Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 679
Kumalo and his wife wait anxiously to find out if the government will show mercy and overturn the judge’s order of execution. Eventually a letter arrives from the lawyer in Johannesburg, and it says the sentence has not been overturned. Absalom will be hanged to death on the fifteenth of the month.
After reading the note, Kumalo sits grieving for two hours. Eventually his wife tells him to let her read the letter too. She grieves also, but she recovers more quickly. She tells Kumalo that he may not brood. People need him, so he has to go on with life.
Letters also arrive from Absalom and Msimangu. Absalom asks if his child is born yet, and he says repeatedly that he wishes he could go back to the way things were before he left home. Msimangu gives news about Johannesburg, and Kumalo is surprised to find himself missing the city a little.
That afternoon, Jarvis, the magistrate, and the chief all appear at the edge of the village. These great men greet each other, and it is obvious that they have arranged to meet for a particular purpose. However, they do not tell anyone what the purpose is. The white men set up a camera and pound a bunch of sticks into the ground. The chief tries to help, but he clearly does not understand what needs to be done. He does it wrong, and he seems embarrassed when the white men try to correct him. Eventually he gives up and just looks on sullenly as the others pound the sticks into the ground.
Kumalo watches all this from his front door. He is curious about what is happening, but he knows it is not his place to ask. He overhears Jarvis asking the magistrate when they can take the next step. When the magistrate seems noncommittal, Jarvis says that he will go to Pretoria, the seat of the government, to set things in motion. The magistrate agrees that this would probably work. A few minutes later, Kumalo hears the magistrate muttering that Jarvis is driving himself into poverty.
While all this is happening, clouds gather in the sky. Anyone can see that a huge storm is coming, so the chief and the magistrate rush away to make sure they do not get caught out in the rain. Meanwhile, Jarvis stays behind to finish something. When the storm arrives, he takes shelter in Kumalo’s church. Kumalo joins him there.
The rain comes down hard, and almost immediately Jarvis gets hit by water from a leak in the roof. As Jarvis moves out of the stream, Kumalo says apologetically that there are holes in the roof. The storm grows, and more water comes in. Both men have trouble finding a dry place to sit. Kumalo, who is too embarrassed to think of anything more interesting to say, comments that the roof has many holes.
After that, the men sit in silence until the storm passes. When the rain abates, Jarvis asks about Absalom’s death sentence: “Is there mercy?” Kumalo cannot bear to answer this question out loud, but he is carrying the letter from the lawyer in his pocket. He shows it to Jarvis, who reads it silently. Then, after a long pause, Jarvis says he understands what it is like. He wishes Kumalo well and leaves.
After the storm is over, the villagers come out of their homes to look at the strange sticks the white men pounded into the ground. Nobody, not even the men who work at Jarvis’s farm, has any idea what they are for. The villagers have been ordered not to move the sticks or even to touch them, so the children start a game of pretending to touch them. They keep daring each other to get closer until, eventually, one boy goes too far and actually pulls a stick out. His mother drags him away by the arm, and the men carefully put the stick back. They do their best to make it look like it was never touched.
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