Purple Hibiscus

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Mama (Beatrice Achike) Character Analysis

Kambili’s mother, a quiet, submissive woman who takes care of her children but does not speak out against Papa’s violence. After Kambili’s birth she suffers several miscarriages because of Papa’s beatings. Mama is friends with Aunty Ifeoma, but does not act on Ifeoma’s “university talk” of liberation and equality. She feels she cannot leave such a wealthy and socially important and even benevolent man. But as his abuse worsens and he causes yet another miscarriage for Mama, she does slowly poison Papa. After Papa’s death and Jaja’s arrest, Mama rarely speaks and seems constantly distracted.

Mama (Beatrice Achike) Quotes in Purple Hibiscus

The Purple Hibiscus quotes below are all either spoken by Mama (Beatrice Achike) or refer to Mama (Beatrice Achike). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism and Nigerian Politics Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Algonquin Books edition of Purple Hibiscus published in 2012.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I lay in bed after Mama left and let my mind rake through the past, through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka. Nsukka started it all; Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence. Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike), Mama (Beatrice Achike), Aunty Ifeoma
Related Symbols: The Purple Hibiscus
Page Number: 15-16
Explanation and Analysis:

As the first chapter draws to a close, we're introduced to the basic structure of the novel, as well as its dominant motif. The novel will be narrated in flashback, so that by the end, we'll fully understand why Papa broke Mama's figurines, and how their family came to be so divided. Furthermore, Adichie introduces us to the purple hibiscus that will come to stand for the characters' sense of freedom and creativity--a freedom that can't be destroyed by repressive parents or governors, try as they might.

The purple hibiscus, Kambili tells us, is free and "experimental"--a sure sign of its symbolic meaning. It's worth noting that although Kambili is seemingly under her father's thumb--living in his house, ex.--in her mind she's now free of his influence.  By the same token, the hibiscus seems to be powerless and domestic, when in reality it's secretly wild and free.

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Chapter 5 Quotes

“Ifeoma could not afford it.” Papa-Nnukwu shook his head. “Since the father of her children died, she has seen hard times. But she will bring them this year. You will see them. It is not right that you don’t know them well, your cousins. It is not right.”
Jaja and I said nothing. We did not know Aunty Ifeoma or her children very well because she and Papa had quarreled about Papa-Nnukwu. Mama told us. Aunty Ifeoma stopped speaking to Papa after he barred Papa-Nnukwu from coming to his house, and a few years passed before they finally started speaking to each other.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Papa-Nnukwu (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike), Papa (Eugene Achike), Mama (Beatrice Achike), Aunty Ifeoma
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote reaffirms the schism within Kambili's family--a split that is based around Papa's pride and rigid adherence to his own brand of religious dogma. Kambili and Jaja are only allowed to visit their grandfather, Papa-Nnukwu, for fifteen minutes each Christmas, and never to accept food or drink from him. Here Papa-Nnukwu's brief update highlights how different Papa is from his sister, Aunty Ifeoma. Papa is rich; Ifeoma is poor and widowed. Papa is dogmatic and strict; Ifeoma is openminded and independent. Papa places religion over family; Ifeoma does the opposite (she is a Christian too, but still loves and takes care of her "pagan" father). While Kambili and Jaja are still very much under their father's thumb at this point, every fact they learn about the outside world, and even about their own family, seems to go against Papa's narrow-minded worldview.

Chapter 7 Quotes

“…But you know Eugene quarrels with the truths that he does not like. Our father is dying, do you hear me? Dying. He is an old man, how much longer does he have, gbo? Yet Eugene will not let him into this house, will not even greet him… Eugene has to stop doing God’s job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene.”

Related Characters: Aunty Ifeoma (speaker), Papa (Eugene Achike), Mama (Beatrice Achike), Papa-Nnukwu
Page Number: 95-96
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Kamibili overhears her mother talking with Papa's sister, Aunty Ifeoma. Ifeoma is immediately shown to be a strong, confident woman, in contrast with the (relatively) submissive Mama. Ifeoma is the only one willing to tell the truth about Papa--that his ideals and rigid obsession with rules are getting in the way of real familial love and basic human concerns. Papa-Nnukwu, Papa and Ifeoma's father, is dying, but Papa won't visit or help him because Papa-Nnukwu refuses to give up practicing traditional Igbo rituals. (Ifeoma, for her part, is still a Christian, but an openminded one willing to blend Western and Nigerian beliefs.) Here Ifeoma essentially lays it all on the line--Papa (Eugene) is trying to play God, instead of letting God take care of his own business. Ifeoma prefers a more humanistic approach to Christianity, while Papa clearly clings to order, control, and rigid dogma. And in perspective, Papa's refusal to visit his own dying father because of religious differences seems like a very un-Christian thing to do.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“It’s your father. They called me from the factory, they found him lying dead on his desk.” Mama sounded like a recording…
Jaja grabbed the phone. Aunty Ifeoma led me to the bed. I sat down and stared at the bag of rice that leaned against the bedroom wall… I had never considered the possibility that Papa would die, that Papa could die. He was different from Ade Coker, from all the other people they had killed. He had seemed immortal.

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Mama (Beatrice Achike) (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike), Papa (Eugene Achike), Aunty Ifeoma, Ade Coker
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Kambili receives word that her father has been found dead at his desk. Kambili is shocked by the news of her father's death: he'd always seemed like an immortal to her--a harsh, tyrannical god, but still a god.

It's not yet clear why Kambili's father has died so suddenly. And yet his death is a crucial turning-point in the novel. Kambili has been moving further and further from her father's worldview throughout the last couple chapters--as if to reflect Kambili's growing independence, Papa dies, so that he can no longer control what Kambili does or thinks. Papa is a complex character, at once contemptible, admirable, and tragic: he's a brutal bully, but he also seems to love his children sincerely, and has undoubtedly done much good in the world outside his own home.

Chapter 16 Quotes

“I should have taken care of Mama. Look how Obiora balances Aunty Ifeoma’s family on his head, and I am older that he is. I should have taken care of Mama.”
“God knows best,” I said. “God works in mysterious ways.” And I thought how Papa would be proud that I had said that, how he would approve of my saying that.
Jaja laughed. It sounded like a series of snorts strung together. “Of course God does. Look what He did to his faithful servant Job, even to His own son. But have you ever wondered why? Why did He have to murder his own son so we would be saved? Why didn’t He just go ahead and save us?”

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Jaja (Chukwuka Achike) (speaker), Papa (Eugene Achike), Mama (Beatrice Achike), Obiora
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Kambili and Jaja are still recovering from their father's sudden death. Kambili notes that with Papa dead, they'll have to take care of their mother more closely--indeed, they both feel guilty for not doing so sooner. Jaja in particular feels guilty that he didn't protect his mother from Papa's beatings--he could have saved her many times before, and he contrasts his own submissiveness to his cousin Obiora's maturity. Kambili offers up a cliched truism--God works in mysterious ways--showing that she continues to subconsciously worship her father and imitate his style of religious fervor. (He's dead, of course, but she still immediately thinks of how he would be proud of her for saying this.)

Jaja, by contrast, has entirely rejected Catholicism along with his father's authority. Instead, Jaja now believes that Christianity is just a system of domination, used to justify people's pain and suffering: there's no reason, for instance, why God had to punish Job (or even Christ himself) so harshly. Perhaps God, just like Papa, is a bully, hurting people for no particular reason. In all, the passage shows the divide between Kambili and Jaja. Both have now been freed from Papa's literal control, but they react to this freedom in different ways.

“I started putting the poison in his tea before I came to Nsukka. Sisi got it for me; her uncle is a powerful witch doctor.”
For a long, silent moment I could think of nothing… Then I thought of taking sips of Papa’s tea, love sips, the scalding liquid that burned his love onto my tongue. “Why did you put it in his tea?” I asked Mama, rising. My voice was loud. I was almost screaming. “Why in his tea?”

Related Characters: Kambili Achike (speaker), Mama (Beatrice Achike) (speaker), Papa (Eugene Achike), Sisi
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, it's revealed that Kambili's meek, submissive mother was the one who murdered Papa: she put poison in his tea, so that eventually he'd die. Kambili, who is by now deeply conflicted regarding her father--she still can't help loving and worshipping him, but she also recognizes how tyrannical and sadistic he was--is especially distraught by the fact that Papa was killed by his tea. In this moment of revelation, Adichie poignantly reminds us how Papa used to share his hot tea with his children, giving them "love sips"--and this same "love," which was both painful and alluring, is the method by which Papa himself was silently killed.

Mama's murder shows that tyranny and bullying have consequences. We can't entirely forgive Mama for her actions--any more than we can forgive Papa for his--and yet we can understand where she's coming from. After years of being beaten, she couldn't take it anymore. She never spoke out against Papa, but she did rebel against his tyranny in her own desperate way.

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Mama (Beatrice Achike) Character Timeline in Purple Hibiscus

The timeline below shows where the character Mama (Beatrice Achike) appears in Purple Hibiscus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...missal at the étagère and breaks the small ceramic figurines of ballet dancers. Kambili’s mother, Beatrice (Mama), comes in and immediately starts picking up the pieces of the figurines. Kambili feels... (full context)
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Jaja helps Mama pick up the pieces of the figurines, and Kambili feels like she is in a... (full context)
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None of the usual Sunday routines take place: Mama doesn’t plait Kambili’s hair in the kitchen and Jaja doesn’t go upstairs to his room... (full context)
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...of cashew juice (which Papa will sell from his factories) and they each try it. Mama and Kambili both compliment it nervously. (full context)
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...she notices that his breathing is labored and his face has a rash on it. Mama brings her some soup, but after eating it Kambili throws it up. She asks about... (full context)
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Mama leaves, and Kambili remembers what started all this change. There were many years when she... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...now jumps months back in time to describe the events leading up to Palm Sunday. Mama brings Kambili’s school uniforms inside before it rains. Jaja and Kambili wash their own uniforms... (full context)
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Mama tells Kambili that she is pregnant, and the baby is due in October. Mama is... (full context)
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Mama and Sisi are cooking to host the members of the Our Lady of the Miraculous... (full context)
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...school, which pleased Papa greatly. Jaja goes to Kambili’s room and the two talk about Mama’s pregnancy. They speak in a kind of special language using mostly their eyes. Jaja declares... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...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.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Mama, Jaja, and Kambili then go upstairs to change. The children are scheduled to quietly reflect... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Mama doesn’t come home that night, and Jaja and Kambili have dinner alone. They don’t talk... (full context)
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Mama comes home the next day, her eyes looking vacant. She says “there was an accident”... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...difficult for Kambili to read, even though her exams are approaching, as she keeps seeing Mama’s blood in the letters. One day she is studying in her room when Yewande Coker,... (full context)
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There is a two-week break from school, and on the last weekend Mama takes Jaja and Kambili to get new sandals and bags. Kambili notices the crowds of... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Kambili continues to see Mama’s blood when she tries to read, but she studies constantly and memorizes her teacher’s words,... (full context)
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Mama and Papa come downstairs and start to pray with the children. Soon a visitor comes,... (full context)
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Kambili remembers how Papa used to treat Mama’s father, their Grandfather, in an entirely different way. Grandfather was very light-skinned and always spoke... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...and quiet. Ifeoma says that her children are visiting Papa-Nnukwu and listening to his stories. Mama comes in and brings Ifeoma some food and drinks. Ifeoma calls Mama nwunye m, which... (full context)
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Aunty Ifeoma and Mama talk, and Ifeoma suggests that they go to the traditional Aro festival the next day.... (full context)
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...Ifeoma says she is cooking with a kerosene stove now, as there is no gas. Mama offers to give her gas cylinders from Papa’s factory, but Ifeoma declines. Kambili watches Aunty... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...to greet him. Kambili remembers the last time they had visited the Igwe’s palace, and Mama had greeted him in the traditional way for women, by bowing low to him. Later... (full context)
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The family goes downstairs and greets the Igwe. Aunty Ifeoma bows to him, but Mama shakes his hand. Then they go back upstairs, leaving Papa with the Igwe. Amaka and... (full context)
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...properly as Papa and Father Benedict like. Kambili’s cramps start to hurt, and she asks Mama for Panadol, a painkiller. She must eat food with the pill, but it is only... (full context)
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...Kambili is almost finished eating when Papa enters. He quietly asks what is going on. Mama and Jaja both try to take the blame, and Papa asks if the devil has... (full context)
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Papa, Mama, and then Jaja go in. Kambili asks Jaja with her eyes if he remembered his... (full context)
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Jaja and Kambili pack their things, and Mama suggests that they bring food and gas cylinders from the factory. Papa is suspicious of... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...is delighted to see the food and gas cylinders, which she knows came because of Mama. She does a little dance and hugs Kambili again, and Kambili notices that she smells... (full context)
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...he reminds them to study and pray. That evening at dinner Kambili imagines Papa and Mama eating alone, and the full crates of soft drinks always in their house. Aunty Ifeoma... (full context)
Chapter 9
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The phone rings. Kambili answers, and it is Mama calling to say that soldiers found the offices of the Standard and destroyed the presses... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Mama answers the door when they arrive. She has a black eye and her face is... (full context)
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Everyone is silent for the rest of dinner, and afterward Jaja follows Papa upstairs. Mama looks through fabric samples for the new curtains, which they have changed every year. Papa... (full context)
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Papa calls for Kambili to come upstairs. She hesitates, but Mama tells her to go. Papa is in the bathroom, and he tells Kambili to climb... (full context)
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...When the water is gone Papa makes to lift Kamili out of the tub, but Mama comes into the bathroom, also crying. She puts wet salt on Kambili’s feet and then... (full context)
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After Mama leaves, Kambili thinks about Father Amadi and her family in Nsukka. She takes Amaka’s painting... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...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... (full context)
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Kambili wakes up in the hospital. Mama is there, crying gratefully that Kambili is awake. Kambili’s whole body is in terrible pain.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...Amaka. A car drives up and they are all surprised to see that it is Mama, wearing her slippers and looking unkempt. Aunty Ifeoma helps her into the house. (full context)
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Mama sits down and looks around distractedly. She says that she got back from the hospital... (full context)
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Papa calls that evening. Aunty Ifeoma answers, but doesn’t let Mama come to the phone. After she hangs up Mama gets the phone from a bedroom... (full context)
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Mama says that there is nowhere she could go if she left Papa’s house, and that... (full context)
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After Mama and Aunty Ifeoma go to bed, Kambili plays cards with Amaka and Obiora. Amaka says... (full context)
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Papa arrives the next day to pick up Mama, Jaja, and Kambili. He hugs them all, and Kambili notices that he has a strange... (full context)
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...Palm Sunday, when Jaja refuses to go to communion and Papa throws his missal, breaking Mama’s figurines. (full context)
Chapter 14
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...house. Even after the storm is over, the “old silence” of the house seems broken. Mama doesn’t bother to lower her voice when she tells Sisi to sweep up the rest... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...when the phone rings. Aunty Ifeoma answers it and screams. Kambili takes the phone, and Mama mechanically tells her that Papa was found dead at his desk at the factory. Jaja... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...room, staring at the spot where the étagère and the ballet-dancer figurines used to be. Mama is upstairs, packing up Papa’s things. She had told the gate man to turn away... (full context)
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Jaja says that he should have taken better care of Mama, like Obiora takes care of Aunty Ifeoma. Kambili says “God works in mysterious ways,” and... (full context)
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The phone rings and Mama answers it. When she hangs up she says that they did an autopsy and found... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...years later, and Kambili is familiar with the route to the prison, where she and Mama go to visit Jaja. They have a new driver now named Celestine, and he is... (full context)
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...death, claiming that the old regime assassinated him. The family’s lawyers recently informed Kambili and Mama that Jaja will be released next week. Kambili and Mama don’t talk about it, but... (full context)
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Kambili and Mama don’t talk about anything anymore, including the bribes they’ve written on Jaja’s behalf, the distribution... (full context)
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...voices to Jaja. Sometimes he plays them when Kambili visits. Ifeoma writes to Kambili and Mama, and talks about her two jobs at a community college and a pharmacy. She writes... (full context)
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...guard takes the bribe of money they’ve hidden in the bag of food. He leads Mama and Kambili inside and gives them an hour to visit. They sit and wait for... (full context)
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Mama sets up a meal for Jaja, and then he comes into the room. They don’t... (full context)
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...Papa was alive. Kambili still prays for Papa every Sunday, but she has not told Mama or Jaja this. She still dreams about Papa, and wants to see him in her... (full context)
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Jaja points out that Mama’s scarf has come undone. Kambili is amazed, as usually he doesn’t notice anything about them.... (full context)