Back in 1969, it is the day of Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma’s arrival at the Cochin Airport. Ammu dresses Rahel in a special dress, and Rahel feels like an “Airport Fairy” ready for the “play” they have been rehearsing for: being on their best behavior to impress Sophie Mol. Rahel notices four life-sized kangaroo statues (with trashcan pouches) in the Arrivals Lounge as the family waits.
Estha and Rahel take on different epithets throughout the story, as if they are playing dress-up with their identities. Later this will be a kind of coping mechanism. The family has idealized Sophie Mol to a ridiculous degree already, and they want to impress her English sensibilities.
Baby Kochamma tells the twins that they are “Ambassadors of India” so they must be on their best behavior. Rahel digs through the kangaroo trashcans and Estha is distracted by frightened thoughts of the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. Finally Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma arrive, and everyone greets each other politely, saying only “Small Things” and leaving the “Big Things” unsaid. Chacko is proud and excited to see his ex-wife and daughter, and he starts introducing everyone. Sophie is wearing yellow bell-bottoms and is “loved from the beginning.”
This is the first time the narrator specifically references the Big Things and the Small Things, the former lurking inside, the other on the surface. Baby Kochamma is only concerned that the twins behave well and impress Sophie Mol. The way the narrator describes Sophie as “loved from the beginning” shows how jealous the twins are of her, as she naturally receives all the love they crave.
Estha is momentarily distracted by a famous comedian purposefully dropping his luggage nearby, and Baby Kochamma tries to impress Sophie Mol by referencing Shakespeare. When Chacko introduces Estha, Estha refuses to say “how do you do” and Ammu furiously promises him a punishment later. Meanwhile Rahel has disappeared behind a curtain and won’t come out, as she is afraid of Ammu’s anger and the moth on her own heart.
The twins are overcome by the sudden change in the family and the “play” of impressing Sophie Mol, Estha because of his recent trauma and Rahel because of her fear that Ammu loves her less. This only leads Ammu to get angrier with them, however.
Chacko picks up Sophie Mol until she asks him to put her down, and then they go to get her luggage. Estha coaxes Rahel out from the curtain and Ammu berates the twins about disobeying her in public. Baby Kochamma scorns her management of the children, but Ammu says they don’t need a Baba because she loves them “Double.”
Chacko immediately gives Sophie Mol the affection the twins want, but Sophie Mol scorns it. Ammu’s fierce love for her children also comes from her desire to prove that a woman can raise children without a man.
Ammu then sends the twins off to say hello properly, and they talk briefly with Sophie Mol. Sophie says that she loves Joe the most of anyone, and she doesn’t think of Chacko as her dad. Rahel then recites her list of who she loves most, which goes Ammu, Chacko, Mammachi, Velutha, and then Sophie Mol (even though they’ve never met until now). She doesn’t include Estha because the twins “don’t count.”
Rahel’s practiced list of who she loves shows two important things – that what she and Estha share is more than love, more like two halves of one person, and that Rahel, like the other Ipes, has been taught to put social obligation over personal love. Thus Rahel is supposed to love Sophie Mol, even though they’ve never met.
Everyone gets into the Plymouth and starts the trip back to Ayemenem. On the way they pass a dead elephant, but they are relieved to see it isn’t Kochu Thomban (Little Tusker), the Ayemenem temple elephant who comes to their house sometimes. Baby Kochamma makes the twins sing a song to show off their English pronunciation.
The huge changes that are coming with Sophie Mol’s arrival seem foreshadowed by this omen of a dead elephant, a “Big Thing.” Baby Kochamma still sticks to the “script” she has practiced for impressing Sophie.