After the dramatic night of his birthday, Daniel finds it surprisingly easy to wean himself off Clara and focus on other things. He’s particularly distracted by his work at the bookshop, which is unusually busy. Mr. Sempere muses that they need to hire a third person, someone who appreciates literature and is savvy enough to track down elusive books. Hearing this, Daniel tracks down Fermín in the stone arch where he lives, reading news stories about the greatness of the Fascist party and denouncing them. Daniel takes him home for lunch.
Daniel recovers from what he now considers an unhealthy obsession with a woman and her feminine world by immersing himself in the highly masculine (in this specific case) world of the bookshop and professional life. At this point in his life, romance and women are less important than and possibly even antithetical to personal development and a normal adolescence.
On their way, Fermín begins talking about his “nemesis,” Inspector Fumero, who put him in jail after the Civil War and from whom he is constantly on the run. Daniel recognizes the name of the man who killed Clara’s father, and notices that Fermín turns pale when he talks about him.
Like Coubert, Fumero is a malevolent figure who has played a role in multiple characters’ pasts. His manifold but always sinister appearances create a sense of repetition, and connect Fermín’s tumultuous past to Clara’s childhood tragedy.
Despite Fermín’s shame at his shabby appearance, Daniel introduces him to Mr. Sempere, who receives the homeless man artfully, offering him a bath and a clean suit of clothes. Daniel and Mr. Sempere see that Fermín’s wrists, ankles, and back are covered with thick scars.
Fermín’s earlier speech and demonstrated fear suggest that the scars are the work of Inspector Fumero. The policeman’s brutality contrasts to the gentle and tactful manner with which the Semperes bathe and care for Fermín.
Daniel rustles up one of Mr. Sempere’s old suits, and when he returns the two men are chatting comfortably, Fermín explaining that he’s always loved poetry but was pressured into joining the civil service by his “pigheaded” father. At lunch, Mr. Sempere offers Fermín a job at the bookshop, and Fermín is so grateful that he bursts into tears.
Although Fermín’s father is inconsequential to the narrative, he’s one of many examples of fathers who feel entitled to total control of their children’s destinies. This example again highlights Mr. Sempere’s lenient and supportive behavior toward his own son.
Fermín turns out to be a lively and flamboyant character, wearing a large hat and galoshes and charming everyone he knows with an unending stream of talk. Mr. Sempere finds him a room in the boardinghouse of a sympathetic friend who lets Fermín live there without registering, reducing the chances that he’ll be found by the police. Most importantly, Fermín proves a superb book sleuth, fulfilling obscure requests almost instantly.
Just as the neighborhood accepts and shelters the illicitly gay Don Federico, Fermín’s landlady helps him stay under the police’s radar. This isn’t because she’s particularly politically active, but because most citizens seem to recognize the government and its agents as inherently threatening and antagonistic.
However, a few months later, Fermín’s landlady, Doña Encarna, calls in the middle of the night to say that he’s screaming suicide threats in his room and refusing to come out. Daniel and Mr. Sempere hurry over and placate the annoyed landlady. Mr. Sempere sends Daniel for Dr. Baró, the seedy but effective neighborhood physician, while he goes into the room to calm Fermín. When they return they find Mr. Sempere holding a raving Fermín, who has completely trashed the room. Dr. Baró sedates Fermín, concluding that he’s suffering from recurring memories of his time in prison.
Fermín has a sprightly and optimistic attitude, but his nightmares show that he’s also trapped in repetitions of his past. Fermín’s trauma shows that people often can’t thrive when they’re living in their own history. Instead, they have to relinquish the past in order to move on. However, this is clearly easier said than done, especially when the past is traumatic and haunted by a brutal civil war.
While she attempts to seem strict, Doña Encarna willingly accepts Fermín’s apology for the disturbances, pitying him as a “dispossessed” person like herself. Daniel and Mr. Sempere start including Fermín in family activities so he feels less lonely.
Without knowing his whole story, Doña Encarna understands that Fermín lost everything during the war and the rise of the Fascists. That she considers herself connected to him by this fact shows that even citizens who weren’t jailed or actively participating in the war feel themselves shaped and traumatized by it.
Daniel and Fermín start going to the cinema together, even though Fermín derides film as mindless compared to literature. They both enjoy ogling the beautiful heroines. Fermín also tries to draw out Daniel’s thoughts on women, making a number of generalizations about them in the process.
Throughout the novel movies appear as a contrast to literature—they are presented as narrowing the mind and preventing people from thinking critically. This is evident even in Daniel and Fermín, two very thoughtful characters, who only care about the movies for their sex appeal.
One day at the cinema, while Fermín is buying candy, Daniel is horrified to see Coubert sitting close to him. Coubert leaves so quickly that Daniel isn’t sure if he imagined the whole thing, but he’s still shaken when Fermín returns, and he knows Coubert is still looking for the book.
While the cinema is at best an escape from real life (in the novel’s world), literature is viscerally tied to reality, so much so that its characters seem to be able to wander into the real world at will.