Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman living in America, awaits the train from Princeton to Trenton, New Jersey, to get her hair braided. Because Princeton is a primarily white city, there are no hair braiding salons. A man on the platform comments on the lateness of the train, and Ifemelu considers that there was a time where she would have told him about her blog on race in America or attempted to interview him. She recently closed her blog because she is moving back to Nigeria. She thinks about how all the commenters on her blog made her less sure of what she thought she knew, and the effort to find new post ideas makes her feel “naked and false.”
When she leaves the train at Trenton, she notes that the passengers here are fatter than those at Princeton. She only recently started thinking of people as fat again because her friend told her that “fat” is an insult in America. However, after a man at a grocery insulted her, she realized that not only had she gained weight, but also felt weighed down in her life, and she decided to return to Nigeria. She also cannot stop thinking about Obinze, her first love, and the only person she has ever felt she could be her whole self with. He lives in Lagos, and now has a wife and a daughter. Ifemelu had a difficult time breaking up with her boyfriend Blaine and telling him she is returning to Nigeria. She does not have a good explanation and cannot tell him that she has always felt unsettled in their relationship.
Ifemelu goes to the salon, run by African immigrants, and a Senegalese woman named Aisha braids her hair. Aisha complains that Ifemelu does not relax her hair. Aisha is surprised to learn that Ifemelu is Igbo. Aisha is dating two Igbo men and would like to marry one of them. She asks whether Igbo people only marry other Igbo. Ifemelu disputes this. Ifemelu hastily sends Obinze an email while trying to ignore Aisha.
The women in the shop are impressed when they hear Ifemelu lives in Princeton and shocked to hear that she plans to return to Nigeria, asking whether she will be able to cope after being in America for so long. They ask if she has a man waiting for her. Ifemelu lies and says yes. Aisha insists that she will call her Igbo men so that Ifemelu can tell them Igbo do not have to marry other Igbo. Ifemelu thinks that if she still ran her blog, this would make a great blog post on how immigrant pressure makes people crazy.
Obinze stares at the email from Ifemelu. She has called him Ceiling, her old nickname for him. He wonders jealously about Ifemelu’s black American boyfriend. Obinze’s wife, Kosi, calls to ask where he is, and Obinze thinks about how she always tells him where she is during these calls even though he never asks her location.
He returns home. His house is full of expensive things, like imported Italian furniture and air conditioning. They have a housegirl from Benin because Kosi felt Nigerian housegirls were not suitable. Beautiful Kosi, who often gets mistaken for someone of mixed-race descent, greets him, along with their two-year-old daughter Buchi. Obinze lies to Kosi about the status of the block of flats he is selling. He often tells her useless lies to see if she will challenge them, but she cares more about the consistency of their domestic life.