Mateo checked the loads on his burros. A box was tied on each side of the donkeys; four boxes in all. Each box contained thirty books. He carried a rectangular sign, white, with bright red letters, proclaiming Bibleoburros. His donkey powered mobile library would leave the roadway at the crest of the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, and follow a beaten path into a remote area of the Huehuetenango department of Guatemala.
A truck of some kind, still unseen, noisily climbed the rutted road leading up to the ridge. Mateo pulled his two burros into a clearing. He needed a rest and the vehicle must have room to pass. Slipping a roasted coffee bean into his mouth, he rolled it around with his tongue to stimulate a little saliva.
A Chicken Bus, painted in bright tones of reds, greens and yellow crept into view, jerking and sputtering, and belching blue smoke. The bus overflowed with passengers, some hanging precariously from the roof, and with small animals. The passengers were lustily singing something with a marimba rhythm until seeing him, their song trailed off.
A fat man, in a too short blue tee shirt, holding a bleating goat in his lap, sat on a bundle tied on the roof above the driver. “Hey! Bookman, come to San Gaspar Ixchil” he shouted. Other passengers, hoping to entice Mateo, shouted the name of their village.
Mateo waved, nodding and smiling as the bus trailed by, chased by a cloud of dust. Someday he hoped to buy a chicken bus and turn it into a bibliobus, or, mobile library. In some big cities, others had done that. He reveled in the thought of all the books it could carry, until reality hit him. No bus could go where he was going. In the picturesque verdant mountains and valleys of the Huehuetenango, Ladinos and Mayas, mostly, lived in adobe huts, or less substantial homes. Only winding dirt trails lead to the little villages that were his destination. Schools, if any, were scattered, and without books.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The small village had turned out to welcome Mateo and helped him spread the books in rows upon the green grass. The joyful chatter of the children and their quick, bright smiles and sparkling dark eyes satisfied something deep in Mateo’s soul. Their laughter was the music of heaven. Books, loaned out on the previous trip, were exchanged for something new to read, or with pictures to look at.
Afterwards, sitting in the shade of a tree, he accepted a coffee from Yasmin. “Mateo, you will never know what you have done for Alejandra. My daughter is destined for great things, even if she cannot walk. She reads everything you bring and forgets nothing.”
“She is a special child, no doubt.”
“Can you believe it? She is only twelve but speaks five dialects. Some of the elders say she is the best translator they know.”
“What do you hear from her father? Yasmin.”
“Nothing, lately. He is working in Texas. Someday he hopes, if he doesn’t get caught, to have enough quetzals to pay the doctors to fix Alejandra’s legs.”
“That will be good.”
“Yes, but it is your Biblioburro that revived her spirit. Without the books, she would have given up long ago.”
“My small library offers hope; I see that in her face.” Mateo laughed. “I shall come as long as my wife keeps earning the beans.”
“You have a wonderful wife, Mateo. But if she quits feeding you, this village will never let you go hungry. Your books have bound us together. In the evenings, we trade books and visit. The ones that can read teach others, and we discuss what we have read.
“Alejandra says we will have a proper building someday. It will be a bibliotecas, a library, filled with books for all the people in our district.”
Mateo handed the empty cup to Yasmin. “Thanks for the coffee and encouraging words. I must take my Biblioburos to the next village. There is a boy there that …….”
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