When the narrator leaves the hospital, he learns that he’s no longer needed on the film set. An airplane ticket has been reserved for his immediate departure from the Philippines. When he arrives in Los Angeles, Bon is waiting for him at the airport. Back at their apartment, the narrator has another letter from his Parisian aunt. He reads it when Bon goes to sleep, then he writes his response. He tells her that The Hamlet is complete. More importantly, the South Vietnamese movement has established a revenue source: Madame is opening a restaurant.
It seems that, having failed to kill him, the Auteur has arranged for the narrator to be banished instead. The narrator excludes the story about the explosion on the set, continuing a narrative in which his participation on the film has been successful. He focuses, however, on the news about Madame’s restaurant because this will have a direct impact on the General’s ability to fund his guerrilla army.
Though it may be a hole-in-the-wall, the General notes that Madame’s restaurant will be the first Vietnamese restaurant in the city. He says that refugees all over the city are “starving for a taste of home.” The narrator looks around and, indeed, every table and booth is occupied, though it’s only 11:30 AM. The General says that it’s an open secret that the restaurant is funding the revolution. Madame is in charge of making uniforms. She’s also in charge of the women’s auxiliary forces and the making of flags. He says that the narrator missed the Tet celebration she organized in Orange County. They’ve also assembled the first companies of volunteers from a group of veterans who train every weekend. The next step will be to send a reconnaissance team to Thailand. They’ll link up with their forward field base and make their way into Vietnam. Claude says that the time is nearly right for an invasion.
Though the General is using the restaurant to fund his futile operation in Vietnam, he’s also putting down roots in California that will help to establish the Vietnamese community in the Los Angeles area. The popularity of the restaurant is due to the refugee community’s desire to maintain a link to their culture through food. Madame plays a traditional but instrumental role in the operations by managing the women’s sector and sewing flags. The narrator’s support of these efforts is not altogether false. Though the General is his enemy, the narrator would still support any effort to aid in the uplift of their community.
The narrator pours himself a cup of tea. He asks if Bon is a part of this invasion team. The General says that he is. Bon is a good worker, but he’s also the best for this kind of work. The only route overland from Thailand involves hiking through Laos or Cambodia, through disease-ridden jungles with man-eating tigers. The narrator says that, if Bon is going, he should, too. The General is delighted by his offer but insists that the narrator is more useful in California, helping the General with planning and logistics, as well as fund-raising and diplomacy. He’s notified the Congressman that the community is gathering funds to send a team to aid the refugees in Thailand.
The narrator asks if Bon is part of the team because he wants to know if he should volunteer so that he can help to ensure that Bon doesn’t die in battle. The narrator doesn’t want to participate in the General’s guerrilla war, but he will feign interest so that he can keep his blood oath to Bon. Though the narrator is technically politically disloyal because he plays both sides, his loyalty to his friends is largely uncorrupted.
The General says that it’s the right time for a beer and offers one to the narrator, who notices their clock and says to Madame, who fetches the beer, that it’s set to the wrong time. She says that it isn’t; it’s set to Saigon time. The narrator realizes that it makes sense for the clock to be set to Saigon time. They’re displaced people, living between time zones. After lunch, the narrator debriefs the General and Madame about the explosion in the Philippines. The story arouses their resentment. The only thing that the narrator doesn’t mention to them is that he was compensated for his near-death experience.
The clock is an indication of the fact that, though the General and Madame are not physically in Vietnam, their loyalties and hearts still remain there. However, they are fixated on returning to the Vietnam that they knew before the Communist takeover, instead of accepting the reality of change. They are thus also fixed in the past. The narrator doesn’t mention his compensation because he doesn’t want to feel obligated to contribute to their cause.
The morning after the extras’ hospital visit, Violet and a tall, thin white man in a powder-blue suit went to check on the narrator. When they asked how he felt, he whispered “all white,” though he could speak perfectly fine. Violet eyed him suspiciously. She said that the Auteur would’ve come, but he was meeting with President Marcos that day. The mention of the director infuriated the narrator. When the man in the suit asked what happened, the narrator told him that there were many explosions. The man, who was a representative for the film studio, handed the narrator a report saying that it was all an accident. He also offered a check for five thousand dollars. The narrator said that the money wasn’t enough because he had his family to think about. Really, he knew better than to settle on the first offer. The narrator then asked for twenty thousand instead.
The narrator’s subtle response is a comment about his experience working on The Hamlet. Violet looks at him suspiciously because she knows that the narrator was unhappy on the set of the film and that he doesn’t trust her due to what he perceives as her racism. Suspecting that the Auteur tried to kill him, he seeks enough compensation to satisfy him, though it won’t make up for the fact that he nearly died. He wants the studio to pay for thinking that it could kill him with impunity, just as the American military believed they could kill innocent Vietnamese people with impunity.
The narrator claimed to have lost a portion of his memory to legitimize his demand. The rep said that the narrator might find that hard to prove. The narrator persisted and he and the rep settled on ten thousand dollars. The narrator, in return, signed the documents, releasing the studio from any future obligations. They traded farewell pleasantries. Then, Violet paused at the door and said, “You know we couldn’t have done this movie without you.” The narrator wanted to believe her.
The narrator lies to justify asking for so much money, but the representative refuses to oblige. Their compromise, however, satisfies the narrator’s need to feel that his life wasn’t dispensable. Violet’s comment underscores the point, though it does so ironically because it’s rather clear that she never had respect for the narrator.
When the narrator returned to California, he cashed the check and left half in his bank account. The other half is in an envelope in his pocket at the time that he’s chatting with the General and Madame. He drives to Monterey Park later that afternoon. There, he has an appointment with the crapulent major’s widow. He plans to give her the money. The narrator doesn’t believe in God, but he believes in ghosts. The crapulent major’s ghost has appeared to him and he fears seeing it again when the doorknob turns on the door to his former apartment.
The narrator plans to give the major’s widow the money as a kind of offering. He believes that the crapulent major’s ghost has been haunting him, not only for his betrayal and his lies, but also because the narrator has failed to do penance for telling the lie that got the major killed. Therefore, the major’s ghost lingers, forcing the narrator to remember his dishonesty and his guilt.
The crapulent major’s widow opens the door and exclaims about how good it is to see the narrator. On the coffee table in the living room, she has prepared tea and French ladyfingers. She says that she misses her husband very much. The narrator squeaks across the plastic couch to place a hand on her shoulder. On the side table, he sees a picture of the young crapulent major, in full cadet uniform and not yet fat. The narrator offers the widow the envelope. She resists at first, but the narrator implores her to think of her children. She takes the money. The children are asleep in the bedroom. The narrator looks at the twins, Spinach and Broccoli, and says that they’re beautiful, though he doesn’t really believe this. He doesn’t particularly like children and doesn’t wish to have any himself.
The narrator tries to sympathize with the widow’s loss of her husband and the twins’ loss of their father, but the narrator finds it more difficult to sympathize with personal loss than with political loss. Having never had a close familial bond of his own, he has a hard time knowing how to respond. Therefore, he says and does the things that he thinks are appropriate in the situation without really understanding why he’s saying or doing them. He’s acting out of a sense of moral obligation, not true sympathy.
The only advantage that the narrator thinks he has over the twins is having had a father who taught him about guilt. The question around Original Sin is important to the narrator because it’s related to his birth and his father’s identity. One day, after Sunday school, he and the other children watched his father’s imported French bulldog “thrust away at a whining female companion in the shade of a eucalyptus tree.” One of his classmates proclaimed the act natural. Turning to the narrator, he said that the narrator was what happened when a dog mated with a cat. The narrator punched the boy in the nose, shocking him, and continued to punch him. More blood gushed from his nose. No one intervened to help the boy, “the comedian.” When he finished his fight, the narrator stood up and saw “fear, if not respect” in the eyes of the “little monsters” who surrounded him. He went home and cried when he saw his mother. He confessed everything.
While watching the sleeping twins, the narrator has a flashback to his childhood. The twins will never know their father, which the narrator considers preferable to his own situation—having known his father and being denied by him. Worse, his classmates viewed him as a freak of nature due to his biracial identity, which made him odd in a largely homogeneous society that also resented any reminders of its colonizer. The narrator nicknames his taunter the comedian, not only because the boy tries to make a joke at the narrator’s expense, but also because he inadvertently points out the “joke” of the narrator’s birth: a supposedly celibate man had a child.
The narrator’s mother assured him that he wasn’t unnatural and clutched him to her bosom. When he looked up at her, he saw that she, too, was weeping. She asked him if he wanted to know who his father was. He nodded yes, then she said his name. She talked about the narrator’s father—the priest—and how he taught her how to read, how he was always kind to her when she was his maid. He told her stories about France and his childhood. She knew that he was very lonely, due to being “the only one of his kind in [their] village.” She talked about how she was lonely, too, and that this united them. The narrator broke away from her and covered his ears. His mother insisted that his birth was part of God’s Great Plan. She saw the narrator as one of the meek who shall inherit the earth.
The narrator’s mother rationalizes her molestation at the hands of the priest in a monologue that is both troubling and sympathetic. The priest took advantage of a poor, uneducated child. On the other hand, she notes how they had loneliness in common and found companionship in each other. To avoid blaming the priest for his denial of his son and his unwillingness to help them, she chooses to view the narrator’s birth within the context of religion and predestination, comforting herself with the possibility that her suffering is for a greater purpose.
The narrator wonders, if she could see him now in the crapulent major’s old apartment, if his mother would still consider him one of the meek. After the visit to the widow, the narrator drives to a liquor store nearby. He buys a copy of Playboy, a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, and a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka. In the parking lot, he spots a pay phone and thinks of calling Sofia. Instead, he drives across Los Angeles to see her. He parks down the street from her apartment and takes his treasures from the liquor store with him, except for the Playboy. When Sofia opens the door, he sees that her hair is no longer permed but straight. She looks younger than he remembers. They embrace and she invites him in. Her black cat, which usually keeps its distance from the narrator by sitting on the futon, is now sitting on Sonny’s lap. Sonny is sitting on the futon. He extends his hand, saying that it’s good to see the narrator again, and that he and Sofia talk about him often.
The narrator suspects that his mother would disapprove of his work as a double agent—that is, if she, with her lack of education and understanding about the world, would have understood the roles that the narrator plays. The complexity of his life of intrigue is the opposite of meekness. He goes to Sofia’s home after meeting with the widow because he thinks that she will comfort him. Sofia is the only woman, other than his mother, with whom the narrator has formed a close bond. Sofia’s straightened hair is the first sign of a personal change within her. The cat’s comfort with Sonny is a sign that the narrator’s old friend has been spending a lot of time with his former girlfriend.