The narrator goes to visit Hosna and her two sons. He had planned to visit anyway, since he is organizing the boys’ circumcision ceremony, and he likes to check in and see how they are doing. The boys leave for school, and the narrator reflects that Hosna is a beautiful woman whom Wad Rayyes “wants to sacrifice at the edge of the grave, with which to bribe death and so gain a respite of a year or two” (75). The narrator has a long chat with Hosna and enjoys her company, but does not bring up Wad Rayyes’s proposal.
The narrator asks Hosna if she loved Mustafa Sa’eed. She hesitates, and then replies tenderly that he was a generous husband and father. It becomes clear that she does not know about Mustafa’s torrid past. However, she was suspicious because Mustafa would sometimes speak in “gibberish” (English) in his sleep. Hosna remembers that Mustafa put his affairs in order only a week before he died, and seemed to know that the end was near. She believes the answer to Mustafa’s past is in his private room, to which she doesn’t have the keys.
Hosna begins to cry, and the narrator wonders if he should hold her. He decides against it, and instead tells Hosna that she is still young and should move on with her life, and that she should maybe even accept one of the many suitors that want to marry her. She adamantly says that she will never remarry. The narrator reveals that Wad Rayyes has proposed, to which Hosna responds: “If they force me to marry, I’ll kill him and kill myself” (80).
The next morning, Wad Rayyes asks how the narrator’s intervention went. The narrator tells him that Hosna does not want to marry anyone, and he should forget the matter. Wad Rayyes gets teary-eyed, and seems genuinely upset, resolving, “She’ll accept me whether she likes it or not ... She should thank God she’s found a husband like me” (81). The narrator tries to reason with him, saying that there are plenty of other women in the village and Hosna refuses all of her suitors, so he shouldn’t take it personally. Wad Rayyes becomes very angry that the narrator will not force Hosna to marry him, and resolves to marry her without the narrator’s permission, since her father and brothers have already agreed to it.
The narrator goes to his old friend Mahjoub to ask for advice. Mahjoub believes that Wad Rayyes is “an old windbag” and will probably drop the issue, but even if he does not, the narrator can do nothing because Hosna’s father and brothers already consented to the marriage. The narrator is saddened, as he believes that women should be make their own decisions about these matters. Mahjoub replies that the world has not changed as much as the narrator thinks it has, and men still own women, at least in Wad Hamid.
The conversation turns to Mustafa Sa’eed. Although Mahjoub initially did not like Mustafa, he was impressed by his work on the Agricultural Project Committee. Mustafa showed a great aptitude for accounting, and helped start a profitable flour mill and village store that provides fairly-priced supplies. The narrator continues to question Mahjoub about Mustafa, and Mahjoub wonders why the narrator is so obsessed with the man. Mahjoub also thinks it is strange that Mustafa made the narrator his executor, since the narrator is in Khartoum most of the time.
As the narrator prepares to leave, the two men go back to discussing Wad Rayyes. Mahjoub remains convinced that Wad Rayyes will soon turn his attention elsewhere. He then suggests that the narrator marry Hosna, since he is already the guardian of her children. The narrator becomes very nervous at this suggestion and tells Mahjoub that he is crazy. As he leaves, the narrator realizes he is in love with Hosna, and is “not immune from the germ of contagion which oozes from the body of the universe” (86)—sexual attraction.
This chapter focuses the narrator’s relationship with Hosna. Until now, she has only been alluded to and has not played a direct role in the story. Even after the narrator’s long discussion with her at home, we do not learn much about her—most of Hosna’s dialogue is paraphrased, and although we get a detailed description of her beauty, Salih does not delve far into her psyche. There is no explanation as to why she is so reluctant to remarry, and she is only quoted in the dialogue when she talks about Mustafa; the rest of her dialogue is summarized or paraphrased by the narrator.
As some critics have noted, the narrator sees Hosna as a tool to learn more about Mustafa Sa’eed (Davidson 392). This complicates his love for her. By this point in the text, it is clear that despite his assertions to the contrary, the narrator is completely preoccupied with learning as much as he can about Mustafa. Hosna, then, is a means to an end; the narrator will not only know everything about Mustafa, but he wishes to experience Mustafa’s sex and family life firsthand.
The narrator’s support for women’s rights, then, is very convenient given his motives. Like Wad Rayyes, he is all in favor of women’s rights when it will help him to get what he wants, but he still hesitates to intervene and stop the marriage. The narrator also has a curiously negative attitude toward sex, characterizing it as a “germ of contagion” that corrupted Mustafa and Wad Rayyes, and is now threatening to infect him as well. This creates a stark contrast to the rapturous portrayal of sex in the previous chapter, when Wad Rayyes and Bint Majzoub described their orgasms in detail.
However, unlike these village people, the narrator has traveled abroad, and like Mustafa Sa’eed, he continually associates sex with violence. The narrator sees sex as not just an interaction between individuals, but as an instrument for the systemic oppression of women. In both England and Sudan, premarital sex can tarnish a woman’s reputation and destroy her emotionally (as evidenced by the suicides of Mustafa’s mistresses). Men are not subject to these restrictions, and this freedom gives them power—power about which the narrator feels deeply conflicted, as evidenced by his reluctance to intervene in Hosna’s marriage one way or the other.
This chapter also reveals more information about Mahjoub. Mahjoub was smart enough to pursue higher education, but chose to remain in the village and work directly with the people. He represents an alternative life path that the narrator could have taken. He also illustrates the fact that a British education, which is supposed to help the narrator make Sudan a better country, actually prevents him from doing so. Having taken a government job, the narrator does not interact directly with the people he is supposed to help. Furthermore, the narrator has become so progressive in his views that he is unable to help Hosna; by insisting that she should choose for herself, he overlooks the fact that she really has no choice, and the only way he can help her is by rejecting Wad Rayyes on her behalf.