Summary and Analysis
Ishmael and his friends approach the village where they've been told some of their families are living. They meet Gasemu, a banana farmer whom Ishmael knows, and agree to help him carry bananas into the village. As they approach, they hear gunshots, dogs barking, and people screaming. The village is under attack; the boys drop their bananas and hide in the bushes. They watch the horror until the gunshots subside. Then Ishmael runs into the village, which is engulfed in flames, and finds bodies burned beyond recognition everywhere. Gasemu follows him and shows him the hut where Ishmael's family had been. Ishmael rushes in but doesn't find any bodies inside. Ishmael attacks Gasemu in anger and the boys begin fighting among themselves. The approaching voices of rebels cause the boys and Gasemu to hide. They overhear the rebels boasting of the killings, but there is uncertainty as to whether some villagers may have escaped. Gunshots begin again and the boys run deeper into the forest with bullets at their back. When the boys finally stop, they realize that Gasemu has multiple gunshot wounds. They take him to the wahlee outside the village, where he dies.
The power of nature is a constant force on Ishmael's journey. He spends his evenings walking and feels that the moon is a constant companion. On moonless nights he is uncomfortable and frightened. Because the boys often walk in silence, their senses have become keener. The noise of nature is pervasive, and the forest both protects them from attacks and hides their attackers. They listen to the leaves for danger. They assess the wind for threats. They seek cover in the forest during thunder and lightning storms.
The theme of the chaos of war is prevalent in this chapter. The boys are filled with excitement and hope at the possibility of seeing their families, only to have the village go up in flames before their eyes. The threat of violence is constant. The uncertainty of the rebels' next move creates a terrible tension and fear. Because the attack happens just as the boys are approaching the village, Ishmael blames Gasemu, a banana farmer, who delayed their arrival by asking for their help carrying bananas. Ishmael is furious and tries to strangle Gasemu. His friends hold Ishmael back, and Gasemu tells him he couldn't possibly have known this would happen. The boys begin fighting each other, even as houses burn around them. They argue whether their delay saved their lives or whether Gasemu is to blame for the possible deaths of their families. It's ironic that, in a time of sheer terror and violence, the boys turn violent toward each other in response.
Hope and loss are closely juxtaposed in this chapter. The news of their families causes the boys to hope again, but just as that hope is about to be realized, the rebels' attack on the village causes more loss and uncertainty. The boys aren't even sure what they've lost; they don't know if their family members were even in the village. Gasemu tells Ishmael where his family had been, but because there aren't bodies inside the hut, Ishmael must wrestle with the loss of his family again mixed with the possibility that they may have escaped. It's unclear if not knowing is worse than knowing.