Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

In a Tiger’s Skin

Abhi hid a yawn as Sumana Miss told them about conservation and why it was necessary.  No that he had anything against conservation. It was just that it seemed such a distant thing to worry about. The peal of the doorbell jerked him out of his daze and Abhi sat up. He heard loud scuffling noises and wondered who it was.

But he had to wait till school was over to find out. He found Amma opening a large cardboard carton. ‘Look!’ she smiled. ‘Great-aunt Shaku sent me some stuff from her house because she’s moving in with her son soon. Let’s see what’s in the box!’

There were books, which Amma pounced on with a cry. ‘I remember reading these as a child,’ she said. ‘Shaku Atya lived in a village in the hills, and we spent many summers there!’ There were soft heaps of sarees, smelling of naphthalene balls, that Amma hugged to herself. Just when Abhi had decided that there was nothing for him, Amma pulled something golden out.  ‘What’s that?’ he demanded. 

‘That,’ Amma said, holding it up, ‘is a tiger skin! Shaku Atya’s father-in-law was a hunter and their house was full of deer heads and tiger and bear skins!’

‘Can I have that?’ Abhi asked.  ‘This?’ Amma asked, astonished. Abhi nodded, thinking how great it would look on his wall.  He spread it out on his bed and admired the pattern of the stark black stripes against the golden colour. He ran his hands over the fur, enjoying the smooth perfection of it. And then, his fingers felt a little hole. Curious, Abhi pushed his finger into the hole. 

Instantly, the room melted away and instead of cream painted walls, Abhi saw dry yellow grass. A drum was beating somewhere close by, and its ugly beat annoyed him. He opened his mouth to protest and out came a growl. The growl was deep and long, and it thrummed through his body. But it did nothing to silence the noise. Instead, the drums beat faster and moved closer. The sour smell of fear came to Abhi and his tail twitched triumphantly. He only had to roar to frighten all living things. Look at how silent the jungle had fallen around him. Even the pesky monkeys had been frightened into silence. 

‘He’s in that patch of grass,’ someone hissed. ‘Move! Get him out of there!’

Abhi felt the gentle vibrations of feet walking towards him and knew a moment of rage. But there was a small sliver of fear too, at these creatures that would not take no for an answer. The best thing to do was to go away. And so, gentle as a whisper, he moved. The grass trembled gently as he pushed past the stiff dry stalks. For a moment it seemed as if he was going to get away. Then the drums surrounded him, and escape became difficult. Still he moved, body close to the ground, his golden fur blending with his surroundings. But the enemy was waiting on the other side of the grass and Abhi knew then that there was only one thing to do. 

He crouched in the grass and then, with a mighty leap, he sprang. He sailed through the air, and the watchers shouted in terror. He roared and the jungle was silenced. Into the silence fell a loud bang and Abhi felt a sudden jolt of pain. He stumbled and fell. 

A hum of voices sounded in the still forest but Abhi only wanted to get away. He struggled up and ran on, only to collapse in the middle of some bushes. He lay there, feeling the pain digging deep into him, seeing the world tremble and turn pale. ‘What a specimen!’ he heard someone say. ‘Must be at least 8 feet from nose to tail!’ But the noises meant nothing to him and slowly they faded away. In their place was the hum of the fan and the distant mutter of the television. 

Abhi looked down at the hole in the tiger skin. So that was where he had been shot, that tiger who had only been wandering around his jungle, looking for food. Tears blurred his eyes and for a minute it was difficult to remember where he was. Then Abhi blinked his tears away and carefully folded the tiger skin. He would keep it safe, in memory of the tiger who had been shot to please a hunter. He would keep it in case he ever needed reminding why animals mattered to our world and why conservation was necessary. But Abhi didn’t think he would need to be reminded. 

A journey, however short it had been, in a tiger’s body was not something you could forget. 


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