Obinze goes to Abuja and imagines what Ifemelu would think of its atmosphere of rich businessmen buying sex. He likes that he can never predict what Ifemelu is thinking, and he has never felt so alive with anyone else. Obinze meets with a businessman named Edusco. They like each other and haggle good-naturedly over the land that Obinze is trying to sell. Obinze suddenly realizes that everything seems to have “lost its luster” without Ifemelu, and he wearily gives Edusco the land for a low price.
We now see Obinze’s side of the situation, and that he is truly in love as well. He realizes just how unsatisfying his relationship with Kosi is in comparison to Ifemelu’s intelligence and unpredictability. In his strong emotion Obinze starts slipping out of his role as a money-hoarding “big man.”
Obinze imagines what Ifemelu might be doing right now. He wonders if she realizes how obsessively he thinks of her, and he wonders how many other men she has been with. He longs to know everything about her experiences in America. He remembers her telling him how her cross-cultural relationships could be difficult because you “spend so much time explaining.” This had pleased him to hear.
Ifemelu acknowledged the many levels of ignorance and misunderstanding she felt between herself and Curt and Blaine. It shows just how close she and Obinze are that they don’t have to spend time explaining things to each other, but they still never get bored with each other.
Obinze is at the airport headed back to Lagos when Kosi calls him to remind him of a party that night. Obinze thinks of the day Buchi was born, how Kosi had immediately apologized to him for not having a boy. Obinze had realized then that Kosi didn’t know him at all. They were good friends and got along well, but Obinze never discussed anything that was truly important to him with Kosi. When they first met Obinze had pursued her avidly, intrigued by her perfect beauty and overwhelmed by his own newfound wealth. She had seemed like an anchor of reality to him, with her predictable and domestic personality combined with her extraordinary beauty.
Obinze now thinks directly about his relationship with Kosi, and we get their personal history. There is no real love between them, at least on Obinze’s side. He is infatuated with Kosi’s beauty, and the fact that she was attainable to him, but they have no strong intellectual or emotional connection. Kosi is very traditional-minded and has no intellectual curiosity—she apologizes for having a girl just because she knows she is supposed to want a boy.
Nigel, Obinze’s old coworker, moved to Nigeria when Obinze asked him to become his “general manager,” instead of just visiting when he was needed. Obinze expected Nigel to get tired of Nigeria, but he seems to still love it. Obinze and Kosi take Nigel out for his birthday that night. Nigel brings his new girlfriend Ulrike. Obinze is irritable and outspoken at dinner, and he gets up to go to the bathroom and call Ifemelu. He is angry when she still doesn’t pick up.
We see how Nigel and Obinze’s friendship is still strong, and a rare example of true connection across racial and national divides. Nigel decided to move to Nigeria to be with his friend, instead of just visiting whenever a white “general manager” was needed.
Nigel comes into the bathroom to ask Obinze what’s wrong. Obinze wants to tell Nigel about Ifemelu, but doesn’t. That night Kosi offers to have sex, but Obinze remains unaroused. He has been turning away from her ever since the day he kissed Ifemelu. Kosi is always compliant and never complains. Obinze wonders how he can tell Kosi about Ifemelu without it sounding like “something from a silly film.”
Kosi is the kind of “sweet girl” that most of the Lagos’s rich men long for, and an echo of Kayode’s original description of Ginika—she is always submissive and adoring and never makes trouble. Obinze wants a “difficult,” independent woman like Ifemelu, however.
Kosi puts her arms around him but Obinze gets up and goes to the bathroom. He impulsively empties Kosi’s bowl of potpourri into the toilet, and then feels guilty. Obinze had told Kosi that Ifemelu was back in town after their first meeting, and Kosi had been carefully indifferent in her reaction. Obinze hadn’t mentioned Ifemelu again, but had been making other excuses for his absences. He almost hopes to provoke Kosi by being so obvious in his infidelity, but she never says anything.
Obinze feels like a teenager in his romantic passion, but it is also making him act immaturely in other aspects of his life as well. Obinze wants Kosi to speak up on her own behalf or get angry, but she remains the “perfect” quiet, submissive wife.
The next morning Obinze wakes up feeling sad. He makes eggs for Kosi’s breakfast, plays with Buchi, and then goes upstairs, where Kosi is cleaning. He tells Kosi that he loves someone else and he wants a divorce, but they he will make sure to provide for her and Buchi. Kosi stops him before he can say more. She kneels before him and says that they have to keep their family together. Obinze wishes she would be angry, instead of begging him like this.
Obinze finally gathers his courage to be honest with himself and everyone, acknowledging his love for Ifemelu and his lack of love for Kosi. Kosi doesn’t react as he expected, however, but remains totally submissive—acting like she is the one at fault, not Obinze.
Obinze repeats his declaration and Kosi says she knows that he has been sleeping with Ifemelu, but that Kosi has been a good wife, and they took a vow before God, so Obinze cannot destroy their family just for the sake of his old girlfriend. Obinze suddenly hates Kosi for having known but not saying anything. He feels guilty for ever having married her in the first place, but recognizes that he must take care of her and Buchi.
Kosi has been going to prayer services about keeping one’s husband, and so she sees this as just a natural phase for her “big man” husband. She has known about Ifemelu the whole time, but said nothing. Obinze is disgusted by this silent compliance, which is the opposite of how Ifemelu would have acted.
Obinze sleeps in his study that night, and the next day Kosi acts like nothing has happened and everything is normal. Obinze suddenly feels angry about her mild speech and euphemisms, and thinks of Ifemelu’s harsh directness, like calling him “fucking coward.” Obinze feels like a coward again for letting himself be drawn back into to Kosi’s pretense of domestic bliss.
Obinze can’t help comparing Kosi to Ifemelu once again. Kosi acts as many rich Nigerian man would want, but Obinze has always been unique among his peers, just like Ifemelu is among hers.
Obinze and Kosi take Buchi to a child christening ceremony for Obinze’s friend’s son. Kosi tells Buchi to hold Obinze’s hand, and he realizes that she is trying to “will a good marriage into being.” At the party Obinze feels detached, and thinks that they might be attending christening parties now, but soon it will be funerals. He looks around and sees all the people “trudging through lives in which they were neither happy nor unhappy.” Obinze worries about Buchi if he manages to leave Kosi, as divorced parents or an absent father always lead to trouble and unhappiness for the child.
Obinze now feels especially disconnected from his seemingly perfect family, and feels a kind of existential unhappiness infecting all of his thoughts. Instead of looking at the people around him with an appraising or critical eye, in this new wave of depression he sees it all as futile and meaningless. Obinze wants to leave Kosi, but he won’t abandon his child, even for Ifemelu.
Obinze’s friend Okwudiba is at the party, and they greet each other joyfully. Obinze follows him upstairs to where all the rich men are drinking and talking together. One talks about how it is almost impossible to be honest in Nigeria, as “everything is set up for you to steal.” Eze, the wealthiest man in the room, is “an obliviously happy man” because of his riches. He has decided to become an art collector, as that is what he heard wealthy and civilized people are supposed to do. One man comments that Obinze is quiet, but the others say that he is always quiet. Some think that it is because Obinze is a well-read “gentleman,” but others think it is because he is secretive about his wealth.
In this dark mood Obinze now has to mingle with his peers, the other “big men” who seem constantly self-satisfied in their own wealth and success. They all openly acknowledge the corruption in Nigerian society, as almost all of them have gotten their money in some kind of shady manner. Because most of them are loud and boastful about their wealth, they consider Obinze’s quietness and humility to be a sign of miserliness.
Obinze is colder and more frank than usual when he talks about the oil companies in Nigeria, and Okwudiba looks surprised. The men tease Obinze because he never flies British Airways, which is what all the “big boys” fly. Obinze says British Airways treated him horribly when he was poor. He says he needs the bathroom, and goes back downstairs. Okwudiba follows him.
Obinze’s strong emotions again affect his ability to play his expected role. This is the first time we have seen Obinze talking openly about his bad experience in England, but it clearly still deeply affects him, even after his success as a Nigerian businessman.
Okwudiba asks Obinze what’s wrong, and Obinze tells him that Ifemelu is back in town. Obinze says he wants to marry her, and he never should have married Kosi. Okwudiba reassures Obinze that most men don’t marry the woman they truly loved, and so he should forget this “white-people behavior” of getting a divorce for the sake of love. He suggests that Obinze keep seeing Ifemelu, but not leave Kosi as long as he has no problem with her. Downstairs, Buchi falls and reaches out for Obinze to hold her.
Okwudiba echoes Priye’s maxim about marrying for comfort or status, not love. Neither of them understand that Ifemelu and Obinze consider their romance somehow purer than others, and cheapened by complications like cheating and marriage. Buchi symbolically reaches out for Obinze as he struggles with both of their futures.