Summary and Analysis
A spirit watches from the trees as Orleanna, Rachel, Leah, and Adah walk through a market. The spirit is that of Ruth May but also that of Africa. On the day they are in the market, Mobutu, who has run away and is in hiding, dies. It is a turning point in the Congo's history. In the market, they stop in front of a woman who is selling wooden carvings of animals. The woman is from Bulungu, but she says she does not remember a nearby village called Kilanga. She is certain there was no such place.
Orleanna buys her great-grandchildren figures of elephants, and the woman gives her a figure of an okapi as a gift. Ruth May's spirit remembers Orleanna and the four girls walking through the forest, noting how on that day Ruth May killed a spider and their presence caused an okapi to settle further in the woods. Had they not passed that way, the spider would have lived and the okapi would have been killed by a hunter. The spirit comments, "Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history."
As Orleanna and her daughters walk on, Orleanna spots a boy who is the same size as Ruth May was when she died. Orleanna begins to mentally calculate how old Ruth May would be now, but she is distracted and calmed by the feel of the okapi figure in her pocket. The spirit says, "Mother, you can still hold on but forgive, forgive and give for long as long as we both shall live I forgive you, Mother . . . The teeth at your bones are your own, the hunger is yours, forgiveness is yours." With that absolution, the spirit tells Orleanna to "Move on. Walk forward into the light."
This section gives the novel a circular feel and a sense of closure. It is fitting that Orleanna return to Africa with her three daughters to say goodbye to Ruth May, for it is in Africa that Orleanna will find peace after spending so many years grieving for her lost child. To give closure both to Orleanna and to readers of the novel, the spirit revisits the moment described at the beginning of the novel — that of Orleanna's leading her daughters through the forest on a picnic. That initial image in the book led to a long series of events upon which the characters oftentimes felt that they had no control or made no impact. The spirit's interpretation of the forest picnic contradicts those feelings of helplessness. What the spirit seems to be saying is that sometimes it's the small moments that lead to change — the killing of a spider, the startling of an okapi. By revisiting the memory of the forest picnic, the spirit offers a new, larger perspective on an old event. This leads one to reevaluate the other moments in the story and wonder in what unseen ways did these characters touch history.
The death of Mobutu and the reconnection of Orleanna to Ruth May's spirit also suggests that a healing process has begun for both the Congo and the Price family. Ruth May's spirit instructs Orleanna to forgive herself. Because Ruth May's spirit is also the spirit of Africa, its directive to forgive pertains not only to Orleanna, but to all people who had no control over the damage and suffering that their leaders and forefathers inflicted on innocent lives. According to the spirit, if people forgive and remember, they can move on and begin to live again.