In the early 1960s an eleven-year-old boy from an isolated bush village in the Congo forest climbs on a passenger train at a small station near Angola to sell fruit, but he fails to get off in time. Believing the train will reverse direction, hes carried across central Africa to Elisabethville. Armed soldiers force him off the train, and he enters a city where he knows no one or how to survive.
Alone and knowing nothing about life in a rapidly growing, modern African city, the boys pleas for help go unanswered. Hes lost and alone until a street boy teaches him how to steal and beg. His attempts to slip aboard a train to return home remain blocked by armed soldiers. He learns to live by his wits and becomes adept at stealing purses, wallets, and unguarded parcels. He witnesses the death of a friend, is caught in the middle of a military battle for the city, and lives in fear of being killed by a local thief.
Suspicious and distrustful of white people, hes reluctant to accept assistance from a foreigner who offers to send him to school. He becomes ill and almost dies until found by the one willing to help. He becomes part of this mans family and visits the site of his old home in the bush. He never loses his desire to locate his village family, but he discovers that home isnt a place but people who care for him.