As July and his family eat their meat, July’s mother complains about the white family that is still living in her house. July promises to build her a new house. Martha scrubs an enamel pot and warns him that they’ll be in trouble if anyone finds out that they’re housing a white family. July reminds her that he has the final say. Refusing to back down, Martha asks July if he ever took orders from “the white woman” in town. Inwardly, she muses about how indifferent she has grown to her husband’s presence ever since she got used to him living in town. Like many women in her position, Martha has never seen the city in which her husband worked.
Tensions continue to mount in the middle section of the book. July’s family is more vocal about their disapproval of the Smales’ presence in the village, when they were only mildly critical when the Smales first arrived. This section also attaches a philosophical stance to Martha’s disapproval: not only is she skeptical of white people, but she’s also bothered by what she sees as her husband allowing himself to take orders from white people when he no longer needs to. What neither Martha nor the Smales consider is that July could be helping the Smales for no reason other than the fact that he thinks it’s the right thing to do.
July and Martha continue to bicker back and forth. Martha interrogates July about Nomvula/Nora, the Xhosa woman who worked as the Smales family cook. When July mentions that Nomvula’s husband died, Martha asks if Nomvula was with a man during July’s time working with her. July pauses before mentioning Bongani, a Zulu, who sometimes stayed in Nomvula’s room. Martha asks what happened to Nomvula, and July shrugs. Martha can’t tell what the shrug means, but July’s answer about the Zulu is good enough for her.
Martha’s reasons for interrogating July about Nomvula/Nora are unclear. It’s possible that she’s jealous and suspects that July has been unfaithful to her. More puzzling is July’s silence, which seems to indicate an internal conflict that he chooses not to discuss with his wife. Has Martha’s probing about Nomvula made him think about Ellen? Is he bothered by not knowing what became of her? Much of the novel has focused on the Smales’ plight, but this passage shows how the uprisings have affected July on a personal level as well, putting him out of touch with people he cares about and bringing uncertainty into his personal life.