When Gertrude first sees Kumalo, there "is fear in her eyes," and she "draws back a step, and makes no move towards him." Gertrude lives in the squalid town of Claremont, which is "the garbage-heap of the proud city" of Sophiatown. Gertrude is a liquor-seller and a prostitute, and when Kumalo arrives at the door, she is in the act of plying her trades. Gertrude, who has not had contact with her brother for a long time, is embarrassed and ashamed.
Gertrude had left the village of Ndotsheni and gone to the city; after a period of time, she had stopped writing to her family back at home. When Kumalo finally tracks her down at the address in the squalid neighborhood of Claremont, he hears "laughter in the house...bad laughter," before he even knocks. Gertrude has clients in the house, and, when she opens the door at Kumalo's knock, keeps him at the door while those within the house hurriedly try to make things look respectable, and leave. It is only then that she allows Kumalo to come in, and when she reaches her hand to him "there is no life in it." Brother and sister sit down together, and begin an awkward conversation. Gertrude lies and says she did not write because she had no money, and, in answer to Kumalo's query, admits to being in prison but claims she was not guilty. She has been keeping company with another woman, a liquor-seller, purportedly because she needs money to support her child, but at the moment, she does not even know where the child is. Angry, Kumalo berates his sister, and tells her that he has come to take her back home. Gertrude says she wants to go home, and begins to cry; the two pray together, and are reconciled.
Gertrude, like so many who leave the rural villages where they are born, has succumbed to the vices inherent in the city, where thousands of displaced black people live in desperate poverty. The social structure of South Africa in the mid-twentieth century is in sad disarray; depletion of the soil, racism, and oppression have created a destructive atmosphere of hopelessness in which the native population must endure (Chapter 6).