I Don't Care Much For Tigers
An excerpt from Monsoon Tiger by Rain Chudori. The book is a collection of short stories about the various stages of womanhood. Available here.
The Monsoon of 2012 was an anguishing time for the tigers. Living in the only zoo in our city, their lives revolved around licking their soft paws that no longer remembered the feel of dirt (for they were taken as cubs); picking at the trash that the visitors threw at them, in an effort to provoke or at least capture their attention, which didn’t quite work; and sleeping under the arti cial tree that produced no sap. Due to budget cuts, there were only a number of keepers who only attended to them during feeding and washing time. The mistreatment of the tigers was mentioned as such on the Sunday newspaper, in which I read aloud to Michael on a late Sunday afternoon, his head resting on my stomach. “I don’t care much for tigers,” he said unaxpectedly.
When the monsoon came, the tigers were left in the heat; and somehow, in that stoic, quiet way of theirs, they slipped out into the city. They roamed the streets, searching, maybe, for an answer or a cause for this unclear war they had with the weather. It was common to see them drinking from the fountains when they were thirsty, finding small coins that people had threw along with their small wishes, sticking to their tongue; and sitting next to patrons in restaurants with white linens and silver cutleries, waiting for a bite. Then when they grew tired, the tigers rested under real trees while insects cleaned their furs off. There were no qualms for the citizens after a while, even though at first, we had frantically called the city zoo who at the time had no power or tactical abilities in recapturing the tigers, until we realised that they had given up their predatory ways. And so for a while, the tigers lived amongst us peacefully.
I was drying Michael’s hair with a towel, standing up while he sat on the bed, as he was taller than me, when a tiger—we later decided to call him Monsoon— rst entered our door. We were looking at each other as we always do when I dry his hair, with his left hand resting on my arms and his index finger moving affectionately. Monsoon nudged the door, managing a little creak to alert us of his presence, and then entered with such poise that Michael and I felt no fear. He wandered as far as the bathtub in which he proceeded to live in for the next twelve months.
I stopped drying Michael’s hair, but clutched it through the towel, as if through the ferocity of it, I was telling him to approach the unassuming tiger. In return, Michael took my hand and stood up, leading me to the bathtub where by that time Monsoon was asleep, claiming its territory as easily as simply existing in it, unlike humans who it seems, spend their whole life claiming things through loving things intensely. At first, he would attack Michael with such fervour as if he was the cause of the monsoon, but we had managed to minimise it to that of a small growl—not one that indicated any desire to hurt us, but one that told Michael to keep his distance, which made it my job to feed, bathe, and take care of Monsoon. These two catalysts co-existed for a year. The tiger in my bathtub and his cause on my bed.
At that time, it was my third year of being with Michael (who still sends me letters on nights he nds it di cult to sleep) in a one bedroom
apartment that was bare, with nothing but a mattress and owers that he would pick coming home from somewhere (and he was always coming home from somewhere). The letters from Michael are desolating for the most part as I knew he only wrote to assuage his fears of the firere crackers going off that he mentioned in one letter was “like some sort of war outside”. One such letter went like this:
It seems that they are testing a new firerecracker. If you were wondering what the sound is like, it is like the sounds Monsoon made when you tried to cut his nails with garden hedges. What were you thinking? Why didn’t I stop you? Love, Michael
Even apart, I knew that we still loved each other very much, though it was the kind of love that was better left unseen except through these letters. Michael now lived in the industrial part of the city, right by the reworks factories, near the highways with skies interrupted by wires every few miles, as he had always wanted. There was an incident in his area where a tiger, which had unknowingly wandered to the area, was so disturbed by the sounds of the steel noise, turned rather violent. From then on, tigers were prohibited to live or visit that area. Though Michael has asked me to come for him, I never have, citing Monsoon as a reason,
even though Monsoon too was long gone. “We’re not equipped to be parents,” Michael said, leaning against the wall while I washed Monsoon, not that he was particularly dirty
as he hadn’t left the apartment since he came, but he, I think, liked the way human skin felt, like I liked the way tiger fur felt. It was true that we weren’t equipped to be parents for we both came from homes that, if anything, taught us that you could only attempt to love another being for so long until you gave up. I looked at Monsoon, now licking my hands a ectionately. Monsoon basked under the sunlight coming in through the shabbily constructed curtains Michael hung up using my torn up unmentionables.
“We’ll try,” I said.
“We can try, sure.” Michael inched when Monsoon turned to him, as if acknowledging Michael’s concerns. “Doesn’t it bother you that he dislikes me?”
“He’ll learn to like you.” Picking away the last of the nettles, the tiger was now swimming in them. “It took a while for me too, didn’t it?”
“It’s not forever,” he said.