It's a simple question, though a rude one. Would they ask the same of a salaryman, a teacher, a shop clerk? Why should being a costumer be any different? Still, I understand why they ask. And I answer with a smile and a line about enjoying the challenge, or using my creativity, or even the merits of being part of something that brings people happiness. To some, mostly those who know I applied to the Music School, I say it's a way to stay close to my original dream. All these reasons are lies. The true reason is something they wouldn't understand.
Roughly ten years previous
It's painfully hot in the costume shop. Air conditioner's broken, and though someone will be out to fix it tomorrow, today we sweat and suffer. Fabric sticks to skin, thread slips through fingers, and we're all tired and snappy. And there's still another show to get through today. Small fortune that everyone made it through the first performance with only minor costume damage, mostly the kind of things that can be pinned up or hidden to be fixed tomorrow. We have the back door propped open, but the dryer is between it and the workspace, so it offers little relief.
Conversation is limited by the heat, and we're all just trying to finish up the few things that need to be done between shows so we can slip out and maybe catch a cooling breeze. Minutes tick by slowly, but eventually tasks are finished and people leave until it's just me and Ichiko, me because as junior most, I get the scut work, and Ichiko because as wardrobe mistress, she gets the most difficult repairs.
"I should have gone to university" I grumble, as the thread slips from my sweat soaked fingers for a third time.
Ichiko looks at me over she shoulder, one eyebrow rased. "Really?"
"Wouldn't be here," I pant, "Sitting in the heat. Fixing hems an idiot 'sienne stepped on for the tenth time in a row!" Ichiko gives me one of her knowing smiles that pricks at my pride, pulling at the last vestiges of adolescent arrogance. "What?" I snap.
She shrugs slightly and returns to splinting broken feathers. I'm about to press her when one of the stagehands pops his head in the doorway.
"Maeda-san, stage manager needs to see you"
"One moment," she says with a sigh and delicately dabs a last bit of glue on a broken feather shaft. "Maa-chan, the hem's fine. Hold this while it dries"
Later, during the show, Ichiko grabs me and pulls me into the stage left alcove. It's a tight fit for two people plus the monitor, but from there we can see a good two thirds of the stage. The performance is bright and wonderful, and my chest tightens with that same combination of wonder and envy I've felt since my I saw my first performance of Rose of Versailles at the tender age of seven. Damn her, but Ichiko is right. I can't leave this. I couldn't walk away when I didn't make it into the School, I can't walk away now.
"You are like me," Ichiko says, her voice barely more than a breath in my ear. "We are moths to the Revue's fire. Some work here because they want to, we work because we must. Because if we don't we'll dive straight into the fire and burn."
Ichiko taught me a lot that first summer, and not just about costuming and the Revue. But I can never forget those words. The one person I explained it to though thought I was almost dangerously obsessed. So now I lie, and parrot off more socially acceptable reasons. And people smile and accept them.
But when I squeeze into that little alcove to catch a glimpse of a performance, I can always hear an echo of her words in my ear. No, I could never leave. The Revue has too strong a hold on my soul.
Like moths to a flame.