Speaking to the “gentlemen” directly, the narrator states that he does not want them to think that he became obsessed with Mustafa Sa’eed after his death, although he continues to return to the village every year from Khartoum to visit Mustafa’s sons. The narrator, along with his own wife and child, are always greeted warmly by the village people.
The narrator’s assertion that he does not want the reader to think that he became obsessed with Sa’eed is somewhat ironic, given that, up until this point, he has spoken almost exclusively about Sa’eed. Clearly, in spite of his assertions to the contrary, the narrator is in fact obsessed with Sa’eed—the latter has affected his sense of identity in some deep way.
On one such visit to the village, the narrator’s mind wanders back to Mustafa Sa’eed, especially since Sa’eed had left him a letter before his death, designating the narrator as guardian of his wife Hosna, his children, and his belongings and property. In the letter, Sa’eed notes that he is also leaving the narrator the keys to enter a secret room in his house, which contains notes, diaries, and mementoes from his time in England. Sa’eed hopes that perusing these might help the narrator quench his curiosity about Sa’eed’s life.
By appointing the narrator as guardian of his wife and children, and leaving him the key to his secret room, Mustafa Sa’eed seems to weave a web of connection between himself and the narrator. By taking Mustafa’s place as the guardian of his family and prized possessions, the narrator embodies the conflicted sense of personal and cultural identity that the two men share.
In the letter, Mustafa Sa’eed asks the narrator to spare Mustafa’s two sons Mahmoud and Sa’eed the “pangs of wanderlust.” He himself had settled in the village in the hope of sparing himself from wanderlust, but he writes in the letter that a part of him still yearns to move on to “faraway parts that loom up before [him] and cannot be ignored.”
In asking the narrator to spare his sons wanderlust, Sa’eed suggests that this is what has led him to feel so unsettled and rootless, and, perhaps, this is what led him to suicide, given that he could not give up the yearning for “faraway parts.” Sa’eed’s history of migration, in other words, has led him to feel rootless and alienated, even in the peaceful, pleasant village of Wad Hamid. Because the influence of colonialism is what led Sa’eed to migrate away from Sudanm it also seems that colonial power structures are at least partly to blame for this sense of alienation.
The narrator reflects that, if Mustafa Sa’eed has committed suicide, then he has undertaken the most “melodramatic” act of his life. He considers, however, that perhaps the Nile river claimed him naturally—that Mustafa Sa’eed did not kill himself but rather drowned accidentally. He muses on the death, wondering whether Sa’eed would not have preferred to die in the far north, on an icy field, rather than in a small, hot village on the equator.
Like much of Sa’eed’s life, his death is also a mystery. The role that the Nile plays in his death by drowning alludes to how this ancient river has the power to take life. Symbolically, then, Sa’eed’s geographical roots are, in part, what ultimately claims his life.
The narrator recalls Mustafa Sa’eed telling him that, at his trial, the jurors deprived him of the death that he so longed for. On that final night with Jean Morris, she had asked Mustafa to “come with her”—meaning, presumably, to die with her—but he had been too afraid. He hoped that the jury would impose on him the death that he himself had been too cowardly to seek.
Sa’eed’s desire for death can be seen to reflect some desire for destruction—something he was not able to achieve with Jean Morris in spite of killing her. It’s possible that this attraction to destruction is another way in which he seeks to act out the corrupting patterns of colonialism, just as he dominates women in order to avenge his own domination by the British.
However, even Ann Hammond’s father, testifying in the trial, said that he could not be sure whether to blame Sa’eed for his daughter’s suicide, or whether she had simply undergone a spiritual crisis. And so, rather than being given the death penalty, Sa’eed was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment only. After his release from prison, he moved from one place to the next, until he finally ended up in the small village of Wad Hamid by the Nile river. But the narrator says he has not returned to the village to think of Mustafa Sa’eed. Instead, he thinks of the river, flowing north.
Sa’eed’s travels after his release from prison—a relatively light sentence for murder—indicate that he was unable to settle down and establish roots in one place. Indeed, in the letter he leaves to the narrator, he confesses that “wanderlust” continued to plague him even in Wad Hamid. Sa’eed’s inability to set down roots in one place points to a loss of identity: he is alienated and rootless after his release from prison, and perhaps the pain of this identity crisis is what led him to wish for death.