While smoking a joint one night, Nadia nonchalantly suggests that she move out. Saeed doesn’t say anything as he watches her hold in a cloud of smoke. When she awakes the next morning, she finds him looking at her. He touches her face tenderly and says he should be the one to leave, though as he says this he feels strange, realizing that his gentle caress of Nadia’s face is false—a mere pantomime of affection. Still, he knows this might be the last time he’s able to touch her like this. Likewise, Nadia feels both comforted and discomforted by his hand as she tells him that she should be the one to leave if anybody is going to do so, though she knows that the matter is “one of if, not of when, and that when [will] be soon.”
Finally, Nadia and Saeed face the fact that their relationship is no longer full of love and that their connection has become nothing but a formality. Of course, the connection is still important, since they’ll forever be meaningful to one another, having gone through everything they experienced together. However, this doesn’t mean they should keep play-acting and pretending to be in love, which is why Saeed’s gesture feels so false and empty: they both know it only contains a friendly kind of love, not a romantic one.
Fortunately, Saeed and Nadia both agree that it’s better to part ways now, before their union turns ugly. As Nadia leaves the shanty, they don’t “embrace or kiss,” but rather face one another for “a long, long time, any gesture seeming inadequate.” Then, with inevitable finality, Nadia turns and walks “into the misty drizzle,” which plays across her face and makes her feel “alive” as she leaves Saeed standing in the shanty’s doorway.
The fact that Nadia feels “alive” as she walks away from Saeed is yet another indication that their decision to part ways is the right choice. In keeping with Hamid’s assertion earlier in the novel that Nadia gets excited by the prospect of change, in this moment she feels invigorated by the new horizons opening up before her—horizons that weren’t apparent when she was still living with Saeed.
Nadia secures a room above the food cooperative where she works, which is open to migrants when they need it. In general, she feels somewhat isolated amongst the other cooperative workers, since they give her too much personal space because of her black robes. This changes, however, when a “pale-skinned tattooed man” comes in while she’s working the register one day. Placing a pistol on the counter, he says, “So what the fuck do you think of that?” Not knowing what to do, Nadia remains still and says nothing, simply training her eyes on his chin. “So what the fuck do you think of that?” he says again, this time with less confidence. Finally, after an seemingly interminable moment of silence, he scoops the gun up from the counter and leaves without shooting anybody or taking anything.
Nadia’s bravery when the tattooed man tries to rob the cooperative perhaps grows out of the difficult and frightening experiences she’s had to endure. After all, violence became an everyday reality while she was living in her home country, and so she has learned how to manage her fear. Nonetheless, it’s no doubt disappointing to see that even in America—after all of her travels—she still has to contend with hate. Fortunately, she defeats the tattooed man by refusing to engage, a fact that suggests nonviolence is the most effective way of responding to malice.
In the aftermath of the tattooed man’s presence, Nadia’s coworkers begin to embrace her, either because they’re “impressed by her mettle in the face of danger or because they [have] recalibrated their sense of who [is] a threat and who [is] threatened.” In this way, Nadia begins to feel like she belongs. In tandem with this feeling, the Marin community begins to blossom into a vibrant culture, which some people take to calling a “new jazz age,” since a person can “walk around Marin and see all kinds of ensembles, humans with humans, humans with electronics, dark skin with light skin with gleaming metal and matte plastic, computerized music and unamplified music and even people who [wear] masks or hid[e] themselves from view.”
Marin’s transformation into a place populated by a thoroughly diverse set of people recalls the multicultural community Nadia relished in London when she and Saeed were living in a mansion with refugees from other countries. This, it seems, is what Nadia has been searching for: a place into which she can integrate without the threat of violence or hate. And although she does have to face the antagonism of the tattooed man, doing so only helps her peers “recalibrate their sense of who is a threat and who is threatened,” ultimately helping them see past the negative stereotypes surrounding people like Nadia who wear black robes and cover their heads.
Nadia sees the head cook from her food cooperative at a musical event and, after their initial conversations that night, they start dating. Meanwhile, Saeed grows closer to the preacher’s daughter, who finds in him “an attitude to faith that intrigue[s] her.” As for Nadia and Saeed’s own contact, they reach out to each other periodically, going on long walks together and calling or texting one another almost daily. They see one another every weekend until their meetings start to get interrupted by their “connections” to their other love interests. And although at first this distance between them upsets them, they gradually become comfortable not speaking for extended periods of time. “They [each] grew less worried for the other,” Hamid explains, “and eventually a month went by without any contact, and then a year, and then a lifetime.”
Hamid has spent the entirety of Exit West building the romantic connection between Saeed and Nadia, but in this moment he allows that connection to simply fade away. Indeed, as Nadia and Saeed embark upon their new lives, they lose track of one another, letting their bond stretch until they no longer stay in contact at all. And though readers may feel a tinge of sadness about this separation, there’s no arguing that Hamid’s portrayal of a dying romance has been inaccurate, for this is how love fades: gradually, gradually, and then all at once.
In the hills of Marrakesh, a maid whose husband and daughter have both left the country works in a large house owned by “a man who might once have been called a prince and a woman who might once have been called a foreigner.” Perhaps because she can’t speak, the maid refuses to leave her home country. Although she doesn’t know her age, she’s certain that she’s younger than the woman she serves, who—unlike her—still attracts the attention of men. When the maid’s daughter comes to visit during the same summer of Nadia and Saeed’s breakup, the young woman tries to convince her mother to leave Marrakesh, but the maid simply puts her hand on her daughter’s, smiles, and shakes her head. “One day she might go, she think[s]. But not today.”
The final vignette of Exit West, this short description of an elderly woman in Marrakesh provides one last look at how people around the world respond to the existence of doors that can transport a person far away. Indeed, the maid’s response isn’t to step through one of these portals, nor is it to wait for others to come to her through them. Rather, she ignores their powers, content with staying exactly where she is, perhaps knowing that, regardless of whether or not she leaves her home, she is a “migrant through time.”