Saeed catches a mouse at the Queen of Tarts, kicking it with his shoe and dribbling up and down it while it squeaks. He laughs at it until it comes down dead. Then he returns to work.
In the book animals, and particularly rats, become associated with the poor and immigrants. As Biju is treated by the rest of the world, so is this mouse treated by Saeed. The most vulnerable members of society are the ones who are most often targeted.
In Kalimpong, the cook writes another letter. He is besieged by requests for help in getting people to America. People begin to give him little gifts, and he realizes that the more fortunate you are, the more fortunate you will be.
This brief episode demonstrates the cycle of privilege. Biju’s luck in acquiring a tourist visa leads to the cook getting gifts from people hoping for the same fortune.
Back in New York City, Biju begins to feel overwhelmed by the amount of people asking for his help. Saeed understands how he feels, as his own mother has been dispensing out his phone number and address to everyone in his town. One day, some of the men looking for Saeed’s help come to the bakery. He hides under the counter until they leave, lamenting that in their culture, once you let someone in, you have to help them, and they take everything from you.
On the flip side of the fortune the cook experienced from Biju’s journey to America, Biju and Saeed experience a cycle of negative effects brought on by their parents’ “generosity”: an abundance of people to whom they must donate their time, energy, food, and space—things that they have very little of in the first place.
Biju feels sympathy for Saeed, knowing that he also has many people looking for his help. But he also understands that he had done the same when he came to America. He had stood on the doorstep of his father’s friend, Nandu. Nandu had told him that there were more jobs in India and that Biju should go back. Nandu brought him to a basement in Harlem, and Biju had never seen him again.
It is interesting to note that characters variously push and pull away from their homes. Biju misses India and his father and tries to seek out someone that he knew. But later, in trying to distance himself from people taking advantage of his resources when he himself is trying to remain afloat, he also fundamentally distances himself from his culture.
Biju wants to leave, but also wants a green card so that he can have the option of returning. He wonders how people move into mainstream American society and bring their families when they are illegal.
Even though he doesn’t necessarily want to stay in America if he doesn’t have to, Biju wants the privilege of being able to travel. This is the concept underlying the characters’ yearning for a green card.
Saeed brings Biju to Washington Heights, having found out about “the van.” They wait on a street corner for the van, and when it comes by, Biju and Saeed hand over photos, thumbprints, and money. Two weeks later they wait again, but the van does not return. Biju’s entire savings have disappeared.
This deception also serves as a kind of humiliation, proving once again how the weakest members of society are those that are taken advantage of most. Though Biju did not have much to begin with, he has now lost his entire savings—connecting poverty and vulnerability.
In the bakery, a customer finds an entire mouse baked inside a sunflower loaf. A team of health inspectors arrive. The Queen of Tarts bakery is closed, and Biju loses his job. The owner of the store yells profanities at his employees.
Again, the appearance of mice signals the mistreatment of immigrants. Even though the staff had nothing to do with the store’s closing, the owner tries to regain status by yelling at his former employees over losing his store.
Saeed quickly finds employment at a Banana Republic, a shop whose name is “synonymous with colonial exploitation and the rapacious ruin of the third world.” Biju knows he probably won’t see Saeed again, as addresses, phone numbers, and jobs rarely remain steady. Biju resolves to stop making friendships, because their loss makes him feel empty.
Banana Republic is a rather explicit example of colonialism morphing into globalization. The term “banana republic” was coined by O. Henry to describe politically unstable countries with an economy dependent on the exportation of a resource (like bananas), which were often then exploited by wealthier countries, particularly the United States. The fact that the term was then adopted as a popular store marketing upscale travel clothes connects these two forms of exploitation.
That night Biju thinks of his village, where he had lived with his grandmother while the cook worked at Cho Oyu. He remembers it fondly: the tall grasses, the fishing eagles, the lamps during Diwali. He misses its peace. When he visited his father, however, he never noticed Sai’s jealousy of the cook’s love for his son.
Biju experiences home not simply as a physical building, but as a geographic place tied to culture, family, and traditions. Sai’s lack of this sense of belonging (due to her upbringing in an Anglophile environment) is visible in her jealousy of Biju.