Summary: Chapter 5

Because of the danger, Saeed and his father can only hold a small funeral for Saeed’s mother, and although people visit them during their bereavement, they cannot stay long. Nadia sleeps on the floor in Saeed’s room. Saeed sleeps on the floor in the sitting room. Saeed’s father sleeps in his own bed, alone for the first time since he was married.

The militants have taken over Saeed’s neighborhood, and the bombing continues. The utilities in the neighborhood go out. One night, as Saeed and Nadia sit together under a blanket for warmth, Saeed remarks on how natural it feels to have Nadia there. 

When Nadia’s neighborhood falls to the militants, she returns to her apartment to salvage some of her belongings. She takes necessities like food and clothing, plus her records and the lemon tree from her porch. On the way back to Saeed’s, militants stop her at a checkpoint, but she bribes them with canned goods. When Saeed’s father sees the lemon tree, he smiles.

Nadia must hide her records because the militants forbid music, and she knows they periodically search citizens’ apartments. One night, militants wake them up to check ID cards. Saeed’s upstairs neighbors have names associated with the religious denomination the militants are hunting, and they are executed. A bloodstain appears on the sitting room ceiling where the neighbor’s blood has dripped through. A few nights later, Saeed sneaks into Nadia’s room and they fool around without having sex. 

Although things become calmer after the militants take the city, the constant presence of bombing drones and public executions remind the citizens how far from peace they are.

Saeed’s father visits his family members every day because their memories of Saeed’s mother helps him feel connected to her. 

One evening, Saeed and Nadia go to meet with someone about the mysterious doors, dressed in accordance with the militants’ new rules. They carry a forged marriage certificate in case they are asked why they are walking together. Finally, they reach the ruins of a shopping center. Their contact, known only as “the agent,” explains that the doors are everywhere. It will take time to find one the militants haven’t found first. He takes their money. Saeed and Nadia don’t know whether they have secured passage or fallen victim to a scam.

Meanwhile, in Dubai, a family enters a luxury apartment building. A security drone follows them, beaming their location to a group of uniformed men. The family seem in awe of their surroundings and don’t resist when they are arrested.

Outside Saeed’s apartment, surveillance drones and informants lurk everywhere. The lack of utilities means that the residents of his building have to go to the bathroom outdoors. One day, Saeed receives a letter from the agent telling them where to arrive and when. Saeed’s father shocks Saeed and Nadia by announcing he won’t go with them. He claims he doesn’t want to leave Saeed’s mother, but in reality, he knows his presence would make the journey more difficult for them. The narrator states that Saeed will never spend another night with his father.

Saeed’s father asks Nadia to promise not to leave Saeed until he is safe. Nadia promises without hesitation because she hasn’t ever thought of leaving Saeed. However, she feels that in leaving Saeed’s father, they are abandoning him to die.

Analysis: Chapter 5

The constant surveillance under the militant regime erodes all sense of privacy, creating an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. Saeed and Nadia prepare a forged marriage certificate because even walking down the street together invites scrutiny. The random searches mean Nadia cannot enjoy the records she saves from her flat because even Saeed’s apartment can no longer truly be considered private. Additionally, the juxtaposition of the discussion of constant surveillance outdoors and the description of how citizens must go to the bathroom outside creates a disturbing image of the effect of surveillance. Although going to the bathroom carries no shame, we do consider it something private in deference to human modesty and dignity. Here, the militants have created a situation where people have no choice but to do a private act while vulnerable to surveillance. This reality illustrates how constant surveillance inherently undermines people’s rights because privacy affords people dignity. The bathroom situation also metaphorically demonstrates the intrusive nature of the militant’s regime, in which not even the most private act is free from scrutiny. 

Saeed and Nadia cope with the fear and violence around them by clinging to small, everyday means of comfort. Perhaps most clearly, after the horrific murder of their upstairs neighbors, Saeed breaks his vow to be chaste in his parents’ house and has sexual contact with Nadia, relying on pleasure to distract from horror. As before, intimacy functions a way to distract from very real mortal peril. However, objects can also confer a sense of comfort and peace. Despite the very real danger, Nadia retrieves her records and player simply because she likes them, and, implicitly, having them makes her feel more at home. Saeed’s father smiles when Nadia brings home her lemon tree because it’s colorful and alive. We see a similar principle exaggerated through the refugee family’s awe in Dubai. Although they should focus on finding safety and shelter, the beauty and luxury of the city overwhelms their sense of self-preservation and gives them a false sense of security. The characters cling to these comforts because, like the doors, they have the power to transport people to safety, albeit only mentally.

Saeed’s father’s decision not to come with Saeed and Nadia demonstrates the sacrifices demanded of those fleeing violence. As we see with the family in Dubai, people traveling together in larger groups are more easily found by authorities, and Saeed’s father worries that his presence will jeopardize Saeed’s chances of survival. The narrator emphasizes that Saeed’s father will not survive this siege, highlighting the gravity and finality of this choice. Because Saeed’s father behaves so generously and lovingly throughout the chapters we’ve known him, the unfairness of the fact that he must make this decision comes through strongly. Saeed’s father staying also serves as a metaphor for the way leaving a place inherently comes with sacrifice. Saeed and Nadia do not merely leave a dangerous place behind; they leave a place full of memories and people they know. Because of the extent of the violence, they know that even if they return to the city, they will have lost the city as they remembered it in peacetime. Leaving the city would also require great sacrifice from Saeed’s father, as leaving would mean losing his connection to his dead wife and regular contact with the cousins who connect him to her memory.