THE TIGER
by A.N. Hegde
I was in my back yard trying to shake the bag
loose from my lawnmower when I heard some loud
breathing behind me. I thought it must be the
behemoth that our neighbors call a dog. That animal
was still making advances to me like an ex-girlfriend
who wouldn’t quit. I turned, nostrils flaring and eyes
glinting, but halfway around, I froze. There, looking
up at me with its huge eyes, was a big Bengal tiger. I
am not one to panic in any situation even if it is
encountering an unusual feline on my property.

“What do you want?” I asked. I was expecting a roar
accompanied by bad, meaty breath; instead, the tiger
spoke to me.

“I want to be your pet. Please adopt me.”

I was about to say no to the tiger but decided to
string him along a bit. Who knows when I might get
another chance to have a conversation with a tiger?

“Of all the houses you could go to in this
neighborhood, why did you come to ours? Are you
positively discriminating because we are from India?”

“Well, who else would be so receptive to the idea of a
tiger in their backyard? A born American, especially
here in the South, would be pointing his gun at me
and discharging bullets, not words.”

I had to concede that point. “Anyway, how did you
find us?”

“It was easy. One can smell Indian food from a mile
away." The tiger lifted its nose, sniffed and said, “I
see your wife is cooking with garam masala today.”

Pretending to examine a cherry tree I had recently
planted, I walked a few paces to see if the tiger was a
he or a she. It was hard to tell. I couldn’t possibly lift
the tail of this huge carnivore to determine its sex,
could I? So, I tried a sophisticated approach and
asked for its name.

“My name is Sushant.”

Hah! It’s a he! I couldn’t help but chuckle at the
meaning. His name means “quiet” in Sanskrit—a good
kind of quiet.

“So, I don’t need to worry about neighbors calling 911
in the night because of your roar?”

“I will be completely chup, chup. I will talk only to
you. Everyone else will think I am mute.”

“That’s all fine, but I didn’t even think of  keeping a
dog as a pet.” The emphasis on "dog" came out
stronger than I intended. “I  puke just thinking about
people who carry a plastic bag and a shovel to scoop
up their dog’s crap.”

“That sounds gross. Why can’t they take the dogs to
the woods and let them do their business there?”

“Sushant, if you are going to be in this country, you
have to learn certain things. You can’t just
go
anywhere like they do in India.”

“I learn quickly. Needless to say, when it comes to
relieving myself, I am just like people. I have full
control.”

“Are you going to come inside the house and sit on
the sofa?”

“Do dogs do that too?”

“Oh yes, in some houses dogs sleep on the bed.
Frankly, I wonder who the master is in those
households.”

“Don’t worry, I could just stay under that.” Sushant
motioned toward the deck with his paw.

“I am not making any promises, but I could consider
taking you as a pet assuming the pros outweigh the
cons. Why do you want to be adopted as a pet
anyway?”

“I am tired of being a tiger.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I come from Sundarbans in India.
Your kind, humans, are encroaching on my territory
all the time. I am getting old. I can’t hunt for cattle
anymore. I will tell you something. You can’t tell this
to anyone, not even your wife. Promise?”

“OK, I guess.”

“You see, I was hungry, I was famished, I was
starving, all right? I couldn’t find a single animal that
was within my reach. Not even a fish. It’s a pity but
the mighty tiger has to eat fish sometimes. So, there
was this honey-gatherer—”

“You killed a man? Are you a man-eater?”

“No, no, no.” He shook his front paw with all his
retractable claws protruding in full glory. I didn’t kill
him. I just took a bite at his calf. The bugger let out a
scream that curdled my blood. So, I let him go. Now
every Ram, Bheem and Shambhu is looking for me.
Not to mention the Indian Forest Service, Project
Tiger, what have you.”

He yawned. “When I close my eyes, all I see is the
khaki uniform of Indian officialdom.”

“Why do you think you will be safe here?”

“You see, in America animals have it good. Americans
work hard to earn money and spend it on nonworking
animals. Your neighbors won’t complain as long as
they are convinced that I am not dangerous and I
won’t bring their property value down.  I can’t go back
to India because those khaki-clad monsters will hunt
me down. If you take me in, as an Indian American
you will have the best of both worlds—a distinctive
pet to enhance your status, and a proud symbol of
your heritage. I gather that here they have gourmet
cat food.”

He ran his tongue over his lips, revealing two mega
fangs. “So, what do you say?”

“I don’t know. I have never kept any pets. I have
always said no to my children when they wanted a
dog.”

“Is this because you are a cat person?” he asked.

How did he know? This tiger was quite insightful. Yes,
I did think of having a cat at one time after I came to
this country. Based on what I saw in the houses of my
friends, cats were almost like housemates that
needed to be fed. They were not clingy and their aloof
attitude towards humanity appealed to me. But I
wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a “cat person." I
hate labels.

“Can I think about it? Give me a day or so.” I didn’t
want to let on that he had identified a soft spot in me.

“It’s now or never. No dilly-dallying.”

“OK. Let me think for just a moment.” This was all
happening so fast. I took several years to make up
my mind about marrying the woman who became my
wife. So how was I to take on this 500-pound
responsibility in a jiffy? My heart was telling me that
this would be my one chance to do something that
was not expected of me, like earning a living, mowing
the lawn or taking out the garbage. But I knew my
friends would poke fun at me. They would say, “Why
didn’t you get a BMW and take off like everyone else
who hits a certain age?”

I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate. I tried to
visualize taking the tiger for a walk on a leash during
the weekend. I imagined the magnificent beast by my
side with its yellow skin and black stripes gleaming in
the afternoon sun. I also pictured in my mind dogs in
our path pooping their intestines out in fear and the
owners frantically trying to capture the outpour.

When I opened my eyes, I didn’t see Sushant
anywhere. Just like that he became another "could
have been" in my life of ever narrowing possibilities.
The branches of the cypress trees at the edge of our
yard shivered, as if something startling had passed
through them.
Gemini Magazine
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A.N. Hegde is a new writer just
beginning to submit stories for
publication. One of his stories was
recently published in Black
Lantern Publishing. He took
courses in the Creative Writing
program at Columbia University.
He grew up in India and came to
America as an adult.