Florence, the housekeeper, returns with her two little girls and her son Bheki. She says that her sister can't look after him anymore because things are really bad over in Gugulethu.
Florence cleans the house and bathes her daughters.
We find out that the schools in Gugulethu have been closed down, but we don't find out why. All we know is that the kids in Gugulethu have nothing to do and so are now running around the streets getting into trouble.
Florence asks who the homeless guy in the yard is. The narrator tells her that his name is Mr. Vercueil, although we have no idea whether that's his last name or first name. It's just his name. He's kind of like Madonna in that way.
Florence doesn't seem to approve of Vercueil's presence.
Vercueil takes apart the lawn mower. Florence's daughters, Hope and Beauty, play around him. Beauty keeps approaching him; he tries to keep her away. They end up holding hands and twirling. Who'd have thought that Vercueil would be a good babysitter?
We find out a little bit more about what's going on at the schools via a conversation that the narrator has with Florence. Apparently the kids are ruling the schools and nobody can tell them what to do because there are "no more mothers and fathers."
In the narrator's worlds, the country smolders – now how's that for an image of destruction?
The narrator lies awake and thinks of Florence and her children breathing, sleeping, and just plain living. She thinks about how Florence seemingly has everything while she (the narrator) has lost everything – her daughter, her health, her life… wow.
We find out the narrator's initials are E.C.
E.C. remembers driving Florence to visit her husband William at work last year and watching him kill chickens.
We find out that Vercueil is a steady drinker. He pretty much drinks all day and is usually drunk by noon. We could go all "After-School Special" on you right now, but we won't.
Bheki's friend, who doesn't seem to have a name for the time being, is now spending time at the house, too.
Vercueil asks Bheki's friend for some water as he lies on the ground. Bheki's friend takes a bottle of brandy out of Vercueil's pocket and pours it on the ground. He tells Vercueil that "they" are making him into a dog. Vercueil tells him to go to hell.
E.C. thinks that this kid is kind of self-important.
Bheki's friend and Vercueil start hitting each other – great. E.C. gets upset and tells Florence that she can't have this kind of thing going on in her home. She asks Florence who this kid is, and Florence merely says that he's a friend from school.
E.C. tells Florence that the boy has no right to hit Vercueil in his own home. Florence is like, "are you serious?" She says that Vercueil is rubbish. E.C. tells her that there's no such thing as a rubbish person.
E.C. tells Florence that Vercueil is her "messenger" (2.86). Florence looks at her like she's totally lost it.
Vercueil goes missing for a little while, probably (at least in E.C.'s mind) to "lick his wounds" (2.90). E.C. tells Florence that it's wrong to let Bheki and his friend get away with their poor behavior towards adults – she's just teaching them that they can treat their elders however they want.
Florence comes back at E.C. and tells her that the children aren't cruel because their parents have raised them that way – they're cruel because white people have made them to be cruel.
E.C. thinks about how hard-hearted the world has become and how lucky her daughter is to have gotten out of South Africa when she did.
E.C. wakes up one day to hear Florence arguing with someone. E.C. asks her who it is, but Florence says it's nobody.
We find out that Bheki and his friend have been sleeping in the garage, which happens to be locked. E.C. tells Florence that they should have asked her first.
E.C. notices that some policemen have been hanging out in a car across the street from her house. They pull up to her. She tells them that the boys have her permission to be in the house.
E.C. tells Florence to make Bheki's friend leave because he's going to get Bheki in trouble with the police. Florence says she can't send him back to Gugulethu because there's shooting there all the time.
E.C. takes a bath and thinks about her dead mother.
One morning, E.C. wakes up and looks out the window in the pouring rain. She sees someone run by the window. E.C. goes outside and collides with someone. Looks like Vercueil is back!
She invites Vercueil to come in out of the rain, and he follows her in. Another woman follows him. E.C. is like, hang on, who the heck is this?
She tells them they can stay inside until the rain stops but then they have to leave. E.C. really wants the woman out of her house.
Vercueil goes to sleep on the couch. The sounds he makes in his sleep remind E.C. of her daughter.
E.C. confronts Bheki about how he and his friend have been sleeping in her car. He doesn't respond to her.
E.C. starts to freak out about how everyone is taking over her house and she's not even dead yet. She enlists Florence to get Vercueil's lady friend out of her house.
Meanwhile, Bheki and his friend go for a ride on one bicycle – Bheki sits on the bars while his friend pedals. E.C. realizes after a moment that they're being chased by the same police who were there the day before.
As they pedal, the police van comes alongside them just as they start to pass another car. The door of the car swings open and hits the kids on the bike. They crash.
E.C. and some bystanders run to help the boys. E.C. tells Bheki that the ambulance is coming. She tells everyone else that the police did this to the boys on purpose.
Bheki's friend is really badly hurt. Blood gushes from his forehead. The plumber whose door hit the boys tries to stop the blood. E.C. remembers taking her daughter to get stitches in her finger once upon a time.
E.C. takes over for the plumber and tries to pinch Bheki's friend's wound shut.
E.C. thinks about blood. Then she thinks about how her cancer is a kind of pregnancy.
The ambulance comes.
E.C. chews out Florence for running away from the scene of the accident. Florence says she didn't want to deal with the police.
E.C. tells Bheki that she's going to file a complaint because it's obvious that the police are the ones to blame for what happened. Florence says she doesn't want to get involved with the police.
Later, Florence gets a call from Bheki's friend's grandmother. She says that the boy is not at the hospital.
E.C. calls the hospital. They, too, say there's no record of the boy.
Bheki says that the police are terrorists.
Florence, Bheki, Vercueil, and E.C. drive to Woodstock Hospital. He's not there. The person at the desk tells them to go to Groote Schuur.
They go to Groote Schuur. E.C. tells Florence and Bheki to go ahead – she's in pain and can't go any further.
E.C. goes back to sit with Vercueil in the car. She's horrified to think of how she's gotten used to his B.O. and thinks they're like a couple that has been married too long.
She thinks about how she's gotten used to the evils in South Africa, too.
E.C. sees a group of nurses and thinks about how great it would feel to just give herself up to their care at this point.
E.C. reveals to Vercueil that she hasn't yet told her daughter that she's dying. As far as her daughter knows, she was sick but she's on the mend.
Vercueil tells E.C. that she should tell her daughter everything and ask her to come. He says that her daughter will never forgive her if she finds the truth out too late.
They talk about her daughter and why she chose to leave South Africa. E.C. cannot believe how awesome it feels to have someone like Vercueil to talk to.
Florence comes back. She says they've found Bheki's friend in the hospital. Then she starts her rant about it: he's been put in a room with all of the old people who are waiting to die.
E.C. and Vercueil go to the hospital and find Bheki's friend. E.C. gives him some fruit. He acts like he doesn't notice her.
E.C. touches the boy's hand. He recoils from her. She tells him to be slow to judge.
She tells Vercueil and the boy that she used to be a professor at the University.
She talks about Thucydides and his thoughts on what happens in times of war.
E.C. and Vercueil go home. He tells her she doesn't look well. She says she's sick and tired of dealing with the thing growing inside her. They watch TV.
E.C. makes some tea. When she goes back to watch TV with Vercueil, she notices that he's looking at one of her books. They look through it together.
Vercueil reveals that he worked at sea before he came to live with her.
E.C. tells him he can sleep on the sofa if he wants to. Vercueil seems to hesitate. E.C. thinks about how it might be nice if he moved into her house.
E.C. tries to press charges against the two policemen but she can't because only people directly affected by an action can do so.
E.C. tells Vercueil about how upset she is. He asks her for some money.