One afternoon, Mago, Carlos, and Reyna hurry to carry water home from the town well—Emperatriz has promised to take them to the movies later once all their chores are finished. As they arrive back at Evila’s house, they see a woman on the patio holding a chubby baby girl in her arms. They approach her, and she smiles at them, asking if they are ever going to say hello to their mother. Reyna and her siblings are frozen, though, unable to believe that the woman standing in front of them is truly their mother.
Reyna, Magos, and Carlos are shocked to find that their mother has returned. This event is one of the novel’s major plot points, and the heart of its major themes. Now that the physical distance between Reyna and her siblings and their mother has closed, it remains to be seen whether the emotional distance which has opened up between them can be traversed as well.
Evila urges the children to get their things right away—they are leaving her house. Mami hugs each of them first, and as they reluctantly greet her and the baby, Betty, Evila loudly gives thanks that she has three fewer mouths to feed at last. The children gather their things and say goodbye to Emperatriz—Reyna almost forgets her framed photo of Papi, and runs inside to retrieve “the Man Behind the Glass.”
It is hard to say who is happier about the fact that Reyna, Magos, and Carlos are leaving Evila’s house: Evila herself, or the children. They are all ready to be rid of one another—the children see Evila as their tormentor, and Evila sees them as her life’s great burden.
Reyna, Mago, and Carlos travel by taxi with their mother to Abuelita Chinta’s house, a bamboo shack covered with tar-soaked cardboard and a corrugated metal roof. As they approach the house, Chinta’s neighbor, the wealthy Doña Caro, greets Mami excitedly. Once inside, Reyna, Mago, and Carlos begin asking their mother questions about the United States, and about Papi. She brushes them off, though, and tells them to run and play. Only Carlos follows her orders, and when Reyna and Mago stay behind, she asks them to look after Betty. Mago refuses to hold the baby, though, and runs out of the house.
As the family reunites, there are many unresolved tensions between them. Reyna and Carlos are delighted and want to hear all about El Otro Lado—Mago, however, still harbors deep resentments, and takes her feelings out on her new younger sister, whom no one really seems to know what to do with.
Reyna cares for her little sister while she watches her mother and Abuelita make dinner. She looks forward to the idea of eating real meals again every night rather than scraps and bland bean tortillas. As the women cook, Reyna overhears their conversation: her mother is telling Abuelita Chinta something about Papi and another woman. Mami proclaims that she hates her husband, and will never see him again. When Reyna asks Mami what’s going on, Mami orders Reyna out of the house and chastises her for eavesdropping.
As Reyna overhears something she shouldn’t have, her happiness is thrown into a tailspin. She realizes that whatever reasons Mami had for coming back, they are not rooted in her having missed her children: they are tied to a rift between her and Papi. This news is more than the already-overwhelmed Reyna can handle.
Reyna brings Betty outside and sits down with Mago. She begins crying, unsure of why she still feels empty inside when her mother has returned. Carlos comes over and expresses excitement that everything will soon go back to normal, but Reyna knows that Carlos is wrong: the woman inside Abuelita Chinta’s house is not the same woman who had left.
Carlos seems to be the only one of his three siblings who is genuinely excited and optimistic about his mother’s return. Reyna and Mago, for different reasons, remain skeptical, and know that something about their beloved Mami has changed.