Last Reviewed on March 31, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1310
Obinze connects with Emenike, a friend from secondary school, hoping for help getting a job or an NI (National Insurance number). Emenike, though, “in the harsh glare of life abroad, became unreliable.” When Obizne reaches out to his cousin Iloba, he finds Iloba to be willing to help; Iloba connects Obinze with Vincent Obi, a man who offers Obinze his NI number in exchange for thirty-five percent of Obinze’s earnings. Obinze thus takes on Vincent’s identity.
Obinze finally gets a job after his abbreviated stint at toilet cleaning: now, he cleans a detergent-packing warehouse for a Brazilian boss. When he loses that job because of downsizing, he then works for a company that delivers kitchens. His white coworkers call him a “laborer,” but the warehouse chief, Roy Snell, is a kind and jolly man who begins calling Obinze “Vinny Boy.” Over time, Roy begins to hold a “special affection [for Obinze], which was both protective and kind.” Obinze has a kind delivery partner, Nigel, who takes Obinze to see “the London sights” after they complete their deliveries and always evenly splits his tips, unlike the other drivers.
Sitting in a cafe, Obinze reads American and British newspapers, which increasingly focus on immigration. A woman and her son share his table, and when the boy asks if Obinze lives in London, Obinze says that he does but thinks the answer does not capture his life—“like an erased pencil sketch,” invisible. He has been seeing a woman, Tendai, and in his loneliness he texts her. On the tube, he sees the “unfettered non-white foreignness” of his fellow riders and thinks about “the life he had imagined for himself, and the life had now had, lacquered as it was . . . by panic and hope. He had never felt so lonely.”
One morning, Obinze arrives at work and, sensing that something is off, fears that his use of a false identity has been discovered. However, it is merely the real Vincent’s birthday, and Roy’s men celebrate him, an act which “brought tears to his eyes: he felt safe.”
The real Vincent calls Obinze that evening and demands a raise; he now wants forty-five percent of Obinze’s earnings. Obinze ignores the request. A week later, Roy tells Obinze that someone called the warehouse and insinuated that Obinze is “illegal and working with a Brit’s name.” Obinze promises to bring his passport tomorrow, knowing that when he leaves work that evening, it will be for good. He wishes “more than anything that he had told Nigel and Roy his real name.”
In a flash-forward to many years in the future, Obinze offers Nigel a job working as his general manager when Obinze has become successful in Lagos.
The Angolan men who are arranging Obinze’s marriage to Cleotilde continue to extort Obinze for money. Obinze calls Emenike to ask for five hundred pounds. When they meet, Emenike gives Obinze an envelope of one thousand pounds and says, with self-satisfaction and a sense of superiority, “It’s not a loan.” Emenike’s wife, Georgina, joins them at the restaurant. She invites Obinze to come to the dinner party she and Emenike are hosting the next night.
Obinze attends the party at their home in Islington and wonders if Emenike “had so completely absorbed his own disguise” that there is no longer any remnant of who he was back in Nigeria. The dinner conversation reveals that Emenike thinks of himself as purely British and no longer as Nigerian. Additionally, the guests criticize “the garishness of [American] nationalism” and analyze the differences between Britain and America.
Emenike says about racism that “in America blacks and whites work together but don’t play together, and here [in England] blacks and whites play together but...
(The entire section contains 1310 words.)
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