No Longer At Ease
Obi is at work at with Mr. Green's "attractive English secretary," Miss Tomlinson, whom at first he holds under suspicion of being a spy for the British. He has, since his first arrival in the office, however, begun to release his guard in front of her. This letting down of his guard begins when Miss Tomlinson meets Clara. Miss Tomlinson is truly delighted to have met Clara and seems genuine in her excitement about Obi's marriage to such a lovely woman. This raises Miss Marie Tomlinson esteem for Obi, somewhat more than at the beginning because it seems true and not forced.
While Obi is at work, a gentleman stops by and asks to see him. The man begins to speak to him in Ibo of a "semiprivate" matter because Miss Tomlinson happens to be within listening range. After little of the gentleman, Mr. Mark's request, it becomes apparent that he is offering Obi a bribe for his sister's scholarship. Obi refuses this bribe at full force and is, in fact, angered by it. He practically shows Mr. Mark the door. After he has done this, Obi is elated by his defeat of this man and his bribe. He finds that he has won some kind of victory and compares the feeling of happiness to a sexual conquest—he feels like a tiger. It is at this point that he begins to recall what people have said to him about taking bribes and how even the Minister of State has once said that it is often worse to refuse or not follow through with a bribe than to accept it.
And it was not that Obi is without temptation, he claims, for he does have a serious economic burden on his shoulders, what with having to take out twenty pounds a month to pay back his loan, and ten pounds for his parents, as well as his brother, John's, school fees.
After a lunch of yams and soup, which Obi eats at home, someone arrives at his flat. Obi lives in an area populated by European neighbors whom he does not really know. The person who arrives is Miss Mark, the sister of Mr. Mark, who had gone to see Obi earlier in the day. Miss Mark is also offering a lightly veiled bribe—she is offering Obi her body in return for this sought after scholarship. Obi is kinder to her than he was to her brother, though he refuses her just the same. It is at this point that Clara walks into Obi's apartment.
After the episode with the young girl the couple tries to visit Sam Okoli who is not in but at a Cabinet meeting when they ring. Later in the day, Obi tells Clara all about the bribes and his rejections of them, and Clara finds the girl's offering of her body to Obi more repulsive than her brother's offer of money. Obi wonders what is worse.
This chapter is at the literal center of the novel. If the book were to end here, Obi would be successful in what he set himself out to do: reject bribes and slowly become a building block upon which to destroy corruption. Obi would be a true hero. However, things are not as easy at that—this would merely be the kind of "happy ending" in which not even Obi, and apparently not Achebe either, believes. Obi is a successful idealist in this chapter, and he feels good about himself. In fact, Obi is elated at his conquest. "He had won his first battle hands-down," but Obi would have to be much stronger in order to continue to win the endless battles. The threat of temptation is already visible in this chapter when Obi mentions his financial stress and obligation.
Another aspect of the chapter that is important is that Sam Okoli is mentioned twice. First, Okoli is mentioned as merely the "Minster of State" and later as simply Sam. The first time, he is mentioned is when Obi refers to the Minster's "unguarded" comments about bribes being okay. It becomes apparent that the Minister is often "unguarded" when under the influence of alcohol, just as he has been on Obi's last visit to his house. The second time, Sam comes up as simply a friend. Nevertheless, the reader is reminded of his position when his steward says he is at a Cabinet meeting. Moreover, Achebe is illustrating that even men in very high positions of power, men who are apparently not altogether bad, and quite popular even, are tinged by the thread of corruption and bribery.
Then finally there is the issue of Miss Tomlinson. Miss Marie Tomlinson, the English secretary of Mr. Green, is constantly saying things about her boss like "Isn't he odd? But he's really not a bad man." We are constantly told this, and there are moments when it is almost believable. Nevertheless, Miss Tomlinson is immediately under suspicion by Obi because she is English. He even thinks she may be a spy planted to collect information on Africans, and, thus, he is careful around her, at first.
After having talked to her on the phone and having met her once in person, Miss Tomlinson believes Clara to be a lovely and attractive woman, and she even encourages a more speedy marriage. This attitude seems genuine and sincere to Obi and is concurrent with precisely his own feelings about Clara. Moreover, he finds a connection with Miss Tomlinson because she seems to be, in many ways, an antidote to the Umuofian Progressive Union and its opinions of Clara and other aspects of his life. This is not to say that Miss Tomlinson is not nosy, because she is. She shows interest in Obi's dealings with Mr. Mark and her presence causes Mr. Mark to switch to a language he knows she will not understand. It is as if this young, English secretary satisfies, at times, Obi's English educated side.
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