THE MIST IS CREEPING through the banana trees and Albina drags us outside to show us her world.
She introduces us to the fat-bellied puppies first. The mother dog is thin and exhausted. She lifts her head just long enough to decide that we are no threat, then lets it flop back into the dirt.
Tugging at our hands and chattering about a “chancha”—whatever that is—Albina guides us around to the back of the house. She gestures proudly at a good-sized, mottled white-and-gray pig, sleeping with its back pressed against the weathered boards of the house, and that’s how I learn that “chancha” is Nicaraguan for pig.
“Tomorrow we’re going to kill the chancha,” she tells us. I wonder if I’ve understood her correctly, and doubtfully relay this information to Jessie, who looks concerned. Albina picks up a stick and scratches the pig’s side idly.
In the morning Doña Adela, rapidly patting out tortillas, confirms that the chancha’s number is indeed up. Various uncles and male cousins are already arriving, preparing for the slaughter, or just standing around manfully, dreaming of pork.
Jessie organizes the younger boys into a game of Frisbee. Albina tries to join them, but when the Frisbee conks her on the head and the boys laugh, she picks up a huge stick and shakes it at them furiously. She stalks into the house, and comes back out with the child-sized plastic lawn chair that is clearly her prize possession.
I wave her over to me, offer my notebook and a handful of colored pencils. She brightens at this and proceeds to fill page after page with rows and rows of flowers, all precisely the same size. I sit there wishing I could buy her a book, knowing it’s not my place.
Later, Doña Adela sets up plastic chairs for Jessie and me, front row seats to the chancha’s demise. It takes several uncles to hold the pig (who seems to know what’s coming) still enough for its throat to be slit. Norbin, thirteen years old, is in charge of catching the spurting blood in a bucket, a task he handles with what strikes me as amazing aplomb.
The pig screams and screams, bleeds and bleeds. Jessie snaps pictures while I sit transfixed. Albina turns her back but doesn’t say anything. When the pig is finally quiet, she looks at me with wide eyes.
“I felt sorry for the chancha,” she tells me in a whisper. “Me, too,” I whisper back, and squeeze her shoulder, knowing that we will both eat the meat anyway.
Later, the skinny mother dog snaps down the discarded pig entrails, glancing around warily with her one blue eye and one brown. The whole family feasts on pork nixtamales in the darkness of the house, and to a scratchy radio station, I dance with Albina, and Jessie dances with Norbin, the aunts dance with the uncles, and the cousins bust their moves solo.
Doña Adela smiles out from the smoky kitchen. She hasn’t stopped working for one moment since we met her.
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