All through winter, Nobu brings Sato to Gion on a weekly basis to drink and talk with Sayuri, Mameha, Pumpkin, and the Chairman. During these months, Sayuri sees more of the Chairman than ever before. She realizes that her mind’s image of him didn’t fully capture his beautiful eyes and expressive mouth. One time while she thinks no one is watching, she gives herself over to staring at him. When Sayuri comes out of the reverie, she realizes that Pumpkin had been watching her the whole time. When Sayuri looks at Pumpkin, Pumpkin wears a smile that Sayuri isn’t sure how to interpret.
This scene mirrors the earlier moment in the novel when Sayuri feared to look at the Chairman in front of Hatsumomo, lest her eyes reveal her true feelings. Now, Pumpkin – Hatsumomo’s apprentice – has seen the truth of Sayuri’s emotions. The symmetry of these scenes, in addition to Pumpkin’s ambiguous smile, foreshadow Pumpkin’s later betrayal of Sayuri.
One evening in February, Pumpkin comes down with the flu and is unable to join them at the teahouse. To entertain the men, Sayuri performs a deeply sorrowful dance piece called “Cruel Rain.” To give her performance emotional weight, Sayuri pretends that Nobu, and not the Chairman, is her danna. By the end of the dance, she feels almost overcome with sadness, and when she looks at the Chairman, she sees him quickly flick away a single tear.
Beauty once again comes from pain and suffering as Sayuri imbues her performance with the pain she would feel if Nobu became her danna. Interestingly, Sayuri does not conjure up this beauty by imagining the Chairman as her danna. This suggests that for Sayuri (or perhaps Golden), positive emotions like happiness are not as useful for crafting beautiful art.
After Sayuri finishes the dance and sits back down, the Chairman asks about Pumpkin. Mameha says that she is ill and won’t be joining them tonight. The Chairman glances at his watch and says that he too isn’t feeling well and must excuse himself. Sayuri feels crushed, thinking that her dance made him shed a tear out of affection for the absent Pumpkin. Sayuri worries that the Chairman developed feelings for Pumpkin despite the fact that Pumpkin is “lacking in refinement.”
In a moment of tragic irony, Sayuri’s dance makes the Chairman appear to realize his feelings for Pumpkin rather than for Sayuri. Sayuri’s comment about Pumpkin also shows her internalization of geisha norms, as she doesn’t see the value in Pumpkin’s honesty. Sayuri now believes that any geisha who disobeys the traditions of concealing her feelings is “lacking in refinement.”
One night a few months later, Pumpkin, Mameha, and the Chairman cannot attend the party, so Sayuri entertains Nobu and Sato alone. Nobu is in a particularly bad mood, and he quickly rushes Sato out of the teahouse and puts him in a cab home. Nobu stands silently in the street, fuming. Sayuri recognizes that something is troubling Nobu, so she leads him back into the teahouse and gives him sake to relax him. After a few drinks, Nobu says that Sato successfully persuaded the American authorities to let their company continue to operate. But afterwards, Nobu says, Sato asked if it were possible to become Sayuri’s danna, if only for one night. Nobu says that although he feels indebted to Sato, he will never give up what he’s wanted for so many years to a man like Sato. Nobu says he could never live with himself if he stooped so low as to ask her to be with Sato.
Though Nobu feels an obligation to Sato, he does not let this obligation dictate or determine his actions for him. Nobu refuses to give in to his feelings of indebtedness, staying resolute in his decision to pursue Sayuri. Nobu’s refusal will contrast with the following scenes, where Sayuri feels as if she must pay back her debt to Nobu by becoming his personal geisha.
Sayuri responds by saying that she owes such a debt to Nobu that she would take no favor he asked of her lightly. Shocked to hear that she would consider sleeping with Sato just to please him, Nobu angrily demands to know if she would seriously consider giving herself over to Sato. Sayuri evades the question by trying to calm Nobu down, but Nobu demands an answer. Nobu shouts that he will never speak to her again if she is the kind of woman who willingly gives herself over to just any man. To appease Nobu, she says she would never do such a thing.
Nobu and Sayuri are complete opposites when it comes to self-determination. While Nobu will heed no one in order to get what he wants, Sayuri will do almost anything to conform to other people’s desires. Nobu refused to let Sato become Sayuri’s danna, but Sayuri would sleep with Sato simply because Nobu requested it of her. Of course, this is also a result of cultural conditioning—a rich man like Nobu expects to get his way (because he usually does), while a geisha like Sayuri is taught to be submissive.
Calmer now, Nobu tells Sayuri to bring him the piece of rubble that he gave her at Arashino’s. Sayuri feels her skin turn to ice when she hears this, knowing that Nobu will now propose himself as her danna. Trying to delay the proposal, Sayuri says it’s too late to retrieve the rubble from the okiya and then come back. Stubborn as always, Nobu says that he will wait here while she fetches it. Feeling her body move with difficulty, she heads to the okiya to find the rubble.
In another moment of irony, Nobu gets angry that Sayuri would give herself over to a man just because of her feeling of indebtedness. Yet what Nobu doesn’t realize is that Sayuri is willing to give herself over to Nobu himself just because of the debt she owes to him for saving her from the factories. Nobu does not realize he is forcing Sayuri to do the very thing he finds so despicable.
At the okiya, Sayuri retrieves the rubble. As she leaves, she runs into Auntie and begins to cry incoherently, calling herself a fool and saying that she is about to throw her life away. Sayuri asks if there is anything Auntie can do to delay her from returning to Nobu, but Auntie says that if Nobu wants her, she must go to him. Sayuri makes her way back to the teahouse and sets the rubble on the table in front of Nobu. Nobu looks at it and says he hopes he didn’t promise her a jewel as big as this rock.
Sayuri’s request that Auntie intervene illustrates how Sayuri once again shirks her own agency and self-determination by asking others to make decisions for her. In this moment, the rubble becomes a metaphor for Sayuri’s dream of having the Chairman as her danna – her dreams also seem to be destroyed and lying in the rubble.