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As he listens to the judge ask why a young man of such promise and education would do what he has done, Obi starts to cry.
The novel flashes back to the party held in Obi's village before he left for England. His friends and family urge him to study well, and not to marry a white woman.
Obi is homesick for Nigeria in England.
When he returns, he is shocked by the level of poverty he sees in Lagos.
Obi and Clara fight over going to see a film, and Obi convinces her to visit his friend Christopher.
He and Christopher discuss the problem of corruption, and Obi expounds on his viewpoint that education provides a young man with all the skills he needs to rise to the top of his profession without relying on bribery. He believes all the men at the top, who got there because they used bribery, should be replaced with young men fresh out of college.
The narrator flashes back to the moment when Obi and Clara meet. They first met at a dance in England, but Obi is such a poor dancer that he fails to impress Clara.
Then he meets her again when they both move back to Nigeria and take the same boat home.
Obi gets seasick and Clara brings him some medicine. She seems like a ministering angel.
When the boat docks in the Madeiras, Obi and Clara disembark and spend the day together, with another passenger. When they return to the boat, Obi kisses Clara passionately and declares his love for her.
When the boat docks, one of the officials tries to get Obi to bribe him. If Obi pays him for his radiogram, it will be only two pounds instead of five pounds tax. Obi refuses.
Obi goes to a reception at the Umuofia Progressive Union. The reception is a huge party to welcome him home. He makes several mistakes: he wears short sleeves because it's so hot, when everybody else is dressed in a suit; and he gives a plain speech instead of a flowery, eloquent one.
Joseph and Obi go to dinner and Obi says he'd prefer to stay with Joseph than in the hotel that the union is paying for.
The two men reminisce about their school-days. Joseph reminds Obi that they used to call him "Dictionary," a portent sign suggesting his glorious future as one of the educated elite.
Joseph also reminds Obi of the letter he (Obi) wrote to Hitler, and Obi admits he felt sorry for Hitler because so many people hated him.
On the way out of the restaurant, Obi sees Clara with the Honorable Sam Okoli, an important politician.
Soon after his return to Nigeria, Obi encounters examples of the corruption that he opposes.
The first one happens during a job interview, when one of the interviewers asks him if he just wants the job so he can accept bribes. Obi gets angry and says that if that is why he wanted the job, it wouldn't be very prudent to say so.
Obi and Joseph discuss marriage. Joseph says he's getting married and tells Obi that the bride-price was high, and he's uneducated with a low-paying job.
Obi is surprised, thinking the bride-price law should have taken care of that.
Joseph says the new law has only pushed the price higher.
Obi jokes that it's too bad that his family won't profit from his older sisters' bride-price, since they're already married.
Joseph says it's no joking matter, just wait until Obi sees how much he'll have to pay.
Obi says he has no intention of paying bride-price, and Joseph says he must intend on becoming a priest then.
Obi's second encounter with corruption occurs when he goes home to visit his family.
When police stop the mammy wagon he's on, the driver gets angry because Obi prevents the police from just accepting a bribe rather than issuing a ticket. He says he'll never take an educated African on his wagon again.
Obi obsesses over the fact that Clara didn't want him to tell his family about her yet. He wonders if that means she hasn't made up her mind to marry him.
Umuofia welcomes Obi home with music and palm wine and kola nut. Hundreds of people come out for the party.
The men tell Obi they are glad he came home "safe," meaning they are glad he didn't marry a white woman. (White women come between their African husbands and their families.) They are glad Obi didn't forget that he is a black man. Obi is proud of their approval.
One of the men claims that Obi is the reincarnation of his grandfather, Ogbuefi Okonkwo, that they have the same spirit, the spirit that conquers the white man.
Later that night, Obi and his father talk, and Isaac asks Obi if he had time to read the Bible in England. Obi says he did, but it was in English. He's embarrassed.
At family prayers, Obi remembers how difficult it was for him when he was a student because his family did not observe Igbo cultural traditions.
He was embarrassed one day in school when the teacher asked him to relate a folk tale, and he didn't know any. His mother told him the tale of a wicked leopardess who tries to eat her friend's baby lambs, but the sheep tricks the leopardess by hiding her babies inside some palm-kernels.
Obi begins his job and discovers that his boss, Mr. Green, can be very unreasonable.
He watches as Mr. Green tells Mr. Omo, the man that Obi is shadowing his first few days on the job, that he is paid to be obedient, not to think.
Mr. Omo gives Obi a letter so he can purchase a car. Then he advances him money so he can buy proper clothes, as befits his new social position.
Obi and Clara go to visit Clara's friend the Honorable Sam Okoli in his new car.
Okoli shows Obi all his luxuries, including his radiogram with a recording machine in it. He suggests that if Obi gets tired of his job on the Scholarship Board, he might have a job for him in his Ministry.
Obi and Clara go for a drive. Clara is clearly worried about something but doesn't want to talk about it. Obi insists.
He reflects about how he really loves her, and he's never really loved a girl before; he always thought love was absurd.
Finally, Clara says she cannot marry him. Obi is upset and he doesn't understand, until Clara explains: she's osu.
Obi says she's being silly.
That night, Obi tells Joseph the story. Joseph says he'd been wondering why such a beautiful girl was still unmarried. He says it's just as well Obi found out before it was too late, but Obi insists that he's going to marry her anyway.
The next day, Obi uses his clothing allowance to buy Clara an engagement ring.
At Clara's insistence, he also buys her a Bible, which is apparently part of the engagement custom. Then they spend the afternoon shopping.
When he gets home, Obi tells Joseph that he's engaged to Clara now.
Obi tries to ignore Joseph's warning, that everybody is going to be against it, and that it isn't a decision that affects just Obi and Clara, but it also will affect their children and Obi's family.
Obi insists he's a pioneer, and Joseph says that the time for being a pioneer in marriage has not yet arrived.
That night, Obi reflects on what Joseph said in privacy. He knows his family won't agree to it, but he thinks to himself, hopefully, that if he can just convince his mother, everything will be OK.
Obi skips the November meeting of the Umuofia Progressive Meeting, but goes in December, arriving in his flashy new car, showing off to all the men how important he is.
But then things sour when Obi asks for a four-month reprieve on repaying his Scholarship so he can get back on his feet.
The President says they might be able to give him a reprieve, but they wonder if they're doing him any favors, since what he makes in one month is greater than what most of them make in an entire year.
Further, he suggests that Obi's request may be due to the fact that he is going around with an undesirable girl.
Obi is furious at this reference to his relationship with Clara, and he refuses the grace period they then offer on repayment.
He has a temper tantrum, shouting that he'll start paying immediately, that second, and nothing they can do can stop him.
Then he speeds off in his car, ignoring Joseph who tries to get him to stop.
Mr. Mark comes to visit Obi in his office, asking him if he would do what he can to make sure his sister Elsie gets to appear before the Scholarship Board, suggesting that there's something in it for Obi if he does. Obi throws him out of his office with great pleasure.
That afternoon, Elsie Mark visits Obi in his home, and offers to sleep with him if he'll make sure she appears before the board. He says no to her, too.
Mr. Green had told him that he would have to pay car insurance once a year, but Obi had forgotten. Now the time has arrived, and Obi is not prepared, financially. He takes a bank draft out to pay the bill.
Clara gets mad at Obi for thinking he couldn't ask her for help when he discovered his car insurance bill. She sends him fifty pounds the next day and tells him to cancel the bank draft.
But Obi doesn't cancel it right away, thinking he can convince her to take the money back. She says she'll take it back but then he discovers that he'd rather owe her than the bank so he keeps the money.
Clara and Obi go dancing that night. While they're in the nightclub, somebody enters their unlocked car and steals her fifty pounds.
Obi receives a letter from his parents, saying that his mother is in the hospital and asking him to come home to discuss something important. Obi realizes that somebody has now told them about Clara.
Mr. Green tells Obi that it's outrageous how educated Nigerians expect so many privileges from their jobs, such as this one young man who wants not only his own expenses paid but his girlfriend's as well.
To get his mind off his father's letter, Obi visits Christopher.
They discuss Elsie Mark's offer to sleep with him, and Obi is shocked that Christopher doesn't see anything wrong with accepting such a bribe.
But no matter how much they argue, Obi can't get his mind off his father's letter.
Before Obi leaves to go home, Clara breaks up with him. She says she doesn't want to come between Obi and his family.
But Obi again tells her she's ridiculous and says the real reason she doesn't want to marry him is because he is bad with money.
When he arrives home, Obi discovers that his mother is very ill, and he is sick with worry.
Isaac discusses the news he has heard about Obi and Clara.
When Obi tells him who Clara is, he laughs, and tells Obi that he can't marry Clara.
Obi tries to argue that there are good reasons, rooted in Christianity, to break this taboo but is unable to convince his father.
Obi's mother Hannah tells him that she will commit suicide if he marries Clara before she dies.
Obi tells his father that he's going back to Lagos early.
Isaac reminds Obi that he left his family to become a Christian, so he knows what it means to lose family, and what it means to be a Christian. It is a subtle chastisement for Obi's arguments the night before that Isaac should accept his marriage to Clara because he is a Christian.
Obi survives a bad car accident on the way home, walking away without a bruise.
He goes to Clara's and tells her that they just need to lay low. But he doesn't protest when Clara gives him her ring back.
Obi visits Christopher to tell him the engagement is over.
He asks for help because he believes Clara is pregnant, and wonders if Christopher knows of any doctors who can help him out. He asks Christopher to be discreet when he makes calls to get information.
The first abortion doctor refuses to do it, then asks Obi why he doesn't marry Clara.
The second doctor agrees to do it but he, too, asks Obi why he doesn't want to get married.
Obi borrows the money for the abortion from the Hon. Sam Okoli.
When Obi leaves Clara with the doctor, he has a split second premonition that he'll never see her again.
Obi watches as they drive away and wonders if he should call out, "Stop! Let's get married!" But he doesn't do it.
Only after they have driven away does he go looking, in panic, thinking he can still stop this thing.
He returns that evening, but the doctor says he's keeping her overnight just in case something goes wrong.
Obi asks if he can see her in the morning and the doctor says maybe, if she's willing.
In the morning, however, he discovers that she developed complications and she's in a hospital.
Mr. Green tells Obi that Nigerians these days have too many privileges.
]Marie Tomlinson agrees and Obi responds that they're hypocrites, since Europeans were the ones who devised the privileges in the first place, and now they complain just because a few Africans have those privileges now.
Obi discovers that the money he was given for his trip home was not to be spent in any way he liked. He must submit an expenditure form, accounting for each pound, and give back the remaining balance. Since he's already spent the money, this is going to be a problem, but he tries not to worry about that just yet.
He examines the reasons why he's gotten into this mess, and decides that the reason is that he has to pay 20 pounds to the Umuofia Progressive Union every month.
Then a messenger comes and returns the letter he had sent to Clara. Unopened.
Obi had spent forever trying to write the short note that said he couldn't believe it was over.
He goes to the hospital again early in the morning. But again, he doesn't see Clara.
Obi still intends to pay Clara back her 50 pounds, but that doesn't happen. Why? Because he suddenly discovers he owes Income Tax. Marie gives him lots of good advice, a little too late: Next year, she says, have the bank take a little out each month to pay it.
Then, if that's not bad enough, Obi's mom dies.
Obi sends as much money as possible, but he doesn't go home for the funeral. He wonders what would be the point? She'd already be buried by the time he got there.
But then he grieves. He goes to bed and he sleeps like he hasn't slept in months.
Joseph brings beer, saying he'll need it.
And sure enough, members of the Umuofia Progressive Union show up to be with Obi in his hour of need.
Of course, most of the visitors are sympathetic, but at an unfortunate moment when everybody falls silent, Obi overhears one of the members telling a tale about Tortoise, who went far from home, so far that his family knew he wouldn't even return for his mother's funeral unless they told him something new and amazing had happened.
Everybody is embarrassed when they hear the story, loosely allegorical and critical of Obi.
Obi sleeps again all night, wondering what's wrong with himself, why he feels so much peace. He eats a ton of food when he wakes up, and criticizes himself for having an appetite.
Then Obi remembers a story about his mother. The local priest of Udo, one of the gods of Aninta, used to let his goat wander into the Okonkwo yard, despite Isaac's requests that he keep the goat tied up. Finally, Obi's mother, Hannah, was so angry and frustrated that she just hacked the goat's head off. But nobody did anything about it because their spirits had been broken by an incident that had occurred fifteen years ago, when European soldiers had punished the men of Aninta by destroying their guns.
Soon Obi is accepting bribes. The first time, the man just leaves the money on his coffee table. Obi puts a newspaper over it, to hide it, murmuring how terrible this is. But soon, he's complicit with it until the day he is caught.
No Longer At Ease ends just as it began: everybody wonders why Obi chose the route of corruption.