PUBLISHED IN GUERNICA.
Each Sunday the avenue that wends its way between the two whitewashed churches of Chichicastenango, Guatemala, becomes a maze of pole-and-plastic-tarp shops hung with brilliant tapestries, embroidered blouses, kaleidoscopic quilts. Within the haze of palo santo smoke, which wafts out of the larger of the two churches, are the flower sellers who sit under umbrellas. Across from them are the grain stands with burlap sacks overflowing with unmilled maize, or beans of different colors, or rice, or masa. At the heart of the market, and the reason foreigners ride the Saturday morning chicken bus to Chichicastenango, are the artisans who hold court behind their handiwork.
“¿Un recuerdo?” the vendors called as my friend and I meandered past, dazed—dazzled even—by sunlight filtering through to the weavings and embroideries, carved jades and hardwoods. “Something to remember Guatemala by?”
My friend fingered a carved turtle figurine.
“Real Guatemalan jade,” its keeper claimed. But we were not there to shop, only to take in color and sound and the rising warmth of a free Sunday.
When we reached the far church, my friend set off to take his surreptitious pictures and I wandered down another alley by myself. Not far in, I turned a corner and found myself face to wrong-way-up face with a little Mayan boy—I’d guess he was five or six—hanging upside down from the taut ropes that secured the tarp roof of an otherwise unattended textile stall.
“¿Que haces, monito?” I joked with him, tipping my own head sideways. What are you doing, little monkey?
He grinned at me, exposing the gap where he’d recently had two front baby teeth, and let go of the rope to dangle free.
As we giggled at one another, a young woman rushed over. She was tiny, dressed in a traditional Mayan blouse and a dark skirt patterned so that, had I known more about Guatemala, I might have known what village she came from. I opened my mouth to speak to her, but before I could conjugate, the woman snatched the boy’s arm and hauled him off his rope.
Just before she turned the first corner with her child in airborne tow, the woman turned back and our eyes locked. She was, I realized suddenly, running from me. She was afraid, or angry, or both. She thought I was stealing her son…
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