Kambili arrives at Aunty Ifeoma’s house and everyone treats her gingerly, as if she was still weak and sick. Jaja goes out to work in the garden. The aku, a seasonal flying termite that some people fry as a snack, start flying, and some of the children in the building run out to catch them. Obiora goes out to observe the “children.” Chima goes too, to catch some and give them to his friend, as Aunty Ifeoma does not eat them.
Obiora now sees himself as an adult, and watches the other “children” with an almost scientific manner. Jaja returns to the garden, his first source of freedom and joy. Everything seems idyllic now that they are back in Nsukka.
Aunty Ifeoma goes upstairs and Kambili is left alone with Amaka. Amaka tells Kambili that she is Father Amadi’s “sweetheart” now, and he has been asking about her constantly. Amaka asks if Kambili has a crush on him. Kambili says yes, though “crush” seems too mild for her feelings. Amaka says that all the girls in church have crushes on him. She says it’s exciting to compete with God for a man’s heart. But she says that Father Amadi has never talked about anyone the way he talks about Kambili.
As usual, Amaka is not afraid to speak her mind, and she helps put Kambili’s feelings into words. She doesn’t understand the depth of Kambili’s love, however. It seems that Father Amadi reciprocates some of Kambili’s feelings as well, though Catholic priests are supposed to remain celibate.
Amaka then asks if Papa was the one who hurt Kambili. Amaka says her mother didn’t tell her, but she could guess. Kambili says yes, it was him, and she immediately leaves for the bathroom, avoiding Amaka’s reaction.
Kambili is no longer afraid to speak about Papa’s violence. This is a huge step in overcoming her silence and oppression, and also brings the two cousins closer. Yet at the same time Kambili is not quite ready to see Amaka’s reaction—she’s not ready to see Father condemned in the eyes of another person.
The power goes off that evening, and Father Amadi comes over with some food. He hugs Kambili, and Kambili suddenly wishes that everyone else would disappear for a while. A neighbor brings over some fried aku and Obiora eats some. Father Amadi reminisces about chasing aku when he was a child. Kambili closes her eyes and listens to his voice.
The novel now dwells on Kambili’s growing relationship with Father Amadi, as her sexual and emotional awakening coincides with her newfound voice and freedom. The fact that he is a priest also ties into her struggle with faith in both Papa and Papa’s religion (and likely Amadi’s own struggle, though that is not portrayed in the novel).
The next day Kambili wakes up late to see Aunty Ifeoma on the verandah with another female professor. They are discussing the government-appointed “sole administrator” who is going to run the university. The woman says that Ifeoma’s name is on a list of professors who are “disloyal to the university,” and that she might be fired. Ifeoma says that she will speak the truth, even if it gets her fired. The woman counters that the truth will not feed her children. Ifeoma angrily asks when is the right time to speak out, if not now. Then they leave together for the university, both looking weary and sad.
The corruption and tyranny in Nigeria continue to spread. The university is now becoming a “microcosm of the country,” as Obiora says, in that a single unelected leader will be given power over everyone. Ifeoma doesn’t publish a newspaper, but in her own sphere she does speak out for freedom just as fiercely as Papa does. Ifeoma won’t be killed like Ade Coker, but they might silence her by firing her.
Amaka and Obiora tell Kambili more about the sole administrator. Obiora says the university is now a “microcosm of the country.” Amaka says that Aunty Ifeoma has been considering moving to America, where she will at least be paid and have her work recognized. Obiora wants to go to America but Amaka doesn’t, and they argue about it. Kambili is stunned by the thought of life without Aunty Ifeoma and her family. She goes outside, where Jaja is working in the garden, and breathes deeply.
Obiora proves his maturity again in his knowledge of politics. The university hasn’t been paying its professors and workers, and so Aunty Ifeoma might be forced to leave for her children’s’ sake, even though she wants to stay and speak out against oppression. Obiora is the more practical, pessimistic one, while Amaka is idealistic and indignant. Kambili, though becoming more independent, still needs Aunty Ifeoma to help her to stand up, and so the thought of Ifeoma leaving is frightening.
That evening Father Amadi stops by, wanting to take them all to the stadium. The boys are busy playing a video game, however, and Amaka jokes that Father Amadi wants to be alone with his “sweetheart,” so Kambili is the only one who goes. They get to the stadium and Father Amadi coaches some local boys, raising a bar higher and higher for them to jump over. Kambili realizes that this is how Aunty Ifeoma treats her children—treating them like adults, expecting more of them until they can jump over the bar. Kambili and Jaja, on the other hand, only jump because they are terrified of the alternative.
Kambili is now starting to see things clearly, and the simile she develops about Father Amadi’s coaching does aptly describe Papa and Ifeoma’s different methods of parenting. Kambili had noticed how Ifeoma encouraged her children to debate and discuss topics that might be beyond their reach, and that this seemed to work very well. Papa, on the other hand, only used rules, punishment, and his rare moments of approval as motivations for learning and growth, and he wanted that learning and growth to be only in directions he allowed.
Father Amadi sits down next to Kambili and she comments on how much he believes in the boys he coaches. Father Amadi drinks water and Kambili watches him, wishing she was the water. Father Amadi tells her that her hair should be plaited, and he will take her to the woman who plaits Aunty Ifeoma’s hair. Father Amadi reaches out and touches Kambili’s hair, and then he gets up and runs back onto the field.
Along with the theme of religious belief, there is also Jaja and Kambili’s intense belief in Papa’s rightness (before they come to Nsukka). The contrast to this is Aunty Ifeoma’s belief in her children and Father Amadi’s belief in the boys. They believe in their potential to improve and grow, instead of hanging their faith on a strict idea of perfection.
The next morning Kambili and Amaka wake up early, sensing that something is wrong. Aunty Ifeoma is on the verandah, and they can hear singing. Ifeoma says that the students are rioting. She makes them turn off the lights so no one throws stones at their flat. They can hear the students singing, saying that the sole administrator must go. Then a single voice rises up and mocks the Head of State. Some students run past the apartment, carrying torches. Eventually the family comes inside and goes back to sleep.
The students riot because the university rarely has power and water, and they cannot study properly. There is clearly a lot of anger in Nigeria against the tyranny of the Head of State (and the sole administrator at the university), and the response to violence is then often violent itself—like this riot.
That afternoon Aunty Ifeoma brings news of the riot. The students burned the sole administrator’s house and six university cars. The university is closed until further notice. During her nap that day Kambili dreams that the sole administrator is pouring boiling water on Aunty Ifeoma’s feet. Then Ifeoma jumps out of the tub and into America.
In her dream Kambili explicitly connects Papa’s tyranny over his children with the government’s tyranny over Nigeria. Kambili could only escape by going to Nsukka, and Ifeoma may only be able to escape by going to America.
That evening they are all watching TV when four men come to the door. They burst in and say they are searching the flat for documents to prove that Ifeoma helped incite the riot. Ifeoma asks for papers to prove this, but the men push her aside. Obiora tries to confront them, but Ifeoma tells him to sit down. The men then go through all the rooms and break things and scatter everything about, without even bothering to search. Finally they leave, warning Ifeoma to “be very careful.”
Just as with Ade Coker’s murder and the shutdown of Papa’s factories, here the corrupt government tries to silence and frighten Aunty Ifeoma through a show of violence. Obiora is willing to take responsibility for the family, but he still always defers to his mother.
Obiora says that they should go to the police, but Aunty Ifeoma says that the police are part of this too. She says that they are just trying to scare her. Obiora and Amaka start to argue about whether they should go to America or not, with Amaka saying that running away won’t solve anything. Ifeoma finally snaps at them to help clean, and Kambili notices that it’s the first time she hasn’t looked on proudly as they debate.
Ifeoma knows that there is no hope for real justice in the current corrupt state of the government, so she now has the difficult decision of supporting her children or supporting freedom. Obiora prefers one side and Amaka prefers the other. Ifeoma’s snapping seems to have more to do with the fact that these debates are not just theoretical but actually impact their lives, and so they make her tense.
Kambili goes to take a bath but there is an earthworm in the tub. She throws it into the toilet and then bathes. When she comes out Aunty Ifeoma gives her some soybean milk, saying that she can’t afford dairy milk anymore. One of Aunty Ifeoma’s students stops by then, bringing a live chicken to announce that she is engaged. She says that she is leaving the university to get married, and isn’t sure that she’ll return if it reopens. After she leaves Ifeoma feels sad, even though, she says, the student wasn’t very bright.
Everything keeps going downhill as supplies dwindle and the university shuts down, so Ifeoma has no way to make money. The student is an example of young people leaving their education behind to pursue something surer, especially during all this corruption and unrest. This saddens Ifeoma, who obviously supports education. The student decision to marry also involves giving up her independence in exchange for security.
Aunty Ifeoma tells Obiora to kill the chicken, but Jaja offers to do it instead. Kambili is shocked, as Jaja has never killed a chicken before. She follows him into the backyard and looks away as he cuts the chicken’s throat. Then he dunks it in boiling water and plucks its feathers. Jaja tells Kambili that if Aunty Ifeoma goes to America, he wants to go with her. Kambili does not know how to respond. Jaja throws a stone at the vultures that start to circle overhead.
Jaja keeps asserting himself even in this decision to kill the chicken. It is also a small violent act in response to Papa’s violence, and part of Adichie’s theme of the cycle of abuse. Jaja now identifies with Ifeoma’s family more than his own, affirming how much his bond with Kambili has deteriorated.
Father Amadi picks up Kambili and takes her to get her hair plaited. Mama Joe, the woman who does Aunty Ifeoma’s hair, welcomes her and talks familiarly to Kambili. She is surprised to hear that Father Amadi is a priest, and laments “all that maleness wasted.” Kambili notices a basket of live snails on the floor. Mama Joe sells them at the market. One snail keeps crawling out, and Kambili wishes she could buy the basket just to set that one snail free.
Kambili is seeing things more clearly now, and she sees the quest for freedom even in a basket of snails. Father Amadi follows through on his promise, as he clearly wants to spend more time alone with Kambili.
Mama Joe finishes Kambili’s hair and she admires it in the mirror. Mama Joe assures her that a man doesn’t take a girl to get her hair done unless he is in love. Kambili doesn’t know how to respond. Father Amadi picks her up and she thanks him. As they drive home Father Amadi suggests that Kambili should play the part of the Virgin Mary in the church play, as the prettiest girl always plays Mary. Kambili says she has never acted, but Father Amadi says she can do whatever she puts her mind to. Kambili joins him in singing the Igbo praise songs as they drive.
Father Amadi keeps flirting, but along with this is a belief in Kambili’s potential—he seems romantically interested in her, but he is also an older priest trying to help her do her best. Once again Father Amadi’s presence helps Kambili open up more, as she finally joins in singing along with the Igbo praise songs—breaking both her silence and her idea of their sinfulness.