Chapter 4 continues the narrative from where Chapter 3 left off. Beah and his companions walk for several days in their efforts to escape the rebels. As hunger begins to afflict them, they search abandoned villages for food, but find little worth eating. Soon they decide that the only way to get food is to return to Mattru Jong for their money so that they can buy some at the first market they find.
The boys make the dangerous visit to Mattru Jong, ever-alert to rebel presence. Once they are all ready to depart, they carefully break into groups to cross the open area along the marsh between the village and the cover of the forest. Beah’s group makes it across, then Beah discovers the reason for their caution: a handful of rebels are on watch nearby. Beah’s brother Junior is in the next group; they are nearly discovered when someone drops something out of his pocket onto a pot, breaking the silence. Junior and the others pretend to be corpses, and nearby gunfire in the village distracts the rebels so that the boys are able to make it to the forest undetected. Another group includes a boy carrying a large sack of belongings; the sack becomes stuck between some tree roots and he is discovered by the rebels. Despite the urging of the others, the boy remains with the sack in a vain attempt to dislodge it and flee with it; the boy is caught by the rebels and those already across escape into the forest.
The boys are delighted at their second escape from Mattru Jong, this time with money, but face disappointment when they reach a nearby village. Despite the smell of cooking food, there is nothing to eat available for sale as the villagers are saving the food for themselves in case their fortunes take a turn for the worst. That night the boys turn to stealing others’ food in order to survive the night.
Beah describes the increasing breakdown of civilization throughout the region. The return to Mattru Jong was dangerous and, in the end, futile because the rebels’ terrorizing influence has reached beyond their immediate presence to the nearby villages. Civilians everywhere are now so frightened of what may happen to them that they close themselves off to others. Beah himself notes that the desperate circumstances lead him and his companions to resort to stealing food because “[it] was the only way to get through the night” (p. 29). Beah recognizes that this is not a choice he would make under normal conditions, but that his world is changing so rapidly he must adapt as quickly as he can to survive.