For Abbey Forrest
A Siberian tiger was old. The last winter, when the temperature fell to minus 40, took its toll. The Tiger didn't have the strength to enjoy the fast-pacing spring, brooks growing into rivers and rivers becoming mighty, insurmountable streams. The lukewarm sun couldn't reach the underwood through the still naked branches, and the first pheasant's eyes on clearings coexisted with deep snow lumps in the ravines. Green blades of grass stretched upward, piercing the wetness of yesteryear fallen leaves. Golden petals with white sepals; soft buds of Eranthis stellata bowed to each other and the breezes, playing within the trees. Birds joyfully jumped from one twig to another, greeting every day with a new song.
The sky was baby blue, clouds gathering into peculiar-shaped constellations and then breaking down into single kitten white pillows with margins occasionally colored by rainy grey.
Round dance of cedars, pine trees, and lemongrass surrounded the Tiger, but, once a king of the forests, the beast was too immersed in his thoughts to notice the beauty. His eyes saw too many springs and falls to distinguish one from the other, and his ears heard too many promises that never came true. He couldn't recall when the last encounter with a tigress was, and his lonely, desperate calls for a friend were left unanswered. In search of food, which was getting more scarce with every passing year, he had wandered to the unknown territory many moons ago. He didn't know that he crossed a reservation border and now was in constant danger from poachers and illegal loggers. Hunger was a much more powerful enemy than any hunter could have been.
He felt an unpleasant gastric taste in his mouth. His last prey was a frog that woke up too early and was not fast enough to escape.
The Tiger was old, he couldn't hunt on big animals like deers and boars anymore, and he was dying.
He closed his eyes and dreamed.
Friendly young meerkats fought near their colony. One would climb up a small sand hill, victoriously squeak from above, and others tried to push him down to become the next king of a mountain. Two or three older mongooses stood straight on alert, searching for any possible predator: snakes, jackals, and eagles, all would like to feast on carefree creatures.
'Quick!' A guard-meerkat squealed. Tap-tap-tap! The tiny paws started to run as fast as possible, tiny tails fluttering light-brown flags, alarming signals sending everybody toward safe openings of a warren.
The mighty cat that the meerkats had never seen before was approaching their home. It had a reddish-rusty fur with black stripes, paws each larger than their heads, and an expression of fatigue on its giant muzzle. He was harmless in his quest for friends, and meerkats sensed that. The brave ones were the first to sniff the Tiger who laid down, exhausted after a long journey through dreams. He didn't move as young meerkats started to play on him, hopping up and down, from one side to another, hiding under his tail, and jumping out to scare each other. His presence was helpful because nobody would dare to attack the colony as long as he was there. But after the African sun coquettishly blinked, sending its goodbyes to this part of the world, the Tiger knew that his time with meerkats was over. He got up and vanished into the darkness.
Two blue whales roamed the waters of the Pacific. Their songs, deep as the ocean and old as the Earth itself, made the water tremble with power for many miles around. There was no reason to hurry or to worry; time leisurely flew, and the centuries above the surface transformed only in years in the whale kingdom. Each whale's birth was significant in itself, yet, the knowledge they all carried did not adhere to the material world's rules. Loneliness and incomprehensibility! How odd these words sounded to the eternal whales.
When the first rays of the fresh, and at the same time the aged sun enlightened the top of the water, the whales saw the Tiger. Strips on his fur were barely visible, only a shade darker than the rest of his body, but the orange! Merging with the nascent sunlight, from tender seashell orange to the burning flame orange, through pastel orange to pumpkin color, the Tiger's silhouette glowed in the air, and only his gaze didn't change, still longing for the unreachable.
The whales approached the Tiger. They, too, like meerkats, invited the Tiger to play with them, competing for the largest fountain, singing in unison to comfort the newly found friend. The Tiger splashed water and tried to catch the little cautious fishes swimming right beneath him. Compared to the ones he saw in his native Amur river, the fishes looked glossy, their speed faster, and the water seemed murky and hollow, with a taste of seaweed and ancient times.
As the sun fully conquered the sky, the Tiger once again understood that he had to leave the whales, that his home was still waiting for him somewhere else.
He allowed the ocean to pull him down into the broncos navy abyss.
An immature bald eagle celebrated the spring with a dangerous dance over the lake. He hadn't seen the place lovelier than his homeland. A vast sea of dark green cedars, pines, and hemlocks, and the plentiful waters provided shelter and food, and humans were rarely spotted in the area.
The wind swooshed through chestnut brown feathers as the eagle turned, arrowed toward the water, and flew up in the last minute to glide above the lake, almost touching it with his talons. Next time, he would ascent higher than the tallest fir-trees and catch air currents to soar without getting tired, life on the ground far beneath him meaningless and inexplicable.
The flash between the trees caught his attention. The bird flew down to inspect the unfamiliar object and saw the auroral light in a shape of an animal. The Tiger's orange switched into snow white, with quill grey covering his paws and honeydrew on his tail. Weary from wandering, the Tiger glanced at the eagle, closed his eyes, and stood still for a moment, feeling the April sun drawing patterns on his fur, smelling the wetness of yesteryear fallen leaves and chirping of the birds above his head. Or was he already home?
The Tiger no longer needed his physical form, so he left the body under pine and, weightless, started to float upward toward the night sky. He was not white but a combination of lavishing green, red, blue, and yellow. With shining stars on his whiskers and ears, crescent moons instead of claws, and a belly decorated with comets and black holes, the Tiger was finally heading to the Land of the Tigers.
When the Tiger cast a look on the Earth for the last time, he spotted two cubs resting with their mother under a huge fallen tree. He thought that he found what he searched for and couldn't find anyplace else. He felt that he was home.