Meena explains that her childhood started to end during her tenth summer, like the fortune teller had predicted. The summer initially begins joyfully, as Meena’s father is awarded a promotion. Meena then realizes that she does not know exactly what her father’s work consists of.
Meena’s retrospective reflection on the summer builds mystery and suspense. Her ignorance of her father’s work highlights how little it means to him, beyond bringing his family some economic stability.
Meena remembers going to her father’s work party as a child, where her father had talked with a man with a strong Midlands accent named Bill. Bill’s daughter looked at Meena for a long time and then extended a finger to touch her cheek. The second time, Meena bit her finger, which caused her father to yell at her. After sitting on Santa Claus’s lap and receiving fake nails as a present, which did not match Meena’s skin color, Meena was disappointed by the party, which her father seemed to understand, and never went to another one again.
Bill’s daughter’s attitude suggests that this is probably the first time the girl has seen someone with a different skin color. Meena’s anger emphasizes that she did not want to be seen as some exotic creature, but as an ordinary playmate. Later, her frustration with her gift only accentuated the fact that most of traditional English society is geared toward white people, which made Meena feel excluded and confused.
When Meena asks her father what a promotion consists of, mama explains that it means more money and a bigger office. Meena concludes that all she wants with this extra money is to go to India. Papa then decides that they will go to India for Christmas and bring Nanima “home” in person. Although Meena is happy about this, she wonders if her father considers their life in England temporary—not quite “home.”
Meena’s desire to go to India reveals how much she has grown to love her parents’ country, which she now wants to discover for herself. At the same time, though, she remains attached to England as a home, and cannot separate this aspect of her life from her identity.
A few days later, the family sees Sunil in the yard, looking at a spider. He begins to mutter words, pronouncing the names of his family members among words in Punjabi. Mama is impressed that her son can speak before reaching one year old, and Meena regrets not growing up bilingual herself.
This tender moment in Meena’s family highlights the mixed environment in which Meena and her brother are growing up. Meena’s desire to speak Punjabi reflects her wish to immerse herself more in Indian culture and feel as though she fully belongs there.
In the meantime, during the summer, everyone seems to be enjoying a carefree life. Meena goes to Sherrie’s farm almost every day, where she spends time with Anita. However, although Meena learns to take care of the horse, she does not want to ride it because of her traumatic memory from the last time. She enjoys watches Anita ride but notices that if Anita is growing louder and more boisterous, Tracey is turning into an increasingly shy, scared person. Instead of taking part in the girls’ activities, Tracey prefers to stay on her own with a resentful look on her face.
Although Meena does not refer again to the bruises she saw on Tracey’s thighs, Tracey’s attitude can be understood in light of the potential violence she is suffering from. It remains ambiguous why she might harbor resentment toward her sister—perhaps because she wishes she too could enjoy some carefree fun—but the girls’ attitudes certainly emphasize how little connection exists between the two of them.
Trouble begins when mama discovers that her diamond necklace is missing and Meena, who does not like remembering that she lost it, says that she knows nothing about it. Mama begins to wonder if Anita might have taken it, but concludes that she is perhaps being unfair and simply accepts that the necklace is lost. However, Nanima hears about this, she looks at Meena suspiciously, convincing Meena that her grandmother, to whom she attributes supernatural powers, knows what happened.
Meena’s effort to hide the truth from her mother does not reflect lack of guilt, since Meena feels very bad about losing the necklace, but can be understood in light of the fact that Meena would have to explain the entire context of that evening to her mother: that she left home without telling anyone, went to the fair to see Anita, and later snuck into the Big House with her. Although losing the necklace was unintentional, her parents would disapprove of Meena’s actions before that event.
At that very moment, they hear rumbling and realize that motorway diggers have arrived in Tollington to destroy the school. The villagers step outside their houses, including Sam Lowbridge and his gang, who begin to insult the diggers and drive around them with their mopeds. After joining Meena, Anita wants to go see what is happening. The two of them run closer to the action, where they see television cameras led by a famous local reporter. Meena is also surprised to notice an Indian man who looks like a bank manager. When he looks up and sees her, they share a brief moment of recognition.
Sam’s actions with his gang are potentially dangerous and violent, but seemingly show a desire to protect the community from destruction. Meena’s connection with the Indian man reveals an underlying bond based on culture, not on personal acquaintance. This highlights how isolated the Indian community is in certain areas of England, as well as the solidarity that often exists in marginalized communities.
Meena is furious to see Anita walking toward Sam, but Anita does not seem to care. However, Sam notices Meena and calls out to her with a smile, but Meena walks away. She then sees the Indian bank manager walk away and feels disturbed by the idea that he is on foot and will probably have to take a bus instead of driving his own car. When the machines begin to roar, destroying a wing of the school building in an instant, Sam’s moped gang encircles everyone and Sam drives straight for the reporter, saying: “If You Want A Nigger For A Neighbor, Vote Labor!” before heading off.
Anita once again proves that she does not care about Meena’s feelings, and perhaps that she does not even understand why Meena would be angry at Sam. Sam soon acts just as racist as before, thus once again spoiling good intentions—annoying the diggers to protect the school and the community—with his words and his attitude. Meena’s worry about the Indian man will later prove warranted.
Meena loses sight of Anita and walks home, feeling saddened and degraded by Sam’s words. Back in her room, Meena wants to talk to someone about her feelings, but she knows that Anita, whom she considers her best friend, would never understand her. Meena then prays for the first time in years, asking God to forgive her for accusing Pinky and Baby of stealing Mr. Ormerod’s money. She wishes the two girls were there, because she knows that they would understand her feelings about Sam.
This episode confirms that Anita is a best friend in name only, since she does not take on any of the roles one might expect from a best friend, such as comforting Meena when she is sad. Meena’s guilt and plea for forgiveness suggests that she is perhaps trying to rid herself of bad influences—in her own self and in the pressures around her.
The next morning, papa reads a report in the newspaper about an Indian man robbed and violently attacked in Tollington, to the point of suffering from head injuries and broken ribs. Although papa tells Nanima that nothing has happened, Meena and her parents avoid eye contact. Unlike Nanima, they know that this is an earth-shattering moment, capable of destroying Tollington as their home.
This moment proves to be a turning point for Meena’s family, as everyone becomes aware that it might no longer be safe for them to stay in this community. They realize that, even though they have felt accepted by most Tollington villagers, the presence of a few violently racist people is sufficient to put them at risk.
One day at Sherrie’s farm, Anita and Sherrie begin sharing information about their respective bras. Meena does not want to be dragged into the conversation and stays away. However, when Sherrie touches Anita’s bra to evaluate its material, Tracey suddenly appears, slapping Sherrie’s hand away and yelling that she should not touch her sister. Both Anita and Sherrie then turn against Tracey, who begins to say that she has seen her sister let someone touch her. Anita quickly places her hand on her sister’s mouth to keep her from speaking and pushes her away. Although Meena fears a fight, Tracey suddenly begins to cry and runs away.
Tracey’s violent reaction to the threat of sexual harm to her sister is perhaps the result of her own negative experiences, or of Anita’s. Although Anita later tells stories about her boyfriend, her effort to keep Tracey from talking suggests that what Tracey was about to relate might have to do with other circumstances, perhaps related to the abuse she suffers herself. Either way, Tracey’s actions show that she does in fact care about her sister, even if Anita is often cruel to her.
Sherrie then asks Anita if she is seeing someone, but Anita refuses to say anything, although she smiles knowingly. At that moment, Meena realizes that her best friend has not told her about her boyfriend, and that she has made personal sacrifices for a friendship that is not reciprocal. Meena feels used, as though Anita were merely spending time with her while waiting for “the real thing” to arrive. Confused, she stands up and leaves, saying she is going to check on Tracey.
Although Meena has accepted various forms of inequality in her relationship with Anita, she now reaches a point where she realizes that Anita truly never had any intention of reciprocating her loyalty. In the absence of trust and communication, Meena realizes that their relationship is meaningless, based on nothing more than a desire to pass the time.
After leaving, Meena still hears the two girls talking. Anita excitedly relates taking part in a “Paki bashing,” watching as the boys attacked a “Paki” waiting at a bus stop, who did not even try to defend himself. Then, Anita explains, Sam Lowbridge and she kissed for a long time.
Anita’s story about violently beating a “Paki” (Pakistani) man—who was in fact Indian—reveals her own racist beliefs. This proves that Anita truly is a cruel person. The fact that she hides this information from Meena suggests only that she fears a threat to their friendship, not any capacity to think morally.
After this, Meena does not remember things clearly. She throws up by the shed and suddenly decides to walk toward Trixie. After she mounts the horse, she gives her very little guidance, which soon leads it into a gallop. When the horse jumps over a bar, Meena feels herself detaching from the horse. She recalls the girls’ comments about the fact that her leg is pointing the wrong way, the smell of her own pee, and hearing her parents’ scared voices, before closing her eyes.
The shock that Meena experiences at discovering that her so-called best friend is violent and racist leads her to take part in extreme, self-destructive behavior. This perhaps represents Meena trying to escape her environment completely, making a radical decision to express her anger and cut ties with the world that has so disappointed her.