Neni stays up late, waiting for Jende to come home so that she can hear about his first day at work. When he arrives, he says that all went well. While eating the dinner that Neni prepared, Jende tells her about the Edwardses’ beautiful apartment, which looks like “one of those rich-people apartments you see on television.” He talks about their son, Mighty, who’s “very nice” and “well brought-up.” When Neni asks if Mighty is an only child, Jende mentions that Mighty told him about an older brother who attends Columbia School of Law but doesn’t come to visit often, much to the dismay of their mother, Cindy Edwards.
For Neni, Jende’s story about the Edwardses is a window into the lives of privileged people whom she has only read about or seen in movies or on television. His mention that Mighty is “nice” tells her that maybe they aren’t snobby rich people, but Jende’s brief mention of Mighty’s distant brother foreshadows the familial discord to which he’ll later be a witness.
When Neni asks what Cindy looks like, Jende says that she’s “good-looking” and looks the way a rich man’s wife should. She’s “one of those food people,” he says, always instructing others on how to eat better. Neni wants more details about her appearance and Jende says that, when he first saw her, she reminded him of the lead actress in a film they both loved—American Beauty. Neni remembers the actress’s name: Annette Bening. Neni assumes that Cindy has been rich her whole life.
Jende’s description is generic but it conjures an image of a woman who’s probably thin, glamorous, and self-important. Her work as a nutritionist indicates her class, given that she talks to those who can afford to be selective about food. His comparison to Annette Bening’s character in American Beauty inadvertently alludes to Cindy’s frustrations lurking beneath a flawless surface.
Neni asks Jende what he did after dropping Mighty off at school. He says that he returned to the Edwardses’ home and picked up Cindy, who had appointments in Battery Park City and SoHo. Then, he picked Mighty up from school and drove him and his nanny, Stacy, to Mighty’s piano lesson on the Upper West Side. After that, he picked up Clark from his office and took him to a steak house on Long Island before returning to the city around ten to park the car in the garage and catch both the bus and subway home.
Jende’s itinerary for the day reveal all of those who depend on families like the Edwardses for their livings. In addition to Jende, Stacy is another servant, Mighty has a piano teacher, and Cindy has numerous cosmeticians who work to ensure that she continues looking “like a rich man’s wife.”
Neni thinks that this is a lot to do in one day, but Jende insists that, for the kind of money he’s being paid, this is to be expected. Two weeks ago, he was making only half of his current salary while driving the livery cab twelve hours per day. Neni figures that with Jende’s thirty-five thousand and her ten thousand, even after taxes, school fees, and rent, they can still save three or four hundred dollars per month. She figures that, in ten years, they can have enough money for a small house in a New York suburb.
Jende is unafraid of working hard to earn what he considers to be a very good living, though his salary barely gives him enough to survive in an expensive city like New York. The Jongas’ experience of getting by on very little, however, makes them more capable of extending an otherwise meager salary to get a little closer to realizing their dreams.
Jende finishes his dinner and asks Neni if Liomi is sleeping in their bed or his own; he’s in his own, Neni assures him, knowing that he’ll want them to be alone so that they can “celebrate.” While picking up his dirty dishes, she sings a Cameroonian song. These days, she’s been singing more than she ever has in her life. After washing the dishes, she picks up Jende’s jacket, which is part of the new black suit that she bought him at T.J. Maxx for a hundred and twenty-five dollars, “a third of their savings.” She wanted to get him a cheaper one, but Fatou dissuaded her, insisting that Jende had to look good to drive around a man like Clark Edwards. She assures Neni that, one day, when Jende becomes rich, she’ll buy all of their clothes from a “fine white people store,” like Target.
At this point in the story, Jende and Neni are happy and in love, thus their implied wish to “celebrate” by making love. Neni’s singing is also an indication of her happiness and hopefulness. Fatou’s encouragement that Neni buy Jende a nicer suit reflects her understanding of the importance of dignified self-presentation, which she’s learned from having lived in the U.S. longer than Neni. However, she comes from a similarly humble background, so her understanding of where the rich would shop is limited by her distance from that world.