Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 975
An African has been appointed president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and El Hadji Abdou Kader Beyè and his fellow businessmen are celebrating, as they believe they will acquire greater economic control in Senegal now that the last vestige of foreign rule has been removed. Seated at the right of the newly appointed president, El Hadji rises amid the jubilation inspired by this propitious moment and reminds his colleagues that while they have been celebrating, his third marriage has been “sealed” at the mosque. He has become a captain according to traditional standards of nobility. Together, they all leave the chamber to accompany El Hadji to the home of N’Gone, his third wife, where the wedding festivities are in progress.
Yay Bineta, N’Gone’s aunt, officiates proudly over the bustling crowd of guests who have already gathered for her niece’s postnuptial celebration. She watches as the women examine enviously the numerous wedding gifts El Hadji has presented to his new young wife as tokens of love. El Hadji has not disappointed her expectations. Adja Awa Astou and Oumi N’Doye sadly observe this grand reception held in honor of their new “co-wife.” Adja, El Hadji’s first wife, departs after she has made a sufficient show of acceptance of his third marriage. Back at her villa, she reflects on her own unhappiness provoked by renewed feelings of abandonment. Her daughter, Rama, who is vehemently opposed to the marriage and to polygamy in general, tries in vain to console her mother.
At N’Gone’s villa, El Hadji’s arrival with his entourage of businessmen causes a stir of excitement among the guests. In the middle of the peals of laughter, loud music, and dancing, the lights go out, and the newly wedded couple slip away to their bedroom, where El Hadji prepares himself to deflower his bride.
The next morning, Yay Bineta returns to N’Gone’s villa in the company of an old woman. She enters the couple’s room and finds El Hadji seated on the edge of the bed, while N’Gone sits gazing blankly at nothing. El Hadji reveals that nothing happened during the night. Struck with dismay at the announcement of this unwanted turn of events in her social victory, Yay Bineta blames El Hadji, who had refused, beforehand, to take traditional precautions to ensure his sexual potency with his new wife. Yay Bineta insists that El Hadji go see a marabout—a healer—to help rid himself of xala, the spell of impotence.
El Hadji cannot believe that he has been afflicted with xala. He thinks about his other wives, Adja and Oumi, and wonders if one of them could be the author of his malady. Desirous to become potent again, El Hadji confides in the president of the chamber and, later, in his father-in-law, Baboucar. On their advice, El Hadji seeks out a number of reputed marabouts, all of whom provide him with ineffective cures and useless clues for discovering the author of his xala.
While in pursuit of a cure, El Hadji increasingly neglects his business affairs, especially avoiding contact with the other businessmen. Burdened with the expense of three villas and the financial demands of his wives and children, he continues to spend extravagantly, paying no attention to the declining state of his finances. He suffers immensely, convinced that his colleagues talk secretly about his xala. Previously overcome by his desire to possess the young N’Gone, El Hadji now sees her as a bitter reminder of his own seduction into the third marriage and his present miserable condition. His driver, Modu, also knows about El Hadji’s xala. Moved by his employer’s profound look of sadness, the chauffeur finally tells him about Sereen Mada, a renowned marabout.
Sereen Mada lives in a small village outside the bustling capital of Dakar. Accustomed to the amenities of life in the capital, El Hadji resigns himself to making the difficult journey. Sereen Mada does not disappoint his guest. As the holy man murmurs prayerful incantations over his body, El Hadji feels the return of those pleasurable sensations that had lately deserted him. He pays the marabout by check, and, happy that he is no longer impotent, returns to Dakar.
With his virility restored, El Hadji feels he can now consummate his new marriage. He arrives at N’Gone’s villa and is greeted by Yay Bineta, who announces that N’Gone is having her menstrual period and is, therefore, unavailable. Filled with a sense of defeat, El Hadji dismisses the idea of wasting his passion on Adja, who fulfills her conjugal duty with indifference. To her supreme delight, Oumi enjoys a passionate night with El Hadji.
El Hadji returns to work and discovers that his financial affairs are in great jeopardy. Distraught over the disintegration of his life, El Hadji fails to recognize Sereen Mada when he comes to return the worthless check El Hadji had given him. Angered by this display of disrespect, Sereen Mada quickly restores the xala.
El Hadji suffers the loss of his business, expulsion from the chamber, and the breakup of his marriages to N’Gone and Oumi. In the depths of his despair, he seeks refuge with Adja. Days later, a beggar, followed by a throng of blind persons and others afflicted with all sorts of disabilities and maladies, approaches Adja’s villa. In the presence of everyone, the beggar recounts how El Hadji used fraudulent means to take the land that had belonged to the beggar’s clan. The beggar, the real author of El Hadji’s xala, declares that he can restore his potency. At the mercy of the beggar, El Hadji submits to the scourge of humiliation inflicted on him by the beggar’s followers, who take turns spitting on his naked body.