And Thus the Tiger Was Free
—A Utopian Fable—
Cover and story
Upon the ever-flow, a peach blossom floated.
Above me, I watched the blushing bloom’s erratic dance as did a young girl behind the stone-air. My eyes caught hers and she stared fixedly back in fear and awe, clutching her toy-prey. With a scoff, I rose to my feet to seek seclusion with my thoughts.
Behind the safety of stone-air they imagined it was I, with fang and claw, who possessed power over their lives. In reality, I was the prisoner of the utopia they made for me; a world of abundance, peace, and perfection; a display of their reverence and devotion.
My ancestors were kings, gods, entwined with the moon, stars, and the sun. Yet, such power clipped my wings, and dealt me a slow death in sanctuary. My pose remained regal, but my mind was fallowed with inner turmoil. Who was I when oppression defined my choices, when all I had were my dreams? My ears perked up at the loud sermon-on-the-ever-flow that scattered the sparrows.
“…and thus I saw the seven zebras of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow hue; and the heads of the zebras were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone.”
The striped hoof-prey and his followers were braying, as usual. United of mind, body, and soul, they were the very definition of everything I abhorred. Uninterested in doomsday morality tales, I tuned out his proselytizing and let the sun’s warmth spread the wings of my imagination.
The peach blossom floated farther along the ever-flow.
It was an honor to be robed in black and white, the colors of the Great Zebra that leant us protection and unity. It was my duty, my divine calling, to bestow His guidance and knowledge upon the sinful and blind. Under his laws, we lived a harmonious, sinless existence. If ever a brethren fell from grace, he knew the bruising of countless kicks and shunning shoulders. Obedience and belief kept the masses safe. Together, as one, we would endure. One of the heathen long-necked, No-Stripes appeared near the border of our commune. The No-Stripes would not endure or ascend to the Plains of Paradise. There was only one God, one path, one herd, not many.
A long tongue sought the flower cavorting among the treetops.
I stretched out my neck, reaching for the pink flower, and just managed to grab it with my tongue. Bending down, I placed it carefully upon my alter. I gave thanks to the Mother Giraffe, all that was beauty and love. Others were also practicing their own morning devotions, or even non-devotions; everyone was free to believe and be whatever they chose. I thought of Enara’s celebration yesterday, the heron who had decided to bravely become her true self, an egret. I was happy for her. It was lovely to live in such an accepting and compassionate world.
It wasn’t without its hoof-tripping, however. Just the other day, an Okapi had to be silenced, non-violently—of course. Offensive, critical speeches were not permitted. He claimed freedom of speech, but, luckily, the rest of us put a stop to his hate-speech. I shivered at the dark emotions arising within me and took a deep, cleansing breath. Kindness and total acceptance through self-reflection and action was the only way to keep peace among all creatures. A gust of wind rustled the acacia trees. I finished my meditation and opened my eyes.
The lone blossom had blown away, ever flowing on.
A pink flower was stuck in the bushes. I picked it out and tucked it behind my ear, smiling at my reflection in the still pool. Curling a hand around my face, I furrowed my brow as I went back to my philosophical musings. I had a presentation on the Utopian Paradox at the Uakari Lecture-Rock in ten minutes.
Utopia, Greek for ‘no-place,’ versus eutopia, ‘good-place,’ were both contradictory when it came to the unpredictable nature of us uakari monkeys. Individualism was the problematic variable. Allow too much individuality and anarchy could arise; where was the line drawn when it came to freedom of action and belief? Were psychopaths free? Was physical violence the line? What about verbal or emotional abuse? And where was the line between abuse and offense? Yet, allow too little personal freedom and authoritarianism and totalitarianism was the inevitable outcome. Perhaps conflict resolution was the key, but where did one begin to fix a broken wheel whose spokes spanned millennia? After expounding on the various definitions of ‘freedom’, my conclusion would be based on ‘protopia:’ the slow progression towards an unpredictable ideal, but not perfection.
I looked up to see my mentor, Achuchi. On all fours, he raised a hand to point at his ear. “You should take that out. Really clashes with your bright red face.” He grimaced.
I’d forgotten about the flower. Reluctantly, I plucked it from behind my ear and threw it into the pool where it slowly whirled away on the gentle current.
“It’s time,” Achuchi said before he left.
I sighed and looked down at my reflection. Pink had always been my favorite color. If only my intellectual peers weren’t so judgmental. Little steps, swings, and falls, but always forward, I suppose.
Caught in a whirlpool, the peach petals broke formation and each danced down the tributary.
I dove into the water, scattering some petals. I had work to do, stones to stack, shells to collect, and fish to divide up for everyone’s meal tonight. Other fellow otters were busy as well, clipping grass, de-splintering the log slide, cleansing dens, and making sure everyone’s needs were met. As I gracefully slid onto the island my friend, Oswald, shouted to join him later for log sliding. I waved back and hurried away on my errands. Oswald was such a free loader, but there was nothing to be done about it. No amount of scolding elicited shame or action on Osi’s part. I picked up a stray stone. In a way, I couldn’t blame Osi. There were many things I’d rather do with my life than these mundane tasks. I deposited the stone in the Grey and Round pile, wondered if it should go in the Grey and Oblong pile, shrugged, and then scurried off to find more.
“This is so pointless,” I thought, and then shook my head. “No. Don’t think like that. I have everything I could ever need: food, shelter, safety, family and friends. I have nothing to complain about.”
But—I paused at the sounds of splashing nearby. On tip-tail, I stood, trying to catch a glimpse of the black and white birds. Their beautiful ballet and creativity made me chatter with laughter until my joy drowned under the weight of my duties. If only I could run off and join the Penguin Dance Troupe, I’d truly, truly die happy. I heaved a huge sigh, but that was a closed-clam dream.
Near day’s end, a pair of black paws slapped up a pink petal in the rivulet of water.
I sat back and opened my paws to examine the delicate thing.
“What is it, Ru?” my brother, Tu, asked over my shoulder.
The white rings around his burnt sienna face always made him look confused. He circled around me and I pushed his ringed tail out of the way. “Stop circling me,” I growled.
“Well,” he said, sitting down. “What is it?”
“I don’t know.” I grabbed a passing Beetle and held up the petal. “Beetle, what is this?”
The bug waggled its antenna.
“Perhaps ask a Spider,” Tu suggested. “Beetles are better at equations.”
We asked a Spider.
“Flower,” it replied before scurrying away.
“Flower?” Tu wrinkled up his snout. “I’ve never seen a flower like that.”
“Hey,” I said to Fen, who was passing by. “Seen a flower like this before?”
Fen examined it. “It’s a wing. A, um, Himalayan Moth wing.” She dropped it with a dramatic gasp. “I think I heard that they’re poisonous!”
All three of us leapt backwards from this suddenly toxic fact.
“You idiots,” Hai said, overhearing our conversation. He waddled over with a smirk. He had such a superiority complex. “No it’s not. I just asked a Butterfly. It’s a peach blossom petal. Don’t blindly believe what Fen says.”
“Yeah, but you can’t trust Butterflies,” I said with a frown. “They’re not reliable. They’re in league with the moths.”
Within minutes an argument commenced, which attracted more red pandas. Quickly, groups formed, followed by broken friendships and solidified beliefs. A couple of red pandas, lounging in a nearby tree, had kept well out of it. “You’d think with all these information bugs that we’d be smarter,” said one panda.
“You’d think,” said the other. “Maybe we should stick the bugs in their ears and let the bugs do the thinking for them.”
The pair laughed, went back to watching the melodrama, and fantasized of a more united society, whatever that looked like.
The Himalayan-Moth-wing-petal was smashed and forgotten beneath righteous paws.
I growled. The stupid black-pawed prey were arguing again in their insular little prison next to mine. If only I could get rid of the useless, inferior creatures, what a better—and quieter—world it would be. A gust of ever-flow ruffled my fur and threw a dust-whirl into my face. I sneezed and then glanced up. The young girl had come back with her mother. Dragging my claws through the earth, I rose and sauntered over to get a drink, ignoring my captors, until I heard the mother say, “It’s a shame. Such a beautiful, wild animal shouldn’t be in a cage. He should be allowed to be the great predator that he is.”
I lashed my tail and looked up at her behind the stone-air, water dripping from my jaw. The setting sun paid tribute to my colors and I glowed with shadows and fire.
The little girl gripped her toy-monkey’s paw. “I wish he wasn’t in a cage either.”
The thick glass vanished.
And thus the tiger was free.