Father Amadi visits the next day and invites Obiora and Jaja to play football that evening. He tells Jaja to invite his sister, but when they leave in the evening, Kambili pretends to be asleep. She goes out to the living room to find Amaka tending to Papa-Nnukwu. Papa-Nnukwu tells Kambili that her cousin would have been chosen to decorate the shrines of their gods. Watching them, Kambili feels a longing for something she knows she will never have. She joins Aunty Ifeoma in the kitchen.
Aunty Ifeoma asks why Kambili is crying. But Kambili does not know herself. Aunty Ifeoma teaches Kambili how to prepare cocoyam. She says that Our Lady is watching over Papa-Nnukwu. Kambili is confused because he is a heathen. Aunty Ifeoma gently explains that he is not a heathen, but a traditionalist, and that sometimes what is unfamiliar is just as good. She tells her that when Papa-Nnukwu does his itu-nzu each morning, his declaration of innocence, it is the same as their repetition of the rosary.
The next morning, Aunty Ifeoma wakes Kambili before dawn. She tells her to observe Papa-Nnukwu’s morning ritual. She sits quietly on the veranda and watches him draw lines on the ground in clay, giving thanks for the sunrise. He draws another line and offers his innocence. With a third line, he says he has tried to help others who have nothing with the little that he has. He prays for the curse to be lifted from Papa and for the children of his children to be blessed and steered away from evil. He rises to stretch and Kambili sees his naked body. She does not look away. He is smiling deeply when he enters the house. Kambili never smiles when she says the rosary.
Amaka decides to paint a portrait of Papa-Nnukwu on the veranda in order to catch the sunlight on his skin. Aunty Ifeoma asks Kambili to help her prepare orah leaves, but she does not know how. The task falls to Amaka and she is angry. Aunty Ifeoma asks Kambili why she does not talk back to her cousin. Finally, Kambili’s voice rises above a whisper. She tells Amaka that there is no need to shout. If she teaches her how to prepare the orah, she will do it. Amaka laughs. She says she did not think Kambili’s voice could be this loud.
Father Amadi comes for dinner. He holds Kambili’s hand longer than the others’. Kambili learns that he will soon be leaving. Papa-Nnukwu asks where he will be going and Aunty Ifeoma says he is a missionary and will go where he is told to go. Papa-Nnukwu wonders aloud why an African will go to the white man’s land to convert others. Obiora says that religion and oppression often go hand in hand. Father Amadi teases Obiora, calling him mad. Amaka laughs. Father Amadi looks to Kambili who says nothing. He praises her for not picking fights that cannot be won. He tells her he will take her to play football. Amaka looks at her cousin – she is terrified.
Amaka lends Kambili a pair of shorts, but she does not spend time lingering in the mirror. At home, she and Jaja look at themselves only long enough to make sure their buttons are done properly. In Father Amadi’s car, her eyes fall on his muscular thighs. She listens to his lilting voice. She blurts out that she sleeps in the same room with a heathen. Father Amadi asks why she considers this a sin. Because Papa told her so. Father Amadi says Jaja has told him about Papa. She wonders what her brother has said.
At the stadium, Father Amadi tells Kambili to catch him. She runs after him, but he is too fast. He tells her she has legs for running. She can’t smile although she wants to. Father Amadi looks at a red stain on her hand. Lipstick. He asks if she has ever worn it before. Kambili says no, and an amused and embarrassed smile creeps over her lips. She watches him play football with some local boys, touching the tank top he has peeled off before the game.
In the car, they listen to Igbo songs and he tells Kambili that the boys inspire him. He wonders why she hasn’t asked him any questions. Amaka is all questions. Kambili laughs in spite of herself. She asks him why he became a priest. He says his path to the priesthood was a lot more complicated than simply following a calling. The priesthood came closest to answering the many questions he had in his youth. He drops her off at her aunt’s house. Her chest is filled with a lightness for the first time.
Aunty Ifeoma tells Kambili that Papa has called. Someone from the village told him that Papa-Nnukwu was staying with them. Irate, he insists on picking them up the next day. But, Aunty Ifeoma convinces Papa to let them stay an extra day. She also tells Kambili that Papa managed to get Ade Coker released from prison.
When the family wakes the next morning, they find that Papa-Nnukwu has died. Jaja covers his body with his wrapper. Kambili wants to touch her grandfather, but she knows Papa would be outraged. She looks away so she will not have to lie if Papa asks if Jaja has touched him. Later, Aunty Ifeoma asks if Kambili had seen Papa-Nnukwu’s face. He was smiling in death. Amaka is irate. She says he would still be alive if the clinic was not on strike. Kambili wishes she could hug her cousin or cry loudly with her, but she stays still. Jaja tries to comfort her, but Amaka throws his arm off her shoulder.
Papa arrives during dinner though he had promised his children could stay an extra day. Aunty Ifeoma tells him their father has died. He does not cry, but asks her if she called a priest and offers to pay for a Catholic funeral. Ifeoma refuses angrily. She retreats to her bedroom, sobbing. Papa tells Kambili and Jaja to pack their bags. When Aunty Ifeoma hugs them goodbye, she returns their schedules. Kambili asks her to say goodbye to Father Amadi. Chima is upset; he does not want Jaja to go. Papa offers Aunty Ifeoma money to buy him a gift. Amaka shoves a parcel wrapped in plastic into Kambili’s hand and then turns away quickly. It is her painting of Papa-Nnukwu. Kambili hides it in her suitcase.
Mama is waiting for them at the door, her face swollen with a black eye. Jaja tells her that Papa-Nnukwu is dead. Papa is angry with his sister for not calling a priest. Jaja says that maybe he didn’t want to convert. Mama tries to quickly cover her son’s disrespect, but it is too late. The dinner prayers are longer than usual as Papa asks to cleanse his children’s sin of omission. Jaja asks Papa for the key to his room. Papa is shocked – only he is allowed to lock their doors. Jaja only wants privacy, but Papa assumes he will sin against himself. Later, Mama asks Kambili if it is feels different to be back. Kambili says yes, thinking there is too much empty space in their home.
Papa summons Kambili from the living room. She goes upstairs and to the bathroom where he is waiting. She climbs into the tub and he pours boiling water onto her feet from a teapot. He tells her she is precious and that she should not just walk into sin. If she does, she burns her feet. Kambili cries and screams I’m sorry. She is afraid to move even after the water stops running. Mama appears and lifts her to her room.
Mama gives Kambili pain relievers and spreads a salve of salt and cold water onto her feet. When she leaves, Kambili hobbles over to the painting Amaka gave her. She doesn’t dare unwrap in but she touches it fondly, thinking of her cousins and of Father Amadi. When she gets back in bed, Papa appears and tells her that everything he does is for her sake. He tells her he was once caught masturbating and his priest put his hand in boiling water. Papa was happy for the pain, for he never sinned against himself again.
Jaja comes into Kambili’s room the next day, wearing the same thick, padded socks. His feet are burned as well. She shows him the painting, still in its wrapper, and he takes her downstairs. In the fridge, he has hidden a stalk of purple hibiscus from Aunty Ifeoma’s garden. Though Papa has given him permission to plant the flowers in their garden, Jaja still replaces it quickly when he hears him coming.
Over lunch, Papa complains about the price of pagan funerals. Kambili is surprised to learn that he has offered to pay for Papa-Nnukwu’s service. Ade Coker and another man interrupts dinner with important Standard business. He has been offered an exclusive interview with the Head of State, Big Oga, in exchange for their silence on pro-democracy activist Nwankiti Ogechi. Ade insists he is being bought off and that the government is trying to cover up the disappearance and murder of Ogechi. The man with Ade stresses that they should wait to publish their story on Ogechi. Ade is adamant they report the truth. The three men retire to Papa’s study. Later that night, government officials come to the Achike home to offer Papa a truckload of cash as a bribe. He waves them off his property.
The next day’s issue of the Standard leads with a story on Ogechi. They quote from an anonymous source who claims that Ogechi had been shot and his body covered in acid to melt the flesh off of his bones. They have killed him twice. From radio reports, the family learns that Nigeria is suspended from the Commonwealth, admonished by Canada and Holland for the murder of Ogechi. That night, and every other night to follow, democratic supporters come to Papa for advice. He warns them to be careful and inspect their cars for bombs. Papa’s hands shake each night at dinner. Jaja comforts a worried Aunty Ifeoma when she calls, telling her Papa is too connected to prominent foreign men to be harmed.
Kambili takes the phone from Jaja, and tells her aunt to greet Father Amadi for her. Kambili speaks to Amaka, who has a more breezy tone. Kambili thanks her for the painting. They speak of Papa-Nnukwu’s funeral the following week. Amaka hopes that Kambili and Jaja can come out for Easter, planning the pilgrimage they did not take to Aokpe. Amaka’s Confirmation is scheduled for Easter as well, and she would like her cousins to be there. During her studies, she writes Father Amadi’s name over and over again. When school resumes, she joins her classmates’ volleyball games. She does not notice their taunts of backyard snob. She thinks only of Father Amadi.
Papa-Nnukw is a powerful force in Kambili and Jaja’s lives. Although they are not able to spend enough time with him to know him fully, he touches both of their lives in different ways. For Jaja, Papa-Nnukwu represents masculinity. At Christmas, Papa-Nnukwu compliments Jaja’s wisdom, telling him that he is his own father who has come back. For the Igbo, who believe in reincarnation, this is high praise. Jaja does not shy away from his grandfather like Kambili does. Through him, he understands his ancestry. Kambili moves gingerly around Papa-Nnukwu, afraid to incur the wrath of Papa. But Aunty Ifeoma shows her a different side to the “heathens” that Papa despises. Kambili watches the full ritual and sees her grandfather’s nakedness. Having seen no godlessness in his eyes at Christmas, she sees no sin in his innocence here. The joy on his face opens something up in Kambili. Through Papa-Nnukwu, she understands that faith can fulfill a person and not just be used as a rod of discipline.
Kambili’s first outing with Father Amadi marks the beginning of her mild sexual awakening. Though she does not know how to play football, he tries to engage her by telling her to catch him. He speaks of Jesus and sings in Igbo. He is a clash of ideas in an attractive man. The attention he pays Kambili is at first frightening but she begins to see herself from his eyes. She also trades her long skirt for a pair of Amaka’s forbidden shorts. And she even wears red lipstick for the first time. Father Amadi is playful and, when he notes the lipstick rubbed off on her hand, she finally smiles. There is a release of the tension with which she has always lived. The world does not end when she puts on shorts and lipstick. Kambili’s questioning of her father’s rules are much more subtle and personal. Later she confesses her crush to Amaka, but for Kambili, her affection is both deeper and more innocent.
The increasing pressure the government places on Papa takes its toll. Ade Coker is arrested again and released again, thanks to Papa’s involvement. Knowing that the interview with the Head of State’s office is a trick to get them off the trail of the murdered activist, the Standard runs their story anyway. Papa will not be bribed. Even though they know the risks, they proceed. There is an echo to this behavior in Jaja’s defiance. Jaja asks for the key to his room even though he knows he will likely be reprimanded for it. There is a truth that must be told by both Papa and Jaja.
Things are different for Kambili. There is too much space at home. When she first steps foot in Aunty Ifeoma’s flat, she is surprised at how meager the surroundings are. But as her life begins to open up, she no longer cares about the size of the flat, the water that can only be pumped once a day, or the kerosene cooker. Kambili sees the luxurious space at home for what it is – emptiness. When she gets back to school, she participates in sports though she is always picked last. There is a new silence now, the silencing of the schoolyard taunts. She only hears Father Amadi’s voice, giving her the confidence to face her detractors. Even in this short trip, Kambili’s growth is monumental. A simple volleyball game may not seem like a giant leap, but Kambili is participating in the world around her and allowing herself to do something she wants to do. It is a step towards independence.
Jaja changes as well. He openly challenges his father when he criticizes Aunty Ifeoma for not calling a priest for Papa-Nnukwu. Jaja’s tongue has come loose and he will not be quieted. After their feet are burned, Jaja visits Kambili. Kambili shows him the painting of Papa-Nnukwu and Jaja shows her the purple hibiscus. Both the painting and the flowers are symbols of their burgeoning independence. They are kept under wraps for now, but pieces of Nsukka have been brought into Enugu and it is only a matter of time before they emerge for good.