HUMAN RESOURCES by Douglas Silver
When I first came to the Sundarbans they told me I was not to go among the mangroves alone, and was not to leave the compound at night, for a tiger had killed already nine souls that year and a water buffalo. Only the honey hunters and the fishermen went in among the mangroves, Rakesh said, and the women gathering firewood, and never without first offering prayers to the forest goddess Bonbibi and Dakshin Ray, the tiger god. Besides, they all wore masks on the backs of their heads so that the tigers would not attack them from behind, a tiger’s favorite way of attacking; though they are all powerful, they do not look into the eyes of their prey, if they can avoid it. Other than those poor souls who were required by necessity to do it, no one ever went into the mangrove jungle. It was a place of death.
In India I found two Indias, one a place of cities, of Bombay and New Delhi, with pavement, hospitals, taxis, electric lights, tenements and Nepali prostitutes. Every city I went to smelled the same, smelled of petrol, death and rotting flowers. The other India is rural, a place of villages and farmland, with thin boys riding water buffaloes, pitch dark women who squat in the dust and stare at white men like me, dead babies decked with gold carnations, malaria, leprosy, sewers in the streets and benightedness. In the India of electric lights I saw long-haired Americans smoking hash and men in back alleys burning plastic to keep warm at night. I saw a smiling woman with no legs and no arms begging on a railway platform, and crowds of people walking by. I saw roadside shrines full of gods and rats and sleeping cattle, the divas with twisted limbs and eyes painted closed, and a sudden horde of monkeys stealing bananas from a truck. Once, while in the middle of a crowded street, I felt a tug at the strap of my bag, and turned to see a pickpocket with a razor in his hand, close enough to cut me. I do not know why he didn’t. Even in the modern cities, there is no rule of law. I thought for years that it must have been God’s Law that saved me on that day. Much I saw in this India of electric lights and tenements, but my business, and the mission I had been assigned to, lay elsewhere.
I went to India because I believed that it would make me pure, and I wanted to be simple and pure. I went to India because I thought it would cleanse me of who I had been, and what I had seen. I wanted a place of absolutes, where doubt did not enter. Among innocent people, I told myself, I, too, would be an innocent.
The village had no name, and was in the Sundarbans, on the edge of the great tidal mangrove forest. They told me Sundarban tigers are fierce because they drink only salt water, which makes them hungry for man’s flesh. I do not know if this is true, but the compound Rakesh led me to, the place I was to live for the next eight months, was girdled by a fence of corrugated tin, nine feet high and strong enough, he said, to fend off a tiger. I listened to his warnings about cobras and malaria, crocodiles and socialists, oh yes, he was full of cautions, Rakesh, and I being young and spirited knew nothing of fear. I was full of fire in those days, curious, full of the light of God.
In the compound, I had a small room to sleep and pray in, with a hard bed, a picture of St. Ignatius nailed to the wall, and a cross. There were little sundries left behind by previous missionaries, a clock, an ashtray, a few books, Graham Greene, Albert Steffen and King Lear, all in the German. I suppose the last missionary, a man called Florian, thought that I might be lonely, and want to smoke or read. But, as I said, I was young and passionate. And are the young ever truly alone?
My second day in the village, Priya Das came to the little open-air chapel, which I was in the process of scrubbing. She went barefooted, as all village women did, and I was kneeling on the floor so that the first thing I saw was her right foot, slim, dusty, adorned with gold, and the edge of a green sari. She told me later of her initial astonishment at seeing a white man scrubbing a floor. She greeted me haltingly in English, and I watched her smile in surprise when I answered her in Bengali. She had brought me a gift of muskmelon and a garland of carnations to welcome me. She had come with her twin brother Lal, the two so alike that one was a perfect copy of the other, though Lal was less trusting than Priya and hung back in the doorway, like a Chital in the shadows of the jungle, watching. Priya was shy, and kind to me, though we could hardly understand each other at first, a barrier that had little to do with language. When I baptized Priya I named her Catherine, after Saint Catherine of Siena, by which I called her thereafter. But in my heart she was always Priya; how can you name something that can never be yours? In my heart I called her by her true name: Priya, which meant “Beloved.”
It had been a while since there had been a priest at the mission; my predecessor Florian had apparently left over a year ago, and I learned from Rakesh that it was because of the cholera outbreak. All the whites, he said, had left the area at once when the locals started dying. He said this without judgments, as if such a thing were expected, the way of the world. Rakesh had lost a young child to the cholera. This, too, he related to me without a trace of blame for the missionaries who left, for the aid that never arrived, for the drugs that were embezzled and never reached the countryside; the village’s sole defense against the cholera had been the drums they beat to drive out the evil spirits. He added only that many other children had died as well, and many elderly. In India there are no graves, for the dead are burned, and the ashes thrown into running water, and carried away.
Though Rakesh did not seem to hold any ill will toward the mission, I felt a strangeness toward me from some of the people, a certain withholding, and I knew that when they looked at me they saw only a European face, the face of the man who came before me, Florian who hardly spoke a word of Bengali and fled when the cholera came, another ill-informed stranger in their midst. They did not have high hopes for me. The first month I said mass in the little chapel, which was really just a roof of corrugated tin raised up on six rough-cut poles, there were only six or seven in attendance, Priya and Lal among them, squatting on the ground and fanning themselves in the oppressive morning heat. It felt wrong to stand above them on my little platform, saying mass over the tops of their heads. So I said mass seated as they were, with my legs folded over each other, and in Bengali, if awkwardly, and they seemed to like this. Also, there was no wine in the village to make the sacrament, India being under almost complete prohibition. For the host, we used ashy flatbread, baked in the Indian manner on the inside of an oil drum stove, and the milk of a white cow. I felt in my heart that this was right, for what better to serve as the blood of our pure savior than the milk of a sacred animal? Every night, I would sweat under my mosquito netting, listening to the forest noises carried in by the sluggish breeze, the yap of rhesus monkeys, the calls of night birds, and often, the far-off roar of a tiger.
I learned that the soul of the village was in the river. Along the riverbanks, the women walk all day, dragging nets to catch fish for supper. At midday, clothes are washed in the brown waters, and laid out on flat rocks to dry. When I went down to the river in the mornings, there would be mist rising from its waters, golden clouds of midges, and boys watering their buffaloes and white, sloe-eyed cattle. Girls washed their hair and bathed in the waters, wearing plain white shifts that floated around them, calling out with laughter each to each, while they wrung the water from their hair. A month after my arrival, I forsook the stagnant, lizard-filled shower at the compound, and bathed instead in the river every morning. This simple act won me more converts from the village than anything else I said or did there, for though I was initially a source of general wonder, wading into the brown, crocodile infested river in my underclothes, the people soon became used to me, and welcomed my presence among them. I believe they saw my daily bathing as a sign of reverence for their river, and a sign of reverence for them. I started seeing new faces at mass. From time to time, there would be a handful of golden carnations waiting for me at the compound gate, I never knew from whom.
Two months after I arrived, I had the malaria (mal aire, the bad air in the Spanish). For days I was consumed with fever and fits of shaking, and could drink only milk and water. Priya nursed me, coming every day to attend on me (I did not know at the time that she actually never left my side, sleeping on a mat outside my door). In the hellish depths of fever there were many visions, but what I dreamed of most often were los Provincias Vascongadas, and the snow falling on the fields, and the cries of young lambs that froze to death in the bad winter of ’58, when I was a boy of twelve. I must have described the scene in my sleep, for Priya asked me later about snow, which she had never seen even in a picture and could not readily imagine. I told her it was like white ashes, but had no way to describe cold. I did not tell her about the lambs, that they had died because I left them in the field, being a thoughtless child, when the snows came. Priya touched my hair, the single white streak that stood out in the black, and asked me if it was from the snow. I told her no, I had been marked that way from birth. She held my head up and fed me congee. She wiped the sweat off my forehead and listened to my raving in Spanish, English, Italian, Bengali and, when I dreamed of the Provincias, Basque. Sometimes Lal would come, and sit like a ghost in the corner of my room, a dark phantom, indistinguishable almost from the shadows.
I dream about the lambs, and Priya, to this day. Though I try, I cannot say what it was about that woman that affected me so powerfully, except that she was all I ever wanted for myself. For she was an innocent, a natural one, at home in a world of dangers and savagery as a tree is at home in a forest; as I shall never belong anywhere, she belonged in the tiger country. How can you be outside when the world is your home, naked when the air clothes you, fearful when danger is all you know? My beloved, from you I learned a valuable truth: sometimes the darkness holds you better than the light.
When my sickness came to an end I went to the river, supported by Priya and her brother, one on each side. All along the path to the river, people approached, hesitantly at first and then many at a time, touching my hands and my clothes, even my hair, smiling up at me like little children, whispering in Bengali. They welcomed me with whispers back to the living. I was exhausted by the time I got to the riverbank, and stood for a time, leaning on Priya, staring into the water. The river showed me a face no longer pale but tanned by the sun and bearded, with gaunt cheekbones and blazing eyes, and hair growing long and wild, like the wool of a black Basque sheep. The river showed me my face, and then it told me who I was; in its waters, at the end of the time of fever and visions, I was cleansed of the world I had known before. I was cleansed and made new.
After my baptism, Lal began to speak to me. He told me there was a man in the village who said I knew nothing of sin, because I had never seen a tiger. This was so curious that I asked Lal to bring me to this man, which he reluctantly did. The man was older than I, in his forties, possibly older (it is sometimes difficult to tell with poor Indians). He was sitting outside his hut, braiding a snare to catch jungle fowl, and his body was black and so thin that his chest was concave, pressed in on its self. There were scars on the side of his face, great parallel slashes of raised silver, one of which ran through his left eye, a great white demon eye. The other eye was wary, and flicked between me and the grass strands he was braiding; all the while we spoke, he never stopped braiding the snare. Lal and I sat on the ground, and I asked the man about tigers.
The man answered my question with a question. He asked me if the Jesuits thought it was a sin to kill a tiger, and I said no, strictly speaking it was not a sin to kill any animal, though it was not virtuous. “But without the tigers,” I gently reminded him, “the Sundari trees would all have been cut down generations ago, and there would be no livelihood for the village. In a way,” I concluded, “it is a sin to destroy God’s noble creations, like the forest and the tiger. The Jains are learned, and they believe it is a sin to kill an ant.” As soon as I finished speaking I realized that I had contradicted myself.
This was no lost on the Indian. “You do not talk like a priest, Father,” he said. He pondered, and continued. “The Jains may be learned, but they do not live here. How can it be a sin to take your own life, as the missionaries say, and also a sin to kill a tiger?” Then, before I could answer, he said, “Until you feel a tiger, you don’t know. Feel a tiger’s breath, sahib,” he said ironically, “and then tell me about sin.”
I asked him to help me understand. He pointed to the scars on his face, to the white demon eye, and said, “This is where they sewed my face in the Catholic hospital. I was in a truck to get there, but I don’t remember. I only remember how the tiger felt.”
He fell silent for a minute, and Lal and I sat in the dust, waiting till the man continued. “The tiger was hot,” he said finally. “Its windpipe was hard but its belly was soft, spongy. When its claws were in me I knew I could not escape so I did not fight. I hugged the tiger, threw my arms around it.”
His hands went still on the grass rope, and he looked at me with his proud, wary eye. “I do not know why, Father, but the tiger let me go. It let me go.”
Lal walked me back to the compound at dusk, and before he turned to go I stopped him at the gate.
“Lal, thank you. What do they call that man?”
“He is called the Tiger Prince, Father.”
And he flashed a brilliant smile like a star, hidden away just as quickly, and turned from me into the darkness.
I saw them by the river in the morning, Priya and Lal, together as always, as they had been in the womb, conceived in a single act of passion. Priya had just emerged from the river, her skin sparkling with the drops of water, and Lal stood behind her, combed her hair with his fingers. They appeared like pagan gods to me, a pair of deities unspeakably beautiful, oblivious to my presence. I watched them together, watched Priya lean back for a moment against his brown chest, and my heart turned over as I withdrew into the sheltering trees, the jealousy so strong I could taste it, black and bitter on my tongue.
Lal, Lalit, it was not I that killed you. I enticed you to the forest, but it was the forest that took your life. God knows I meant you no harm. This is what I tell myself, over and over, at night when I am not sleeping, and the black lambs cry in the snow. I tell myself stories, and the black lambs cry in the snow.
Priya spoke often of the girl Shilpa, the Catholic convert from the village who had been murdered by members of the Panchayat, the vigilante council from the neighboring town. I did not realize this when I first arrived, but because of this Panchayat, the Christian Indians of our village were in constant fear. Priya told me that there had been stirrings of late, that a Kadian Khap had been formed by these vigilantes, that they were watching me. She said they thought I was a demon, because of my height and the streak in my hair, that I had come to possess the villagers. I laughed at this, but Priya remained fearful, for herself and for me. She told me the remote police barracks would be of no help in these situations of religious persecution, the police being mounted on bicycles and armed with sticks, and part of the socialist government not friendly to religious interests in general, particularly European ones. She advised me to be careful. Rakesh gave me a German made pistol, which I kept beside my bed next to the breviary, though it did not make me feel any safer by its presence.
One night during the rains, I was awakened by stones striking against the screen of my room, and saw that someone was tossing them over the compound wall. I dressed quickly and ran to the gate, stopping halfway and doubling back for the pistol, tucked it awkwardly into the waistband of my trousers. When I opened the gate I found Priya, soaking wet and shaking. Behind her, in the direction of the village, there was strange light and a scent of smoke, strong even through the rain. The Khadian Khap had awakened her and her brother, gathering round their house with torches, intending to burn them while they slept. Lal ran and hid himself in the jungle, but Priya refused to go with him, coming instead to warn me. Peering through the rain and low hanging smoke, I could see figures running to and fro, heard shouting and panic in the village.
I started forward from the compound gate, and Priya threw her weight against me, pushing me back inside. “No!” she said. “The others are safe. They came for Lal and me.”
“Catherine, why would they want to harm you and your brother?”
She cast her eyes down, rain dripping from her lashes, and her voice was scarcely audible over the tumult. “They say you have come to colonize, and I am your whore.” She looked up at me, her chin trembling as she fought against her crying.
“Dear Catherine,” I said, “I am so sorry.” What else could I have said? I put my arm around her and pulled her into the compound with me, and she resisted for a moment, wanting to flee to the forest with her brother, but I was too strong for her. I closed and locked the gate. “You will be safer here.” From the village came the sound of laughter now, singing, the Khadian Khap burning Priya’s house, drinking contraband liquor. “You will be safe with me.”
We spent the night sitting side by side on the floor of my sleeping quarters with our backs to the wall, Priya wrapped in blankets, me with the heavy pistol in my hand, an unnecessary precaution since the Khadian Khap did not dare threaten me, a white man, a priest and a demon. We sat close together in silence, listening to the shouts and laughter from the village, until the night was nearly over, and the only sound was the hush of warm rain. Priya’s exhaustion slowly overcame her terror, her head rested on my shoulder, and she slept. I fell asleep under the reproachful eyes of St. Ignatius, watching lizards climb the mosquito netting, clutching the absurd pistol. This is how we were in the morning, when Lal found us after climbing a tree and dropping in over the compound fence; Priya with her head on my breast and one arm around me, and I with my cheek resting against the top of her head, pistol in hand. Lal stood over us, wordless, and I looked up at him, feeling slow and stupid with sleep. His expression was unreadable. After a while he simply said, “They’ve gone, Father.” And he looked at the floor, backed slowly out of the room.
Priya stirred against me, and I kissed her forehead, touched her hair. “Priya.” I whispered the Spanish words she could not understand into the damp curve of her ear, “Te adoro, pajarito.”
She nestled against me, soft and heavy with sleep, and I thought, My God, I have given up so much. On this day more than ever, the thought saddened me.
“What is ‘pajarito’?” she said.
“That’s you,” I said, and kissed her drowsing eyelids. “You are a sleepy little bird. And I am a bird catcher.”
She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Lal?”
“He was just here. He’s alright. The men have gone.”
She let out a great, shaking sigh and grasped my hand, pressed her forehead against it. She was muttering, making a strange chant, half singing what I realized were Hail Marys in Bengali. On her lips, the familiar words sounded eerie, pagan and exotic. I could have happily sat there for days in just that posture, Priya’s hand clasping mine, listening to her pray in her strange Indian way with more passion, more sincerity, than I had ever had myself.
“Priya,” I said, “please don’t go.” Leaning in, I brushed my lips against the side of her brown neck, the soft place just under the ear. “Don’t go.”
She pulled away and looked back at me, smiling, uncertain. “Father Miguel, you are a good man.” She brought my hand to her lips and released it. “Where is Lal? I must find him.” And she left me there, just like that, with the scent of her skin on my clothes and all around me, clean like the rain. It was Sunday morning, and the feast of St. Cecilia.
My beloved, I wanted to protect you from all things, and from myself. In this I failed, and I ask your pardon, on my knees, from now until the day I die. In the Spanish we have an expression: matar dos pajaros de un tiro. If there is one thing I still believe, it is that I am the judge and jury of my own heart. And I am guilty, my beloved. Everything I have ever touched has broken.
We had to rebuild Priya and Lal’s house. This took only two days, for their house had been simple, little more than a one-room hut, and they had owned no possessions to speak of. Lal and I worked side by side with the other men of the village, Priya never far away, but I sensed that he was ill at ease with me, sensed his anger and jealousy though he showed nothing; I, too, have been a jealous man. I wished I could have told him somehow, by word or gesture, that he had little to fear from me, that I was not the one who could take her away from him. For I now knew this to be the truth: there was not enough space in Priya’s affection for anyone but he. I was, and would always be, a remote object of reverence, at best a confidant, and nothing more.
It was in an effort to regain Lal’s confidence that I suggested he take me to the jungle. He went there himself to gather wood from time to time, and sometimes to gather honey. I was cautiously flattering, suggesting that Lal could be my guide in the jungle, that he could keep me safe (how must I have seemed to him, to all the Indians, a childlike giant, lost without constant guidance. And they told me in the seminary that I was there to save, to guide the lost). I didn’t think that he would do it. But the day before Diwali, the Festival of Lights, he found a wild hive hidden among the mangroves half an hour’s walk from the village, found it by following the line of bees; as we walked through the jungle, Lal told me that Kama, the Hindu god of love, strings his bow with such a line. He told me this, and then looked away, slicing at the undergrowth.
I had long treasured the desire to collect some wild honey from the forest, despite the dangers. Lal and I drove the bees off with the smoke of incense and green leaves. Then we broke open the hive’s warm chambers, and caught the red honey as it poured forth over our hands, bright as vermilion, the paste Indian women use to color the part in their hair. It was so sweet that it made my head spin when I licked it from my hands, like a fine spirit, made me drunk, and I looked at Lal, who smiled at me, that quick flash. His eyes were bright, one hand reaching into the heart of the tree where the warm hive dripped out, honey on his lips. He looked so like his sister in that moment that it took my breath away, but he looked at me in a way that she would never look, not with blind faith, but knowing, calculating, bold. The green sun and tree shadows were on us, the light of early evening. I held up the jar of honey we had gathered. It was like a ruby when the light shone through it. Lal leaned back against the tree, licked the honey from his fingers. “We must go back now,” he said. “It will be dark soon.” He brushed a bee off my arm, glancing at my face as he did so. And as he turned away from me, as I reached to pull him back, a great, flared whip rose up from the darkness and flashed, one two, across his thigh, and he staggered back, his face transfixed with a look of fear I will never forget, the honey jar smashed down against a tree root, and Lal fell against me and into my arms.
I have been told many times that the bite of the cobra is fatal, that a man who has been struck has only seconds to live, a minute perhaps before the poison reaches his heart, and nothing can be done. But I picked up Lal and ran with him toward the village. He was light; in the terrible strength of my panic, it seemed that he weighed nothing at all. I ran. As I ran, I prayed. I prayed that Lal would not have to pay for my tempting of God, going into the forest that had been forbidden me. I prayed for forgiveness. Lal panted in my arms, and then his chest began to jerk with spasms, and he fell still. His eyes looked up at me, and then past me, and I saw no light within them, no revelations, only confusion and pain, an animal in a snare. I did not feel the soul pass from him as he died. And still I ran, and prayed, but as I prayed I wept. And then, as the branches slashed my face and I knew I had lost my way in the forest, I ceased to pray, and wept only.
It was dark by the time I found my way back to the village. I staggered down the packed dirt street, Lal in my arms, the dogs barked at me, and first one person came out of their house, then another and another, and bright torches came, and cries went up in the darkness, until it seemed the whole village was pressed in around me, so close I could not fall, but only stagger forward toward Priya’s new house. And then Priya was there, standing in front of me. When she saw her brother in my arms, she began to shriek, and fell to her knees in the dirt before me, her lovely hair thrashing loose in the night wind. “Priya,” I said, but my throat was raw, and my voice only a cracked sound, a hissing. “Priya.” Nothing would quiet her screams. There was torchlight in my eyes, and more eyes all around me, black, Indian eyes shining out of the darkness, one among them white, the dead glow of the demon eye. I thought they would kill me. Two men lifted Lal’s body from my arms, and I backed toward Priya, reached for her, but she thrashed me off, calling out not for me, but for Christ and Durga and Bonbibi. When I caught her in my arms and raised her from the ground, she looked on me without comprehension, her face as alien and unknowing in its suffering as that of her dead brother. I backed away from her. I turned and fled back to the mangroves.
I went to the forest, because I knew that it was a place of darkness, a place of death. I wanted to be in such a place, where the eyes of God would not see me, if they were not already blind. I went to the forest to find a tiger. I went to find my death.
In the mangroves, I ran until I could run no more, and then I dropped to my knees at the foot of a tree, and pressed my back up against the trunk, my hands clasped around my up-drawn legs. In such an attitude I waited, panting, for the soft approach of death. I knew that tigers were more dangerous at night than in the day, and that my crashing flight through the mangroves would surely draw one to me, as would my panicked breaths, my scent of sweat and blood where the thorns had scratched me. As I waited, I tried again to pray, and then realized I had not said my office that day or the day before, could not remember the last time I had said it, that I was unable to pray, and I became lost in the taste of salt in my mouth, in the snap of a twig and the silence of the forest around me, not a deer, not a bird, as if all the animals had fled. It was a silence that waited, like me. I could not pray. So I thought of Priya, the fragrance of her hair, her smile at our first meeting when she still was called Priya, the curve of her hip felt through the fabric of a sari, the flash of her gold nose ring. I thought of the palms of her hands, paler than the rest of her, their gestures in the air, sky anemones, how she brushed the white lock of hair out of my face when we were walking back from the river, quieted me when I was shaking with malaria, how she held me in her sleep on the night of the rains. I knew then that I loved Priya as much as I would ever love a woman, and that I thought of her in this moment not because I loved her, but because it was easier to think about her than Lal. Priya’s ragged screams, God forgive me, the sound of them has never left me, after all these years, like the flash of Lal’s smile and his weight in my arms, and it never will. How much better if I had never come there, had never tried to belong, had never set foot in this fierce Paradise. I was sobbing in the dirt, striking my breast with clasped hands and thrashing like a wounded animal, when the tiger finally appeared.
“Tiger,” I said, addressing it not in Bengali but in my mother tongue, the only way to address a tiger. “I am here.”
In the darkness it came as a giant, sinuous shade, eyes collecting light where there was no light, gleaming, a black tiger made of shadows. It stood on the edge of the clearing ten feet away, and looked at me with its lazy, golden eyes, so close I could hear it breathing. I could smell the tiger; it smelled like damp fur and saltwater, with something else, something deeper, a hot smell, a musk. It flexed its paws against the ground, each paw the size of a collection plate. It flicked its shadow tail. It gazed at me.
“Tiger,” I said, “I am full of doubts. But I am ready for you.”
I waited, burned, I shivered with the ecstatic anticipation of its claws.
“Tiger,” I said, “I have tried to do good in this world, and have caused only misery. I have tried to be good, tried to be a light, but I am dark, sinful. Tiger, I have tried with all my might, and believed with all my soul, and the only product of these labors is doubt, and more doubt. Tiger, the doubt gets stronger the closer I get to the light. Tiger, I have given up so much, I have given everything to God, yet He has never placed His hand upon me. Tiger, the ones I love are the ones I destroy. Tiger, I talk to you because I cannot be sure that anyone else is listening.”
The tiger revealed its tongue, pale pink against its great, black lips, as if it were about to speak, and I caught the moonlit flash of its teeth, each one perfect and the size of a woman’s finger. It huffed a great breath, and it was hot against my face, and smelled of meat and piss and animal. It took a step closer.
“Please, Tiger,” I whispered. “Tell me why I destroy the things I love.”
And the shadow tiger answered me, not in words but with its eyes, its breath. Brother, for this you came.
I bowed before the tiger, showed it the nape of my neck, and closed my eyes. With my forehead pressed to the salty earth I made an offering to Dakshin Ray, the tiger god. I wanted it to rend me, wanted to feel that touch so badly I was shaking with it, moaning in an ecstasy beyond fear. For that searing touch suspended over me was an absolute truth, a bolt of divine lightning, and the desire for that touch was beyond all other earthly desires. In the grip of passionate destruction, I thought I would see beyond the darkness, beyond the doubt, beyond the animal inside me.
“Please, Tiger. Please take me.”
But the tiger did not take me. It made a deep sound in its throat, a purring almost, as a tiger makes to another of its kind. When I looked up, it turned, dissolving like a dream into the mangroves. It turned away. And I was left alone with my own darkness, the darkness that would not consume its own. I followed the dull sound of drums back to the village.
ASHLEY MAYNE is a 2010 graduate of Bard College. An actor and singer/songwriter from Austin, Texas, she started writing fiction in September of 2009, when she transferred to Bard's writing program. This story is an excerpt from her novel, TIGER.