(C) Carolyn Sheppard.
I feel the earth beneath my feet, damp and soft. It smells warm and familiar – comforting. My claws sink into the ground and I move quietly through the forest. I am not hungry; only yesterday I ate very well indeed. But today I want to walk through my domain and mark my territory.
I tread softly, for I sense a change. There is a tang in the air – a smell I do not recognise. I stand still and listen, my whiskers twitch forward, my mouth slightly open, my ears attuned to every crackle and creak. Standing still, I am invisible. Small birds and animals fly and scurry round me. They know who I am, and rightly fear me. That which is ahead of me is new, unknown, and I am cautious.
I am also a curious tiger, and instead of avoiding this uncertainty ahead, I move steadily forward. My presence is undetected, I am sure. The heavy forest air brings me scents I know and many that I do not. It is the unknown, which draws me.
I enter a small clearing and smell wood moke scented with the ripeness of burnt flesh, and of many other things I do not recognise. I am intrigued. I move closer and see a small fire in the clearing, but not fleeing through the forest as it may do on dry, dangerous days. It is controlled, restrained. I look carefully about: next to the fire is something I have never seen before. It smells of rotten plants. Next to that, is the monkey.
I call it a monkey for that is what it most closely resembles. It is decked in something that is not fur and does not seem to be a part of it. It smells of plant, and of bitter things that make me open my jaws widely so that I may detect their taint more clearly.
My ungoverned movement has given me away - the monkey has seen me! It stands with a strange stick in its hand as if in defiance. Puny creature! I lift my head – the stick exudes its own unique odour: It smells of wood, of the caves, and it the air about it tastes hard and sharp like the red rocks in the mountains.
The monkey is afraid. It waves the stick hesitantly in my direction and I can taste the odour of fear. This is reassuring; the creature is not so foreign, it fears me. Yet as well as fear there are many other smells and tastes that cling and cloy my senses – that of the creature itself, and many more that surround this strange animal. I decide that its signature is as distasteful as if it has dived into every kind of excrement it could find.
I gently pad a little nearer. The monkey sits down upon a rock, but has not stopped glaring at me, or pointing its stick - as if that might stop my progress! Its pale skin is damp, slick with sweat – in its fear. This is as it should be.
I do not wish to eat the monkey. But I am curious. I have heard of these creatures in the forest before. I have smelled their flesh-burning fires. I have tasted them upon the wind before. Like most, I have avoided them. But this is just one, on its own.
I move closer. The monkey is now shaking, trembling beneath my gaze like a found calf. Its legs have a very fine fur upon them, and each hair stands on end at my approach. Still it points the stick at me. Now I am nearer, I detect something else – further pungency from the stick: it stings my nose and I twitch in disgust. The stick smells hot, and it smells cold. It smells … of death.
I am now near enough to kill easily. But first, to try and understand this creature, I lick its nearest leg with my long rasping tongue. I can taste it completely now: Piss and sweat, strong, natural odours, combined with a myriad of other strange tastes that are sour and rancid. The creature shivers. It does not look nor sound like any monkey I know. I do not think it would be good to eat.
I look into its eyes, trying to fathom exactly what kind of creature this is? It has the tang of carnivore, yet is rank. I do not understand - as I look into its eyes I see nothing – no connection, no life behind its small, frightened white and blue eyes. It is almost like a dead thing. If I look at any other creature, or they look at me, we see that we are one. We know that whether we are predator or prey, we are all part of the same. We all know what we are and where we belong in this world. This creature – this upright, smooth skinned, foul tasting monkey – does not have a place.
With its acid taste lingering in my mouth, I yawn (for effect, I admit), and the creature waves its death stick at me again. At any moment it may fall back off its rock, its thin legs waving skyward – that would amuse me. But it does not. It just keeps watching me with those dead eyes. Bored, I turn my back on the thing – it is not worthy of my time or my interest.
I walk away, swaying my tail in contempt, letting the monkey see my strength and power. of course, it does not understand, it does not realise that I have given it the gift of its own life. that gift is a waste - I am sorry for such a thing that does not belong to the world.
My curiosity is satisfied. I move on, knowing that such creatures will not warrant any further investigation should they ever cross my path again.
Written in 2007. If you like tigers, then check out Fauna & Flora International and their work with the Sumatran Tiger