My aerial journey takes me north-west, the highlands unending, the beauty constant, the breeze unwavering. The roads—those man-made veins on the landscape—gradually lessen, shrink and, finally, wither before the elusive region of the Zona Reina is reached. My new destination is there, a land in isolation in a tiny country. It is a place where the spread of wings provides ease of entrance, where vehicles are a rumour and where the collapse of mud-caked shoes into the yielding terrain remind one that advancement is dependent on human energy in the face of a land that inclines toward the uncompromising and defiant.
I, as the bird, can swoop down and penetrate the thick layer of cloud that canopies the village. As I glide, I sense that the Cuchumatán mountains, beyond in the north, enjoy the spectacle of an insignificant quetzal almost reaching their imperious heights and nod in approval as I descend and make my way to this hidden territory, unknown even to most Guatemalans, where the foliage is so dense that it immediately swallows any human who passes through.
The valley is low and the hills are a full, emerald green, and they enclose the village with protective attention. There is security in solitude; and, for Lancetillo, where the rest of the world must seem non-existent, much less a dream, each new dawn announces the continuation of permanent respite. If I chirped just once to herald my arrival, it would echo between the hills and ring louder than a church bell. However, I remain silent in my approach and scan the sparse human structures for my perch. I locate the parish. My flights over humanity have caused me to rise up to avoid the arrogance of church steeples; but here, this one demurs and dazzles: a tripartite ascendance in lucid amethyst; three carved wooden totems that are cut to diamonds and lead up to the pointed arrowhead that, tipped with the cross, prepare to be launched and pierce the sky with requited caritas.
In front of me lies the imperfect field, a jagged patchwork of exposed, dried mud and grassy segments both green and moribund. And, for once, my place atop the steeple causes me to look up, for the ceiba tree that is beyond the church steps rises higher, a silent, steady evolution that will continue to grow and humble those earthly inhabitants who would deign to topple nature. Yet, the power that gave us the Earth need not worry, for the people of Lancetillo seek not the restless scaling toward the heavens but rather the peaceful coexistence with the land.
Sparkles of sounds radiate from unknown clefts. I listen to the animated songs of the other birds, the daytime chirp of the crickets, the snort of the spotted pigs as they scour for food, the dissatisfied neigh of a horse as it prepares to be mounted, the muted clicks of the villagers speaking K’ekchi and, further off, in some secret crevice or dirt lane, the glee of playing children and their laughter of forever.
Is this truly a hidden paradise or am I deceived? The constant idyll entices. I feel that there is a niche for me here. (If not, then I shall construct one high up in the ceiba.) The peace elates and, buoys, I let myself drift downward toward the church entrance. Seeing it empty inside, I spin around for prying eyes and, seeing none, swoop inside. Rows of worn wooden benches and whitewashed walls give way to the colours that flourish on the altar: flowers bleed shades from the entire spectrum, demonstrating that eternal life inhabits their very scent and sight, and the space that they enliven. I chance a spot on the pulpit and look outward and admire the twin stained-glass windows over the entrance, the morning light injecting them with such brilliance that the rusty-coloured crosses and blue backdrop appear as if framed directly from the sky.
There are crudely-framed pictures on the walls. These are weathered, black-and-white photographs of Mayan men, unsmiling, evasive in their gaze and hinting at a time not far past where torments rained down upon this otherwise veiled patch of earthly bliss. I do not know their stories, nor even their names, but can guess that these still-life photographic depictions hanging in the church indicate a grandfather lost, a husband disappeared, a brother extinguished or a son vanished before his time. I look again at the pictures and see what is there: grief made evident and never to be forgotten in these austere, visual accountings of man’s attempt to vanquish another, to defile the land on which he lived, to denigrate and eliminate a human life conducted differently and to erase everything connected to it. Yet, however much the link may have been severed, the healing began anew. The land got to work and rose up, cognizant that a branch cut off can be re-grown. The peace of Lancetillo evinced a continuation, a resilience that would sag amid terror, but persists and advances stronger following the attack. Every Sunday, the villagers would shuffle in and out of this church, having borne witness to experienced atrocities and staring at the reminders of those detached branches. And, as long as people remembered and let water mix happily with the land, these men would live on.