The boys’ hunger starts to get extreme. It hurts to even drink water. They chase a five year old who has two ears of corn so that they can share it between the six of them. The mother of the boy they chased gives them each an ear of corn that night, but Beah says he felt guilty only briefly.
In the face of such starvation, the boys will do anything for food. Beah doesn’t have the time or energy for guilt. The woman’s action shows that she thinks that the boys shouldn’t be held accountable for stealing. No one else is willing to give the refugees food, after all.
Feeling again that they have nowhere to go, as the boys do not know where they could possibly go, the boys head back to Mattru Jong. But they are captured by rebels before they even get there, outside a village. None of the rebels are older than 21. The boys are so scared that the rebels laugh, and Beah tries not to faint. All he can think about is death. Two of the rebels run ahead to the village, and the third, laughing, threatens to shoot all of them if they make any sudden movements.
It’s unclear what the boy’s plan is in heading for Mattru Jong, besides perhaps to find some food there, but they are desperate enough to try anything, despite what they’ve seen there. The rebels are portrayed throughout as laughing, almost playful. What is horrible to the boys is humorous to these rebels, which makes them all the more terrifying to the boys and speaks to the ways that these young soldiers have been completely desensitized to violence and enjoy the power it gives them.
The rebels gather the villagers and the boys in a compound as darkness descends. An old man walks into town and they capture him, too, and force him to his knees in front of the villagers, and then tell him to get up, demanding that the boys laugh at the man. One rebel asks the old man why he left Mattru Jong. The man answers that he left to find his family, and the rebel says that no, he left because he was against their cause as freedom fighters. The old man begins to cry. Beah wonders what cause the rebels could stand for.
Although the rebel claims to be fighting for freedom, his hypocrisy is apparent to Beah. The rebel is denying their freedom while also claiming to fight for freedom. The rebels enjoy torturing the old man because of his terror. At the moment these rebels seem almost like aliens to Beah. Not long from now he will be exactly like them.
The rebel asks the old man if he has any last words. The rebel then fires his gun over the old man’s head. The old man thinks he’s been shot and screams “My head! My brains!” while the rebels laugh at him.
That the rebels would laugh at an old man thinking he’d been shot in the head exemplifies their horrifying sense of humor. But it is again necessary to realize that these rebels were once also boys; they have been conditioned to act this way.
The rebels then announce that they will be taking recruits. The rebels look over the boys, and pick only Junior. A rebel announces that everyone else will be killed to make the new recruits strong. Beah looks to Junior; both of them are crying. A rebel laughs and tells the recruits that “the next killing is on you.”
In what could be his last moments Beah looks to his brother for some sort of comfort, but finds none. The horror is so overwhelming there is nothing to say. The rebels laugh at everyone’s fear. Forcing the recruits to kill will separate them from their former lives, fill them with shame and despair which, will leave them no path back but only further into becoming heartless soldiers. It is likely these rebels were forced into being soldiers in just the same way. It is a brutal cycle.
The rebels force the villagers and the boys to kneel by the river and put their hands to their heads. Then gunshots are heard from the bush, and rebels begin firing back. Everyone runs. Beah escapes, but continues to hear the cries of those who do not escape for hours afterward. The village is set on fire.
Although he’s been delivered momentarily from a terrible end, Beah again finds his life in limbo, with no choice but to hope he is spared, in this case as he waits in the forest.
Beah waits in the forest for an hour, and then can hear the whispering of the other boys who escaped, including Junior. The boys begin walking toward the village they’d initially gone to after Mattru Jong was attacked. The boys only speak once they’ve reached the village, and there they agree to go somewhere very far from the war.
After repeatedly putting themselves in harm’s way by staying so close to the front, the boys have begun to understand more fully that there is nothing in the vicinity of their home worth sticking around for.