Loung hates her foster family but knows living with them is their safest option. Villagers talk in fear of the Khmer Rouge closing in, and their soldiers attack random villages every few days. Because many villagers still wear their black uniforms, it is impossible to tell who is with the Khmer Rouge and who is not. One day while washing dishes with her foster grandmother, gunfire erupts around Loung. She finds safety behind a tree, but the grandmother is shot in the leg. Fearing the foster family will blame her for the grandmother’s wound, she stays behind the tree for hours after the gunshots end.
Safety is not assured even in the Vietnamese camp, where talk of a Khmer Rouge attack foreshadows the bloody battle soon to come. Loung’s life continues to be full of cruelty and fear, and she is forced to make more difficult choices in the face of violence.
Three days later Loung is tasked with bringing food to her foster grandmother in the hospital two miles away. On the way she thoughtlessly kicks a grenade before realizing what it is; thankfully, it does not go off. The building is decrepit from neglect. The inside presents scenes of death and suffering similar to what Loung saw in the Khmer Rouge infirmary, though she notes that there, people went to die; here, on the other hand, people “scream in pain because they are fighting to live.” Loung resents having to bring food to the grandmother, who has been cruel to her. She thinks that if only she were taking food to Ma, she would be redeemed of all the wrongs she has committed.
The grenade Loung almost sets off foreshadows the fate of the boy she will soon meet in the hospital. As an adult, Loung will work to end the use of landmines around the world—a passion fueled by her experiences as a child in Cambodia in moments like this. The difference in atmosphere of the infirmary reflects people’s newfound hope now that the Khmer Rouge has ostensibly been defeated. Loung continues to feel guilty for the rice she stole, believing she somehow contributed to Ma’s death.
Loung sees a badly burned little boy in the hospital surrounded by two nurses and an old woman, who says he either stepped on a landmine or kicked a grenade. Loung helps nurses change her foster grandmother’s bandages and pities her as she writhes in pain. As soon as the nurses have left, however, the grandmother barks at Loung to give her the food she has brought and accuses her of eating some.
Experiences like this will fuel Loung’s activism against landmines later in life. Her compassion is revealed as she helps care for her foster grandmother, even as the latter proves to be unworthy of such pity.
The next day Loung’s foster father brings her foster grandmother home from the hospital and tells Loung, Chou, and Kim that the family can no longer afford to keep them. Hours later, the father brings them to a new family consisting of a mother, father, and three children ages one to five. Their duties are similar to those in their first foster home, but their new family is kinder, even occasionally giving them sweets. The family is very superstitious and in secret practices Buddhism, which teaches kindness.
The cruel foster mother likely contributed to the children being kicked out of the home. The Khmer Rouge banned all religion, which is why their new foster family began practicing in secret. Buddhism, deemed corrupt by the Khmer Rouge, proves a source for good in Loung’s life.
Many villagers have begun wearing colorful clothes again. As she does her new foster family’s laundry, Loung thinks wistfully of the red dresses Ma made for her and Chou for New Year’s. She thinks of Keav helping with her hair while Chou got Geak dressed, and the feast she then had with the rest of her family. She dreams of owning a new red dress to replace the one the Khmer Rouge destroyed.
Colorful clothes are a direct rebuke against the black uniform insisted upon by the Khmer Rouge. The red dress symbolizes Loung’s individuality and connection with her family, and her newfound determination to find that kind of happiness once again.
One day while gathering firewood with Pithy, the girls come across a decomposing body in the woods. Though she cannot be sure, Loung asserts it is a Khmer Rouge soldier who deserved to die; it is too difficult to think of the body as another civilian. Loung clings to her hatred for the Khmer Rouge to make it through her days. She and her siblings get “red eye disease” and wake up each morning with their eyes crusted shut. Their second foster mother says they must have been looking at “dirty things” and the gods have made them blind as punishment.
Loung again channels her rage to live through the horror she is repeatedly presented with. She and her siblings’ “red eye disease” reveals that they still live in difficult, unsanitary conditions.