On the day that Vince is supposed to come over for his farewell dinner, Neni spends the day cleaning the apartment, shopping for groceries, and preparing the five-course dinner: egusi stew with smoked turkey, garri and okra soup, fried ripe plantains and beans, jollof rice with chicken gizzard, and ekwang, which takes two hours to prepare, due to peeling and grating cocoyams, wrapping them in spinach leaves, and simmering them with palm oil, dried fish, maggi and other ingredients for an hour.
Neni’s desire to prepare a five-course dinner is likely the result of both her wish to give a dear friend a warm send-off and her wish to provide food that will meet Vince’s high standards. She wants to prepare a meal whose ingredients may not be expensive as what Cindy provides but that would be equal in taste and quality.
At three o’clock, two hours before Vince is due to arrive, Jende’s phone rings. Vince asks if it would be all right to bring Mighty along. Neni initially refuses, worried of what Cindy would think of her baby being in Harlem near nightfall, but she later relents after Jende convinces her that it’ll be fine. By the time the Edwards boys arrive, Neni has showered and changed her clothes. She feels more excited than fearful. When she opens the door, Mighty rushes in to hug her and asks if she’s made puff-puff, which she reminds him is a breakfast food.
Neni is worried that Cindy will get upset about Mighty being in a predominately black and lower-income community, though Harlem is not very far from Mighty’s home on the Upper East Side. Her fear is her own projection of believing that Mighty doesn’t belong in her world, just as Neni feels that she doesn’t belong in the white, upper-class world in which Mighty is being raised.
The Edwards boys seem unfazed by the Jonga family’s poverty and behave as though they’re in any of the apartments on Park Avenue or Madison. Mighty’s impressed at how everyone gets to sleep in the same bedroom and goes to Liomi’s bedroom to see his toys, while Vince and Jende drink Malta, eat peanuts, and talk about America.
Though Neni worries about how the boys will react to their poverty, Mighty’s excitement over how close-knit the family is because they sleep in the same room exhibits that people value different things based on their needs and experiences.
After Neni sets the table, Jende announces that it’s time to eat. He explains that, in Cameroon, everyone takes their food and sits wherever they like. They also eat however they like, even with their hands. Mighty says that he wants to sit on the floor and eat with his hands. Liomi agrees, so Neni puts a tablecloth on the floor and puts the food on the floor, where they all sit in a circle and eat while Jende tells stories from his boyhood. He talks about how he and Winston used to steal mangoes, and that he once got his foot caught in an animal trap and had to run all the way home with it stuck to his foot. Everyone laughs, except for Neni, who rolls her eyes. She’s heard the story before, and it always has a different ending.
For Mighty, and perhaps also for Vince, eating Cameroonian style not only offers a new cultural experience but frees them from the strict attention to appearances and manners that they presumably have to adhere to at home or at Cindy’s parties. The Jongas provide a warm and open environment filled with humor and levity. This environment is very different from the antagonism that exists at the Edwards household—that is, when they manage to spend time together.
Mighty wants to hear more stories, but Vince announces that it’s time for them to leave. Mighty sulks and Liomi tries to cheer him up by saying that, maybe, he can one day go to Mighty’s house for a playdate. He says it so sweetly and sincerely that Neni avoids laughing out loud at the prospect of her child going to the Edwardses’ for a playdate. Then again, Neni couldn’t be so sure that Cindy wouldn’t invite Liomi over. Once, when Liomi came down with a case of pneumonia just a month after Jende started working for them, Cindy sent Jende home one evening with a basket full of fruits, teas, and healthy snacks. After Liomi sent her a thank-you card, Cindy wrote him a letter praising his handwriting and told Jende that he was doing a great job in raising the boy.
Mighty doesn’t want to return home to a household that’s tumultuous and lonely. Meanwhile, Neni reevaluates her view that Mighty doesn’t belong among the Jongas when she recalls instances of Cindy’s generosity. This isn’t exactly proof that Cindy would socialize with the Jongas—after all, her gift basket aligns with her reputation as a nutritionist—but, it does reflect a level of consideration that Neni wouldn’t have expected from someone for whom she works. Neni realizes that she doesn’t know as much about Cindy as she thinks.
Mighty keeps trying to convince Vince to let him stay longer and asks if Jende can take him home later. Neni tells Mighty that maybe she’ll go back to the Hamptons with him next summer, but Mighty is unconvinced. Jende stands up, holds out a hand to help Mighty up, and assures him that “there will be many more times” like this evening. Mighty follows Jende to the kitchen sink to wash the palm oil from the ekwang off of his hands. The Jongas hug the Edwards boys goodbye and wish Vince a nice trip to India. Just as they’re leaving, Mighty asks how there will be another time like this when Vince is leaving. His parents will never bring him to Harlem. Smiling, Neni jokes that he’ll have to take the subway up to Harlem by himself. Mighty smiles.
With Vince leaving, the Jongas are Mighty’s only sources of companionship and comfort. He wants to spend more time with them because it’s the only time that he gets to spend with people who are loving, attentive, and entertaining. He knows that his parents exist in a world that is very different from that in Harlem—not only due to distinctions in race and class but also because their lives on the Upper East Side are more tense than relaxed and more concerned with appearing happy than actually being happy.