Tigers Dream in Colors
de Rodica Bretin
Despite the crowded streets, I had arrived ten minutes early. The pathways of the Zoo were vacant. The animals slept, some in the sun, others in cement igloos that mimicked dens or burrows. I stopped in front of one of the cages: Panthera tigris altaica.
The Siberian tiger disliked the midday heat. It preferred the evening twilight, the nighttime breeze and the chunks of meat the zookeepers tossed over the fence from a distance. Born in the wilds of Siberia, the striped big cat had not come to Nova Scotia of its own accord. Caught in a poacher’s trap, it had endured a Trans-Siberian odyssey, starvation and beatings at the hands of Russian circus masters and the agonizing seasick of a voyage to Dartmouth.
Here, it rested apathetically. Or maybe it dreamt. Did it still remember the taiga, the snow, the air that smelled of resin – or the hunt, the warm meat, the blood dripping away with the life of its fallen prey?
I suddenly heard Lorena’s voice. “Am I late?”
She came silently like she wasn’t walking on high heels but on feline paws. And I couldn’t hear her thoughts either, save when she wanted me to.
“I was actually early,” I said, but she already knew that.
Lorena didn’t pay any notice to me. She passed by the fence, opened the doors to the cage and stepped inside. Then she turned towards me:
I followed her, my breath intertwined with unmistakable fear, as my heartbeat maddeningly pulsed in my temples. What will she teach me this time? I chose not to think of an answer because I didn’t like the possibilities.
The tiger got up, lazily stretched and came forward. Once in front of us it stopped, uncertain, licked its paw and whipped the air with its tail, its green, luminescent eyes staying fixed to Lorena’s. He took another step, hesitantly.
“Did you ever get into the mind of an animal?”
My eyes had become as wide as the cat’s that was captive under Lorena’s spell. That intense, overwhelming power!
“Couldn’t I try with something a bit smaller, a Chihuahua, a hamster maybe?” I whispered.
The tiger snarled, showing me the white luster of its fangs. Lorena laughed.
“It’s only a three hundred kilo tomcat. Are you ready?”
Lorena closed her eyes, in the tiger’s I saw confusion; I couldn’t let it become fury, death.
I got in.
A jump into an alien world. It was completely unexpected, amazing, so much so that I forgot my fear. The tiger thought in colors, a succession of dizzying and apparently chaotic colors. But it wasn’t quite like that. Every sound, smell, image called forth its own nuance, one from infinity, a sensorial kaleidoscope that it would take me a lifetime to decipher. I only had a few moments, so I reduced everything to the bare essentials.
Red – blood, meat, prey; blue – unknown; yellow – threat, danger, imminent conflict; green – female, pleasure, peace. He sometimes saw me as yellow, then as red. Threat and prey? No, I was green, green! The taiga after the rain, the rustling of the tall grasses and me, swaying among them radiating tranquility, safety, abandon.
The tiger opened its jaws, showing me its fangs, its rosy tongue, the black around its lips. It yawned again, stretching out next to our feet, its head cradled on its paws, and in a moment it fell into a deep sleep.
Lorena bent down, scratching his forehead, then behind his ears.
“Would you like to pet him?”
“Maybe next time,” I smiled to her, solemnly promising myself never to return here again.