Beah fights as a child soldier for the government for two years. He thinks of nothing but war. In January of 1996, Beah, Alhaji and Kanei go to Bauya, a day’s walk away, for supplies. They look forward to seeing Jumah there, and they laugh about their guns and their skill in warfare with him when they do. There is a gathering that night. Although Gadafi has died, Jabati is still alive, and he and Beah quote Shakespeare to each other. They do drugs and talk all night, mostly about the drugs.
The book covers two years in which Beah was a child soldier in just two chapters 13 and 14. The quick treatment of this time reflects the fact that this life is brutally repetitive: just more and more killing, and drugged up movies in between. But it also captures the way that during these two years Beah is so drugged up and emotionally repressed that he is, in a sense, in a constant present. It also captures that now, as the author, these are memories that he is repressing, that he wishes he didn’t have. Now, after these two years, the boys are fully used to war, having no choice after all, as it is adapt or die. But despite the desperation and the danger, the boys become almost depraved, and they are not pretending in the slightest when they talk about their joy of war. It is no longer horrible to them. This is their life. They are no different from the rebels who attacked Mattru Jong. There is also a suggestion here that Beah has, perhaps, a special connection to Jabati, through their Shakespeare connection.
The next day, when Jumah and some others leave for a raid, a truck comes into the village from UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund). Jabati has the boys line up, and picks boys from the line without telling them what is going on. Alhaji and Beah are chosen, and only once they have turned over their guns are they told what is going on. They are leaving the front to be put in school. Beah responds to this news by hiding his bayonet and a grenade in his pocket.
Beah does not recognize this, but it may be that the special connection he shared with Jabati may have caused Jabati to decide to send Beah to school from the war. That Jabati, in some part of him, wants to protect Beah and realizes that war is no place for children (though of course he only sends a few boys away from the front. Meanwhile, the boys, despite what they have seen and done, are still treated as if they should have no choice in what happens next to them. Beah, distrustful and violent as he is, decides even though it is his lieutenant’s order that he go with the men, that he’d better keep some weapons to be safe.
Beah is angry and shoves the city soldier who tries to search him, threatening to kill him. Beah does not want to be parted from his gun, or the squad, which had become his family. The boys are brought to the truck, and Beah notes with disdain how clean the city soldiers are. He has no idea where he is being taken. Beah considers hijacking the truck. After hours on the road and many checkpoints, they come to a city. Beah cannot believe how many cars there are, but understands that they are now in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
Beah is once again being stripped of that which he cares about, even if now it is with his best interests in mind. Beah consider the soldiers who are watching him to be equivalent to civilians for all the war they’ve seen, and his contempt for them is clear. Still no one has explained to the boys exactly what is happening, which infuriates Beah, as it is evidence that no one takes seriously how grown up the boys feel that they are.
As night approaches, Beah is amazed by how many lights there are in the city. The boys are brought to a compound by the UNICEF men. There are already other boys like them there who look just as upset as Beah to be there. One of the UNICEF men, who looks Lebanese, tells them to follow him, and excitedly shows them their beds. The boys are not excited at all.
The city inspires in the boy’s a child-like fascination, but only briefly. The UNICEF man seems to think the boys will be excited to be away from war, demonstrating his own innocence and inability to understand the psychological reality of what it means to be a child soldier.
The man takes them to the kitchen, and Beah eyes the other boys suspiciously. The boys are brought rice, and Alhaji wonders where they can get some drugs. More boy are brought to the kitchen, and Alhaji asks them where they are from. One boy responds with an insult. The boys almost fight and Beah pulls out his grenade before they all realize that they fought for the army.
As far as the boys are concerned, they are still at war, and seem to even be itching for a fight, only averting bloodshed because one of them has the good sense to actually find out where the others are from. UNICEF seems to think it can just “save” the boys from the war, and that they will then revert to being normal kids. Of course the effects of being a child soldier are much deeper and more profound.
The boys talk and learn that they were similarly picked out to be taken from the war. They ask the man who brought them to the kitchen to explain why they were brought here, but he is too scared to answer. One boy, Mambu, decides they should ask some of the other boys. Those boys turn out to have been rebels, however, and two sets of boys face off, each side screaming that the other side killed their parents. The boys fight, bayonets drawn. Three city soldiers try to break up the fight, and instead two of them have their weapons taken from them. Mambu gets one of the guns, and shoots the rebel who got the other.
. That the UNICEF workers would bring the rebels and army boys into the same compound shows just how completely they don’t understand the nature of the boy’s conversion into soldiers. That both the army and rebel boys scream the same charge at each other shows how both sides brainwashed child soldiers in the same way. Meanwhile, UNICEFs inability to understand what has really happened to the boy soldiers here turns deadly.
After twenty minutes of fighting, more city soldiers come to break up the fight. Two army boys and four rebel boys have been killed. While some of the boys are rushed off in ambulances, the army boys go to the kitchen to eat and brag about their exploits. City soldiers eventually come to take them away. The boys are jubilant, cheered by the fighting. The soldiers seem to be afraid of them, and the boys think maybe they’ll be returned to the front. Instead, they are taken to a rehabilitation house called Benin Home in Kissy Town, in east Freetown. All Beah can think about is his squad. He’d rather be high and watching war movies, and he is already starting to go into withdrawal from the lack of drugs.
The boys do not seem to be worried about having killed the other boys, as they are still at war, as far as they are concerned. In war, they have been taught, there are no rules. And this is the world they’ve been brought up in, the only family they’ve had. The issue is not just that these boys were forced into becoming soldiers against their will, it is that they have been transformed into young people who only know soldiering, have been cut off by fact and shame from who they were, who can think for themselves of being nothing other than soldiers.