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The young girl never gave you a name.
Your magnificence in tawny gold, black and white made a name unnecessary.  

 
 
Patricia Walkow
Memoir - Tiger
 
 
 

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Tiger


The young girl never gave you a name.

            Your magnificence in tawny gold, black and white made a name unnecessary. She simply called you "Tiger" throughout her entire childhood. To this day, you are still Tiger.

            She has never forgotten you.

            You were the first one she ran to visit whenever she went to the zoo. Do you remember her?

            She stood outside your cage and talked to you, asking you how you were and if they were feeding you well. Her hair was brown and she had bangs.

            Your enclosure was small. You were huge—a Bengal tiger, male, regal, probably insane.

            The routine of your day pained your visitor. You took two steps then turned and took two steps the other way. That was your world. There was no room for you.

            You always knew it, but now you know your visitor acknowledged it also.

            As she left your cage to visit the seals in their pond at the top of the hill, she would often look back at you, still incarcerated in your cage, as though you had committed a heinous crime. 

            Two steps, turn, two steps, turn, two steps, turn...

            How could you not have lost your mind?

            You peered into the girl's eyes every time she visited. Even when you paced back and forth, your eyes focused on her face. Her eyes followed you. Do you remember her eyes? Did you know your eyes haunted her?

            She worried about you. Were you aware she understood you should be free?

            Just as you were the first one she visited each time she came to the zoo, you were also the last one she stopped to see before she left. She didn't even consider you an animal.

            You were Tiger.

            For twenty years the girl visited you. For twenty years your routine didn't change—it couldn't; the zoo staff never moved you to a larger cage.

            Two steps, turn, two steps, turn, two steps, turn...

            Before the girl moved away, she visited you once more. You had been part of her life for a long time.

            At the zoo, she saw you were gone.

            She was not disappointed. Her preference was your death over continued imprisonment. At least in the hereafter, you could be true to your nature again and you were too splendid not to have an afterlife.

            Zoos had changed since she was a girl. Animals were given more "natural" enclosures, with room to roam and climb. She wondered if you were in such a place, or if death was still more humane. She needed to know.

            As she passed your former cage, now empty, she was haunted by your image from all those years.

            Two steps, turn, two steps, turn, two steps, turn...

            Two steps, turn, two steps, turn, two steps, turn...

            Two steps, turn, two steps, turn, two steps, turn...

            She paced it out for herself. With her puny gait, compared to yours, it was five steps, turn, five steps, turn, five steps, turn...

            How did you do it all those years, Tiger?

            She found a zookeeper and asked about you.

            You had been sent to a game preserve, a place where people are caged in moving vehicles as they watch the animals live in a quasi-wild state. They weren't sure you could adjust. But you did, she was told.

            The girl breathed a sigh of relief for you. 

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            When she was a grown woman, the young girl who loved you had the opportunity to visit a shelter for large cats. The resident tigers were animals people tried to own as pets, but gave up. Did they not know you can never truly own a tiger? These rescued tigers now had a refuge in the mountains with a certain amount of room to roam within an enclosure of many acres. They were accustomed to people, but they were still wild. One of them reminded her of you, but he was younger than you would have been at the time.

            During a visit to perform some volunteer work at the tiger sanctuary, the now-grown woman had the opportunity to get close to a tiger—not you, Tiger, but one of your distant kin. The keeper brought the tiger to her and she ran her hand along the length of his majestic frame, surprised by the softness of his fur, terrified by his size, awed by his presence and grateful he accommodated her need. She felt the life within his chest as he breathed in and out.

            He did not know she stroked his beautiful fur for you.

            Yes, for you, Tiger.

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