The following was written April 19, 1999 after our bus was hijacked during a service trip in Central America. The piece was originally posted on this blog June 10, 2012.
My guitar is cracked.
The strap broke and it hit the concrete in front of the church right before I kissed the woman pastor good-bye.
“La lluvia viene como el reino de Dios,” I told her and pointed to the darkening sky.
It still plays like it did that night before the light of the bandit struck my eyes. I was singing The Sound of Silence.
“And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made and the sign flashed out its warning. . .”
The bus jerks as our driver hits the brakes and through the letters IN GOD WE TRUST stenciled on the windshield, I see the white truck, the men in fatigues, the lights, the guns. Suddenly, he is before me, his light in my eyes, a Uzi on his hip.
“Cierren sus ojos,” he says.
“Close your eyes.”
“Cierre su voca,” he says.
“Do not speak.”
save my whispered prayers and the grinding of gears as we race to a hidden place.
save the leader’s commands and Carla’s translation minus his “o se matamos.” Or we will kill you.
save the whimpers of 6 year old Andrea.
save our breathing.
save the clicking of the switch as the bandit before me shines his light again and again on my face.
I watch him though slitted lids, my guitar balanced precariously on my knees, bouncing with each jar and bump,
ready to fall like a shot and break this awful sound of silence.
When it is my turn, I take my hands from my head and say, “Mi guitara, senor, mi guitara?” It is a question. The bandit nods and I, my hands in plain view, my eyes on his face and gun, slowly lift the guitar from my trembling thighs and place it gently in the seat ahead of me. The bandit, the limit of his patience reached, grabs me and shoves me down the aisle towards the door. Hands back on my head, I stand in the doorway on the steps beside the words on the windshield before the beckoning sugar cane.
I think of the girls and the women already outside shrinking from the unkind hands of the comandante and his men. I think of my lily-white artist hands clutching my head and what they will do to the men if something happens to the women. I think of my camera in the bag in the darkness at the back of the bus and the photographs I have taken thus far on the trip.
22 still in the camera.
None will match the image burned to the back of my retinas by fear, collective conscience, and the remembered history of what men have done to each other over the years. There is no camera like the human eye and its developer mind.I step off of the bus and look to my left. I am nine years ago in this same country, trying to decipher the headline and fuzzy photograph of a foreign newspaper now gathering dust in a box beneath my bed.
A row of flesh.
Bodies before a bus.
The cycle repeats.
I turn my head.
My eyes snap the picture.
Flash of lightning.
I lie down on the cool grass,
take my place beside the rest.
Here we are,
so much alive and yet so close to being dead.