PART THREE – THE PIECES OF GODS: AFTER PALM SUNDAY
Everything comes tumbling down after Palm Sunday. A fierce wind uproots several frangipani trees, the satellite dish dislodges from the roof, and Sisi breaks a full set of Mama’s plates. Everyone changes. Mama speaks above a whisper and no longer sneaks food to Jaja when he doesn’t come down for dinner. She carries his meals to him on trays. Kambili doesn’t know how to react to the new, brittle air in the house. Through dinner, she stares at the portrait of her Grandfather and closes her eyes during prayer. Jaja does not leave his room and at first barricades his door with his desk. Papa, whose rashes have gotten worse, cannot get in.
Yewande Coker visits with her children. Her daughter spoke her first word that morning and she praises Papa for sending her to the best doctors in Nigeria. Papa, in turn, praises God and will not accept Yewande’s thanks. Kambili relays the story to Jaja, thanking God for the girl’s voice. But Jaja looks at her askew. He says the girl will never heal. When she leaves, Kambili easily pushes the desk aside. She wonders why Papa was unable to move it.
Kambili dreads Easter Sunday. She knows Jaja will not go. Papa’s hands shake violently during breakfast, so he decides the family will attend evening mass. Aunty Ifeoma calls and tells Kambili that she has been terminated by the university. She has applied for a visa from the American embassy. Father Amadi has received notice as well and he will leave for Germany at the end of the month. Jaja tells Papa that he and Kambili will leave for Nsukka immediately to spend Easter with their cousins. Too weak to argue, Papa allows them to go. They pack hastily. Kambili goes into her father’s room. He is disheveled, but he hugs her and kisses her forehead.
Aunty Ifeoma’s apartment is swelteringly hot. The children cook over their kerosene cooker. Obiora says there is no need to save the gas cylinders, as they won’t be in Nigeria for much longer. Amaka shakes her head. Their mother does not have her visa yet. Kambili waits on the veranda until the cooker stops smoking, then she helps prepare and serve supper. Amaka tells Kambili that the intense sun is a warning for rain. Papa-Nnukwu taught her about the angry sun. She reminisces about helping her mother deter thieves at the university and sighs. Amaka does not want to go to America. Kambili tries to comfort her. At least there will be fresh milk in bottles. Amaka smiles at her cousin.
The skies open up and the children gather rainwater in buckets. Father Amadi visits. Amaka and Obiora tease him about his assignment to Germany. They wonder if, since the white men brought their white God to Africa, perhaps Father Amadi can repackage God to bring to Germany. Father Amadi smiles and shakes his head. In Europe, there are no indigenous cultures that need to be pacified. Father Amadi looks to Kambili’s troubled face. She does not know what will happen. In two weeks, school starts again. By then, Aunty Ifeoma may be gone. Jaja refuses to speak to Papa. Even though she wants to speak to him, Kambili refuses as well.
They speak in the garden. Kambili plucks flowers and places the petals on her fingers, Father Amadi dangerously close. He tells her he will go to Enugu the following week to talk to Father Benedict. He will recommend that Kambili and Jaja go to boarding school. He reassures her but she looks away. He asks her to look at him. His brown eyes nearly make her swoon. Father Amadi slips a petal off of her finger and holds her hand. That night, she bathes in the rainwater. She does not heat the water for fear that it will lose the smell of the sky. She does not wash her left hand, where Father Amadi had slipped the petal off of her finger. And she does not remove the earthworms from the shower. She lets them slide away with the water.
The most striking development in this chapter is Mama’s defiance. Instead of hiding her actions – feeding Jaja in his room, giving orders to the staff – she finds her voice. There are two reasons why this happens. She is inspired by Jaja and is willing to protect him by siding with him. And, as revealed in the next chapters, she is poisoning Papa. She knows that he is weak and cannot challenge her.
Amaka does not want to go to America. Her home is in Nigeria. Although politically problematic, she does not want to abandon her country: she wants to stay and try to fight injustices. Aunty Ifeoma’s friend Phillipa has gone to America and is supposedly happy, but her other friend Chiaku remembers her time in Europe. She felt like an animal on display. Aunty Ifoema has no choice after she gets fired. If she cannot feed her children, she must consider other options. Though leaving her home is not the most desired outcome, she feels she must. The Achike family’s story parallels its greater context of political unrest, and vice versa. Mama does not want to leave her home so, like Amaka, she desires to fix the problems in her own house. Her murder of Papa can be viewed as a coup.
When the family finds out that Father Amadi is assigned to Germany, Obiora and Amaka engage him in a discussion about colonialism. They suggest that since the white men brought their white man to Africa, perhaps Father Amadi should “repackage” his God for Europe’s consumption. Obiora is suggesting Father Amadi disseminate a black image of God. In the final chapter of the book, Amaka tells Kambili that academics dispute the apparition in Aokpe because God wouldn’t come to Africa. Aunty Ifeoma’s children are challenging the dominant Western belief system. Father Amadi jokes that there are no indigenous cultures in Europe that need to be pacified. Religion was a tool used by imperialists to more easily colonize Africa. Missionaries taught Africans about their view of sin and morality in order to keep them in line. Eroding the indigenous culture is the first step towards assimilation. As a traditionalist, Papa-Nnukwu sought to preserve his own culture. His bond with Amaka makes her question her own faith. The difficulty in choosing a confirmation name is indicative of her challenge to colonialism.
The last paragraph of this chapter is a beautiful description of Kambili’s growth as illustrated through her reaction to several environmental factors. First, she does not want to wash her hand for fear of washing off the memory of Father Amadi. The water she uses is unadulterated rainwater, unheated to retain the scent of the sky. She wants to carry nature with her. The rains have fallen after an extreme heat, symbolizing the relief she feels in Nsukka after her experiences in Enugu. Just as the skies open up, so does Kambili. Papa-Nnukwu says in chapter six that both the Catholic God and the Igbo Chukwu live in the sky. Kambili believes that weather is a way for God to communicate with the world and by persevering the scent of the sky, she is trying to hold on to God. She does not disturb the earthworms when she showers as she had before. There is a reverence for nature but also a peace with nature. Kambili is truly happy in this moment.
Kambili and Jaja’s continuing coming of age can be gauged by their reactions to the news of Yewande Coker’s daughter. After seeing her father killed by a mail bomb at their dining table, Yewande’s daughter has not spoken a word. Papa has sent her to the best doctors to cure her, insisting it is God’s work and not his own that is responsible. The benevolence Papa shows other people’s children is a contrast to the punishment he metes out with his own. For both, God is responsible. In the case of Yewande’s daughter, he does not take credit for a miracle – even though no miracle has occurred. And with his children, he is not to blame for their pain; he is saving them from hellfire. The same attitude that makes him humble absolves him of his guilt. Jaja does not think that God is responsible for her cure. Papa’s money is responsible. Furthermore, he says she will never be healed. The psychological scars are permanent and though she speaks again, she will carry the emotional burden the rest of her life. Jaja is speaking of Yewande’s daughter’s pain, but also his own. Though he has healed from his beatings, the psychological impact remains.
Kambili, her faith intact, still believes that God is working through Papa’s good deeds. She praises God for the girl’s speech as she is starting to find her own. Her increasingly malleable faith allows her to ascribe her growth to grace. Kambili and Jaja no longer see eye to eye on this matter, but they can respect one another as individuals. In the long run, this is a better outcome than to be bound by unspoken misery. At Nsukka, Jaja refuses to speak to his father. Kambili refuses as well, though she is conflicted about it. Silence is a weapon that Jaja wields to punish Papa.