Chapter 3 returns to the primary narrative thread established in Chapter 1. Beah and his brother and friends remain in Mattru Jong longer than anticipated due to the lack of news of their families and the continued violence. Rumors abound that the rebels are planning to attack Mattru Jong; these rumors are heightened by letters from nearby Sumbuya, a town whose inhabitants were largely massacred by the rebels, indicating that the rebels would be coming to Mattru Jong and expected to be welcomed by the people they were supposedly fighting for. One messenger arrives with all of his fingers except for his thumbs cut off - a mutilation called “one love” by the rebels in mockery of the Sierra Leonean custom of raising a thumb and saying “one love” in imitation of reggae music culture. This same messenger has the initials RUF carved into his body to mark him as belonging to the rebels (the “Revolutionary United Front”).
The arrival of this messenger leads the people of Mattru Jong to go into hiding in the forest; Khalilou’s family, with whom Beah and his companions are staying, ask the young men to follow them with the family possessions if the situation did not improve soon. The largely deserted town becomes a frightening environment to Beah, who discovers that it is the people who give life to a town.
Most of the inhabitants of Mattru Jong remained in hiding for a week. More messengers arrive, indicating the approach of the rebels, which leads even more of the people to seek shelter outside the town. Again, Beah and his companions are left behind to tend Khalilou’s family’s home.
Beah is again surprised by violence as the rebels arrive while he is cooking. He and his young friends hear gunshots, and the attack ensues. Chaos takes over as the rebels fire their rifles into the sky, frightening the people into fleeing. Beah heads to the Mattru Jong soldiers’ encampment which he assumes will be the safest place to hide, only to discover that the soldiers foresaw the attack and have already deserted the town. The rebels push the people of Mattru Jong toward the river, leaving only a path through a muddy swamp as an escape route; the people are in such a panic that the wounded and disabled are left to die. At this point the rebels begin shooting into the crowds, as they want the people to remain in the village as hostages and potential recruits. Beah and his friends know that, as young boys, they are at greatest risk for forced recruitment: the rebels have a practice of capturing young boys and carving the initials RUF into their bodies to mark them for future use and to turn civilians and government soldiers against them. Beah, Junior, Talloi, Gibrilla, Kaloko, and Khalilou flee into the forest and escape with their lives.
The surprise at the rebels’ violence - even after repeated warnings that the rebels were approaching - stands out in Beah’s account. He attempts to maintain a regular, everyday pattern of living even as he is maintaining a home for people who have taken shelter in the forest out of fear of the rebels. That Beah and his friends, as both outsiders to Mattru Jong and as young men, are asked to remain behind shows the fear and callousness of the terrified citizens of Mattru Jong.
The rebels’ tactics are described in detail, giving the reader a picture of their bloody practices and cruel humor. That they send mutilated messengers demanding that the people remain in the town shows their ability to use psychological tricks to frighten the inhabitants of the town, and suggests a bitter irony as they expect hospitality at the hands of their soon-to-be hostages. Beah notes that the rebels prefer to keep mostly women and children in the villages they attack, in order to delay military action on the part of the government. Though repugnant in their bloodthirstiness, the rebels’ plans are nonetheless diabolically effective.