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The novel shifts to follow Obinze’s time as an illegal immigrant in London. Obinze meets with two Angolan men who are arranging an illegal green card marriage for him. They take a down payment on his marriage. When Obinze meets Cleotilde, his bride-to-be, Obinze double-checks that she wants to marry him, assuring her that they’ll divorce as soon as he has his papers. She affirms that she’s okay with it and needs the money. They decide to meet up separately to get to know each other better. He is attracted to her but does not want to act on it until after they are married.
He thinks back to before he left for London, when he felt like a failure because all his plans had involved America. However, he cannot get an American visa due to 9/11 and heightened fears about terrorism. He also has a difficult time finding a job. His mother decides to bring him on a research trip to London. She lists Obinze as her research assistant, giving him a six-month visa and a chance to move forward in his life. Obinze is shocked that his honest mother would turn to deceit.
The next few chapters describe Obinze’s early London experiences. His first job in London is cleaning toilets, a humorous cliché. One day he finds a turd left on the toilet seat, clearly an intentional message for the company. Humiliated, Obinze leaves it untouched and storms off. That night, he gets the email from Ifemelu. He had been hurt and furious when he realized that she had been in touch with other people and not him. Her calm tone, combined with his shame at cleaning toilets, infuriates him, and he deletes the email.
Obinze lives with his cousin Nicholas and Nicholas’s wife, Ojiugo. In Nsukka, Nicholas and Ojiugo had been rebellious, glamorous college students. In London, they are models of respectability. Nicholas speaks to Ojiugo in the same tone of voice as he does his two children. Ojiugo claims that Nicholas’s attitude is because he only recently got his papers and lived in constant fear before that. When Ojiugo talks to fellow mothers, they spend the time comparing their children’s test scores. They gossip about a Black mother who is surprised another Black woman can afford to sign her children up for the youth orchestra. Obinze tells Ojiugo that his mother used to predict that Ojiugo would be a literary critic. Ojiugo explains that all her hopes are centered on her children now.
Emenike, Obinze’s college friend, now lives in London with his white wife, Georgina, and seems too busy to help Obinze. Another family friend of Obinze’s introduces him to a man named Vincent Obi, who will let Obinze use his National Insurance card if Obinze will give him a percentage of his salary. Obinze tries to haggle, but ultimately has no choice.
Obinze, using the name Vincent, takes a few jobs. He experiences hostility from white coworkers as well as camaraderie with fellow immigrants, who deal with white British people mangling their names. After hurting his knee at one job, his coworkers joke that he is a “knee-grow.” He finds a job making deliveries for a warehouse. His cheerful boss, Roy, likes him and gives him good hours. The other warehouse workers all share elaborate, lascivious stories about women, and they assume Obinze is a ladies man. When Obinze claims that he hasn’t been having sex because he has a girlfriend in Nigeria, Roy asks if she put witchcraft on him. One of his fellow drivers, Nigel, offers to sightsee with Obinze after deliveries. Obinze likes Nigel because he splits their tips evenly, unlike the other drivers. He notices that Nigel’s opinion of people often depends on how posh their accents are. Once, a Jamaican immigrant woman offers Obinze an extra tip and calls him brother.
One day Nigel asks Obinze what to say to a girl he likes, and is disappointed when Obinze tells him just to be honest with her about his feelings.
Even when approaching a sham marriage for a green card, Obinze attempts to cultivate honesty in the relationship. He double checks Cleotilde’s consent to the marriage and makes his intentions clear to her, assuring no misunderstanding. When he realizes the Angolans hold power over both of them, he organizes a meeting with Cleotilde alone so that they can speak together as themselves without being pressured to behave in a specific way. Even his desire to not act on his attraction to her until after the marriage speaks to Obinze’s love of honesty. He needs Cleotilde to marry him so that he can stay in London, which makes their relationship a business relationship. Once they are free from that business obligation, they can get to know each other as people, without that obligation between them. Obinze’s ability to cultivate honesty in an inherently dishonest situation shows how much he values truth, but also hints at an inability to survive the difficult bureaucracy of immigration that forces people into dishonest and dangerous situations.
The sad case of Nicholas and Ojiugo offers a model of immigration in which parents sacrifice their own dreams for the next generation. The extreme contrast between their rebellious youth and their dutiful and tame immigrant adulthood reveals how much immigration has forced them to change in order to survive. Ojiugo’s excuse for Nicholas—that living in fear has exhausted him—shows the dire consequences of illegal immigration for the immigrant. We can infer that Nicholas had to work to be invisible, and as a result had to hide and conform to expectations. Their main way of relating as husband and wife now is through conversations about their children’s progress, implying that their marriage has ceased to be about them connecting as individuals. Ojiugo explicitly says that all her hopes are on her children now, which means she sees no more possibilities for herself. The pressures and demands of immigration have drained Nicholas and Ojiugo of their sense of selves, leaving their children to live their dreams for them.
Obinze deletes Ifemelu’s email because of the shame he feels at not succeeding in his immigrant life. Because he views Ifemelu as a successful immigrant, he does not want to admit that his life in London is illegal and demeaning. Instead of finding success or “the future,” Obinze cannot even let himself be noticed by other people. In his jealous viewing of the passersby, he envies them their visibility—the fact that others are allowed to see and acknowledge their existence without causing them danger. The turd on the toilet seat highlights Obinze’s invisibility as well. Obinze notices that whoever left the turd did so to send a message to the company, but he, not a high-level member of the company, receives the message. The disgruntled employee did not account for Obinze’s existence in his display of anger. Like Ifemelu, Obinze must pretend to be someone else in order to work, and this vulnerability subjects him to exploitation from Vincent with no legal recourse. Just as Ifemelu’s shame led her to cut off contact, Obinze’s shame now causes him to delete her email.
Similar to Ifemelu’s discovery of the importance placed on race, Obinze quickly realizes that white British people treat him differently or make strange assumptions about him on the basis of his being Black and foreign. Some of the discrimination is overt, such as the crude knee pun his first coworkers make. Other forms are subtler, such as the drivers at the warehouse who refuse to split their tips with him. Even Roy’s friendliness is charged with stereotypes. For example, he invokes the myth of African witchcraft to explain Obinze’s fidelity. The assumption that Obinze has some special ability with women draws from stereotypes of Black men of any origin as being hyper-sexualized. Ojiugo also notes this discrimination in the way her children are two of the few Black children in prestigious activities. The Jamaican woman’s extra tip also implies camaraderie amongst Black immigrants and suggests that she may assume Obinze’s white coworkers don’t share tips with him.
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