Bela and Subhash arrive in Providence. As they approach their house, Bela can see that the grass in the front yard has grown nearly to her shoulders. While Subhash gets their bags from the trunk of the taxi, Bela runs through the overgrown grass and rings the doorbell. There is no answer, though, and Subhash has to come unlock the door. The house is dark—there is no food in the fridge, and Gauri does not answer their calls. Bela walks through the house, looking for her mother; when she comes back to the living room, she sees her father sitting on the sofa, holding a letter. Subhash reaches for Bela’s hand.
As Subhash and Bela return to their home in Providence, it becomes clear that something is wrong. The house, which should be full of Gauri’s presence, is instead full only of signs of her absence—the overgrown lawn, the empty rooms, the lack of signs of life all signal that Gauri has made a decision that will change all their lives forever.
Gauri’s letter—written in Bengali, to avoid Bela’s reading it—explains that she has left. She had been thinking of going for a while now. Gauri acknowledges that she has failed both Bela and Subhash and has decided to take a job teaching at a college in California. Gauri urges Subhash to break the news to Bela in the “least painful” way, and then states that she is leaving it up to Subhash to tell Bela, when and if he is ready, about her true parentage. Gauri closes the letter by stating that she hopes her absence will make things easier, rather than harder, for Subhash and Bela both.
Gauri’s letter reveals that she has taken the cowardly way out, seizing the opportunity in the middle of Subhash and Bela’s temporary absence to secure her own permanent absence from their lives. Gauri claims she doesn’t want to cause either of them any pain, but she of course knows that her leaving will create pain in all their lives.
Subhash relays a version of the letter to Bela, but it is Bela who winds up comforting Subhash, and promising that she will never go away from him. Subhash reels as he struggles to understand what has happened. Despite the awkwardness between him and Gauri, and the false nature of their arrangement, she had never expressed a desire to leave; he always assumed they would stick together at least until Bela was grown.
In the immediate wake of the letter, it is Subhash, not Bela, who is affected by Gauri’s departure most intensely. Subhash has worked for years to make his arrangement with Gauri tenable, and is profoundly hurt to know that his struggle was for nothing—he has failed both his wife and his daughter, and by proxy his brother’s memory as well.
In the weeks after Gauri’s disappearance, Bela notices that a shadow in the corner of the room resembles her mother’s profile. In the shadow, Bela can see the shape of her mother’s forehead, nose, and chin. She cannot tell whether a branch outside or an overhang of the roof creates the shadow. Bela is both upset and comforted by its consistency: it returns each morning to the place from which her mother has fled.
One of the novel’s most prominent themes, presence in absence, is perfectly encapsulated in this scene, as Bela reckons with her mother’s disappearance and the looming reminders of her that will continue to echo through her own life.