The narrator buys a line-marking machine and white spray paint, and paints a border around Dickens. At first, people who see him do it think he’s a performance artist or simply crazy. However, after a while it becomes clear that he is marking the boundaries of Dickens, and suddenly huge groups of Dickensians start helping. Sometimes, after the narrator finishes for the day, someone else picks up the spray paint and keeps going. Before long, the border is finished.
Drawing a line around Dickens may seem like a simplistic and even childish way to begin bringing the city back, but as contemporary political debates around immigration show, many people believe that in order for a place to exist, it must have a clear (and strictly enforced) border.
A police officer called Officer Mendez teasingly makes a wanted poster for the narrator. The poster begins: “MISSING: HOMETOWN. Have you seen my city? Description: Mostly Black and Brown.” The narrator gratefully sticks up the poster with chewing gum. In the first few days after the border is painted, the narrator feels nervous about crossing it, in part because it reminds him of the chalk line drawn around his father’s dead body. However, he likes the “artifice” of the line, and realizes that his decision to “quarantine” Dickens is a good start in bringing back the city.
The end of this chapter shows that the narrator feels ambivalent about borders. He understands that the border he has drawn around Dickens is arbitrary and artificial—however, rather than worrying about this, he actually likes it. Perhaps this is because having artificial and arbitrary borders is a trait shared by “real” cities, which makes Dickens seem like one of them.