Summary: Chapter 7

Saeed and Nadia emerge in an elaborate bedroom in a beautiful mansion. As they look out the window, they realize that they’re on a city block filled with white houses and cherry trees. The house appears deserted. Saeed and Nadia boil one of their own potatoes in the kitchen because they don’t want to steal. The TV tells them they’re in London. Soon the house fills up with people from around the world. Saeed and Nadia pick a bedroom on the second floor and claim it for their own. It has a balcony from which they could jump to the garden if they needed to escape. They know they might be forced to leave, so they don't unpack. Saeed takes out the photo of his parents and places it on a shelf to make the room seem more like home. 

Nadia goes to the bathroom and showers while Saeed stands guard. The hot water and soft towels feel so luxurious that she can’t put her dirty clothes back on. She washes them in the sink. Saeed knocks on the door and reminds her that this isn’t their house. She insists that she has to wash her clothes, and Saeed relents. Nadia realizes that if he hadn’t agreed, she would have fought to wash her clothes anyway because she needed to remember she was human. When she emerges from the bathroom, he tells her she can’t stand around in a towel. She retorts that he can’t tell her what to do. After Saeed returns from the bathroom, the two fall asleep without touching.

The housekeeper of the mansion screams when she comes to work and sees it occupied by migrants. The unoccupied mansions of the wealthy neighborhoods between Westminster and Hammersmith become full of refugees. A British accountant has been considering suicide when he discovers a magic door in his room. At first, he arms himself with a hockey stick and considers calling the police but then decides it doesn’t matter. The door reminds him of children’s books, and he decides to go through it. He later sends a message to his daughter and best friend letting them know that he is in Namibia and will not be returning.

Nadia enjoys living in the house because it reminds her of a university dorm. Saeed doesn’t feel safe around the other refugees and also feels guilty about staying in someone else’s home. When Saeed tries to stop the others from looting the house, Nadia calls him an idiot because she’s worried he’s putting himself in danger. Saeed worries about the unkindness in her voice. Nadia wonders how to end the tension between them.

The house soon runs out of food, and the residents must forage and barter. When Saeed and Nadia return home from foraging, a nativist mob attacks. That night, bruised and battered, they have a difficult time finding space in their bed without hurting each other. They turn face to face and gently touch each other’s bruises. They don’t fight.

The British government formulates a plan to get the refugees out. However, British volunteers also bring food and medicine to the camps. Saeed and Nadia promise to be kinder to each other. Saeed asks Nadia what her dream life would look like. They know other cities probably have similar nativist backlashes like London, so there’s nowhere to run to. They recognize the escalating tension disguised with calm.

One day, Saeed and Nadia see a fox in the mansion’s garden. They’re in awe that a fox lives in London. An old woman says that the fox represents their love. The declaration makes Saeed and Nadia uncomfortable because they haven’t felt romantic recently. They begin to explore London separately, which improves their relationship. Saeed worries they’ll lose each other if fighting begins while they’re apart. Nadia worries about breaking her promise to Saeed’s father. They still kiss and explore each other’s bodies. When they can’t sleep, they watch the fox. One night, the fox finds a dirty diaper and plays with it until it’s in shreds. That same night, the authorities shut off the power in the neighborhood.

Analysis: Chapter 7

Saeed has a difficult time coping with the London house because he does not feel at home. The argument he starts with Nadia in the hallway stems from his anxiety about being in someone else’s house. In the context of his earlier reminder to Nadia that she should not spend too long in the bathroom, his admonition about her wearing a towel seems less like a concern about modesty and more a signal of his acute awareness that he doesn’t own this house and doesn’t know who else could be in it. We further see his awareness that he has displaced someone when he tries to stop the others from looting. His clashes with Nadia in this chapter stem from this discomfort. In the argument over the towel, his comment has a protective dimension. He doesn’t want Nadia to expose herself to strangers. Similarly, Nadia lashes out at him over his intervention in the looting to protect him because she knows others will not take kindly to his sense of morality in this situation. Their mutual desire to protect each other suggests that despite their conflict, they are the only home the other has at the moment. 

The trauma Nadia and Saeed have lived through in their home country and Mykonos fundamentally changes how they approach life in the London house. First, when choosing a bedroom to stay in, they don’t concern themselves with whether or not they like the room but whether there’s an escape route. This decision harkens back to Saeed’s family’s apartment, whose beautiful peacetime view made it more dangerous in wartime. Saeed and Nadia thus learned to prioritize the safety of their chosen dwelling, not its aesthetics. They resist unpacking their belongings because they have an intimate understanding of how quickly situations that appear stable can unravel. Beyond the destruction of their home city, in Mykonos, a simple day fishing turned dangerous, costing them their fishing rod. Finally, their decision not to try and escape London even though they recognize the approach of conflict suggests that they have, on a certain level, become inured to living in traumatic and unstable circumstances. Usually, people run from danger, but Saeed and Nadia’s everyday life has now been dangerous for quite some time, which means that running from it feels useless and unnecessarily exhausting.

This chapter once again explores the very human need for comfort. Nadia puts her foot down when Saeed tries to rush her out of the bathroom because she needs clean clothes to feel “human,” suggesting that the pressure of not having an opportunity for basic hygiene had made her feel inhuman. This simple statement reveals that the refugee camp in Mykonos is not designed for long-term human habitation because the conditions there deprives its residents of basic human necessities. The most tender we see Saeed and Nadia act in this chapter appears just after the terrifying riot, when they take note of each other’s bruises and make an effort to be gentle with each other. Just as in their home country, physical intimacy reminds Saeed and Nadia that they have survived and distracts them from the danger they’re constantly in. Even without sexual contact, the gesture toward romance fulfills their need to feel connected to each other.

The old woman’s mysterious comment about the fox representing Saeed and Nadia’s love hints at the complicated nature of their relationship. When the fox appears, it delights Saeed and Nadia because a wild animal living in a bustling city seems fantastical and improbable. Its appearance parallels how the creation of something as human and domestic as love also seems an impossible occurrence during a wild and lawless time like their home city’s war. In both cases, these improbable happenings evoke a sense of wonder and hope because they remind those that see them that even in a city, nature can find a way, and even in a war, young lovers still meet. However, far from behaving as an enchanted wild being from a children’s story, the fox actively—albeit unwittingly—spreads filth and possibly disease when it tears apart the dirty diaper. This highlights the reality that the fox, just like all urban wildlife, has adapted and compromised its natural habit to cope with increased urbanization. If the fox represents Saeed and Nadia’s love, then a closer look at their relationship reveals that they do not share a wartime fairytale but something messy and full of compromise.