Invisible Tiger

László Hatházi „Roomtiger”, 2014. Wystawa „Miasto vs przyroda (Város vs. természet)”, Deák17 Galériá / FKSE, Budapeszt 2018

„The tiger was white as a swan, vicious as an ajak. Mameh saw it once, briefly, emerging from Margio’s body like a shadow. She would never see it again. There was one sign that the tigress was still inside Margio, and Mameh didn’t know if anyone else had spotted what it was. In the dark, the yellow glint of a cat’s eye shone in Margio’s pupils. At first, Mameh was scared to look into those eyes, terrified that the tiger might actually reemerge. But with time and frequent exposure to Margio, she grew used to seeing those eyes light up in the dark, and she stopped worrying. The tigress wasn’t her enemy and wouldn’t hurt her; maybe it was there to protect them all. (…)

Margio really loved his grandfather. The old man would take the boy to a rivulet he called the Kingdom of Genies. Never ever tease a girl genie, he always said, but if one of them falls in love with you, take her, for that is a blessing. His grandfather said that girl genies were very beautiful. Margio always wished that one day he would meet one and that she would fall in love with him, but that promise hung tauntingly in the future no matter how many times he visited the rivulet.

More astonishing than the genies was the story of Grandpa’s tigress. According to Ma Muah, the village storyteller, many men in the hamlet had a tigress of his own. Some married one, while others inherited a tigress, passed down through the generations. Grandpa had one from his father, which before had belonged to his father’s father, and so on right on up to their distant ancestors. Nobody remembered who was the first to marry the tigress.

(…) According to Ma Muah, the tigresses lived with their owners and guarded them against all dangers. She said that Grandpa was among those who kept a white tiger. But he would never talk to his grandson about the tiger because, he said, Margio was too young and couldn’t possibly tame such a savage animal. It was bigger than a clouded leopard, bigger than the ones people saw at the zoo or circus or in school-books. If a man couldn’t control his beast, it could turn so violent that nothing could restrain it once enraged.
– But I just want to see it, said Margio.
– Later! Maybe then you will own it.”

„His grandfather of course had a wife, a human woman, and clearly that made the tigress a kind of co-wife. Grandpa never married the tigress, because he inherited her from his father, but still for the family she was another spouse, loved and revered, sometimes more so than the human wife. (…)
– And if she doesn’t like me? Margio asked anxiously.
– She will go to your son, or your grandson, or she might never reappear if our family forgets her.

The tigress had come to him, lying beside him on the surau’s warm rug, while the universe outside froze. As his grandfather had said, the tigress was white as a swan or a cloud or cotton wool. How unbelievably happy he was, for the tigress was more than anything he had ever owned. He thought about how she would hunt with him, helping to corral the wild pigs that ruined the rice fields, and, if he ever got slack when one or two boars charged, she would protect him from the worst. It had never occurred to Margio that the tigress would turn up on such a damn cold morning, surrendering herself to him like a girl. Look how the tigress lay down, still licking the tips of her paws, tongue flickering. For a moment she seemed like a giant domestic cat, grandly aristocratic and huge. Margio looked deep into her face, so lovely to him, and the boy fell profoundly in love.

He wrapped his arm around her neck, embracing her and feeling the warmth of her fur against his body. It was like sharing an embrace with a girl on a cold morning, stark naked in bed, the most tender intimacy after a night of love-making. Margio closed his eyes, ecastatic after his long wait, free from yearning, reassuring himself that the tales he’d heard as a child were all true. (…) The tigress was there, a part of him, the two of them inseparable until death.”

Eka Kurniawan Man Tiger (2015)




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