Quetzal de Maya
By: Aurora Çampîøñ
Once upon a time, people of the Yucatán Peninsula gathered for the celebration of an extraordinary birth to their sacred world. People saw the importance in the newborn as such as his father’s contribution to astronomy. Yet to Kuhul Ajaw, the holy lord, this arrival was merely another potential tribute to the Sun, only that a greater heart could win a greater grace from the Sun.
The father named his baby boy Quetzal, the most valued birds in Mayan culture with emerald green tails. Quetzals tweeted fortune to his family ever since the father, Abioye, designed the Great Ball Wall, where claps from the center would bounce off into seven quetzal chirps. Abioye’s brother was a skillful man, who made the most magnificent quetzal feather headdress for Kuhul Ajaw. People regarded them as the Quetzal Family, and they believed in the boy’s name before he even arrived to this world. No one doubted the meaning behind it; it was too perfect for the boy to further explain.
Growing up in between the Great Ball Walls, Quetzal was almost too familiar with the magic between them. The selection of new born, the Pok-A-Tok game, the bouncing of the rubber balls, the crying of little boys the first time they got bruises on their elbows and hips; the huge feasts that were held four times a year attracting thousands of spectators, and the proud yet miserable expression of the family at the moment when their little captain hit the ball through the ring; every detail was deep in his head. Every other time his curiosity grew.
Quetzal used to plead for climbing up to the top of the pyramid with Abioye and to feel the worshiping eyes from the crowd. But what motivated him the most was the bewilderment of why his father would drown into silence each time after the feast ended, while other townsmen still seethed with excitement. Quetzal finally waited till that day arrived, the day when his father agreed that he was old enough to go, the same day when his nestling heart quivered to the gruesome closeness of a beating heart.
The cheers, the claps, echoed into an irritating lot of quetzal chirps; the exhausted, excited 13 year-old captain kneeled on the ground with his lips touching the ground, thanking for his win; his mom cried over his father’s shoulder and gazed longingly at her son, the main character of the following ceremony. Then the drummers drummed, Kuhul Ajaw raised his eyebrow, Abioye held his breath, and the priest stretched his long fingernails and pulled out the trembling heart proficiently with its spirit still fresh. Quetzal almost burst into tears, horrified, he squeezed his eyes hard, as iftrying to disperse what he had just seen. The heart was then placed carefully into the bowl in the chacmool’s hands, half alive, beating uncomfortably away from its master’s body that was still warm. Quetzal could hear nothing but the lingering voice from the open chest; he held on to Abioye’s hand tight. Surprisingly, in the next minute or two, the sky gradually opened up and the Sun did shine brightly in response to the sacrifice. Kuhul Ajaw smiled, gigantically.
People grew exhilarated but Quetzal grew silent, and more confused. Father has told me that he had to determine when the ceremony would be held. My father controlled the Sun? It couldn’t be. Why does the Sun feed on human hearts?
That year he was seven.
Too much harsh truth was thrown at his face to adapt to, yet fortunately he learned to protect his heart with callus and moved on; his brilliance made him stand out, he searched for reasons, he dived into the essence, just like Abioye. Under the influence of a man like Abioye, he had no choice but to adopt a flag marked with “introverted and profound” because he could never commit to the same belief as his race was. Quetzal knew his father felt as alien among these people as he was. But the son could not understand why his father had not a slight second thought about Kuhul Ajaw.
Quetzal was certainly no ordinary Mayan. As he got older, his passion about science became even more eager; the infinite tolerance Abioye dedicated to Kuhul Ajaw had shaken Quetzal’s admiration towards him. One day Quetzal asked, why fool the people and let them die for the purpose of a dictator? And Abioye had answered with anger.
After that Quetzal decided to leave his father alone and get away from these restraints and pressure. He played Pok-A-Tok everyday with other selected boys; he trained himself to qualify as a captain while he was still often asked to work with other scholars. He felt normal. He felt not like an outsider. He felt good to be one of his own people —-
—-Until the last week before Quetzal turned thirteen and his team members were determined to win the game that they longed for almost ten years.
All of a sudden he felt desperate, as if everything he spectated six years ago came back to him with an even more paralyzing impact. Quetzal went to seek direction from Abioye and for the first time in these years, he noticed his father’s aging.
Abioye said nothing but wrote him a few lines:
“A Quetzal delivers true messages from the Sun; he thinks different than all others, his mind flies beyond the Caribbean Sea yet he never forgets his duty to serve his sovereign and his people with loyalty. A Quetzal also understands that to remain peace, he lives to sacrifice for letting the cruelest truth be only exposed to himself.”
Now it is upon him whether the truth will end up as the remedy or the disaster, Abioye finally spoke.
Quetzal fell into silence, but his father’s trusting eyes raised him up again. He headed to the Ball Court, where he could always find his name; only this time, he carried the future of his nation on his shoulders.