A few days before the summer vacation, Meena notices Anita sitting by herself in the park. Anita goes to the comprehensive school, whose students Meena says always have a bored look on their face. When Meena walks up to Anita, she sees that the girl has been crying and asks her what is going on. Anita says that she has received her third year uniform and then adds that Deirdre has left them to live with a butcher. Meena does not know what to say, but Anita continues to talk, pointing to the uniform, saying that her mother does not even know her size.
The fact that Anita goes to the comprehensive school, whereas Meena hopes to work hard on the eleven-plus exam to go to the grammar school, highlights the difference in ambition between the two. The fact that Deirdre has left her family further emphasizes the huge gap between the two girls’ families: Meena’s loving, tight-knit circle and Anita’s feelings of isolation and abandonment.
Meena concludes that her last interaction with Deirdre represented Deirdre’s way of asking Meena to look after Anita after she was gone. Meena thus puts her arm around Anita but she reacts violently, asking Meena if she is a “lezzie,” a word that Meena does not understand. Anita then asks Meena if she is a virgin and Meena, who is not sure what the word means, says she is, to which Anita confesses that she is too.
It remains ambiguous whether Anita’s violent reaction to being hugged might have something to do with the sexual abuse in her home, but it certainly shows her discomfort with the sincere expression of love. However, she does let herself be momentarily vulnerable with Meena here.
That evening, at dinner, Meena asks her parents if she is a virgin and they react with shock and anger, cursing Anita. Papa then stands up, grabs Meena by the arm and says that she has become a “rude, sulky monster,” although mama intervenes to say that no one can control what Meena hears outside the house. Meena knows that her father always explodes in anger like this but later proves guilty and tries to apologize.
Papa’s reaction seems disproportionate to Meena’s question, which is not meant as a provocation but a sincere interrogation about a word she doesn’t know. Although Meena’s parents are loving and progressive in other aspects of life, they do demonstrate a conservative reluctance to talk to their daughter about sex.
Meena’s father asks her mother if they should move, and Meena begins to panic, although she has always secretly dreamed of leaving Tollington. Meena then announces that Anita’s mother Deirdre has left, and both parents immediately change tones, showing pity for Anita. Mama then suggests that the neighbors should organize a rotation for Anita to have someone take care of the house and cook, but papa interferes, saying that Anita’s family will find this insulting. Mama reflects for a moment and tells Meena to invite Anita over. Half an hour later, when Meena proposes this to her, Anita immediately asks if she can come that very night.
Meena’s parents reflect their daughter’s emotions regarding Anita: they all feel pity and compassion for someone who might be troublesome but is clearly in a vulnerable position. Their debate about whether it is right or wrong to intervene underlines the difficulty of navigating cultural norms. However, Anita’s excitement at being asked to dinner reveals that she needs the community’s support in these difficult times.
When Anita arrives, Meena is shocked by the girl’s bad manners, even though she already knows that Anita is not particularly polite. When they sit down at the table to eat, mama asks Anita questions about school and her family, but Anita barely answers. Instead, she asks many panicked questions about the Indian dishes Meena’s mother has prepared, as she has never seen such elaborate dishes before. However, mama had planned for this and also prepared fish fingers with fries, which makes Anita feel relieved. Anita then eats as though she had to fight to defend her food with her life, which makes Meena wonder if Anita receives enough food at home.
This is the first time that Meena fully grasps the difference between her upbringing and family values and Anita’s. Anita, however, does not seem aware that her manners are insulting, but simply shows that she is unused to exploring any way of life outside the narrow limits of her own family. The fact that Anita might actually go hungry puts some of her behavior in perspective, as she might suffer from painful experiences that no one actually knows about.
When Anita sees Meena’s parents eat their chapattis and curry with their fingers, she is shocked and disgusted. To keep Anita from making unpleasant remarks, Meena explains that they always eat their food with their fingers, including at the fanciest restaurants. This time, her parents smile and repress laughter at Meena, even though she is telling a lie.
This episode allows Meena’s parents to understand that their daughter’s lies are not always ill-intentioned, and that she sometimes uses them for good purposes, such as protecting her family from harm.
Throughout the evening, Meena notices that Nanima is expressing a strong dislike toward Anita. She blocks the television screen from her and behaves rudely toward her, complaining loudly about her in Punjabi. Anita insists on going to see Meena’s room, although Meena feels embarrassed because she does not have the proper accessories for a hang-out among girlfriends, such as make-up and posters. However, Anita finds Meena’s Indian outfits beautiful and asks her why she does not wear them more often.
Nanima’s attitude is both highly perceptive and childish. Although she behaves like a child when tormenting Anita, she also reveals that she can tell, despite the language barrier and cultural differences, that Anita is behaving in an unacceptable way. Anita’s appreciation of Meena’s outfits suggests that Meena doesn’t realize how lucky she is to be so immersed in another culture, whose beauty she takes for granted.
After hours of trying on Meena’s Indian clothes, the girls walk back down. When mama hugs Anita to say goodbye, Anita is so surprised by this gesture that she drops ten rolled-up suits she was hiding beneath her coat. In addition, Meena notices some of her magazines, her only record, and a few other accessories. Anita defends herself by saying Meena had accepted that she could borrow them, but mama asks her to put everything back, except the magazines. Mama uses her teacher’s voice, but Anita reacts strongly. For a moment, Meena fears a confrontation, but Anita finally leaves.
Anita’s shock once again shows how unused she is to receiving affection from people. It seems that such expressions of love are completely absent from her life. Although it would be expected for Anita to show gratitude from having been so warmly received in Meena’s house, she does exactly the opposite: taking advantage of her hosts’ kindness by robbing them. Meena finds herself stuck between loyalty toward her family and a desire to protect her friend.
When Meena asks her mother if Anita can come over again, mama says that they could do that if Anita asks Meena over to her house. Despite Meena’s hints over the next few days, Anita never does.
Anita’s lack of invitation might indicate that she does not care about Meena’s feelings, but could also have more to do with her own family—for example, the fact that her family is not very social, or that they don’t have enough food to give guests.