Title: Secrets of Ishtabay
Author: Mark David Campbell
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 02/21/2023
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Historical, anthropologist, gay, murder, Mayan, Belize, secrets
In the western jungle of Belize, in 1962, Father Carl, an American missionary priest was found lying dead on the floor of his study. People from the nearby Maya village of San José were blamed but, strangely, no one was ever officially charged or found guilty. This is only one secret within a carefully guarded web of desire, envy, and guilt which torment and isolate people in this village.
Thirty years later, with the introduction of water and electricity, satellite TV, and the completion of the Western Paved Road, the village is connected to the outside world: people collide and their secrets unravel, sometimes tragically.
Secrets of Ishtabay takes you into a world of mysticism and antiquity and introduces you to a people who are suspended between an eroding past of ancient lost cities, half-forgotten myths, and subsistence farming, and a hostile present with encroaching global economics, illicit drugs, artifact smuggling, and civil wars.
Secrets of Ishtabay
Mark David Campbell © 2023
All Rights Reserved
Well before the rooster crowed, Rosalinda had stoked the fire, slapped out a stack of tortilla cakes, and roasted them on the flat iron comal cooking plate.
Now, as the sun crept into the morning sky, she stepped through her little wooden gate on her way down to the river. The warming rays had taken away the lingering chill and turned the night dew into steam which hung in the vegetation along the path. She adjusted the large blue plastic laundry tub balanced on her head.
The thick air felt so different from the cool thin air of her highland home in Spanish Honduras, but that was more than thirty years ago. She and her husband, José, had escaped here to Belize when it was called British Honduras and still a colony of Britain. They had no other choice. The coffee growers in Spanish Honduras had claimed there were Cubanos in the villages and had sent in the army to keep the Indians quiet. Bullets were fired, blood was spilled, and her village disappeared. She’d not heard from or seen her family since and didn’t know if they were dead or alive. Rosalinda delicately clasped the small wooden cross dangling from her neck and kissed it. All she had with her when she left was the gold crucifix her mother had given her, and she no longer had that. Now even her daughter, Alicia, was gone. At least she still had her son, Geraldo and grandson, young Solario.
By the time she arrived at the river the other village women were already gathered at their washing rocks gossiping loudly above the sound of the flowing water. No one looked up to greet Rosalinda as she set her tub down, hiked up her plain white cotton skirt, tucked the hem into her waistband and stepped into the cool green water. The shade from the trees on the far bank still blanketed the river as she washed out a pile of dirty socks, underwear, and T-shirts. After scrubbing and beating them clean on her rock, she rinsed out the soap, wrung out the water and loaded them into the washing tub. Then she picked up the tub, stood up straight and balanced it on her head. Now that it was filled with wet laundry, it was a lot heavier. Her feet and shoulders hurt as she walked up the hill toward home.
While she hung out the wet laundry along the hibiscus hedge bordering her yard, boys and girls wearing blue uniforms paraded past her gate on their way to school. Geraldo, her son, had already left for his milpa plantation up in the hills and José, her husband, was sitting slumped over on the three-legged stool, dozing in the shade of their wattle and daub thatched house. She said nothing to him as she went inside to hurry young Solario along for school and to set the afternoon beans on the coals to simmer.
By the time she stepped out of her gate again the sun had climbed well over the trees. As Rosalinda approached the front of the church, she saw Señora Uk coming out wearing a black shawl over her head and clutching a plastic rosary in her hand. Señora Uk came to church every morning to pray for her husband, whose body had been found in the river four years ago. As always, she looked at Rosalinda and turned away.
Rosalinda dropped her head and skirted past her through the doorway into the shadowy interior. The air inside the church was clammy and smelled of must and copal incense. She placed an embroidered handkerchief on her head, dipped her finger into the water in the small cement fount and genuflected. Then she walked up the aisle wooden benches and sat down on the third from the front, as she did every morning. When the light coming in through the blue and red colored glass window moved across the room and touched her, she would know it was time to leave.
The wooden statue of San José, the patron Saint of the village, stood frozen to the left of the altar, his brown hands stretching out to receive her, but, as always, Rosalinda refused him. She turned toward the small plastic gold-framed picture of Maria di Guadalupe, which hung on the wall beneath the plain wooden cross. It was the Virgin she had come to see. Rosalinda fell to her knees, held her crucifix to her lips and bowed her head.
“Hail Mother Mary, full of grace, for I have sinned,” she whispered, then closed her eyes, not daring to whisper more. Sounds emanating out of silence became voices, shadows floating across her closed eyelids became forms and she was carried to that morning thirty years ago when she was only a girl, herself.
Meet the Author
Mark David Campbell is a Canadian Italian who has lived in Italy for the past twenty years where he teaches, writes, and paints, moving between lago Maggiore and Milan with his husband. Prior to this, he spent more than fifteen years working in archaeology and anthropology in Belize and has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Toronto. He enjoys pizza, beer, swimming, and salsa. Find Mark on Facebook.
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