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Obinze tries to avoid reading British newspapers because there are constant articles about needing to crack down on immigration. He keeps trying to find someone to arrange a green card marriage, and even loses money to scams. He sits on the train and notices the woman across from him reading a fear mongering article about asylum seekers. He wonders if the authors of these articles realize that the immigrants come from the countries that Britain created. The woman closes the paper and looks at Obinze. Obinze wonders if she is thinking he is one of the illegal immigrants the paper warned about. Later, as he rides to Essex, which has more immigrants, he feels lonely as he compares the life he’d planned to live to its reality.
One morning, Obinze notices the men at the office avoiding his eyes, and panics that he’s been discovered as an illegal immigrant. Instead, they are throwing him a birthday party, or, rather, a birthday party for Vincent, whose birthday it is. The camaraderie makes Obinze feel safe.
That night, Vincent calls Obinze and demands a raise. Obinze ignores him, believing that Vincent would not be willing to risk losing all the money he gets through Obinze. However, the next day, Roy tells him someone called to report him as an illegal immigrant and asks Obinze to bring in his passport the next day.
Years later, when Chief asks Obinze to find a white man to present as his general manager, he offers Nigel the job.
The Angolans extort more money out of Obinze. Obinze is running out of money, so he goes to Emenike. Emenike tells endless stories about besting the white coworkers who underestimate them and flaunts his expensive clothes. He claims that he cannot visit Nigeria because Georgina would not survive a visit. Finally, Emenike gives Obinze the money he needs, but insists Obinze count it. Georgina calls and invites them both to dinner. Emenike warns Obinze not to tell her about the green card marriage. To Obinze’s surprise, Georgina is competent and worldly, not the fragile woman Emenike portrayed her as, and much older than he is. Emenike insists on taking Obinze to a fine dining restaurant.
At Georgina’s insistence, Obinze attends a party at her and Emenike’s house. The party guests discuss Emenike and Georgina’s trip to America. Emenike claims that Americans are friendly but do not try to pronounce foreign names correctly, while the British are suspicious of friendliness but careful with foreign names. Georgina adds that American nationalism is garish. This leads to a discussion on race in America, and how Britain is not as bad. Obinze suggests that this is because the British care more about class, and Emenike gets annoyed at Obinze for stealing his point. Georgina encourages Emenike to tell his story of being snubbed by a cab driver. He tells it with humor, but Obinze remembers that when Emenike told him about the incident, he was furious. A guest comments that it’s important that Britain remains a sanctuary for people fleeing war-torn countries. Obinze realizes that they would not understand someone like him, who immigrated because he believed leaving Nigeria was the key to having more choices.
It is the day of Obinze’s wedding. However, at the courthouse, two policemen arrest him. The lawyer assigned to him is shocked when Obinze says that he’ll willingly return to Nigeria. At the holding cell at Manchester Airport, he asks the immigration officer if he can have something to read, surprising the officer. However, his only entertainment option is to watch television after lunch. He believes that unlike the others in the cell, he is too soft, too dependent on the truth to try and immigrate again.
He thinks of Ifemelu and wonders what she would think of him now. Nicholas and Ojiugo visit him with money and new clothes. Ojiugo keeps asking Obinze if they are treating him well, which annoys Obinze because he feels that’s not what’s important.
Obinze and the other deportees must sit at the very back of the plane. When the immigration officer leads them back to an office to fill out paperwork, he asks for a bribe. His mother awaits him at the airport.
Both the British panic around and pity for illegal immigrants create a self-serving narrative. Obinze observes that the panicked immigration articles ignore how many immigrants come from former British colonies, meaning that Britain itself instilled the idea that Britain has more opportunities. He describes this as an erasure of history because Britain does not acknowledge its own role in attracting immigration. Although they appear more sympathetic, the guests at Georgina’s party are also self-serving in their desire to impress Obinze with their sympathy for refugees. Their care about immigrant plight lies in the assumption that immigrants come to Britain because they need shelter, and therefore deserve British benevolence. In contrast, Obinze had a comfortable middle-class life in Nigeria, which he sacrifices for an unstable life in London, reversing his social and financial status. The guests don’t consider that he might be an illegal immigrant because he does not fit into their narrative of an African who needs their pity. Both narratives allow British people to feel their country is superior to those of immigrants.
Although Emenike has achieved success in England, his success is based on superficial materiality and not personal contentment. In his boasts to Obinze, Emenike focuses on name-dropping the brands he is wearing, as if to show off that he can now afford them. His tasteless insistence that Obinze count the money needlessly emphasizes the amount, belaboring the fact that Emenike is now wealthy enough to loan Obinze the money. These large gestures don’t mask his clear insecurity. Emenike claims Georgina could not handle visiting Nigeria or knowing the harsh realities of immigration that Obinze faces. However, Obinze notes that Georgina appears worldly, not one to be fazed by life’s difficulties. Emenike’s clear lie suggests that he worries not about Georgina’s sensibilities, but about how his past in Nigeria and knowing an illegal immigrant would reflect on him. His anger at Obinze for stealing attention at the party highlights his insecurities because Emenike considers Obinze’s intelligence a threat to his standing amongst his friends. Emenike doesn’t fully believe that he can trust his wife or his friends with the difficult parts of himself.
Although the guests at Emenike and Georgina’s party deny that British society is racist, Obinze’s experiences in London suggest otherwise. Obinze’s coworkers at one of his first jobs joked at his expense explicitly about his Blackness. Emenike’s insistence that, unlike Americans, British people are careful to pronounce foreign names contradicts the reality of Obinze’s immigrant coworkers. Emenike’s own behavior around the white guests echoes Ifemelu’s blog post that offers advice for non-American Black people who realize that they are Black in America. Just as Ifemelu instructs her readers to turn stories about their experiences with racism into funny anecdotes, Emenike erases his anger over the taxi story and makes it lighthearted. While class does play a role in Obinze’s experiences, especially in Nigel’s treatment of him and others whom he believes are posh, this does not erase that Obinze’s Blackness has lead to discrimination.
Obinze gives up on legal immigration to England because he cannot handle the inherent dishonesty in the process. He describes himself as “soft” and the truth as being something that pampered his sensibilities, which implies that he sees lying in this case not as something immoral or bad, but something that competent people do to survive immigration. His time in London has taken a great emotional toll on him, and he has become so paranoid that innocuous things, from his surprise birthday party to the gaze of a stranger on the train, fill him with dread. Furthermore, the rewards of immigration do not tempt Obinze. The successful immigrant men he knows—Emenike and Nicholas—have given up parts of themselves to survive immigration. Emenike’s life involves performing a role for his white friends and wife, whom he does not seem to trust with his true self. Nicholas has eroded himself to the point where he can no longer connect with his wife. Obinze’s values of honesty and authenticity have no place in these modes of immigration.
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