Back in Mattru Jong, the boys continue to wait for news of their families. The rebels are in Sumbuya, a town twenty miles to the northeast of Mattru Jong. The rebels send letters carried by people they spared in Sumbuya, telling the people of Mattru Jong to welcome the rebels. The carriers have been branded by the rebels and had their fingers chopped off, with the exception of their thumb, a reference to the habit the people of Sierra Leone have of raising a thumb to each other to signify ‘one love,’ which is in turn a reference to Bob Marley and reggae music.
Though the message the rebels send says that they want to be welcomed, the way they’ve treated the messengers seem to indicate otherwise. The brutal act of leaving the thumbs of the messengers so that they inadvertently make the sign of welcome and “one love” points to a sense that the rebels will “force” their welcome; that they will make the villagers welcome them. It also points to the rebels twisted logic and brute viciousness.
Many of the people of Mattru Jong, in response, go to hide in the forest that very night. The boys are asked to stay in town to watch the property of the family with which they are staying, though. As more messengers arrive, more people go into hiding. The empty town is scary to Beah, who notices that bird and crickets won’t sing and that the moon isn’t in the sky. But the rebels don’t arrive when they say they will, and after ten days, the people of Mattru Jong return to their village.
Although the rebels’ tardiness ought to be expected, as it gives them no advantage to tell the truth about their arrival, in only a week the people of Mattru Jong move back in. Just as the boys don’t want to deal with the fact that their parents may be dead, neither do the people of Mattru Jong want to believe they are in danger, or that they are putting their own children in danger. Nature seems to take more seriously the threat being posed to the people of Mattru Jong.
When the rebels do arrive sometime after, the people of Mattru Jong run wildly, not stopping to grab their things or even their children. The rebels dance into town, driving townspeople towards the river, while the boys run to where they think the army will be, only to find that they had abandoned their posts somehow in advance of the rebel’s attack.
The people of Mattru Jong are utterly unprepared for the inevitable attack. That the soldiers have left before the rebels even come, all without telling anyone, points both to a sense that the soldiers might not be able to convince anyone to actually leave but also points at the government forces own failure as a fighting force.
Those who haven’t run into the river (many of whom drown) head for the one escape route out of town, a swamp, followed by a hill and a clearing. The rebels, who want to use the civilians as human shields and the boys as soldiers, begin shooting. The boys escape, but many people, including the handicapped, are left behind, and one man close to them is hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and the surrounding foliage is showered with his remains.
So far the war has affected the boys as terrible rumors of destruction and maimed people from other villagers (who the boys may never have seen). Now they are faced directly and immediately with the horrors of war. And they are forced to make awful decisions: to even help another person would be to risk losing one’s own life, and so the boys just run.
The rebels continue to chase the boys into the bush. The boys run for more than an hour, and on the backs of their adrenaline Beah notes that he didn’t get tired or even sweat. Junior calls out for Beah, trying to make sure he is still nearby, and Beah can hear one of the other boys making the noises of someone who is trying not to cry.
The boys’ unnatural endurance reflects the brutal intensity of their situation. Already the boys are entirely alone, without anyone to guide them or talk to them about the horror that they have seen. As the boy trying not to cry indicates, they are already trying to repress these feelings, to not react to them as a matter of safety (i.e. being quiet) and emotional survival (because they can’t deal with the pain of it).