The Sushi Master and the Black Geisha
by Steve Sabatka
It was an hour past closing time.
Sushi in the Sky was a Japanese restaurant on the top floor of a renovated warehouse in downtown Dallas. It was a hip, trendy place: Ichiro bobble-head dolls on the tables. Anime cartoons playing on the TV behind the sushi bar. A giant, papier-mâché squid hanging from the ceiling.
Customers – young business types, mostly – could eat Tom Landry maki and look down on the city and use their chopsticks to point out the sixth floor of the School Book Depository to their out-of-town clients.
A well-dressed, well-groomed couple sat at the sushi bar, talking and laughing and drinking cold sake from square cedar cups. All of the other customers had gone home.
The sushi master and his newest waitress, the black geisha, sat at a back table, waiting for the couple to leave. All of the other restaurant staff had gone home, too.
The sushi master had a peaceful, unworried expression. He wore a Hawaiian shirt, faded blue jeans, torn high top sneakers. The sushi master liked America and American culture: Jazz. Bacon cheeseburgers. John Wayne movies. (Not the WW2 movies, though.)
The black geisha was tall and slender and pretty. She wore a yellow and white kimono, and her glossy hair was done up in the traditional style. But the black geisha’s skin was not nightingale-poop white. “Do you like me, Sato-san?” There was only a hint of a smooth, brown, urban accent in her voice.
The sushi master still spoke with a Tokyo accent, but his English was good. “Yes. I like you, Tonisha-san.”
When the black geisha smiled, she put a modest hand to her mouth – just like a Japanese geisha. “Why do you like me?”
“You are a good waitress.”
“I am more than a waitress, you know. I am a geisha.”
“But...” The sushi master rubbed his crew cut. He did not want to be insulting. “You are not Japanese. You are Afro-American.”
The black geisha stood and walked, one foot placed carefully in front of the other, her geta – wooden sandals – clacking on the hardwood floor and slapping against the brown soles of her feet, her kimono rustling with each step, to a large window overlooking the city. “I am black. But I know The Way.”
The sushi master looked to the black geisha’s reflection in the window glass. “The Way?”
Her reflection answered. “The Way of the geisha.”
The sushi master wondered what an American woman – let alone a black woman from the South Dallas housing projects – could know of such things.
It was as if the black geisha could read the sushi master’s mind: “I know that geisha – real geisha – are not prostitutes. I know that geisha are not weak and subservient.”
The sushi master was impressed. And intrigued. “What else do you know?”
The black geisha covered her smile again. “I know that men only think they rule the world.” And with that, she began to sing a centuries-old Japanese song about winter turning into spring.
The sushi master looked to the couple: The man and woman were oblivious to everything but each other. Then he watched the black geisha as she tilted her head from side to side and as the ornaments in her hair sparkled in the city lights, and he listened to her song.
He wondered how a black woman could sing the song so well, pronounce the Japanese words so perfectly. And he wondered how a black woman could be so alluring, enticing.
When the black geisha finished her song, she turned to the sushi master and bowed – correctly – not clumsily, like Americans almost always bow. “Will you be my samurai, Sato-san?”
The sushi master felt his face burn, felt his heart beat faster. He wished the couple would go home – even though he wasn’t sure what would happen after that.
Would the black geisha allow him to hold her hand?
Or would she tell him that it had all been a joke?
Didn’t she already have a big black boyfriend?
Did she like John Wayne movies?
The black geisha came back to the table, sat down. She took a strip of paper – a sushi menu – from inside her kimono, and folded it. A moment later, she placed her origami creation – a transforming robot – on the table. “This is for you.”
The sushi master could read the names of various kinds of sushi – uni, tako, unagi – on the robot’s arms and legs and scowling face. “It is beautiful, Tonisha-san.”
But before the sushi master could tell the black geisha that she was beautiful, too, that he would be her strong samurai...
The couple at the end of the sushi bar got up to leave.
The black geisha followed the man and woman to the glass doors of the restaurant and out to the elevator where she bowed and smiled and wished them oyasumi nasai – good night.
Then the black geisha locked the door, turned to the sushi master, kicked off her geta and began to sing. But this time, her song was an old blues tune about an unfaithful, straight-razor-totin’, red-boned, yang-talkin’, woman. And as she sang, the black geisha growled her voice and snapped her fingers and moved her body as no Japanese geisha ever, ever would.
The sushi master was shocked by the change.
The black geisha noticed his reaction. She stopped singing, put her hands on her hips. “Wha’s wrong, big daddy?” When she smiled this time, a gold tooth flashed in her mouth. “Why you buggin’?”
“Buggin’?” The sushi master wished he could ask John Wayne what he would do – and if buggin’ was a good thing or a bad thing.
The black geisha laughed loudly and stood next to the sushi master and bumped her butt against his shoulder.
Now, the sushi master was pretty sure he knew what The Duke would do.
But when he reached for the black geisha...
She stopped singing, stopped dancing, and backed away.
“I am sorry,” the sushi master said, hoping he wouldn’t have to return to Tokyo in shame after a sexual harassment lawsuit. “I thought...”
The black geisha put a finger to her lips. “Would a samurai apologize?” She bowed again, picked up her geta, and left the restaurant.
The sushi master did not follow after her.
And later, as he drove home on his motorcycle – going fast on the Tollway after stopping for a double bacon cheeseburger at Whataburger – the sushi master laughed out loud when he realized that the black geisha really did know The Way.