And Thus the Tiger Was Free
—A Utopian Fable—
Upon the ever-flow, a peach blossom floated.
I watched the bloom dance above my prison as did a little girl behind the wall of clear stone-air. Our gazes caught and she stared fixedly into my deadly honey eyes. She held a limp monkey in her clutches, but the creature smelled like not-fur and plant matter. Bored, I looked away.
My ancestors had been gods entwined with the moon, stars, and sun. Yet, such power dealt me a slow death in sanctuary. Humans knew it was I, the tiger of fang and claw, who possessed power over their lives, so they made me their prisoner of a shrunken existence; a world of bland abundance, peace, and perfection; a pitiful display of their reverence and delicious fear.
But who was I when oppression defined my choices and denied my true nature? My ears perked up at the hoof-prey’s sermon 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 were braying, as usual. United of mind and body 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 drifted 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 us safe. Together, as one, we would endure.
One of the heathen no-stripes appeared near the border of our commune. Nonconformists would not endure or ascend to the Plains of Paradise. There was only one God, one pattern, one herd, not many.
The zebras turned away as a long neck 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 also practiced their own morning devotions, or non-devotions; everyone was free to believe and be whatever they chose. It was lovely to live in such an accepting and compassionate community.
It wasn’t without its hoof-tripping, however. Just the other day, an Okapi had to be silenced, nonviolently, of course. Offensive, critical speeches were not permitted. He claimed freedom of speech but the rest of us put a stop to his hate-spewing. I shivered 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 pool. Curling a hand around my face, I went back to my philosophical musings. I had a presentation on the Utopian Paradox at the 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. But where was the line drawn when it came to freedom of action and belief? Should psychopaths be free? Was physical violence the line? What about verbal or emotional abuse? And where was the line between abuse and offense? Yet, take away freedom, and authoritarianism was the inevitable outcome. Perhaps better education was key, but where did one begin to fix a broken wheel that 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. Clashes with your 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 whirled away on the gentle current.
“Much better,” Achuchi said.
I sighed. Pink was my favorite color, but I also wanted to be taken seriously in a male’s domain.
Caught in a whirlpool, the peach petals broke formation and were swept away through a grate, all except one that broke free from the bush and danced alone in the ever-flow.
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. Other fellow otters were busy as well, clipping grass, de-splintering the log slide, and cleansing dens. As I slid onto the island, Oswald shouted at me to join him at log sliding. I wiggled my whiskers in greeting 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 with my mouth. In a way, I couldn’t blame him. There were many things I’d rather do with my life than these mundane tasks. After depositing the stone in the Grey and Round pile, I wondered if it should go in the Grey and Oblong pile. With a shrug, I scurried off to find more rocks.
“This is so pointless,” I thought. “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 tiptail, 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 be happy. I sighed. But that was a closed-clam dream.
Near day’s end, a pair of black paws slapped up a lonely, battered petal in a bowl of water.
I sat down and opened my paws to examine the pretty 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 back on his haunches. “What is it?”
“I think it’s a flower. It looks similar to the yellow ones we have here.”
Tu wrinkled his snout. “Well, that’s just an observation, not a fact.”
“Hey,” I called to Fen, who was passing by. “What do you think this is?”
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 toxic surprise.
“You idiots,” Hai said, overhearing our conversation.
He waddled over with a smirk and superiority complex. “No it’s not. It’s a peach blossom petal. Don’t blindly believe what Fen says.”
“And what’s a peach?” Fen said with a frown. “How do we know your info is correct?”
“I heard about peach trees from a blue jay.” Hai mirrored her frown. “Jays are reliable sources.”
Within minutes an argument commenced which attracted more red pandas. Sides quickly 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 so much knowledge that we’d be smarter,” one panda said.
“You’d think,” the other replied. “But all this ‘thinking’ is the problem.”
The pair laughed, watched the melodrama, and fantasized of a united panda society, whatever that looked like.
The Himalayan-Moth-wing-petal was smashed and forgotten beneath angry, righteous paws.
The stupid, ring-tailed prey were arguing in their prison next to mine. A gust of ever-flow ruffled my fur and threw a dust-whirl into my face. I sneezed and looked up. The little girl had come back with her mother.
“Such a beautiful, wild animal shouldn’t be caged,” I heard her mother say.
The setting sun paid tribute to my colors and I glowed with shadows and fire.
Gripping her monkey’s paw, the girl nodded. “I wish he wasn’t stuck in there either. It’s not fair.”
The protective glass vanished.
And thus the tiger was free.