Guatemala : A Dream


I go to Guatemala to join in the revolution. The Death Squads or similar are down at the railway station, with their brass bands playing and their sub-machine guns; firing at anything that moves. Bus loads of children need to be evacuated and I am there, hopefully, to help them get through. Things don’t work out how I thought they would; when I step from a narrow way into a vast plaza, I know instantly I have made a terrible mistake. It is like straying into a lethal video game; several men with guns converge upon me, one takes my belt, another my wallet, a third my passport. I fumble for some explanation but cannot come up with anything plausible. You will go on a mission for us, no? says the man with my wallet, giving it back to me, empty. In the brown paper bag he hands me next is something heavy; a gun, a pistol, wrapped in oil cloth. Food for the journey, something to drink. I set off. His place in the country is small, a two room shanty on a hillside where plantations of banana and vanilla grow amongst the lush tropical vegetation; two teenage boys live there with him but no women. We sit at a table eating something—I do not recall what. You are the historian who missed the train, are you not, sir? one of the boys asks politely. I agree then say I cannot remember the date. This is a lie, I know it was my birthday, but don’t want the man to know this. He is violent, unpredictable, sardonic, cruel; the boys are afraid of him too. My mobile phone rings, it is the friend who is publishing my next book. All the major decisions have been made, he says. I’m in Guatemala, I reply. An adventure. I really can’t tell you anymore. I’ve gone outside to talk, the man within is gesticulating, ordering me to come back. The phone cuts out but I don’t hang up. It starts transmitting pictures of the revolution, innocent children gunned down by sub-machine gun fire in the plaza where I was captured. The bizarre formations of slaughter, sepia atrocities, a scaffolding of brutal planes. I try to turn it off but cannot. Come with me, the man is saying, out here. See . . . In a bare concrete area at the back of his shack an old blue tractor stands wheel-less and abandoned. You help me dispose of this, yes? And after that I find other things for you to do. Despair rises up in me, I understand that I am in his mind a slave. How can I escape? I imagine myself fugitive in the lush green tropical hills of Guatemala, pursued by men with machetes and guns in the shadow of startling blue volcanic cones. I decide to set out that very night, after everyone is asleep. I know I won’t  make it; also that there is no alternative but to try.


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