An unnamed narrator says, “I am no little beast.” She claims to represent all of Africa—every dead child in the continent. She addresses “Mother,” and tells her to be still. She describes a scene: Orleanna leading her four children—including the youngest, Ruth May—through a forest, until their movements disturb an okapi. The narrator explains that because of the family’s visit, the okapi runs away and ends up living through the rest of the year—if it had stayed, it would have been shot by a hunter soon after. The narrator says, “Being dead is not worse than being alive. It is different, though.”
We can guess, from the way that Orleanna has always addressed Ruth May as a “little beast,” that this is Ruth May we’re hearing from. And yet this seems impossible: Ruth May has been dead for decades. Gradually, we come to see that Ruth May is speaking from beyond the grave: she seems to live in a universe much like the one Adah believes in, where death and life are locked in an eternal balance. Ruth May also shows us how the okapi’s life was actually improved by Orleanna’s encounter with it: this would suggest that even seemingly insignificant events actually have important outcomes. Again, this seems to support Adah’s belief in a big, complex system of relationships where every tiny thing plays its part.
The narrator describes another scene—Orleanna leads her three children through a market. They have come to say goodbye to Ruth May, but also to say goodbye to Orleanna, who’s quite old, herself. The narrator reports that the children love Orleanna “inordinately.”
The knowledge that Orleanna’s children love her deeply is touching, in part, because the Price daughters have said remarkably little about their mother over the course of this book. To hear, after all this time, that they truly appreciate Orleanna, is reassuring, especially because Orleanna was always afraid that her children didn’t really care about her at all.
The family travels through the market. The narrator explains that they’re planning to travel back to Kilanga soon to see their sister’s grave, where Orleanna wants to place a special grave marker. As the women walk through the market, the narrator tells us that Mobutu is lying in bed, dying of cancer.
Mobutu’s death from cancer is another big transition at the end of the book: in spite of the decay of the Congo over time, Mobutu’s tyranny is coming to an end, validating Orleanna’s philosophy that all tyrants eventually lose their battles for control.
The women eventually see a woman sitting against a large wall. She’s about the same age as Orleanna’s three daughters, though she’s much larger. This large woman offers to sell the women toys for their children, and Orleanna buys a few toys. The woman then offers Orleanna something else—a small wooden okapi.
It’s suggested that this woman is a kind of surrogate for Ruth May herself (she’s about the age Ruth May would be), and the presence of okapi adds a magical element to the scene, as if Ruth May is speaking from beyond the grave, trying to remind her mother of the day, so long ago, when she saw the mysterious animal.
One of the women asks the large woman if she’s heard any news of Kilanga, the town where they’re headed. The large woman replies that no such village exists—there’s nothing there but jungle, and always has been. Confused, the women turn away from the large woman.
In this tragic revelation, all knowledge of Kilanga has been wiped out by the chaos and tyranny of the Congo’s recent years. It’s as if the Prices’ past was all a kind of dream—but perhaps this is also a symbol of the Price women leaving their emotional baggage behind.
Orleanna sees a man who’s about the age that Ruth May would be if she’d survived her snakebite. As Orleanna thinks about this, the narrator explains that she’s calculating “how old I would be now.” Now addressing Orleanna as “mother,” the narrator tells Orleanna that she, Orleanna, will never forget her family, no matter how old she becomes. The narrator tells Orleanna, “Move on. Walk forward into the light.”
Throughout the novel, Orleanna has struggled to both remember and to forget. Here, at the end of the book, Ruth May tells us that Orleanna will always remember her family. And yet Ruth May is also telling her mother to stop fixating on Ruth May’s own tragic, untimely death: i.e., to stop blaming herself. Taken in the broadest sense, this is a fitting way to end the book: Ruth May is speaking to her entire family, urging them to forget the sexism and tyranny that’s caused them so much misery, and to “keep moving” (as Orleanna said), to go forward with their lives.