Obinze remembers his friend Emenike back in school. He was always very clever and ambitious, and pretended to be richer than he was. He told everyone that his father was local royalty, but one day his actual father appeared as a poor old man, and everyone laughed at Emenike. Obinze was drawn to Emenike’s boldness, however, and the two became friends. Emenike was always restless and unsatisfied, as if feeling that he had been born below his “true destiny.” He had left for England during a strike their second year of university. Now he was married to an Englishwoman and had a good job.
Emenike was trying to create his own identity even as a teenager, to make himself seem richer and more cultured than he actually was. Now that he has moved to England and found success there, he is able to entirely cast off his past self and become a new man. We will see the extent of his transformation later, but for now he is an example of an African immigrant finding great success in England.
When Obinze first comes to England he calls Emenike right away. Emenike seems pleased to hear from him, but says that he is going to be traveling for a while. Obinze has heard stories of friends and relatives who turn unfriendly “in the harsh glare of life abroad,” but he assumes it won’t happen to him. Obinze calls another old friend, Nosa, who meets him.
Emenike was laughed at in school, and even though Obinze was friendly to him, Emenike now seems to take pleasure in lording his success over his own past—which includes Obinze.
Nosa works in the subway. He seems resentful when he talks about Emenike, who is so “posh” now and “doesn’t talk to ordinary people anymore.” Nosa asks about Obinze’s cousin Iloba. Obinze had forgotten that this cousin (who isn’t actually related to him) lived in England now. He gets his number from Nicholas and calls him. Iloba is excited to hear from Obinze, and he seems as good-natured and oblivious as ever. Iloba offers to help Obinze find work. He says he is working a security job and studying management at the same time.
Nosa confirms that Emenike has indeed become one of those friends who becomes unfriendly “in the harsh glare of life abroad.” Iloba was also a somewhat laughable figure in Obinze’s youth, but unlike Emenike Iloba remains good-natured and carries no grudges. He too is working hard to get by, but has at least found some success in England.
Two weeks later Iloba finds a Nigerian man willing to lend Obinze his National Insurance card for a fee. Obinze goes to Iloba’s apartment, and his cousin’s small gestures of hospitality make Obinze feel homesick. The man giving Obinze his identity is named Vincent Obi. He seems scornful of Obinze, and affects a strong British accent when he speaks. He insists on taking thirty-five percent of Obinze’s earnings, but they make a deal and Obinze “becomes” Vincent Obi.
Here Adichie makes the theme of identity most explicit, as Obinze is forced to “become” someone else just to find work. Vincent Obi is another person (like Emenike) who was of a lower class than Obinze back in Nigeria, but here in England Vincent Obi has all the power because he is a legal citizen, and so he rubs it in Obinze’s face.