The Water Dancer Part 3, Chapters 28–30
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Part 3, Chapters 28–30

Chapter 28

Hiram still hopes that Lockless has escaped destruction; the apple orchards look well maintained on the approach, but the road is overgrown. Howell is waiting and embraces Hiram. Howell looks much older and weaker, but also filled with joy at the sight of Hiram. Hiram helps him upstairs and into his evening clothes and says that Hiram should take Maynard’s old quarters and wear Maynard’s clothes. He says it was a great mistake to let Hiram go.

After supper, Hiram slips back down to the Warrens via a secret staircase, finding it mostly empty. But Thena is there, humming to herself. He apologizes to her for speaking poorly to her and says that she is his family. Thena squeezes his hand, and he feels relief.

He takes the things from his old room up to Maynard’s room and then takes his father to bed. The next day, he goes to Starfall to collect Corrine, Amy, and Hawkins. Again he goes to the Warrens that evening to meet Thena, and every day for a week does the same. Thena says that Sophia is largely down on the Street now, because Nathaniel is often away.

Hiram goes down to the cabin where Thena has said Sophia is living. He sees Sophia emerge with a child on her hip. She is not pleased to see him but calls him inside. The child is called Caroline and is not Hiram’s. Sophia says she has been terrified for Hiram.

Hiram recognizes that the child has Walker eyes, the same green-gray as his own.

Sophia says someone has been killing the Tasked, to the extent that she has stopped counting those lost.

Hiram tells Thena about his encounter with Sophia and says that he feels she had reasons to run before which had nothing to do with him. He calculates that she had been pregnant already at that juncture. He feels he was “straight down the line” with her, but she was not so with him.

Chapter 29

Things in Lockless have changed. Nathaniel Walker is still there, but he has few Tasked people left. Corrine spends a lot of time with Howell, who seems to see her as a daughter and comforts him. Each evening, Howell asks Hiram to sit and drink with him.

One night, he says that his own father never loved him and that his treatment of Maynard was therefore too liberal. He loved Maynard for his mother’s sake but feels he left Maynard ill-equipped for the world. He feels as if Hiram has the capacity to manage land in a way that Maynard did not. Just before he goes to bed, Howell says he has “plans” for Hiram and then asks Hiram to tell him a story. Hiram obeys.

The next day, Hawkins drives Corrine over from Starfall. Hawkins and Hiram walk down to the Street together and discuss how dead the place looks. Hiram tells Hawkins that he has seen his father’s papers and he is in debt, so Corrine would have acquired no wealth by marrying Maynard. Nathaniel has lent his brother money which has not been returned.

Thena brokers a deal with the indebted Howell to take in laundry for hire, splitting the payments with him and therefore earning her own freedom. Thena and Hiram go together to meet Sophia, because Hiram has promised to drive Thena to her assignations. Thena says that Sophia has also been doing laundry for money.

They reach the Grayson place. Caroline is asleep; Hiram offers to help her with the laundry, as she cannot manage both it and the baby. Afterward, Sophia tells Hiram he was “supposed to be better,” implying that he is behaving like a white man. But later, Thena says that Hiram is “punishing” Sophia.

Hiram returns to Sophia and apologizes to her. He says he is trying to be better. Sophia kisses his hand and says that in order to be his, she “must never be” his. She means that Hiram has previously viewed her as a symbol or a dream, not as a woman.

(The entire section is 1,043 words.)