For Part I, click here.
Billy’s feet shuffled in the laterite dust and blush red covered them. The red dust mixed with his sweat and small stains of red covered his ankles and shins. His head and arms glinted and his purple shirt was wet around the armpits and neckline. Even now, the abandoned copper bowl sat near the acacia tree. The crushed lime was gone. The boy saw Billy and David first. He wore the same blue and dirty shorts and his skin gave the impression of saran wrap over his ribs. He was outside the hut and followed the chicken, clucking at it. When he saw them, he yelled. David did not understand the words. He gripped the wad of money in his pocket.
He recognized the faces that came out of the hut and blinked in the sunlight. The death wail stopped after the boy yelled and the faces came out without speaking. Bare feet scraped the bare earth. The villagers did not look at them straight on; they only glanced at David’s feet or torso before looking away. The woman wore the same yellow and black chitenge and pink earth stained it at her hips. Another woman nursed a baby. She may have been the same who ate the dirt yesterday. The boy’s father, the husband of yellow-and-black, came closer to David and Billy. He wore torn green pants that maybe came from the army. He was bare-chested, too, and he had scars on his chest and upper arms that looked like cigarette burns. He grimaced at David and Billy and his bald head gleamed in the sun. His gaze held pain more than anger. David could not hold it. His chin and jaw were strong and square and set. The villagers remained quiet after they came out. The chicken wandered behind the hut. Billy reached out and grasped David’s left hand. This was not only a sign of friendship here in this Zambian village, but of solidarity. It acted as a physical sign of connection. David felt the sweat forming between their hands.
The air hung heavy and still. The man with the grimace stood in the full sunlight. His dark skin looked stronger, more solid than David’s white skin. He was strong because he wore scars and military fatigues and pain in his eyes. Billy saw the scars and realized this man was a witch-doctor. He said nothing to David, but he squeezed his hand tighter.
The man spoke and Billy squeezed harder and David’s hand began to ache. The words snapped out of the man’s mouth: the bw- and nd- sounds reverberated hard and condemning. David felt naked and small in front of the villagers and the man. The man’s eyes seemed to look down on him. David, his right hand in his pocket, kept clutching the bundle of money. He pulled his sweating hand from Billy’s.
Billy let his hand slap against his hip. His shoulders drooped. He focused on the empty copper bowl at David’s feet. He jutted out his bottom lip like an extra covering over his mouth. He would not reply until the man completely finished. As the two waited there mutely, the villagers gradually grew like the man, bold and forceful. They looked the strangers in the eye and the dirt-eater stomped her foot and kicked up pale red dust; her baby and breast wagged. Billy stared with sadness at the copper bowl. The man continued. Billy did not reach for David’s hand again. David squeezed the bundle of colored bills tighter in his pocket, the soft, dirty paper. The man with the bare chest and the burns had white spittle on his lip. God— David began to pray but could only think of the money: this destitute, dusty village needed the money. They would not hurt them. He had money. There was sand between his teeth. He swallowed it.
The words stopped. The man pointed at David and nodded. The villagers behind the man whispered and glared and the yellow-and-black woman shook her head at them.
“Cabipa sana.” Billy did not raise his eyes as he spoke. “Sana, sana, sana.” David did not understand. “He says this old man sat everyday at this tree.” Billy lifted a crooked finger toward the tree. “He says this old man waited to die. He waited for to die at peace. He waited for to die alone. This is why he sat by the tree and did not wish for to die in the hut. He says that we came and brought death to the father of his wife. He waited by the tree for to die alone. We did not let the man die alone.”
The man who had spoken watched them. He jowled at them with his long jaw. David wondered if he had some type of oil on his head with the way it reflected the morning sunlight. Billy’s voice fell to a gritty whisper. “This man says that the law is for him to take revenge. The law of the village says that since we brought death to the man, someone must bring death to us.” Billy coughed. He took a deep and slow breath and the sound was muted and sluggish. He nodded. The man began speaking again.
David did not listen to the man who spoke again. A flash of fever thudded behind his eyes. He hemorrhaged sweat. The villagers scowled with puckered lips and slant eyes. The village began to spin, slowly. David’s hand twitched and the bundle of bills was sticky against his thigh. I have money, he thought. I am white. They will not harm me. He looked sideways at Billy. Billy nodded every few moments but did not raise his eyes. He prayed for Billy. If something happened to Billy he would be alone. His other hand opened and closed, opened and closed. They will not hurt me. He even prayed for the villagers: that they would show mercy and that they would find Jesus. One older man had a twisted leg that bowed outward from his hip and made him lean like a windblown tree. David prayed for him. He prayed for the boy who had the copper bowl yesterday and now stood near his mother. They will not hurt me. He prayed for the boy’s mother in the yellow and black and for his father with the bare chest and cigarette scars. He thought of Maria, too, and prayed for her. He reached into his pocket again and rubbed a bill between his fingers. God, don’t let them hurt us and show me what to do with the money. Sweat dripped down his back.
Tune back in tomorrow for the final installment.