sensei was
getting old very fast after she failed to evade the village policeman one day.  I happened to be close
by that morning and saw her face paled as a ghost when he handed him a white envelope.  Her only
son, nineteen, had gloriously gave his life for his Emperor.

Three years passed and we did not receive much news from either Takashi or Kentai. This was not
unusual.  Whereabouts of military officers were guarded secrets.  This applied especially to naval
officers.  The last time we received a letter from Kentai, he told us that both of them had been
assigned to active service on a giant battleship.  We guessed it was either the Yamato or the
Musashi, the pride of the Imperial Navy.
Ayoka and I went to the nearby temple wherever we had time to pray for the safe return of both of
them.  Ayoka always held the second button in her palms when offering her prayers.  I had none to
present but still prayed for his safe return.  Only Kentai’s departing words, that “if there was anyone
surviving, it would be Takashi” gave me hope.
The war dragged on.  The dancing carried on, with our feet like as doves, our hearts heavy, like lead.

(3)

The knock came at the middle of the night.
All the girls sat up from their beds, fear on their faces.
We knew who this would be
People had been trying to avoid the village policeman so much that he was now forced to deliver
them at night, where there was no escape.
I closed my palms and prayed feverishly.
Aykayo was doing the same thing, her body shaking uncontrollably.
Yamada-sensei came in, an envelope in her hand.
The air in the room went dead and you could hear a pin drop.
She was approaching in our direction and I felt the coldness in my spine.
When she was close enough, I could see the name on the envelope: Watanabe!
I had to bite my lower lip to prevent me from shrieking.
There were two Watanabes: Takashi and Kentai.  Who?
Yamada-sensei placed the envelope into Ayako’s trembling hands.
“No! No!” Ayako screamed and screamed and I had to enfold her shaking body in my arms.
I felt the guilt for the relief that it was not Takashi after-all.

(4)

The party was organized two weeks after we received the heart-breaking news of Kentai’s demise.
We later found out he was killed some months ago.  Intelligence concern delayed the reporting of
the news to us.
Ayako had somehow recovered from the wreck she was on that terrible night.  She came back to
class and volunteered to serve.  When questioned by Yamada sensei the reason for her eagerness,
she replied that now since Kentai was no more, she would not care and would dedicate to serve the
nation in her role.  But I found it disturbing.  That was not like Ayako.  There was a strange fire in her
eyes which I found alarming.
I was supposed to be in the team too, being their leader.  But a sudden pain gripped me that
afternoon and I had no choice but to stay and send a substitute, promising that if I felt better, I would
go and take up my role again.  It was not difficult to do as the dining house was just a few blocks
away.
The room became so quiet after all the girls had left.  
I tried to get some sleep but could not.  It was then I heard the strange sound of something hard
hitting the wooden planks outside my room.  Fear! No, please do not make it another envelope.
The door was pushed open and a man was standing there.  For a brief moment, I had to adjust my
eyes to the incoming light.  When I finally was able to do that. I saw a man in uniform with one leg
leaning on a clutch.  
“Takashi!” I ran towards him, ready to throw my arms around the man I had dreamed of in every
single night.
Then, I froze.
It was not Takashi.
Kentai!
I open my mouth and was unable to speak, unable to understand.
He hushed me inside.
“I thought you were dead.” I lowered my voice. “They gave the envelope to Ayoka…”
I could not continue.  The alternative was too terrible to even think of.
Kentai held my arms tight.
“I am sorry, Hikari.”
“No! Why?” I did not even weep.  The shock had deprived me of any power to react.
“I should be the one to die, Hikari.  When our ship was sinking, they had only one place in the last
life-boat.  They would only take an officer.  I was wounded and would certainly die if I stayed.  
Takashi, being an officer, changed his uniform with mine and handed me over to the life-boat.”
My lips quivered. I shook my head in disbelief.
“Hikari, forgive me.  I was not able to fight against his wish.  I was wounded and moreover, I did not
want to die.  I was a coward.” He was crying like a child.
I pulled him towards me and we held each other close.
“It is not your fault, Kentai. I know.  It is not your fault.”
I could understand him now.  He was the strongest and if anyone could survive, it would be him.  But
given the choice between his life and that of his “brother”, he would surely choose it the way it was
chosen.  He was an orphan anyway and someone was waiting for Kentai, with his second button.
“There is something more.” Kentai finally recovered himself.  “He asked me to give you this.”
He pressed something into my palm.  In an instant, I knew what it was without even looking. It was a
button, his second button.
“He told me that he had so wanted to give it to you before he departed to the war,  but he thought it
being unfair to you, he might never come back.”
I closed my eyes, and felt the streams of tears running down.
It was then that someone raced in.
“Hikari! Something terrible is going to happen!”
It was Ayumi, another geisha in training.
“What are you talking about?” I asked her.
“I overheard Ayoka, she said terrible things.  She cursed the generals who sent his Kentai to war
and I….”
I rushed up and held her shoulders. “Tell me.  What is she going to do?”
Trembling, Aymui replied. “I saw her hiding a sharp knife under her sleeve.”
I knew what she was going to do!
The party was in honor of the commander of the local militia, who being too old to go into active
service, had always preached the glory of war and how it was the duty of every young man to march
off to victory.  Takashi was never deceived by such speeches.  He was simply drafted.  Kentai, being
more innocent, believed every single word he said and volunteered!
“I have to stop her.” I said and turned to a terror-struck Kentai. “You stay put.  I will bring her back
alive.”


(4)

Click! Click! Click!
I ran.
I ran as never in my life.
I no longer cared if I would fall and die right there.
But I cannot die, not yet.
I had to be there in time before anything foolish was being committed.
I rushed in the door and along the long corridor to where the sound of laughs and singing could be
heard.  
When I pulled the sliding door back, all eyes were on me, astonished at the impoliteness.  I glanced
around.  Ayako was not there!
I breathed relief.  May be I was in time to stop the tragedy.
“Ah, Hikari-san.  What a surprise.  We were so disappointed when told you could not come.  Come,
come, sit by my side and we can have some fun.”  General Ozaki, the old fox, was gesturing me to
come over.  
I bowed to apologize and inched towards him.
Everything moved so fast.
I had a quick glimpse of Ayako moving unobserved behind the Ozaki, her knife being pulled out from
her sleeve to strike.
I lunged at her and was just in time to push her down, having the blade covered from view.
“What fool!” Ozaka roared.
Though I had stopped an assassination on the brink, the sake cup and the soya sauce dish were sent
flying towards his uniform.  The whole front was soiled
Ayako’s eyes were filled with fire and she was about to make another try.
“Don’t Ayako. Kentai is alive and waiting for you in our room.”
She looked at me, unbelieving at first but then she knew I had told the truth.  I always had.
“You good for nothing! “Ozaka shouted and drew out his katana. “You have thrown such dirt on this
medal which was presented to me by His Majesty!  For this alone, you have to die!” He raised the
sword and was about to decapitate the overpowered Ayoka.
“Stop! It is not her fault but mine.”
“Yours?”
“I was careless when I saw she was going to fall down. Besides, I was her trainer.  If she did not
behave properly, I should be the one to be punished.  Is it not true that in battle, the officer in
charge would be responsible for any outcome?”
Ozaki was surprised but viewed me with suspicion. “You try to defend her.  But do you know what it
means to soil the medal given by His Majesty?”
I knew of course.  The price for such misconduct was always death.
“I am willing to accept my fate”
“No!” It was Ayoka’s turn to protest. “It was my fault.”
“Stop it!  Who are you?  You are just a trainee.  You do not have the status to accept this
responsibility.” I acted stern, but she knew why I did it.  She shook her head.
“Listen to me.” I held her close and whispered into her ear. “Kentai is back. I have nothing to live
for.  The war will end one day.  Why should two people be left in sadness instead of you two in
happiness.  He needs you.  He lost an leg but he still loves you. Live, for him, and for me.”
She looked at me, remorse in her eyes, but at last she no longer fought back.
I turned towards Ozaki.
“Well, what are you waiting for? I have committed a crime against the Emperor.  Punish me
accordingly.  It is your duty.”
He knew I was telling the truth. Failing to defend the Emperor’s honor would make him an accomplice.
“You are very brave, Hiraki.  It is too bad you have to die anyway.  Where do you want it to be done?”


(5)

I let them tie my wrists behind my back after I removed the my yukata, retaining only the white
undergarment that clung to my skin.  I made Ozaka sent Ayako away.  The sight of my execution would
be too much for her.  I knew Kentai would take care of her for the rest of her life.  They would have
children, who would enjoy a more peaceful life that we did.  One day, all these suffering would cease.
I am not afraid.  There is nothing more for me in this world and I can still feel that hard object under
my obi.  He had wanted to give it to me that day, but held back when he thought about my future.  
There was no need to worry anymore.  When I see him, I will smile and take the second button from
its hiding place and hand it to him.  
We reached the only cherry blossom tree near the well.  It was August and the cherry blossom was
not in season to bloom.  But what does it matter?  Many ears ago, when I was still a girl,  I met a
young boy called Takashi here.  He had helped me to raise my first bucket of water from the well.  I
can still remember that face, that smile.  “I will take care of you” he said.
I know he will.  And he has.
I kneel down by the trunk of the tree.  An oval moon was on the rise.  A young officer was assigned to
do the task, Ozaki being too old to carry out the execution properly.  He pulled down the collar of my
yukata, exposing my neck.
“Say your prayer.” He said, unsheathing his sword.
I shook.  I need no prayer.  I know he was waiting for me on the other side, his palm outstretched, for
me to place the shining button into his hand..,..



(End)

(Epilog)

Hikari was executed on the 15th September in the twentieth year of the Showa Era.  According to the
witnessing officers, she died with dignity and a rarely seen peace on her face, as if this was an award
instead of punishment.  Her head rolled off her shoulders as the blade fell, her body stayed erect for
a short while before collapsing backwards.  The head was picked up, rinsed and held up to show
everyone present as an example for being not respecting properly His Majesty, the Emperor who
was god-incarnate.

Two days later, a B-29 took off with a small bomb and headed towards the city of Hiroshima.  On the
front of the fuselage, a name was painted near the cockpit: Enola Gay.
The rest is history.
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__________________________________________________________________________________

Comment from: Hitomi
Date: December 22, 2011

Thanks for posting this up, Othello.

This one was also a "commissioned" story from a friend who specified that the story
must include a geisha, an accident and an execution as punishment.

After thinking up for a day, I wrote this one.

The tradition of giving the second button to a "sweetheart" is still in practise today in
Japan. (Anyone getting the fourth button knows she is out of the race.) Of course
this now only applies to graduation and not during a draft for military service.
________________________________________________________________________

Comment from: Nastassja
Date: January 26, 2012

Amazing what you created from the elements of your "commission", Hitomi. This
story so rich in the history you present! The wartime environment that you present
feels filled with authenticity to me (and I have read a lot of books, primarily by Yukio
Mishima and Kazuo Ishiguro, that present that time from the point of view of the
Japanese psyche, that I've found fascinating). Of course the romantic and tragic
elements are timeless, but the framework of honor and loss and passion in Japanese
culture that you present makes them intense and immediate-feeling. I had a tear in
my eye at your ending. The idea of a loved one waiting on the other side with a token
of deepest love stirs my heart (even though I am not at all religious and don't really
believe in such things). A wonderful story.
________________________________________________________________________

Comment from: Hitomi
Date: January 29, 2012

Thanks, Nastassja.
Though I do not dismiss right away "life-after-death", I am also skeptical.  But I think
the important thing is that the ones who do believe in such can find solace and
courage in facing adversities, including death.  To rule out such possibility, no
matter how slim, would be very cruel (I always find the ending of "Tess" by Hardy too
cold (well, it takes a lot of courage to swallow that).

They are still keeping that tradition in modern Japan, though it is now just a
fashionable thing to do and the guy can boast that he has given his second button
(usually his graduate uniform) to his sweetheart, especially if she is one of the
hard-to-get.
________________________________________________________________________

I would like to thank you for your words of encouragement for the other story
"Ghosts Story" too but since my dad is going to undergo an operation
(not too risky one) on coming Tuesday, I hope you do not mind if I postpone my
replying to your post after that.

Thank you for being so supportive all the time.