Miles and his parents were visiting the Inti-nan Solar Musuem in Ecuador. It was an interesting place, with winding paths that lead to little exhibit areas where their English-speaking guide conducted hands-on experiments and hummingbirds fluttered freely. They were a disparate group of tourists, the English speakers – Miles and his parents, two Korean colleagues with the son of their supervisor, and a family from Washington State complete with parents, two children and two grandparents .
“Have any of you had the chance to try cuy?” asked the guide.
“Is that guinea pig?” asked the grandfather from Washington State.
“That’s right,” beamed the guide.
“I did”, said the Korean women.
“Did you like –“
“Too gamey. Full of bones,” said the Korean woman.
“Cuy is a great delicacy here,” said the guide. “However, it is very expensive – like, around twenty dollars – so we only have it for festivals and special occasions.”
“One of my friends saw a painting of ‘The Last Supper’ in Peru,” Miles heard the Washington State mom whisper to his mom. “Right smack in front of Jesus was a big platter with a dead guinea pig on it. I guess if it was for festivals….”
“Why wouldn’t Jesus want cuy?” said Miles’s mom, and they both laughed.
Miles didn’t think he could eat cuy. He liked guinea pigs. Several of his friends had them as pets. Eating one would be just too weird.
“Here are some guinea pigs we are raising,” said the guide, leading them over to a little indoor pen. A dozen or so cream-and-butterscotch colored guinea pigs were huddled there.
“Are you raising these for –“ Miles’s mom began.
“Yes,” said the guide. “Now let’s move on to this room, where you will see some shrunken heads.”
Miles took a last look at the guinea pigs. “Awww,” he said involuntarily before turning away.
Miles turned around. The rest of the group was ahead of him. Nobody was there. He headed towards his parents and the others.
“Pssst. Kid. Kid, turn around.”
Miles whirled around. The voice was coming from the guinea pig pen.
“That’s right, kid. It’s me, the talking guinea pig. Don’t make me shout, okay?”
Miles leaned over the pen. Sure enough, a large guinea pig with long white whiskers and large beady eyes was staring at him.
“I heard that ‘awwww’ that came out of your mouth a few seconds ago. Don’t be feeling sorry for us, okay? Being a delicacy is a huge honor, kid, a huge honor. Don’t you forget it.”
“How come you speak English?” asked Miles, when he finally found his voice.
“A lot of folks come through here speaking English. The guides speak English, if there’s a demand for it.” Now that Miles noticed, the guinea pig had a slight accent, but for the most part, his English was pretty good.
“I have to go back to my parents,” said Miles.
“Are you kidding me? A guinea pig wishes to converse with you, and you have to go back to your parents? Kids today have absolutely no intellectual curiousity,” snarled the guinea pig.
“I’m sorry, I am curious, but this is really weird,” said Miles, who was a little frightened. “How can a guinea pig talk?”
“How old are you, kid? Eleven? Twelve?”
“Eleven”, said Miles.
“Don’t worry about how right now. What’s important is why. I heard that ‘awwww’, and I didn’t like it. Not one bit.”
“I’m sorry,” said Miles quickly. He looked over his shoulder. His parents and the rest of the group were taking turns trying to balance an egg on a nail. “It’s just that you’re all so cute. I hate to see you eaten.”
“Hate to see us eaten!” The guinea pig stretched on his two back legs and shook his front ones in anger. “We live to be eaten, and don’t you forget it! We are the pride of South America, you hear me? Do you know how much it costs to buy a decent cuy?”
“Twenty dollars,” said Miles. Seeing the guinea pig’s face fall, he added, “The guide told us.”
“Twenty dollars is a lot of money, my friend. And do you know why? Because we’re worth it, that’s why. My father and his father’s father and his father’s father were raised to be feasted upon. It’s in our blood. And then you come along with your ‘Awwwwww’, and next thing you know, people will want to keep us for pets. Then what?” asked the pig.
Miles held out his arms. “Then you could be pets. All of you. You could live in a cage, and –“
“Live in a cage!” the guinea pig sputtered. “Sounds like a real blast! A cage! Then what? Death?”
“Well…..” Miles though about it. “Yeah. But you’d live a long time. And maybe some kid would feed you, and play with you –“
“We get plenty of that,” said the guinea pig shortly. He craned his neck to see over the pen. “Those your parents over there? The short brunette with the tall guy?”
“Yeah,” said Miles.
“Do me a favor – they look like they have some cash. Get them to try some cuy while they’re here, will ya?”
“They’re not really into –“
“Please?” The guinea pig looked at Miles with his pleading beady eyes. “Please? You’re from the States, right? I want the world to know how great we are.”
“Miles!” Miles’s mother came over and took his hand. “You have to try and balance this egg on a nail. It’s impossible. Come on, I’ll take your picture while you do it.”
Miles looked back at the guinea pig. He was silent, but his shiny eyes were saying please. Miles turned to his mother. “Can we try some cuy tonight?”
His mother dropped his hand. “Really? You want to try cuy? Why, son?”
Miles looked at the guinea pig and swallowed hard. “A friend of mine told me it was really good.” He thought he saw the pig wink.
- - - Michele Markarian ‘s plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing, Heuer Publishing, and the Book of Estrogenius, and are produced throughout the United States and Great Britain. Her short story Shake was published in the anthology Families: The Frontline of Pluralism by Wising Up Press, and her story, Don’t You Want This Baby? was published in the anthology View From the Bed by Wising Up Press. Michele has written for Mom’s Literary Magazine, Regional Air Cargo Review and The Air Charter Journal, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America.