The man stopped speaking again. The villagers did not whisper now and their faces were blank. David glanced at Billy, at the man, at the villagers. He began to pull the money out of his pocket. They will not hurt me. Hurt us.
“The man, he says he will not bring this death to us. He says that we are strangers to this village and this lake.” David shoved the money back down into his pocket. The sweat began to dry on his back.
Billy continued. “He says that strangers, they do not get punished with equality as members of the village.” David nodded and thought of his prayer. “But we did bring death to this village. And this village is on this lake. We brought death to this whole lake. The man, he says that we must leave this village and not come back. If we come back to this village, he cannot tell us what will happen. It will be bad for us.
“And he says that they have told other villages on this lake what we have done. He says that he made notice that the other villages not to harm us. But these other villages, they will not listen to us. We must take our message to elsewhere.”
The man with the scars on his chest and arms pointed toward the road with a straight finger and steady hand. David felt an emptiness inside himself. But we came. This is why we came, he protested to himself and to God. Billy felt the cool relief on his skin that came from a slight breeze and the mercy of the villagers. He touched David on the elbow. “Let us go.” The man and the villagers did not stir. The trees murmured. David’s shoe knocked the empty copper bowl and made a melancholy thump. David grasped that this village lacked the money in his pocket. He had asked God what to do with the money.
“Billy. What if we offer them the money? Maybe they will listen to us. Or they’ll let other villages listen.”
A gray cloud moved in front of the sun; the wind blew high above them. Billy rubbed his hair with his hand and thought. The coolness on his skin began sinking into his bones. “I do not think we should do this. God, he is the one who opens hearts. Not money.”
“But we must be shrewd, Billy. And we have the money to offer. It will open a way for God.”
Billy’s dark and baggy eyes, his flaccid body almost grew smaller. “It is your decision.” He exhaled slowly, the lethargic sound of David’s father in the hospital. A rush of wind came from the lake and threw sand into the air and the trees whistled. Then, calm and stillness settled again.
David drew the money from his pocket: a thick wad of dirty bills. He held it in the air and took the rubber band off. The bills were colorful: blue and green and orange. He pulled off one banknote and held it in the air. It wilted in the heat. The villagers looked on with blank faces.
“Tell them we offer them money as restitution. Tell them we want to help. Maybe it’ll open a door.”
Billy watched his friend holding money in the air and the villagers’ sad eyes. The darkness had not left. David was like a thousand men now: the missionaries and explorers and overseers and businessmen who came to Africa for adventure and success; men who thought Africa was a great dark machine that only needed the proper oil and care. David smiled obsequiously at the villagers. “Tell them. Maybe they will listen.”
Billy thought of his father in the anemic light of the shop in Lusaka and his voice ringing off the silverware and cups and metal bowls. David was his father, speaking only English and demanding success. Billy turned away and walked back to the road. His shoulders felt heavy; his feet ached with tired heat.
David saw his friend leave and took a few steps back toward the villagers. He grabbed the copper bowl and placed the bank notes into it. “For you.” He spoke loudly even though they could not understand. He smiled again and waved. He poured oil into the machine. Then, he turned and followed Billy, his heels crunching on the dry ground. Another rush of wind stung sand into his eyes. He glanced back at the village. Colorful bank notes floated in the air and drifted along the ground with the wind. They looked like butterflies. The man and the villagers stayed still. The banana-leaf roofs of the white huts flapped in the wind behind them.