The narrator descends from a steamer onto the quay of the village of Wad Hamid. Only his friend Mahjoub is there to meet him. The narrator asks how Mahjoub could have let “this” happen, and Mahjoub says what has happened has happened. Mustafa Sa’eed’s two sons are with him. But Mahjoub refuses to explain to the narrator what, exactly, has happened. Instead, he expresses curiosity about a conference organized by the ministry of education, the department for which the narrator works in Khartoum.
The narrator’s return to the village is shrouded by mystery. Clearly, something major has happened—as indicated in the narrator’s reference to “this,” and the fact that, except for Mahjoub, the usual crowd of family and friends aren’t there to greet him. The sons’ presence indicates that something related to Mustafa Sa’eed and his sons has drawn the narrator back; their identities are still intertwined.
The narrator doesn’t want to talk about the conference. Under better circumstances, he would have shared details with Mahjoub, telling him about the corruption of the new rulers of Africa. There, the narrator had also met a minister who knew Mustafa Sa’eed in London. This minister told the narrator that Sa’eed used to half-jokingly say that he would “liberate Africa with [his] penis.”
The narrator’s thoughts on the corrupt new rulers of Africa suggest how independence has in fact not brought prosperity to most Africans. The fruits of modernity, which were supposed to be passed on to the people, have instead been monopolized by the ruling elite. Sa’eed’s comment that he would “liberate Africa with [his] penis” alludes to this idea of a symbolic rape, in which both European colonizers and the post-independence ruling elite take what the want from African countries without regard for the destruction they’re causing. Furthermore, the minister’s memory of Sa’eed also makes it seem as if Sa’eed’s sexual relationships in England were his way of violently resisting African oppression, by imposing that same domination on white European women. This link hints at a close tie between the inherent subjugation of colonialism and that of patriarchal gender dynamics.
As they pass the cemetery, Mahjoub tells the narrator that they have buried the bodies and asked the women of the village not to mourn the deaths. He tells the narrator that, about a week or ten days after the narrator’s previous departure from the village, Hosna’s father had forced her to marry Wad Rayyes. For two weeks after the wedding, Wad Rayyes kept complaining that Hosna refused to speak to him or let him touch her. Mahjoub doesn’t divulge more about what has happened.
The news that Hosna was forcibly married off to Wad Rayyes points to the complete powerlessness of women in the village. Meanwhile, news of unmourned deaths and quick burials, suggests that something catastrophic has happened as a result of Hosna’s forced marriage.
Hoping to learn more, the narrator asks around the village, but he is met with silence everywhere. His mother shares with him that Hosna had come to his father and asked that he tell the narrator to marry her. The narrator’s grandfather, too, refuses to share any details about the recent events. He mourns the death of his good friend Wad Rayyes, and cries before the narrator; it occurs to the narrator that he has never seen his grandfather weep before. All his grandfather shares is that nothing of this magnitude has ever happened in the village before.
The silence that the narrator faces everywhere he turns alludes to the strict social taboos that govern village relations. Something clearly ‘shameful’ has happened, and so the villagers are unwilling to speak. That Hosna had asked that the narrator marry her suggests how desperate she was to escape her forced marriage to Wad Rayyes. It seems, then, that Hosna’s desperation has in turn caused something that makes the entire village similarly desperate. This incident suggests that patriarchal oppression of women doesn't just harm individual women; here, Hosna’s personal misery affects everyone.
On his third day in the village, facing walls everywhere, the narrator goes to see Bint Majzoub, taking a bottle of whiskey with him to offer her as a gift. Bint Majzoub, in fact, is the only one in the village who agrees to share with him, in detail, what has happened. She tells him that, one night, she woke up to the sound of Hosna screaming in Wad Rayyes’s house. She thought that Wad Rayyes was finally getting his way with Hosna and having sex with her. But then Wad Rayyes also began bellowing, saying that Hosna Bint Mahmoud had killed him. Bint Majzoub had then rushed to Wad Rayyes’s house, along with others, but found the door to the house locked.
In beginning to reveal the details of the cataclysmic events that occurred during the narrator’s absence, Bint Majzoub’s alludes to the ways in which sex and violence are intertwined. Clearly, the relationship between Wad Rayyes and Hosna ended in violence, even if this violence was first mistaken by Bint Majzoub for sex. Thus, her words point to the thin line that exists between love and brutality in the novel, particularly in relations between the sexes—recall that Mustafa Sa’eed’s murder of Jean Morris occurred under similar circumstances.
Bint Majzoub and a few others broke down the door. Inside, they discovered Wad Rayyes’s naked body, stabbed more than ten times in the torso, and Hosna Bint Mahmoud’s almost naked body, covered in bite marks and scratches. After killing Wad Rayyes, Hosna had plunged the knife into her own heart. Bint Majzoub, Mahjoub, Bakri and a few others had buried the bodies quickly before sunrise. When Bint Majzoub and other women informed Wad Rayyes’s elder first wife about the murder-suicide, she told Bint Majzoub and the other women that Wad Rayyes had deserved his death, and that Hosna had paid him out “in full.” Bint Majzoub remembers that, in the aftermath of the murder-suicide, people in the village had fallen to fighting with one another, as if they had been visited by devils.
As Bint Majzoub further reveals the gory details of this event, it becomes apparent that the final encounter between Wad Rayyes and Hosna was one of extreme violence. As a woman, Hosna was subjected to rape by her husband—as the marks on her body attest. Her murder of Wad Rayyes can thus be read as an act of self-defense against her own violation. Her suicide, however, suggests how the patriarchal violence unleashed by Wad Rayyes destroys her as well as him. Bint Majzoub’s comments that people had fallen to arguing with one another in the village after the murder-suicide allude to how this unimaginably violent event changes and affects the villagers, turning their world upside down. Again, patriarchal oppression doesn’t just affect individuals; it sows widespread conflict in entire communities.
After his meeting with Bint Majzoub, the narrator goes to find Mahjoub out in his field, working. He shares with Mahjoub what he has learned from Bint Majzoub. Mahjoub is angry that the old lady has divulged the details of the murder-suicide to the narrator.
Mahjoub’s anger over the fact that Bint Majzoub has revealed details of the violent event to the narrator suggest that the villagers simply wish to bury the murder-suicide in silence. This in turn implies an unwillingness to confront the misogynistic violence that led to the murder-suicide in the first place. Here, the novel seems to suggest that together, silence and violence form a vicious cycle that will continue to plague the village and, perhaps, the world more broadly.
Mahjoub says that before her marriage to Wad Rayyes, Hosna had approached him and asked him to ask the narrator to marry her, only platonically, to save her from Wad Rayyes. Mahjoub says Hosna was mad, but the narrator contradicts him. As he weeps, the narrator tells Mahjoub that Hosna was the sanest woman in the village. However, Mahjoub contradicts him and further insults Hosna, saying she was hardly worth burying, and that her corpse should have been thrown into the river or left out for the hawks instead. He makes fun of the narrator for going “soft.” Enraged, the narrator attacks Mahjoub and they fight until the narrator is knocked out by his friend and loses consciousness.
Mahjoub’s attitude toward Hosna shows how the patriarchal order of the village—an order that casts women as men’s ‘property’—condemns any woman who seeks to challenge it. In defending Hosna, the narrator reveals himself to be in conflict with the values of the village. For the first time, he is severely disconnected from his native village, and its people. This is exemplified in the physical fight that he ends up in with Mahjoub. The narrator’s identity is no longer securely anchored in the village and its values. Just as the village is caught between its traditional modes of being and the ongoing changes of modernity, so too is the narrator stuck between his roots in the village and the broader perspective he has gained abroad.