Maureen spots a man walking toward the settlement carrying a red box on his head. She no longer has the patience to watch “the blond man fiddle with the radio.” Her children are with her. She watches them gleefully play on the rocks at the riverbank “with children who belong here.” Their time here is changing everyone. Victor is forgetting how to read. She can no longer make sense of I Promessi Sposi. She has a hard time reconciling her old life with her new life.
Maureen demonstrates her inability to reconcile her old life with her new life through the impersonal way she refers to her family, calling Bam “the blond man” and symbolically disowning her children by grouping them together “with children who belong here,” or the village children. If Maureen cannot relate to Bam’s obsession with listening to news from “back there,” nor to the children’s assimilation into village culture, then where does she belong? In this scene, she rejects both her new life and her old life.
The man with the red trunk passes by Maureen and announces his arrival to the village. Maureen hears “a deafening, fading and lurching bellow through the air,” which, according to her children, is the sound of “the gumba-gumba being tried out.” The gumba-gumba is the village’s version of “travelling entertainment,” brought there by the man in his red box. The Smales children excitedly drag their disinterested parents to join in the festivities. There, they meet July. He explains to them, with “the city man’s good-natured amusement at country people’s diversions,” that the gumba-gumba wasn’t for any particular occasion; sometimes, his people had parties for no particular reason.
Maureen and Bam’s blatant disinterest in the gumba-gumba festivities is a far cry from their overenthusiastic attempts to ingratiate themselves with the community at the beginning of their time in the village. Their bitterness toward July’s reclaimed independence diminishes their capacity to be grateful to him for saving them. In fact, they resent his new independence, as Maureen demonstrates in her observation of July’s “city man’s good-natured amusement at country people’s diversions.” The description has a mocking, condescending connotation to it, as though it’s precious to watch July attempt to appear worldly and cultured.
The man projects music from an amplifier kept in the box, and the villagers pass around beer. “July’s white people” leave the festivities prematurely. “The father” doesn’t want to drink the ill-tasting beer, and “the mother” is offended by the sight of mothers getting drunk with babies strapped to their backs. When they return to the hut, they find that their gun is missing.
By referring to the Smales as “July’s white people” rather than their names, the book distances them from the rest of the community, emphasizing their otherness, much of which is self-imposed through their refusal to see themselves and the villagers as equals. The missing gun is a major development in the plot. Since their arrival in July’s village, the Smales have lost control of the bakkie and have been unable to find a signal on the radio. The gun is such a major loss to them because it was the Smales’ last remaining link to their old life.