DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
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Tiger in the box
He lay trapped. Lying in his box, he was unable to move. The bars on each side, and the small size of his cage prevented him from moving or even stretching properly. He began to think of why he was here. At the same time, he began to look around him. He was in a small cage, with bars around him, so narrow that he could not even put his paws outside. Above him was a strong wooden ceiling, and the floor, on which he lay, was exactly the same. He seemed to be in the back of an open truck outside. His head was aching, and his natural anger, for once, was quiet, until he decided where he was. But he began to remember what had happened.
It was like this. Tiger had spent the day prowling through the thickets and undergrowth, looking for something likely to eat. But he had found nothing, Then he had heard sounds behind him. He was used to men’s cries and shouts, but these were whispers. Puzzled, he looked around carefully, and then moved slowly and stealthily away. But, as he did, he crossed an open space between bushes. It was then, he remembered, that he felt a sudden prick in his rump. ‘Owww’, he shouted, but then he felt strange, and then there was the blackness. And this is why he had woken up here, trapped in this ridiculously small box.
At that moment, he heard loud voices, and several men jumped up on the truck around him. ‘Yahoo! Yahoo! Tiger! Tiger! Silly old Tiger! Look at you now! Rubbish! Rubbish! Can’t do anything, Yah! Yah! Yah!’ They suddenly started prodding him through the bars of his box with sticks, tormenting him. Tiger snarled, and tried to lash out, but couldn’t get his claws through the bars. The more the men poked him, the angrier he became. “just you wait!!’ he shouted, but of course it was in Tiger language, and they didn’t understand. They kept on poking him and shouting insults, and the tiger was getting more and more furious.
Suddenly, another voice from behind the truck shouted. “Stop that!’ Immediately the men fell silent and gradually began to clamber off the truck. Striding up was a small, rather fat man, in shorts and jacket, who was sweating rather badly. ‘Leave the Tiger alone! He shouted again. ‘He’ll find out soon enough where he’s going! He stood and looked at Tiger in his box. ‘My, oh, how! The first Indian tiger in Africa. And the last’. He chuckled. Tiger pricked up his ears. ‘He’s going to look good in the zoo back home. It will be a rare treat for everybody. Now ,tomorrow morning, we’re off. Make sure we’ve got everything ready’. And he turned and strode off importantly to the large bungalow nearby.
Night fell. Tiger lay, half-asleep, despite being uncomfortable, feeling miserable and helpless. He was still thinking about what that man had said. A zoo! That was a terrible thought to think about. But the man had also said ‘an Indian tiger’. What did that mean.? As far as he knew, he had always lived in this country, ever since he was a cub. But where had his mother and father come from? Was it possible that he might have come here from somewhere else? Hi thoughts still working, Tiger finally fell asleep.
But not for long. He woke up to hear a small scrabbling noise outside his cage. He opened his eyes and looked carefully. To his amazement, he saw a small brown monkey holding the lock of he cage in its’ small furry paws, and muttering to itself. ‘Who are you?’ said Tiger suspiciously, which in Tiger language, amounted to a low growl. ‘Oh, you’re awake then’ said the monkey. ‘Hi, there. I’m Zigu. Got yourself into a bit of trouble, I see’. ‘
‘Yes, get me out! Now!’
‘No can do at the moment’ replied Zigu cheerfully. ‘At least not by myself. But I know someone who can. This lock needs picking to get you out. I’ll go and get a real expert to do that’. “but why would you do that for me? Tiger asked with curiosity. Zigu said simply, ‘because no animal should be banged up like this. It’s not right. Animals should be free to go where they will. It’s against the universal code of animals all over the world, no matter what humans might say. They’re a mess, if you ask my opinion. I suppose they’re no better or worse than we are, but they still shouldn’t lock you up like this. Anyway, I’m going to get help. Don’t go away’. ‘Don’t worry’, said Tiger, ‘I’m not going anywhere’. And Zihu diaappeared into the night.
Tiger lay and thought about this situation, and gradually thought of what he was going to do. Would the monkey come back? If not, he was trapped. But if he did, then something might be done. He was awoken from his thoughts, by rustles and noises outside. Looking up, he saw a number of monkeys escorting a strange figure. It was a very old monkey, who wore a long purple robe, and carried a small wooden staff. He shuffled slowly to Tiger’s box, and with help from the other monkeys, climbed slowly onto the truck. Then he paused and looked at Tiger. ’I’m going to let you out’, he said in a very old voice, ‘but I want you to promise that you will behave yourself in future. Is that understood? ‘Tiger looked at the monkey priest’s wise old eyes, and suddenly felt ashamed and humble. ‘Yes’, he said. ‘I promise’. Without another word, the old monkey bent down to the lock. Thee was a snap, and then the lock was open. ‘Now you can go free. But a word before you go. You are not a very intelligent animal. And you use cunning and instinct to be what you are, but come and see me soon, before you leave. I have some truths to tell you’.
To the surprise of everyone, Tiger said slowly,’ ‘I’m not leaving. Yet. I have a surprise for those humans. I thank you for your help and I will come and see you, because you know more about me that I need to know. But first I have something to do’. The wise old monkey nodded and clambered down from the truck, and disappeared into the night. As they left, Tiger saw Zigu give him a wink and a nod. Tiger smiled and lay back in his box as best he could. He was still thinking of what that man had said, and it still troubled him.
At first light, he heard voices again. ‘Come on, let’s get it off to the airport. It won’t take long’. Tiger kept his eyes shut, but he felt his temper rising. It, indeed! By his own native cunning, Tiger knew when the moment was ready to act. He waited. He waited. Then the men began to lift his box. And then…..’Raaaarrrrrgh” And sprang out of his box! And never was Tiger so bold and never was Tiger so bright! All the men saw was a huge yellow and black striped demon, three times their size, who leapt out and knocked them over like so many human bowling pins! They leapt away, running in all directions, gibbering and screaming like monkeys, frightened out of their wits! This was their worst nightmare come true! How they ran! One man tried to raise his gun, but was immediately flattened by the Tiger-demon, who trampled over him mercilessly. Some of the men ran to the river and threw themselves in and stayed there, up to their necks in water, the eyes bulging with terror. Others ran to the house, shrieking with fear, (just like monkeys, Tiger thought) and desperately barricaded themselves behind the door. The small fat man, who had stood, petrified, ran and tried to squeeze himself through the window where he got stuck, with his large bottom sticking out, until Tiger snapped at it. With a wheeze and a squelch, he fell inside.
And then all was silent. Only a few torn coats and flapping trousers lay in the dust. Tiger grinned to himself and prowled hungrily around. The men in the water hastily disappeared under the surface, coming up and gasping, spitting with the muddy water. Looking around, Tiger nodded gently, and then turned around and trotted off leisurely into the undergrowth, where he soon disappeared from sight. Many men would tell the story, in years to come, (some of it rather made up, of course) of how they had unwittingly released the demon-god of the tigers, and how it had chased them and swallowed many of them whole. How many had fallen dead from fright! How they would never, ever, again let loose such a demon, many times their size, and who vowed revenge on them. And never again would they set foot near that cursed bungalow!
Tiger was oblivious to this, and the stories that would follow. Instead, he trotted along, still thinking of what that ridiculous fat man had said. He was deeply troubled. Where did he come from? And who were his mother and father? In what country did they live? Tiger knew nothing about geography, but he did know that India was a different country from the one he knew. He felt that he had to go to meet that wise old monkey again, who seemed to have all the knowledge of the world. So he went home, and fell asleep, still brooding about who he was and where he had come from.
A few days later, he suddenly came across Zigu, who was busy munching away at a bunch of fruit he had gathered. “Oh, hallo,’ said Zigu. ‘See you’re out and about again now. All right?’ ‘Yes,’ said Tiger abruptly, ‘And I need to see that old monkey again. The one that got me out of my box’. ‘Oh, you mean the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven? Fine, I’ll take you to him. Follow me’. And off they went until they came to the monkey village. The monkeys all stared curiously at Tiger, and whispered amongst themselves. Presently out came the old monkey, that Tiger recognised, in his robe, still carrying his staff. ‘Come in’, He led Tiger to an old tree-trunk that was hollowed out into a small room. ‘Please sit’. Then the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven looked at him steadily. ‘ You want to know about your mother and father, don’t you? and why you are here’. ‘Yes’. Said Tiger, quietly.
The Great Sage began. ‘When you were a very young cub, you lived in a country called India. Your mother and father brought you up there. They were Indian tigers, you see. And so are you. But one day, hunters came, white men on elephants, who finally found and, I am so sorry to say this to you, they killed them. Just for sport. (‘Hearth-rugs!’ muttered Tiger to himself bitterly)
Someone found you, a very small cub, and for some reason, brought you to Africa. But you escaped, and found your own way about. This is why you are in this country, where you have lived ever since, and became part of this African world.
The Great Sage stopped. ‘I am very, very sorry to have to tell you all this. But you do need to know. You are an Indian tiger, not an African one, even though you have made your home here. But it is very important that you should know where you came from, and who your parents were. You see,’ he looked into the diatance, ‘I knew your mother and father. They were good friends of mine, and they were good, kind and honourable. I miss them sadly’. ‘How old are you?’ asked Tiger quietly. ‘I am many generations old. I have been on this earth for a very long time’. And he looked directly at Tiger, who was staring down at the ground before him. ‘Go, now and think about what I have said. But I will tell you this. You should be proud of your mother and father. I knew them’. Without another word, Tiger got up and trotted away to his den. The Great Sage watched him go, and then sighed and got to his feet.
Tiger lay down in his den, put his head down between his paws, and for the first time in his life, he cried.
Frank Jackson (27/02/07)