On the day that Gifty found her mice injured, her lab mate, Han, found her weeping in a corner. He tried to comfort her, but she imagined him fretting that he went into the hard sciences to avoid dealing with emotional women. In the bathroom, she tried to get ahold of herself, but instead felt like she had too many selves to hold on to at once.
Gifty reacts strongly to her injured mice, in part because they symbolize her family’s troubles to her. When Han finds her, she assumes that she knows what he is thinking and presents it as fact, although readers have no evidence with which to judge Han’s feelings. Readers should be careful about believing Gifty’s unfounded assumptions about other people’s thoughts. When she looks at herself in the bathroom mirror, Gifty confronts the quandary of her life: she hasn’t yet developed a sense of individual identity, and thus doesn’t understand how her experiences and past selves are connected and cohesive.
On the day of her mother’s arrival, Han is in the lab before Gifty. They don’t talk much; if she says more than “hello,” his ears burn with embarrassment. After checking on her mice, she goes home, where her mother is sleeping in the bed. Gifty has forgotten what it’s like to live with and care for her mother. Although they spent most of her life together, this arrangement is “unnatural,” the result of their family shrinking from four to two.
Gifty assumes that Han is horrified or embarrassed by her, but it’s also possible to read his shyness as attraction. Because readers don’t see what Han really feels, they’re stuck with Gifty’s assumptions, at least for the time being. The juxtaposition of the mice and Gifty’s mother underlines their connection: Gifty explicitly equates taking care of her experimental mice with taking care of her mother. In considering her caretaking role, Gifty understands it to be an unnatural reversal of the mother-daughter roles. And it emphasizes the losses in their family: Gifty takes care of her mother because there is no one else left besides the two of them.