Mr. Wright is supervising the building of a road linking Okperi with its enemy village, Umuaro. But they've run out of money.
Mr. Wright wonders if he could reduce his men's pay, but realizes that will hardly entice more laborers. So he consults Captain Winterbottom and asks permission to use unpaid labor. Winterbottom gives permission, with regrets.
The leaders of Umuaro decide that they'll offer the labor of the two age groups who had most recently become men – two groups that didn't get along very well.
When the older of the groups came of age, they had taken the name Devourer Like Leopard (Otakagu). This older group nicknamed the younger group Omumawa – which means that their clothes cover very small penises.
The joke was so funny to people that Omumawa was unable to take their own name, and they resented the older group for it. They tried to stay away from the other group, so when Mr. Wright asked for two days a week of work, they arranged for one age group to go one day and the other age group to go another day.
Though the paid laborers are disciplined and hard working, Mr. Wright frequently has to supervise this group of forced laborers. Moses Unachukwu, who speaks English, becomes very useful to Mr. Wright in organizing them, and his reputation grows throughout Umuaro.
On the day after the Festival of the Pumpkin Leaves, Ezeulu's son Obika and his friend Ofoedu are late arriving to work.
The story flashes back to the day before, when Obika and Ofoedu were drinking with three other men at the festival and bragging about their ability to hold their palm wine.
One man, Maduka, claims that it depends on the tree and the man who taps it, since some trees produce a palm wine that is stronger than other trees, and some men are more skillful than others.
Ofoedu claims that it depends on the man who drinks it and he can drink from any tree no matter who tapped it.
Maduka asks if they have heard of the palm tree in his village called Okposalebo. They have not. He says it is called Disperser of a Kindred because nobody can drink three hornfuls of its wine, and successfully find their way home. Two hornfuls can cause two brothers to fight.
Obika scoffs at the story, so Maduka issues a challenge and the men go to Nwakafo's compound to get some of this wine. It's expensive, he says, but he'll pay for it. If they're able to find their way home, that's fine. If not, they owe him the ego-neli when they see him.
Maduka wins the challenge. The two men fall asleep outside near his house and Maduka checks on them twice in the night. But in the morning, they're gone.
The flashback ends.
Obika is badly drunk and in the morning, they have trouble waking him. The commotion wakes Ezeulu who is disgusted to learn that Obika has behaved like this. His new wife is supposed to arrive soon, but what kind of husband is she getting?
He just knows that Ofoedu is behind this.
The two men set off for work with bad hangovers. Ofoedu claims that the palm wine must have had something else in it, and says he will not pay the ego-neli. Obika agrees.
The laborers are singing, but they stop singing as the two late-comers approach. Mr. Wright is furious. Moses Unachukwu is talking to him, apparently trying to calm him down, but he pays no attention. Everyone wonders if today is the day he will finally use the whip he carries.
Obika swaggers past the men, knowing he has their attention, and Mr. Wright lashes out with his whip. He drops his machete and charges but Moses Unachukwu steps between them.
Moses translates for Mr. Wright, who tells them he won't tolerate any more laziness, and there must be no more late-comers again. Nweke Ukpaka tries to ask a question but Mr. Wright refuses to listen.
So the men hold a meeting but can't decide to do anything, primarily because of Moses Unachukwu. Some people don't want him in the meeting, and others say he's the only man who understands whites so they must have him present. Ofoedu agrees that he should be there, but he wants him to answer a question: He wants to know what Unachukwu said about Obika's family to Mr. Wright and whether he encouraged the white man to whip Obika.
The discussion is drowned by shouting, with Moses Unachukwu furiously shouting insults at Ofoedu.
Then the discussion turns to whether they should just quite working for the white man, and Moses says that is a foolish thing to do. If they do that, the white men will imprison all their leaders.
Nweke speaks and says that though they did nothing to the white man, he has come and he is here to stay. He means trouble for them, and if they resist now, with the road, it will be worse for them. ,
But everyone wants to know why they aren't we paid for working on the road. The white man pays other Africans to do this work, so why not them?
Moses Unachukwu agrees to ask why they aren't paid.
Meanwhile, Ezeulu wakes up and learns from Edogo's wife, Amoge, that Obika has been whipped by the white man.
Ezeulu is distressed, wondering what Obika did to deserve the punishment, so Edogo agrees to go find out more.
After Edogo goes, Ezeulu thinks about what has happened. He decides that if Obika is at fault, he will do nothing But if Obika is not at fault, he will go to Okperi and will report Mr. Wright to his superior, Wintabota.
When Edogo returns with Obika, he explains that he was whipped for being late to work. Ezeulu criticizes Obika for his drinking and Obika and Ofoedu walk away.