Badriyya is idealistic and naïve, and her hope that her marriage to Omar will resemble a fairy tale is her downfall. She ignores Omar’s shortcomings because she still believes Omar will rescue her from the “long, dark tunnel” of her life. When he talks about his big plans for starting his own café, she thinks of him as “ambitious,” even though her uncle tells her Omar is all talk. When Omar stays out late at night and comes home drunk, Badriyya believes his explanation that he was scouting out possible sites for the café. Badriyya wants so badly for Omar to be her knight in shining armor that she refuses to question anything he says. The alternative to life with Omar is a life alone: if she divorces him, she’ll once again feel as though life is hopeless and dark.
Like many of Rifaat’s female characters, Badriyya is sexually unfulfilled—though married, she is still a virgin. She hints at sex, but Omar tells her that he must concentrate on starting his café. Badriyya is completely powerless in this marriage. However, she is eventually jolted from her idealistic dream when a shopkeeper tells Badriyya that Omar is sleeping around. Though she’s unsure whether she’ll have the strength to turn Omar away when he tries to come home, she hopes she does. Her fear isn’t rooted only in the end of the relationship; the harder part is giving up her dream of being saved.
The narrator, the wife of a government official, never explicitly indicates that her marriage to her husband is unsatisfying, but because she is so easily seduced by the snake-spirit that inhabits their home, she reveals the extent of her unhappiness and dissatisfaction. The snake provides fulfillment in every capacity. She satisfies the narrator sexually, lavishes her with youth and vitality, and takes her to hidden spirit worlds. The adventure of the relationship completely eclipses her domestic life. However, the narrator is initially ambivalent about the snake. She is attracted to the snake, then she tells her husband to board up the house’s cracks so the snake can’t enter, then she yearns for the snake. Her request to her husband is significant. Though the snake is female, it has a phallic form, and it eventually replaces the husband in the role of sexual partner. When the wife asks her husband to help keep the snake out, she is making a final attempt to impel him to take action before she seeks sexual fulfillment in other ways. Later, when the wife stops up the cracks in the wall, it is in a playful, teasing way, which illustrates how she has changed from being fearful of her sexuality to embracing it.
In the narrator’s fantasy world of passionate sexual fulfillment, adventurous romping through other worlds, and love with a companion who is considerate and giving, we find the model of an ideal relationship—the only clear representation of an ideal relationship in all of Rifaat’s stories. Though the events are likely only products of the narrator’s imagination, it shows a true understanding of what characterizes fulfillment in marriage.
Hassan, an emotionless, rational accountant, left the small town where he grew up and hardly ever returns to see his family. He is consistently guilty of inaction, and he neglects his own emotional life. When he returns home for his father’s funeral, he can no longer ignore his feelings. Hassan’s flashbacks reveal his inaction, which he now regrets. He never brought his daughter, Jasmine, to his hometown to meet his father, and now it is too late. Hassan is as baffled as he is sad: he has suppressed his emotions for so long that their reappearance is confusing.
After the funeral ceremony, Hassan offers to pay for a feast for the men in the village. The men are grateful for his unexpected generosity, but it seems as though Hassan is trying to compensate for the guilt he feels because these men know his father better than he does. He again feels guilty when he discovers that his father has left Jasmine some of his inheritance. Even though Hassan was never considerate enough to bring Jasmine to the town, his father remembered her and probably longed to meet her. When Hassan goes to sleep that night, he feels truly exhausted and emotionally beaten down. The weight of what has happened begins to sink in, but whether or not Hassan will be permanently changed because of it is unclear.