One rainy day Ade Coker is assassinated in his home. He receives a package from the Head of State, and when he opens it at the breakfast table with his family he is blown up. Kambili and Jaja come home that day to find Papa sobbing on the sofa, looking small and broken. Mama and Jaja comfort him. Later Papa funds Ade’s funeral, buys a new house for Ade’s family, and gives the Standard staff bonuses and a long leave. Kambili starts having nightmares about Ade getting blown up, but sometimes in her dreams it is Papa dying in an explosion at a meal, and she is the daughter at the table with him.
The threat against Papa for daring to speak out is very real, as this horrible assassination proves. Ade Coker is loosely based on the real-life Nigerian journalist Dele Giwa, who was killed by a package bomb in 1986. With this murder the Head of State proves his potential for brutality and his fear of anything other than censorship and obedience. Again, though, the Head of State’s violence, which Papa stands against, mirrors Papa’s own violence meant to enforce obedience within his own household.
In the following weeks Papa looks more weary and unwell. He prays more, and Father Benedict often visits the house. Soldiers go to one of Papa’s factories, plant dead rats there, and then shut down the factory, claiming unsanitary conditions. Papa doesn’t check very often that Jaja and Kambili are following their schedules, so they spend more time together.
The government is afraid to kill Papa because of his powerful connections, but they do at least send him a message and try to discredit him. Papa’s usually calm demeanor starts to crack, and he turns to his intense faith for relief.
One day when Papa is with Father Benedict, Jaja comes into Kambili’s room and asks to see the painting of Papa-Nnukwu. Kambili nervously takes it out. Jaja runs his deformed little finger over the painting, entranced. Kambili joins him in staring at it. They stay there for a long time, longer than they know they should, as if secretly wanting to confront Papa that day.
Jaja has talked back to Papa, but this is the first real moment of defiance for the children. They don’t even do anything active against Papa, but only refuse to hide their love for their grandfather. Yet this too is a kind of speaking out for freedom.
Papa comes in and sees the painting. Jaja and Kambili both claim that the painting is theirs, and Papa starts to sway back and forth in rage. He takes the painting and rips it up. Kambili screams and tries to pick up the pieces. Papa yells at her and then starts to kick her as she curls up on the floor on top of the pieces of paper. He kicks her with his metal-buckled shoes, yelling about heathens and Hell, and then strikes her with his belt. Kambili smells Amaka’s paint on the paper and eventually passes out.
This small act of defiance, followed by Jaja and Kambili’s refusal to feel ashamed of the “sin,” drives Papa into a rage. All his stress and fear about Ade’s death and his factories seems to break in as well, and he loses control. Kambili turns inward, trying to avoid the realization that the man she loves and idolizes is beating her almost to death.
Kambili wakes up in the hospital. Mama is there, crying gratefully that Kambili is awake. Kambili’s whole body is in terrible pain. She hears the doctor saying that she has a broken rib and internal bleeding. Later she sees Papa crying and calling her his “precious daughter,” and then Papa and Father Benedict praying and giving her extreme unction. Kambili tells Mama to call Aunty Ifeoma. Mama’s face is puffy from crying, and Kambili suddenly wants to both hug her and shove her down.
Papa again responds to his own violence with tears and tender care. At the same time, religion still drives him: in case Kambili is about to die, he makes sure that she receives the last rites from a “spiritual” priest like Father Benedict. Kambili suddenly feels an anger at Mama for submitting to Papa’s abuse and not protecting her children better.
Kambili later wakes up to see Father Amadi leaning over her. She wonders if she is dreaming. She hears Aunty Ifeoma’s voice, saying that her children could not come because of school. Ifeoma tells Mama that “this cannot go on”—she must escape before things get worse. Mama protests that Papa has never done something like this before. Ifeoma firmly declares that Kambili and Jaja will go to Nsukka, at least until Easter, once Kambili is healed. Eventually their voices fade away. Later Kambili wakes up again, and Mama tells her that Papa has been at her bedside all night, every night. Kambili looks away.
Mama continues to defend Papa and refuse to see the reality of the situation. Ifeoma, on the other hand, now understands the full extent of her brother’s abusiveness, and tries to take control. Mama even defends Papa to Kambili, telling her how he stayed at her bedside, but Kambili doesn’t want to hear this anymore. Something has been irreparably broken in her relationship with Papa. She can see that for him religious purity is more important than love for his daughter.
Papa picks out a private tutor for Kambili, and she comes to the hospital the following week. She is a young white nun, but she speaks fluent Igbo, which surprises Kambili. Kambili pretends to recover more slowly than she actually is, as she doesn’t want to go home. She can tell that her tutor realizes this but doesn’t say anything. Kambili takes her exams from her hospital bed, and she comes in first in the class.
The tutor never gets a name or becomes an important character, but she is a surprisingly understanding presence in Kambili’s hospital room, and a hopeful example of a more flexible, caring young, white Catholic in Nigeria. Kambili is no longer obsessed with getting first in her class to please Papa.
Kambili’s class comes to visit her. Chinwe Jideze gives her a card and talks to her as if they were close friends. Ezinne says that Kambili should stop running off after school when she comes back. That night Mama tells Kambili that she will be going to Nsukka with Jaja when she is discharged in two days. Somehow Aunty Ifeoma had convinced Papa.
Kambili’s classmates don’t know what happened to her, but as she has started to engage more with them they do at least start to talk to her now and accept her as one of their own. Kambili takes her small freedoms as she can find them, like deciding to stop running away after school.