The narrator enters the Nile river, naked. He has left Mustafa’s secret room, without burning it. Instead, his feet led him to the river at dawn, hoping to calm himself after the disturbing night spent piecing together segments of Mustafa’s life in the secret room. Once in the river, the narrator begins swimming towards the northern shore, but then, as he makes his way, he becomes disoriented. He feels forces deep in the darkness of the river pulling him down.
The narrator’s disorientation in the river is significant, for it alludes to the emotional and psychological upheaval that he experiences as a result of his encounter with Mustafa Sa’eed—and, more broadly, as a result of their shared experience living abroad. His near-drowning here recalls Sa’eed’s own drowning earlier in the novel, thus suggesting that the narrator—whose identity has become so deeply interlinked with Sa’eed’s—risks suffering the same fate as Sa’eed: death by drowning.
The narrator is exactly in the middle of the river, between north and south. He begins to go down into the water, to drown, the darkness of the river closing over him. But then suddenly he feels a strong longing for a cigarette. He realizes that he does not want to die; he wants to choose life. He begins swimming again, until he is above water, and calls desperately for help.
The narrator’s realization that he wants to live, rather than die, and his efforts to save himself represent the moment when he chooses a different fate than Sa’eed’s. While the narrator is clearly almost destroyed by the identity crisis that he suffers—the same crisis that in fact destroys Sa’eed—here he decides that he will not be destroyed: unlike Sa’eed, the narrator will overcome his crisis and survive. In this regard, his survival can be seen to embody a break in his identity from Sa’eed’s.