Summary: Chapter 4

Nadia and Saeed have no way to contact each other. Their evening class has finished, Nadia’s flat doesn’t have a landline, and Saeed’s landline has stopped working. Saeed tries the burger place they used to frequent with no luck. The next time he checks the burger place, he finds it boarded up. Because he knows Nadia works for an insurance company, he spends time at work trying to call different insurance companies. He can only get the numbers through the phone operator, who can only give out two numbers at a time because of the high volume of calls. 

Nadia panic-buys shelf-stable groceries on her lunch break, eschewing the vegetables she prefers. Eventually the government sets a limit on how much people can buy at a time. One weekend, Nadia goes to the bank at dawn to withdraw as much cash as possible. The line already is huge and the crowd oppressive. A man tries to fondle her through her clothes until authorities divide the crowd into men and women. Finally, after lunch, Nadia has her turn with the teller. When she returns home, Saeed is waiting for her. Heedless of the danger, she takes him upstairs. Saeed has brought Nadia a kerosene stove, matches, candles, and water purification tablets. He jokes that he couldn’t find flowers. Nadia asks him if he has a gun.

Nadia wants to have sex with Saeed to get the bank incident out of her head, but Saeed still doesn’t want to. They kiss for a while. Nadia asks Saeed if he wants to get married. He does, but Nadia isn’t sure. Saeed says okay. When Saeed leaves, Nadia gives him her work contact number, a spare key to her flat, and a robe so he can sneak in even if she isn’t there. After he leaves, Nadia hears gunfire in the distance. 

That night, a brave man waits by the light of his phone’s flashlight. He observes a man appear from the blackness of a door. The second man carries an assault rifle. The brave man motions for the second man to go into the stairwell of the building and then continues his vigil. The second man soon joins the fighting. The militants now match the government’s strength. Neighborhoods quickly fall to the militants, and people start to disappear. Nadia passes by her family’s home only to find it abandoned. For a while, Nadia and Saeed’s neighborhoods remain under government control.

Saeed’s boss has to close the business. At Nadia’s office, the paychecks stop coming, so everyone leaves, often taking valuable items with them. Nadia absconds with two laptops.

Windows become things to fear because people can die from the glass shrapnel created when they shatter. Saeed’s family pushes furniture and bookcases up against their windows as shields. Nadia covers hers with tape and garbage bags. Rumors begin to spread about doors that can transport people anywhere in the world. Saeed and Nadia dismiss these rumors but still start looking at doors differently. 

Saeed begs Nadia to move in with his family because it’s not safe for a woman alone. Nadia resists because she doesn’t want to lose her freedom, and the idea makes her uncomfortable because they’ll have to be chaste while in Saeed’s house. 

Saeed’s mother dies after being hit by stray gunfire when she goes outside to look for an earring she thinks she left in the family car. Nadia, after seeing Saeed’s grief when she comes to his apartment for the funeral, stays overnight and ends up never staying at her place again.

Analysis: Chapter 4

This chapter explores how violence changes people’s relationship to everyday places and objects by centering value on practicality rather than luxury. Because she suddenly has to worry about a possible food shortage, Nadia starts not only buying more food but choosing specific foods for how long they will last instead of how much she enjoys them. While people generally consider banks the safest place to keep one’s money, the oncoming violence threatens to close down banks, cutting people off from their savings and putting their survival at risk. The possible loss of utilities makes Saeed’s gift of a kerosene stove and water purification tablets infinitely more romantic than flowers because it shows real concern for Nadia’s life. In these ways, violence makes value become rooted in something’s ability to help a person survive. The narrator's description of windows also illustrates the way violence changes the meaning of the everyday. In peacetime, large windows are considered luxuries for the way they let in light and the view they give of the outside world. In wartime, these same large windows simply become large quantities of deadly shrapnel. Because they are a threat to survival, the windows are no longer luxurious—they are a liability.

While in the first few chapters the anecdotes about the magic doors primarily showcase refugees, this chapter addresses another reason people have for migrating: violent political change. Anyone, including the militants attacking Saeed and Nadia’s city, can use the doors. The doors have power in the first place because they allow anyone, with or without a visa, to circumvent national borders. Countries have borders to define which land, resources, and people are theirs, and also, in theory, to protect the people within those borders. In the earlier chapters, we may have felt sympathy for the vulnerable people going through and angry at the sometimes violent xenophobia they encounter. However, doors do not discriminate, which means that the militants can use the doors for smuggling, creating more violence and chaos in Saeed and Nadia’s city. The narrator doesn’t use this reality as a way to dismiss benefits of the doors, as later in the chapter, the doors appear as a potential means of escape for innocent citizens. However, that the doors can legitimately be dangerous adds a layer of complexity to the problem of borders. Most people in the world do not mean harm, but some do. 

The increasing danger heightens Saeed and Nadia’s desire for each other, highlighting how intimacy acts as an antidote for terror. Nadia recklessly drags Saeed up to her flat in broad daylight, risking discovery, because seeing someone familiar becomes more important to her at that moment than propriety or safety. Her desire to have sex with Saeed after her assault and panic at the bank shows how physical intimacy can soothe and mitigate fear. After not seeing Nadia for a few weeks, Saeed responds to the fear of losing her forever by immediately proposing marriage, trying to assuage his fear by aiming to make their relationship permanent and religiously binding. We can also read Saeed’s proposal as a way for him to cope with his desire to have sex with Nadia. If, like Nadia, he wants to have sex because the contact would soothe his fear, proposing marriage would be a way to do so without compromising his religious beliefs. The way danger accelerates intimacy raises questions about the authenticity of Saeed and Nadia’s relationship. At this point, we cannot yet judge whether the danger has pulled them closer together or whether they would feel this close regardless of political stability.