After the circumcision ceremony of Mustafa Sa’eed’s two boys, the narrator leaves the village of Wad Hamid and returns to Khartoum, going by road over the desert. On the trip through the endless desert, he is haunted by thoughts of Mustafa Sa’eed, Hosna, and the secret room to which Mustafa has left him the keys. He thinks of how the various women Sa’eed encountered in England fetishized him. For example, Isabella Seymour had told Mustafa that he was a god. “How strange!” thinks the narrator, reflecting on this. “Just because a man has been created on the Equator, some mad people regard him as a slave, others as a god. Where lies the mean?”
The fact that the narrator is continually haunted by thoughts of Sa’eed suggests that, even after his death, Sa’eed’s grip on the narrator’s imagination continues to grow. The narrator’s reflections on Seymour’s fetishization of Sa’eed also alludes to the way in which colonialism—the relationship of subjugation between England and Sudan—corrupts Europeans’ views of the colonized and leads to simplistic, stereotypical perceptions of oppressed peoples.
A Bedouin asking for cigarettes stops the lorry the narrator rides in, and then they come across a government car that has broken down; the soldiers and sergeant inform them that a woman from a local tribe has killed her husband, and they are on their way to arrest her. The narrator thinks that he will write to Mrs. Robinson, who, after Mr. Robinson’s death, had gone to live on the Isle of Wight.
The soldiers’ news that a woman has killed her husband is significant, because it alludes to the ways in which violence shapes relationships between men and women in the novel. Furthermore, the woman in this instance hasn’t solved anything through this violence; she’s being arrested and will presumably be harshly punished. The novel suggests that, though ubiquitous, the violence between men and women is ultimately pointless.
As the sun is setting, the lorry stops again for a break. The narrator is moved by a sense of peace, and he listens to the lorry driver as he sings to his vehicle. More and more cars on their way to or from Khartoum stop, their passengers joining in the gathering. Soon, the assembled passengers make “a festival to nothingness in the heart of the desert.” People dance, drink, eat and smoke, until the dawn, when they part to go their separate ways.
This spontaneous festival that emerges in the heart of the desert represents one of the high points in the narrator’s story—for once, he is distracted from thoughts of Mustafa Sa’eed, and immersed instead in the fellowship that develops between him and his fellow travelers. This brief instance of peace demonstrates how connections with others can bring genuine solace in the face of personal confusion and oppressive societies.