The story is limited to several months in the life of Amusa Sango, in which he moves from being an up-and-coming journalist and popular musician to being unemployed and homeless, culminating in a surprise marriage into a wealthy family and a departure from Nigeria. Sango’s decline contrasts with his strong ambition for success, and this decline is difficult to ascribe to any specific cause other than the general malaise of city life. When Aina, a young woman of the streets, is arrested, a policeman remarks to Sango: “You see, person who’s not careful, the city will eat him!” As a reporter investigating a variety of criminal tragedies, Sango is well placed to expose to the readers of his newspaper as well as the novel the ways in which people, lured by tales of the highlife of the city, are “eaten up.” The novel, in fact, seems to move to a rhythm of the constant deaths of maladjusted city-dwellers.
Evicted from his flat by his lecherous landlord for complaining about electrical economies, Sango embarks on a transient life-style while trying in vain to find another residence in the overcrowded city. He loses his place with his band when he plays at political meetings for a party the proprietor of his club does not support. He loses his job as a reporter for sensationalizing a tragic story with interracial complications. Reduced to playing trumpet in other bands in waterfront bars, he marries the infatuated Beatrice the Second and they impulsively decide to start anew in the Gold Coast (later Ghana).
His decline is related to his relationship with Aina, whose love he rejects because of his ambitions. She is soon jailed for theft, and he retains a shaky connection with her after her release as she, claiming to be pregnant, extorts money from him. Driven to desperation by her demands, he uncharacteristically beats her and causes a miscarriage. His guilt over these events is complicated by the appearances of Aina’s mother, a sinister character whose association with witchcraft is supplemented by grisly tales of secret societies operating in the city.