An Amended scene from Mrs. Odboddy – And Then There was a Tiger. Available at Amazon in e-book for $3.99 https://tinyurl.com/y96qshuv
Grandma took Maddie’s hand and marched her through the carnival. The crowd increased as they got closer to the stage where the tiger would perform. Grandma nodded to her neighbor. “Morning, Mrs. Williams. So, you’ve come to see the tiger?”
“They say it’s not even in a cage. You don’t suppose it’s wild, do you?”
“Can’t imagine they’d let a tiger perform outside if it was,” Grandma squeezed Maddie’s hand. “I suspect it hasn’t eaten any little girls for a while.”
“Grandma!” Maddie sidled closer. “That’s not funny!” Her eyes were as bright as twinkling stars and her smile held the delicious anticipation of a child entering a Halloween haunted house.
It was unlikely Maddie had ever experienced meeting a tiger face to face. Though, she had to admit, meeting a tiger was a first for her too.
The crowd gathered in front of a boxcar-like wagon covered with a painted canvas depicting a ferocious tiger leaping through a fiery hoop. Brightly colored red and yellow wheels protruded from beneath the canvas.
The crowd stilled as grunts and rumbles came from inside the wagon; as if a tiger was scratching its claws on the floor of its cage. All eyes turned toward the door, watching for the emerging tiger. A gentle breeze blew strands of hair into Maddie’s face. She shivered. Grandma squeezed her hand.
The crowd froze and then anxious titters broke out. A baby wailed. The door of the tiger’s cage slowly swung open. A man emerged, dressed in a yellow shirt and red trousers. He tipped his hat to the crowd as he stepped off the metal step. He bowed toward the open door, drew a whistle from his pocket and blew a shrill note. The crowd waited. Ten seconds, then twenty. No one spoke. Someone coughed. Where was the tiger? The trainer leaned toward the door, expectantly. “Come on out and say hello, Sher Khan!”
Sher Khan! Like the Jungle Book tiger! Grandma grinned.
Another scratching sound came from behind the canvas. Again, the crowd tittered. Feet shuffled. And then, an orange and black striped nose appeared through the open door and the beast leaped onto the platform, its eyes roaming the crowd.
The crowd murmured and those closest to the platform stepped back. Coming to see a tiger perform was one thing; actually seeing one three feet away, unchained and unrestrained, was quite another. Maddie cringed against Grandma’s leg.
“Sher Khan. Wave hello to the nice people.” The trainer made a circular gesture with his wand. Sher Khan sat back on his haunches, lifted his front feet and waggled one foot. The trainer pulled a bit of beef jerky from his waist and slipped it to the big cat.
The crowd clapped and laughed. They knew the tiger was tame, their smiles declared. They weren’t the least bit afraid. Not really.
“Sher Khan! Up.” The trainer’s short stick tapped a large rubber ball. The tiger leaped onto the ball. The ball rolled across the stage with the cat balanced on top. The audience exploded with hoots, claps and whistles.
For the next ten minutes, the trainer put the tiger through his paces. At one point, the tiger lay on the platform, looking like a giant striped pussy-cat.
It was hard to imagine this gentle giant stalking an antelope, leaping, killing it with one snap of its jaws. Hard to imagine its jowls covered in warm blood, fending off predators determined to share his bounty. Hard to imagine the beast dragging its kill through the underbrush to a den where cubs might await their first taste of meat. Such was life in the jungle.
Not this tiger. This one was as tame as a pet cat. He was probably hand-raised as a cub, likely declawed and totally dependent on a human to provide his food on the end of a stick. He’d never see an antelope and even if he was starving, wouldn’t know what to do with it if he saw one.
“Does anyone want to come and pet Sher Khan? He’s very friendly.” The trainer pointed to Maddie. Maddie glanced at Grandma. Was she asking for permission, or seeking a way to decline?
“Do you want to pet him?” Grandma touched Maddie’s cheek.
“I…I…think so. Yes!” She pulled away from Grandma’s hand.
“Good!” Grandma nodded. “That’s my brave girl.”
Maddie stepped onto the platform, put out her hand to touch Sher Khan’s head, then ran one finger over his ear. She grinned at the crowd, sheer joy on her face. “He’s so soft!” She stroked down his neck and scratched behind his ear.
The tiger turned toward the welcome stroke and yawned, showing long sharp teeth. His eyes closed and he lowered his head onto his paw, a rumble in his throat expressing pleasure.
Several other children had gained the courage to approach the stage. The trainer touched Maddie’s shoulder. “Can the other children have a turn, honey?”
Maddie returned to her grandmother. “He just likes me. See how he’s turning away from the other children?”
Indeed, Sher Khan had stood and was ambling back toward his cage, apparently having had his fill of public adoration. He looked ready for a nap and within seconds, he was up the steps and back in his cage. “Well, guess the show’s over. Our star needs his beauty sleep,” the trainer chuckled.
“Ohhh!” The crowd mumbled and then drifted away, toward other carnival events.
“Are you ready to go back, Maddie?” Grandma pushed a lock of hair off her face.
Maddie stood, unmoving, a faraway look in her eyes. She gazed at the door where the tiger had disappeared. She seemed unwilling to release the memory of the tiger’s ear, reluctant to forget the rumble in his throat as she stroked his head.
“Maddie?” Grandma whispered, looking at Maddie’s face. The child was lost in a shared moment with a creature from the wild, reluctant to move past it, to return to present day. “Shall we go?”
“I was remembering,” she said. “Did you see how he looked at me? I remember him. From before, when we were in Heaven together and Sher Khan and I played in a meadow with some baby lambs and goats. Do you think he remembered me, too, Grandma?”
“What strange ideas you have, child. Where do you come up with such things?” Grandma grasped Maddie’s hand and hurried her away. Played together in Heaven? What could have put such a thought into her head?
Grandma glanced at Maddie’s face. Her eyes were aglow. Her smile was as innocent as an angel. Her face looked as one might imagine if she was remembering standing at the pearly gates, catching a glimpse directly into Heaven. Grandma swallowed a lump in her throat. Goosebumps crept up her arms and a tear pricked her eyes. Maybe…maybe she was remembering. Wasn’t there a verse in the Bible…? The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
(Isaiah 11:6 KJV)
Leopards? Wolves? Lions? Why not tigers?