DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
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The Tiger and the Lizard
The tiger hummed to himself as he slowly dawdled along the rocky path. Though he was in a stony, arid part of the country that he didn’t know, he felt no fear. He was proud of his striped furry body and the muscles that rippled along his body as he moved. His head swept from side to side as he walked, keeping an eye out for any trouble, and even more importantly, for his next meal. He enjoyed exercising his power, particularly against other animals. He smiled to himself, as only tigers can smile. Was he not the great hunter? Didn’t the other animals run in fear of him? And rightly so. His massive claws and teeth, his strength and his speed would terrify anything. He carried on, ever alert, but confident in his own body and skills.
The truth was that the tiger was conceited. He could not imagine anything that could stand against him, or would even dare. As we shall see, this almost proved to be his downfall. But for the moment, he was a god in his own country, and talked to himself as he went, in low growls, that went something like this. “ I am a mighty tiger. I can kill anything, and nothing will ever stop me. I like everybody to be scared of me. For I am truly the best. So there.”
Ahead of him there was a huge rock, and his path lay around its base. As he moved slowly around the rock, he came into a landscape of smaller rocks, scattered at random at various levels, with flat tops and crevices, where no plants grew. He moved forward and then stopped dead, his senses bristling. For he had seen something move – not very big, but enough to alert him. He padded silently forwards into this stony landscape, his yellow eyes searching for the movement again. All was silent. No birds sang. Nothing disturbed this hard landscape, that gleamed and shimmered silently in the hot sun.
Suddenly he saw it. A small dark shape, completely still, on top of a flat rock, and only a few yards away, and above him. He hunched into a low crouch, and silently, almost without movement, crept nearer. He raised his head very slowly and cautiously. The creature, whatever it was, was just above him. Then he raised his head higher, and examined it. It had a scaly, elongated form, with baggy folds hanging from its body. Its head, a very large one, had a jaw-like mouth, and, above that, two large protuberant eyes that hardly seemed eyes at all, but with two tiny dark slits in them, that never wavered. It had four legs, two each side of its body, and a long tail that seemed to be an extension of its body. It was something the tiger had never seen before.
Oho, thought the tiger, an exotic meal! He thought about pouncing, but decided upon a better strategy. He moved closer and closer until it was almost within reach. He extended his claws in readiness. With unbelievable speed, his right paw slashed out to knock the creature off the rock. But then the tiger gaped in amazement. The creature was simply not there. Snarling, the tiger leapt around in a full circle. There, behind him, was the creature, on a flat rock. How had it moved so fast? The tiger tried again, moving up close to striking range. Again his paw flashed like lightning, but found nothing. The tiger leapt around again, and found the creature back, motionless on the same rock as before. This was unexpected, and the tiger did not like it. He began to feel rage, increasing his determination to catch and kill this creature. He reconsidered his tactics. This was not good pouncing territory, so he had to get near enough to give it no escape. And so began a long duel.
For hour after hour the tiger crept up on the creature and swiped at it and each time the creature was not there. It always kept appearing behind him. The tiger swiped and swiped but could never catch the creature. By this time he was hot and furious. How could he not catch this thing? The more it evaded him, the more infuriated he was. At length, he stopped, and glared at the creature, that stared at him with those unblinking eyes. Then, unexpectedly, it spoke, in a thin, reedy voice, which drove the tiger into a complete fury.
“Nyah, nyah, nyah – can’t catch me” it said. Roaring, the tiger began to lash out, his temper finally lost. He was a fearsome sight, with his yellow eyes now tinged with the red of madness. But it was to no avail. Finally, panting, hot, with his fur standing up with venom, he sat back on his haunches, and glared at the creature for several minutes. After a while, he said: “What are you? I don’t want to harm you. But I do want to eat you, because I am now seriously fed up and hungry”. The creature’s long tongue flicked in and out a few times, and then it said, in the same reedy voice, “You’re not very good, are you? Even if you tried to eat me, I’d stick in your throat and choke you to death, and in any case, I’d probably poison you. Fancy that? As to your first question, I am a lizard, and very proud of it too. As for you, I don’t know what you are, but I do think you are a conceited bully, and I’ve quite enjoyed giving you a hard time. So you tell me what you think”,
The tiger sat and thought. He was angry at being called a bully, but he also realised that this – lizard! – had done exactly what he’d said. He also knew that he had expended a lot of time and energy, and had been made to look a fool as well. If the other animals knew about this, he would be a laughing-stock. Some of them might even feel that they could stand up against him, causing no end of trouble. So, for the first time, the tiger considered a truce. “All right”, he said grudgingly, “I can’t get you, but you can’t harm me. I propose that we have an agreement to leave each other alone, so long as you don’t tell anybody else about this little matter. Do you agree to that?” The lizard made a strange gurgling noise in its throat, which, had the Tiger only known, was the sound of it laughing. “All right,” it said, ‘I agree. Now you had better get off home. We might meet each other again, but in a more friendly way, I hope’. “Done,” said the tiger, and turned around and left, leaving the lizard still sitting placidly on his flat rock.
On his way home, the tiger pondered the situation. Then an idea hit him. When he returned, he called a meeting. The other animals were frightened and suspicious, and didn’t want to come. But the tiger said ‘You lot get your backsides down to the waterhole now. I have something very important to tell you.” So they all came, though very fearful. The tiger looked around at them all. “I have done a very important thing today. On your behalf, I have made a very important agreement with the lizards. They will not harm us if we do not harm them. So, I hope that you are going to be very grateful to me for doing so. I have preserved peace for you. Now be off with you.”
The other animals, not knowing what lizards were anyway, did not dare argue with the tiger, and timidly accepted his word.
As he lay down to sleep that night, the tiger smiled comfortably to himself. Not only had he saved his own reputation, but he was still seen as the natural leader of the animals. They were never likely to know about the real meaning of the tiger’s encounter with the lizard, and he would still hunt and feast. As he would point out, it was a small price to pay for the peace he had made. And so it was that the tiger brought about a treaty between the animal and reptile kingdoms, though no-one would ever know the real truth.
Frank Jackson (5/06/06)