The next morning, Msimangu and Stephen head into Johannesburg to find Gertrude. Msimangu admits that though he is not for segregation, the downside to having blacks and whites packed so tightly together is that it brews confrontation between each group’s young hooligans. He also points out the Bantu Press, a local newspaper, and the roving, truant children, and a woman who sells liquor and is said to be one of the richest black person in Johannesburg.
The political situation of Johannesburg in a nutshell: separating the races causes trouble, but putting them close together also causes trouble. The only way that blacks are able to have a lot of money in Johannesburg is through crime—unlike whites, who are able to earn large amounts of money in (sometimes) legitimate ways.
They arrive at Gertrude’s house. Msimangu tells Stephen that he’ll be visiting a parishioner next door, and to come find him when he is ready. Before he even knocks, Stephen can hear “bad” laughter on the other side of the door. Then he knocks, and she answers. She looks afraid. She turns around and says something unintelligible to someone that Stephen cannot see. There is a flurry of activity in the house, and then silence. Only then does she invite him inside. She shakes his hand, and it is limp and icy.
When Stephen shakes his sister’s hand, he can feel that the life has almost literally gone out of her body—her separation from the lifeblood of her home has left her suspicious, cold, afraid.
When they sit down and begin to speak, Gertrude is reluctant to give her brother a lot of information. She admits that her husband is still missing, that she did not write. She confirms that she has been to prison but denies that it was her who committed the crime, and blames it on a woman that she had been living with. She also seems uncertain about the location of her child. Her voice is no longer kind, but full of an unpleasantness that reminds Stephen of the “bad” laughter he heard outside the house.
Gertrude has the trappings of decency, but all of them are corrupted: a husband long missing the city, a child who she cannot locate, laughter that is undeniably “wrong” in a way that Stephen cannot quite identify.
Gertrude tells Stephen she has sent for her child. Stephen provokes her by asking her where he can sleep for the night, and when she looks fearful, he explodes in anger, telling her that she has shamed the family with her liquor and her prostitution and not keeping track of her child. She begins weeping, and says that Johannesburg has made her sick and she does not want to be there anymore, though she doesn’t deserve it. Stephen says that God forgives everyone, and so she can be forgiven. They kneel down and pray.
In one of his rare moments of temper, Stephen is outrages by the sins of his sister. At this display, she breaks down, admitting that Johannesburg is terrible and has done bad things to her, and saying that she wants to go. Stephen prays with her, and they are both restored by this act.
After they are finished praying, Stephen asks if Gertrude knows where Absalom is. She says she is not sure, but their brother John will know. Stephen says that he will ask if Mrs. Lithebe has room for Gertrude and the child. The missing nephew finally appears, and Stephen tells Gertrude how much better for the boy things will be in Ixopo. Stephen leaves.
In the moments after prayer, it seems as if everything is coming together: the child arrives and is no longer missing, Gertrude agrees to go back with Stephen, and she has information about John and where to find Absalom.
That afternoon, Stephen goes with a truck and fetches them. He is glad when the task is done. At Mrs. Lithebe’s, Gertrude and the boy are given a room. Stephen feels overjoyed and accomplished, that after only a single day of being in Johannesburg, he is putting right what is broken.
Stephen feels as if he has accomplished a great thing in just one day, already putting the broken people back together. This initial success only serves to deepen the horror of the catastrophe that befalls his own son.