Tale of a tiger´s heart

He was tired. His body was tired, so was his mind, yet he could not find rest. Once, at the height of his career, the tiger had a similar feeling. At that time, however, it was more a feeling of being lost.

The tiger hardly remembered anything about his childhood. Apart from a few more or less caring people, he could not remember loving contacts. Brought up on the bottle in a zoo, he later was sold off to a circus. The little he remembered about his childhood in the zoo, its ending and the transport to the new home he remembered very vividly, too vividly. Laying in the dark, half awake, half stunned he felt the vibration of the transport underneath his body. At that moment, it seemed, life had left him before it even had started. When he finally woke up in his cage, he wished it would have ended, mainly due to a terrible hangover from anaesthesia. But he was alive and looking back to that time now, he could proudly say he was lucky to be. Because what he expe-rienced further down the line, he would not have dared to dream at that time: success, fame, as much food as he could ever digest and everything else you could wish for, being a tiger. Before all of that, however, at his arrival in the circus, he found himself laying on litter and hard ground. He wasn´t cold, he had his fur to keep him warm, but his bones seemed to radiate cold. He had no rea-son to get up, wasn´t even hungry, and if it hadn’t been for that little throat making a tiny sound that was supposed to change his life, he might have given up at this point. But there it was, small and discreet. The tiger could smell a person nearby and even more: he could smell that it was a child, even that it was a girl and that she meant him no harm. The girl stood in front of the bars and watched him cautiously. When she started talking to him, he could not understand her words, for tigers do not speak English, even though every human he ever met seemed to believe that they should. But he could hear the calmness and interest in her voice. Of course, his interest for her was were little in the beginning. He was tired, tired of life, in which humans so far mainly functioned as an important food source, in whatever way, and he had lost his interest in even that, along with his interest in life altogether. Looking back to that moment he had to admit, that it felt good: the inter-est, the attention and maybe also a certain warmth that her presence radiated.

Slowly the tiger recovered from his strain and the girl kept visiting him at his cage, sitting down in front of the bars and talking to him for hours. In his way, he slowly started to understand her. As he became stronger the tiger was included in the training of the circus. He learned various tricks like jumping through hoops or climbing ladders and above all how to roar precisely at the right time in the right way, giving the act its final touch. Throughout his first performance, he was very nervous, lost his steps a few times and had almost forgotten to roar at the end, but everyone in the circus seemed to be quite pleased with him. He vividly remembered the large portion of food his girl was able to bring him on that evening, with the best regards of the circus family. At that time, he almost was satisfied with himself. The tiger and the girl became so familiar that she no longer had to stay in front of the bars, but were able to come into his cage to feed and nurture him and if her parents didn´t notice, she would even sneak out her bed at night to snuggle up on his warm side. The days went by and his performances became more and more professional. Sometimes he even scared himself, then it usually turned out to be a particularly grand performance, and had it been up to the tiger, it could have gone on like this forever, but his life was about to change again.

The Tiger rarely had the time to watch the audience during his performances. When he did, the people there always seemed a bit strange to him. Some sorts of strangers could always be found there: Parents not in control of their naughty or hyperactive children, big butts nervously sliding back and forth on their small seats and crazy-eyed people missing zapping between channels and not having to commit to one reality for too long. But the Tiger had never seen such an odd couple as the one he spotted that evening. In their tuxedos they looked completely over-dressed next to the other guests, and yet they seemed uncomfortable as if they had been forced to put on a scratchy sack instead of clothes. And in fact, he later learned that the tuxedos they were wearing that night basically were sacks compared to the suits and outfits they normally wore. They watched the tiger’s performance vigilantly, but he missed the excitement, maybe even slight fear, that he usually got from his audience. Motivated by this lack of reaction, his performance that evening had been particularly grand. Every jump he had executed in complete elegance and his roars ranked amongst the top ten of his performances. But the two smocking guys didn’t even applaud, which frustrated the tiger a little, but a big portion of food and his little girlfriend quickly calmed him down after the show. What he didn’t know was that the two visitors were show magicians looking for a new cat as an act in their shows. Since the circus was in financial troubles the director gratefully accepted the deal and sold the tiger to the two magicians. Even now, years down the line looking back, the tiger had tears of rage in his eyes remembering the keepers and the blowgun carrying the narcotic dart. The moment he saw it he knew what would happen, recognising it from his first big journey to the circus. All turning and twisting, all roaring couldn´t help him, there was no escape and no place to hide in his tiny cage. He jumped back and forth and yet could not attack the invaders through the bars. Just like that everything ended, and the tiger once again landed in the darkness of a box, moved through different means of transportation. But the waking up was different this time. One thing the Tiger noticed immediately was that it wasn´t cold straw-covered ground he was lay-ing on, but the softest and fluffiest material the Tiger had ever felt. Secondly, there was room around him. Somewhere certainly were bars and walls but his cage was huge and, as he found out a bit later, full of things that were meant for him to play with and climb. He recovered quickly from the strains of his journey this time, even though he missed his little friend, especially at night. He had no choice but to start his training very shortly after his arrival. The magicians taught him many new tricks and soon he had his first performances, always giving his best and mostly being very successful with it. When he finally felt comfortable with a trick, he learned a new one. Soon he per-formed several times a day. The tiger liked the applause and attention, but, if he was to be honest, at that time he simply tried to scrape along somehow, doing his best to live up to the standards of the shows and to answer all the expectations that his fame brought to him. So, he tried harder and harder to improve his performance. Photo sessions and video recordings were added to his obliga-tions, everybody seemed to want a piece of him. Now and then he even got ladies for visit in his cage and the food was always the best quality. Despite all the advantages, the Tiger became more and more exhausted in time. He tried to pick himself up using catnip especially before performanc-es, but on the long run even that wouldn´t do the trick and his nose started to hurt too much, too often.
And then came that day. That day which, if he had one wish he would have deleted from his life or at least from his memory. The tiger was used to visitors. In the beginning, he was happy about eve-ry visit. But when everything started being too much, he mostly pretended to be asleep when someone came around or he drove them away through being moody and if necessary, with an im-pressive roar. By that time, he almost had forgotten his past in the circus and so he didn’t think that it could be her who the guards guided to his cage that afternoon. He had just woken up from his nap and still had a blurred vision, or at least that’s what he wanted to believe or anything that made him look less like a monster. The tiger didn’t really know what exactly had happened, but when he came to his senses after a lot of roaring and a few dramatic paw waves in the direction of his visitor he recognised her, but it was too late. Not seeing her face as she curled up against the wall in fear, he recognised his little friend by her smell and soft presence. Before he could mand his mistake, the guards had already hurried by to get her out of his cage. Running back and forth behind the bars he could hear her crying in the distance and the men talking soft and reassuring to her, as they moved her further and further away from him. Remembering this moment, his eyes went to tears, he often had when remembering outraging moments of his life, but in this one case, those tears had nothing to do with anger.
From that moment his career started to crumble as he lost focus while performing and his roar no longer was what it used to be. He slept a lot and didn´t feel like grooming his fur anymore. Finally, he was sold and when the men with the blowpipe came for hin for the third time in his life, he had already given up the fight. For a brief moment he thought they brought him back to the circus, but when he woke up at the new zoo and this last hope was shattered, he decided to be content with eating and sleeping from now on. The years passed by and there was hardly anything to tell about the decade that followed. The Tiger didn´t mind that for he felt he had experienced enough ex-citement in his life. Many people came by to look at him, after a while, he didn’t even notice them anymore. Only when little girls with a warm presence came crowding up to the windowpane of his cage the tiger could not help but to pay them some attention. So, he would stroll past them or sometimes even stop right in front of them and let them have a good look at him, but he would never roar again.

A lot of people will say that the story is most likely to end here. But it didn´t, because it was his sto-ry, and he wrote its ending differently. One day a school class passed the tiger’s enclosure. There was nothing special about that and the tiger probably wouldn’t even have noticed them like most of the other school classes passing by, if he hadn’t heard a tiny sound of a female throat that sounded so familiar. Only listen half-heartedly he didn’t recognise her immediately, so when the wind turned to blow her scent in his direction the tiger stuck his nose in the air so surprised and so fast, that he got a little dizzy. He turned his head and followed the trail to where she stood. Taller and differently built then he remembered her she was but with the same good eyes and the same calm and interested expression that she had such a long time ago. When the two of them finally met, either one on their side of the large windowpane, the girl too became more and more certain, that it was her oldest friend standing there in front of her. And as she pressed her hand against the glass all the things she wanted to tell him so badly came racing through her mind. About how much she had been affected by there meeting during his showtimes until she understood much later that she had done nothing wrong. How long it took for her to understand, that she had not been re-sponsible for him been taken away from her and even longer to understand, that there is an angry side to all of us, not making any living being unlovable. But she could not tell him any of that be-cause tigers don´t speak English but maybe, so she hoped, he would understand her anyway. And he did. The girl had to leave the tiger soon that day to go back to school with her classmates, but from that day on she visited him as often as she could, telling him things that he didn’t and yet somehow did understand. The girl met her first love in the zoo, one of the keepers, and though it was strictly forbidden he sometimes would let her into the tiger’s cage where they played and could be close to each other for a while before the girl had to go back to her world on the other side of the windowpane, and the tiger was happy.

Today, however, he primarily was tired. In fact, he had been tired for a few days. Not only his body but also his mind. All these memories had been swirling through his mind and into his dreams at night and slowly the tiger felt that it was time to let them all go. The girl visited him every day. When he was moved to the cages in the back, hidden from the public eye, the girl sneaked into his cage several times. She seemed sadder when she visited him there, but also never lost her kind smile for she always knew how lucky they both have been finding each other again before the tiger had to go. And when the Tiger finally went on the last great journey of his life, he was satisfied. Actually, he would have done so smiling, but the truth is tigers can´t really smile. So, when they found his body the next morning without him, the girl not only cried but also smiled for her best friend and a finally whole heart of a tiger.