Life and Death in Central America
or The Gringo's Dilemma
Costa Rica Killing Box
A high-pitched squealing, like a baby pig in distress, pierced the air of the Sunday farmer's fair in Zapote. I turned to see a man standing in front of a stack of plastic crates; every few seconds he would lift the top one slightly, and the cry would rise again. The people minding the nearby fruit and vegetable stands grinned and laughed, but the gathering observers looked confused. I walked forward a few steps to see what was inside, but it was impossible; the man uttered rapid fire Spanish, shook his finger to warn me off, and quickly lowered it again. All I managed to glimpse was a bundled up blue jacket, piled in such a way to suggest that a small animal might be underneath.
More people congregated, and the scene repeated itself, but this time the stakes became higher as the man took a long butcher knife with a dark blade and jabbed it downwards into the crate. The squeals intensified. My stomach turned as I watched, but others laughed and joked, nudging each other, enjoying the spectacle. Could this really be happening? Was a man actually about to kill a small, terrified animal right in front of our eyes? I made several more attempts to see what was in there, as did others, but the man always teased us with a near glimpse, sometimes reaching in as if to extract the animal before quickly withdrawing his hand as if nearly bitten.
The raucous laughter of some of the vendors sickened me as I marveled at their cruelty, but there was something funny about all of this. I began to wonder if they were in on something that I was not. Was this merely a charade, a bit of Costa Rican Guerilla Theater put on just for show? If so, it was quite convincing.
Eventually, the tormentor made one last attempt to grab the animal, reaching in and quickly removing his hand before finally shaking his head and leaving. I watched him go around the corner where a stocky, big-bellied fellow in a black fedora put his arm around the man's shoulders as they walked away laughing. The vendors went back to selling their produce and the crowd dispersed. I walked to the crate one last time and looked in to see the blue jacket bundled up as it had been all along; then I too went about my business, wondering what it was that I had just seen.