Mark is arrested for being in a white neighborhood after the 10pm curfew. He tells the cops he's a student and, because he carries his schoolbooks with him, they let him go with a warning.
The black cop tells Mark he's eighteen; he should have gotten a pass two years previously.
Although he hates the idea, Mark begins the application process for a pass.
At the pass office, Mark is interviewed by a black man who seems to enjoy his position of power.
The official interrogates Mark about every detail of his life, and then makes Mark wait for half an hour. When he calls Mark back in, he says Mark has serious problems. His parents don't have a permit to live in Alexandra so they can't start the pass process. His parents have to get a permit first.
Mark protests that this office refuses to give them one.
The man says Mark's parents must come with him to the office. Mark protests that his father will lose his job if he misses a day of work, but the man insists. And he needs to bring the necessary papers.
Which ones? Mark asks, since he's already brought notes from principals, birth certificate, his parents' passes, rent receipts, and his baptismal certificate.
The man tells him not to be cheeky. They have to have a letter from his employer.
Mark explains that he's not working, and the man then wonders why Mark needs a pass. Mark wants a pass so that he can't start working.
The official says that Mark has to get a job and then apply for a pass.
When Mark responds that it's illegal to have a job without a pass the man is unsympathetic. Mark leaves.
Mark wonders what he should do while he waits for news from America.
Papa calls Mark a loafer because he isn't working yet. He destroys Mark's books. He had wanted to destroy Mark's tennis rackets but couldn't find them.
Mama is also exhausted and begs Mark to find a job. She has diabetes now and needs Mark's income more than ever.
Mark begins to feel selfish. He tells Andre that he needs a job, and Andre says he could use some help. But then he realizes that his father could get Mark a job at Barclays Bank. In fact, he may find work there so great, he won't even want to go to America.
Mark explains his problem getting a pass and Andre says he shouldn't worry about that.
A few weeks later, Mark has an interview at the Barclays Bank. The personnel officer was impressed with him, especially his abilities in English and Afrikaans.
Finally, Mark has a job. And, with a letter from the bank, he is given the paperwork for a pass.
But at the main post office, where he takes some papers, he has a terrible experience. Not only does he wait for hours in line, but then he has to go through dozens of tables, where each Afrikaner manning the table humiliates him.
Mark is asked intimate questions about his life and his parents' lives. Mark is lucky that he has all the required papers, which annoyed the people manning the tables. Then he has to go have a physical. He has to strip down to the waist then get x-rayed. He overhears the clerks saying that some of the migrant workers had lice and would need to be fumigated.
Mark is x-rayed. Then his private parts are examined for venereal disease (V.D.). V.D. would eliminate him from qualifying for a pass.
By the end of the day, Mark is so mad that he wants to leave for America first chance he gets.
But no scholarship offer comes. So Mark begins working at the bank.
At the end of the month, Mark gets his first paycheck – three times what his parents make with combined incomes. He opens a savings and checking account and buys a new suit. He pays his siblings' school fees and books, and still has half his wages left. The family is able to start eating better.
Mama starts to talk about buying furniture on layaway.
Mark is doing so well that his manager sends him for testing to see about advancing. He's told he has a great career in banking ahead of him and they increase his salary.
Mark's mother says he should thank God for his good luck.
Mama wants to move to a decent house in Tembisa. Mark says he doesn't mind moving them but he will stay in Alexandra. Alexandra is closer to work, and plus he doesn't want to aid apartheid by settling in an area that they've reserved along tribal lines.
He continues playing in tennis tournaments.
One day he meets Lennart Bergelin, a tennis player and poet from Argentina, who looks at Mark's poems and observes that they're good but they're also full of anger.
In May, Mark receives two letters from America. One is from Stan Smith's coach, George Toley. Toley lets Mark know that although he can't offer him a scholarship to USC, he's sent letters around to coaches at other universities and he should be hearing something.
The second letter is from a tennis coach at Princeton, who lets Mark know that he should apply. Although they don't offer scholarships for athletes, they can underwrite his entire education at Princeton if he applies and is accepted because they can offer financial aid.
In the following weeks, Mark receives letters from various colleges, all saying the same thing: apply and we may be able to offer you financial aid or a scholarship. Mark can't apply to all of them – he receives over forty letters – but he does choose a variety and he applies.
Mark starts thinking about getting plane fare and a passport. He knows he'll have trouble getting a passport. The South African government doesn't like giving passports to blacks.
Mark figured one of the reasons it was so reluctant to give passports to blacks was the pressure the America government was applying to South Africa to change its policies.
Mark knows that even if he's offered a scholarship, he might be refused a passport.
After a month, Mark receives a reply from Princeton, saying that if he decides to come there, the University will almost certainly pay for his tuition and room and board for all four years.
One of Mark's sisters lets the news leak that Mark will be leaving for America and he soon receives threats.
The police start stopping Mark in the streets. He tries to continue with life as usual and hopes everything will work out.
Mark started receiving an average of two letters a week from coaches at American universities. Finally, he receives a letter from Limestone college, offering him a full athletic scholarship to play tennis.
Mark keeps the news secret for a couple of weeks, though one of his coworkers tells him he seems happy, like he's discovered gold in his backyard.
Mark's family is happy and Wilfred is thrilled. He tells Mr. Montsisi at the Black Tennis Foundation, who agrees to keep it secret so that the apartheid government doesn't try to prevent him from going at the last minute. He tells Mark that he always knew Mark would do this, because he believed in himself.
Owen Wilson assigns Mr. Montsisi to help Mark get his passport and advises Mark to start reading about American culture so he can be better prepared when he gets there.
So Mark starts going to the American consulate on his lunch break to read their pamphlets. He is moved by the Declaration of Independence and writes it down until he has it memorized.
In June, he receives his packet from Limestone College: his letter of admission, a letter from the Bethel Baptist Church, where he can settle and feel at home, and a letter from Stan Smith, who had heard about the scholarship and offered to help Mark get a visa. Mr. Montsisi went to the Department of the Interior to get a passport.
A white man interrogates Mark about every detail of his life for two hours. Throughout the interview, Mark denies that he hates apartheid, claims that he loves living in South Africa, and asserts that he'll come back to South Africa when he's done studying because he wouldn't want to live any other place.
The man finally says he can't possibly issue a passport until November, even though Mark protests that school starts in September.
They go back and talk to Owen, who calls Stan. Stan makes some other phone calls. The American embassy in Pretoria issues him a visa even before he gets his passport.
Mr. Montsisi and Mark return to the Department of the Interior with the visa and other papers. The same passport official now raises other objections. Did he have the sum he needed as a deposit? What about his plane ticket? Mr. Montsisi tells him both will be taken care of.
Mr. Montsisi speaks with several members of the Black Tennis Foundation board of trustees and one of them, Alf Chalmers, offers the twelve hundred rands Mark needed to get his plane ticket. When he went back to the Department of the Interior, they didn't ask any other questions. He could come pick up his passport in two weeks.
Mark quit his job at the bank after he has his passport. He has just a few short weeks to say goodbye.