The cookie in my fingers started to feel a bit feeble. I figured I had a few more seconds, tops, to retrieve the sunken cookie out of my coffee, lest the one in my fingers suffer the same fate as his fallen companion. I was seated at an outdoor cafe in Chiclayo, Peru, and was reading a Condorito (Little Condor) comic book in an attempt to improve my Spanish.
Now usually when my bloodstream is filled with caffeine, and I have an anthropomorphic bird teaching me life lessons, I´m pretty content. In fact, this little routine had become a sort of high point to my mornings.
Not today though.
No, today I was beginning to feel agitated because the party behind me couldn´t keep quiet. The caffeine was usually good for a quick boost to my serotonin levels but today it only seemed to aggravate me further. Furthermore, I didn’t understand the punch line to the strip I was reading. Something about a nymphomaniac psychiatrist who appeared to have lied about his credentials (the comics were marketed towards children but were astonishingly crude). Either way, I had had enough. I turned around to give them my best “Excuse me, please shut the hell up” look when something stopped me.
The scene was rather volatile. This I hadn’t deduced from their banter because Spanish is a fairly animated language, to begin with. But now, facing the situation, I could tell it was on the brink of something violent. It must be noted too that this cafe was in a side alley, so the angry party of four had only one spectator, me. There was a young girl, maybe sixteen years of age, doing her paltry best to restrain an older gentleman who was evidently infuriated with a young boy, also of about sixteen years. The young boy was accompanied by an ancient woman who I took to be his grandmother.
Everyone in the party was shouting. I didn’t even bother trying to decipher what was being said and instead just sat back and let the situation unfold.
The man being restrained by the young girl must have taken note that he was being restrained by a young girl, and decided to break free and charge the boy. At this point, the boy reached into his pants and pulled out a machete, no less than a foot in length.
The man spotted the machete but had already gained significant momentum and thus found himself in a bit of a predicament. He was sprinting directly towards a keen blade and since stopping would leave him vulnerable, he gave a quick jab step, like Odell Beckham Jr. might, and bolted past the knife bearing boy and into the open street. The boy dashed after him, bringing the small-stage production to a much grander audience.
The man and his pursuer darted into another alley across the street, and immediately people began to follow, because if there’s one thing the Spanish love more than a siesta it’s the chance of someone getting viciously impaled right in front of them.
Now, this is when I realized I had been in South America far too long because my first instinct was to run and join the crowd, because hey, someone might get viciously impaled right in front of me. Unfortunately, though I hadn’t yet paid my bill nor used the restroom, which was half the reason I chose to get a coffee. In South America, public bathrooms aren’t so much rare as they are non-existent.
I practically threw my money at the waitress and made a beeline sprint to the bathroom. I quickly had a pee, then noticed the bathroom supplied soap. What a luxury. I lathered up, considered stealing the soap, decided against it, and then darted back out into the street. The crowd was there and was significantly larger, but was now accompanied by the police. Oh joy. I got there just in time to witness the whole party being escorted. The policemen were driving a pickup truck which I found to be a bit odd. The girl and the man were escorted into the back seats and the boy and the woman of about eighty were thrown heedlessly into the bed of the truck.
I approached the crowd and dutifully informed a few people that I had, in fact, witnessed the whole fracas unfold. This attracted a bit of interest but once the pedestrians realized I couldn’t offer a single detail as to why it happened or what was said, they willfully puttered off. I crossed the street again, moping and vexing my ineptitude with the Spanish language, then bought another coffee and pulled out Condorito from my backpack.
I recognized that I had just witnessed a once in a lifetime event and because of my inability to speak the language, I had been deprived of some of the situations subtleties. It was still a quintessential spectacle, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit robbed. It was like watching an amazing movie on mute. From that point on I vowed to engross myself in Español. All it took was someone almost getting stabbed to motivate me.