Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Thursday morning, market day. 9:31AM.
I wake up on the tiny couch and stretch my cramped muscles. Most of the woolly blankets I had piled on the night before are now bunched up on the floor next to my overflowing backpack. I often marvel at how much it resembles a drunkard, vomiting up every item of my wardrobe. The twin bed in the room is empty, and I see it’s occupant, Julie, laying in the hammock outside. I do a quick morning routine of checking my phone, and see a message from Cinthya saying she’s on her way home, having spent the night out. The question of the morning is… WHERE ARE THE GUESTS?
Okay, let’s back up. Right now I live with my friend Cinthya in a tiny market town in Guatemala called Chichicastenango. During the month I’ve been here, I’ve been witness to a parade of people – friends, coworkers, work-awayers, and Airbnb guests – filling the house to bursting with conversation, food, talents. In order to accommodate this constant parade of characters, we sleep wherever we can; in a fetal position on the tiny couch, curled up together on the twin bed, in the storage room among textiles and weaving tools, in the hammock with a sleeping bag. Cinthya once tried to sleep on the roof in a nest of blankets, but the piercing cold and howling wind of the Guatemalan countryside sent her in search of warmer habitats.
On a Wednesday night, we play the sleeping arrangement musical chairs once again to welcome our new Airbnb guests, a male couple from Colombia and Costa Rica, respectively. We gather them up at a Wi-fi enclave they’ve discovered and walk them home, dodging chicken buses and purposely avoiding The Street Where The Dogs Hang Out, like a scruffy gang eager to rob you of food morsels.
Once they’re settled in, our guests take off back into town to get a bite to eat. Julie, Cinthya, our friend Francisco, and I spend our small-town Wednesday night up on the roof, sprawled out on blankets with a bottle of wine, howling at the orange moon with a chorus of street dogs. Throughout our rooftop soiree, we never hear our guests come back.
Okay, back to Thursday morning – our guests are still nowhere to be found. Julie and I are still rubbing sleep from our eyes when Cinthya comes through the iron double doors, questioning us on the whereabouts of the Airbnbers. Julie and I shrug.
“Hola!” Cinthya shouts through the guest room door. “I’m coming in!”
Julie and I huddle around Cinthya during the suspenseful moment when she opens the door to find… nothing. Nothing has moved from the day before when I hauled all my belongings out and we cleaned up in preparation for the Airbnbers. The bed is neatly made, the extra blankets are still folded on the chair, and the flowers are still slowly wilting in the Modelo bottle on the bedside table. Everything seems to suggest that our guests had never come home. And then we see the smoking gun… the guests’ bags are still packed up and arranged neatly on the floor.
“Did they ever even come home?” Cinthya asks.
“I don’t know, I never heard them come back,” Julie replies.
“Me either,” I offer.
“Their bags are still packed,” Cinthya points out.
“Is it possible that they’re just really organized people and that they made the bed and packed up before going to the market?” I hypothesize.
“Does anyone do that?” Julie ponders.
We stand around, wearing clothes that severely need to be washed (I’m down to my last pair of underwear) rubbing the sleep from our eyes past nine in the morning on a Thursday, all dreaming of coffee and wondering if it’s possible for people to get up before 9am, make the bed, and pack up before going about their daily business.
The three of us quickly decide that this is an improbable theory, and the morning takes on an eerie quality. Is our house now a crime scene? Cinthya starts sweeping up a suspicious-looking black substance on the floor and wonders out loud if she’s destroying evidence. Then, on the verge of tears, she breathes life into her fears. In a small conservative town such as Chichicastenango, is it possible that some locals, drunk and rowdy on a Wednesday night, felt like attacking a homosexual couple?
I bring up an urban legend told to us by a long-time Chichicastenango resident and owner of the local lavandería; that some of the more superstitious locals still commit the ancient ritual of human sacrifice. I dodge a kick from Cinthya as I offer this up as a possible explanation for the disappearance of our guests.
Later on, face deep in eggs, toast, beans, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and guacamole (because we go hard) we breathe a collective sigh of relief when we see our guests casually sauntering up with bags full of market goods – as if we hadn’t spent our morning worrying about bigoted locals and human sacrifice. The three of us, still in our pajamas at 11am, stare at these well put-together humans who grab their already-packed bags and head out to a world of order the three of us can only glimpse at from afar.