In the weeks after the coup Kambili notices some changes in the outside world. The Standard grows more critical, while the other papers seem more subdued. People are protesting in Government Square, chanting “Freedom” and blocking cars. The family’s driver, Kevin, puts green branches on the car to show solidarity with the pro-democracy protestors when he drives the children to school. Soldiers set up roadblocks and randomly search people at gunpoint.
Nigeria is now ruled by a military regime, so its soldiers can essentially act with impunity, as we will see more of later. As the publisher of the Standard, Papa clearly takes a pro-democracy stance, and is critical of the new Head of State.
Nothing changes inside the Achike household, however. Jaja and Kambili stick to their strict schedules, while Mama’s pregnancy progresses. At Mass on Pentecost Sunday there is a visiting priest at St. Agnes. He is young and sincere, and does not praise the church’s lavish altar like other visiting priests have done. During his sermon he starts singing a song in Igbo. This surprises the congregation at first, but then most of them start to sing along. Papa keeps his lips closed and checks his family to make sure their lips are closed as well.
Even though he is very politically active, Papa hardly ever tells his family about his work or his life outside the home. The young priest is contrasted with Father Benedict, who is the picture of colonialist Catholicism. Papa, as a “colonial product,” disapproves of the singing and use of Igbo, and makes sure that his family disapproves as well. Here silence is more directly enforced.
Papa always greets people after church, as people flock around him. Then the family goes to visit Father Benedict. Papa says that the young visiting priest was “Godless” to sing a song during the sermon, and that he will bring trouble to the church. They arrive at Father Benedict’s, but Mama says she feels sick and wants to stay in the car. Papa stares at her meaningfully and asks her again to come in. She insists that she doesn’t feel “right,” but Papa asks again and she agrees to come in.
Papa reinforces his ideas about the way Catholicism should be practiced, and his children accept it the way they must accept his control over the rest of their lives. Mama’s request to stay in the car seems perfectly reasonable given that she feels ill, but to Papa it is an example of selfishness and sin. But it also is becoming clear that Papa equates people not doing what he wants with them being selfish.
Papa talks to Father Benedict while the rest of the family waits in the living room. Father Benedict asks about Mama’s health, but she blames her sickly appearance on allergies. After the visit Papa grits his teeth on the drive home as they listen to “Ave Maria.” When they get home Mama offers to pour Papa’s tea, but he refuses. He gives Jaja and Kambili their “love sips” of the tea. Kambili is happy to “feel the love burn my tongue.”
Papa sustains his anger at Mama’s “sin” throughout the visit and the drive home. Kambili looks forward to the pain of the “love sip,” as it seems like proof that Papa loves her. We now start to realize why the lack of a “love sip” on Palm Sunday was an important part of the change in the family dynamic.
Mama, Jaja, and Kambili then go upstairs to change. The children are scheduled to quietly reflect on a Bible verse and pray. Even the “family time” on Sundays is silent. Mama runs into her room to vomit, and the children hear her. At lunch Papa prays over the food, asking God to forgive “those who had tried to thwart His will” by not wanting to visit “His servant after Mass.” Mama loudly says “Amen.”
We now see the silence that pervades the house. Everyone is afraid to speak out, lest they say something sinful and receive a violent punishment, or disappoint Papa in any way. Papa continues to cling to his anger against Mama because of what he has perceived as a wicked act.
After lunch Kambili is reading the Bible when she hears thumping sounds from her parents’ room. Kambili imagines that Papa is trying to get the door unstuck, thinking that if she imagines it hard enough it will be true. After 20 seconds Papa comes out of the room, carrying Mama slung over his shoulder. He carries her downstairs and takes her outside. There is blood on the floor, and Jaja and Kambili clean it up.
This kind of violence is horribly commonplace in the Achike household. Papa sees it as a necessary punishment for sin, not as anything wrong on his behalf. The children react calmly and never speak directly of what has happened.
Mama doesn’t come home that night, and Jaja and Kambili have dinner alone. They don’t talk about Mama, but instead talk about the three men who were publicly executed for drug trafficking the day before. The children go to their rooms after dinner. Papa comes home and goes into Kambili’s room. His eyes are red from crying. He says that Mama will be back tomorrow, and he hugs Kambili so that she can feel his heartbeat.
The children are so conditioned that they continue following their schedule even without Papa there to enforce it. Papa weeps whenever he is violent, showing the tragic complexity of his character. He does truly love his family, but has twisted ideas about violence, sin, and punishment. Kambili represses the memory of the beating and clings instead to Papa’s love and affection.
Mama comes home the next day, her eyes looking vacant. She says “there was an accident” and she has had a miscarriage. She stands there hugging herself for a while, and then starts polishing the ceramic figurines on the étagère. Kambili tries to help her, but Mama insists that she go up to her room and study, as it is her “study time.” Kambili looks at her textbook, but all the letters seem to blur into an image of Mama’s blood.
We now see the importance of the ceramic figurines for Mama. Polishing them is a way of calming herself and reorganizing her life after the disruption of Papa’s violence. The family members never even say what happened, or imply that Papa was involved—Mama’s miscarriage was just an “accident.”
The next Sunday Papa makes the family stay behind after Mass and recite extra prayers “for Mama’s forgiveness.” Father Benedict sprinkles holy water over them as they recite, trying hard to get the words right so Papa doesn’t make them start over. Kambili tries not to think about what Mama might need to be forgiven for.
Father Benedict may not know about the domestic violence, but he does support Papa’s worldview of strict rules regarding sin and punishment. Though she is still totally devoted to Papa, Kambili understands that Papa’s punishments far outweigh the perceived crime.