The Sea Tiger

It exists; out there, somewhere.

There was something in the air the day I saw the Sea Tiger. One of those days that felt tinged with something else, something enchanting hummed around the edges of the usual ordinary. There was a suggestion that time, space, and place were mutable, and reality was thinly veiled.

Scanning the beach before me reminded me of the scene from Jaws, where the cast tentatively crowded the beach in the wake of recent shark attacks. The sun was shining. Music floated on the air, and families chatted happily, busily applying sun cream and eating 99s, acting as if there was no care in the world. I absorbed the scene, content.

Gazing out to sea, I squinted against the brightness that reflected off the surface, raising my hand to shield my eyes from the beams of light. Then, where the sky meets the ocean, I saw it.

The most beautiful thing I had ever seen. A tiger? A tiger! It seemed to fill the sky with numinous orange, contrasting with white and black stripes and spots of its fur, its huge head wide and wise and confident. Paws, with claws hidden, offered comfort and safety, vast hands that could hold the world. Its being hung on the horizon.

Then suddenly, filled with awe and excitement, I gestured to the people around me. Look! The tiger! The tiger! Heads turned towards the horizon as I ran down the beach to the water’s edge. So happy, I could burst; breathless tears misted my vision. Laughter sobbed through my being as the sheer joy of the moment permeated my soul and body. And time stood still.

At once, screams and splashing and shouting. Darkness doused me cold. Time sped up. A bikini’d swimmer ran past me, shivering and wet, up the beach, crying, clutching her shoulder where a deep gouge of flesh bled down her back. Confusion and panic blackened the world, and I sought to calm those running and screaming. ‘It’s just doing what it does! It intends no harm!’ I cried into the disordered air, knowing I could not be sure.

Of course, my words were empty, if even heard amongst the chaos. People birthed on the sand, some bleeding, looking backwards with fear of further attack, and others panned the horizon, vengeful for their children and kin. The tiger had disappeared beneath the surface, and I began to fret, not sure if my anguish was for the people’s or the tiger’s sake.

A shout. ‘Over here!’

People began to line the river that fed the sea, some on the harbour wall and others clinging to the rocky cliff face on the opposite side. The tiger was making its way up the channel, heading inland. ‘Stop it!’ they all cried, ‘It mustn’t be! Stop it in its tracks!’

I watched, appalled, as five men in togas, Perseus-like, muscled and tanned – thick, full hair curled around their beautiful faces, launched from the cliffs. They cut through the water with Olympic precision and descended upon the tiger. They intended to kill, and injustice coursed my veins. Even though I thought I understood the need for violence, it repelled me. The tiger could not be allowed to harm, could it? Still, this felt wrong, intensified by the people on the edges cheering the aggression on.

Unable to turn away, I watched, appalled, as they submerged the tiger. Men heaved down on its vast skull, forcing it beneath. Another grabbed its long flowing tail like a rope and pulled in the opposite direction, stalling its escape upriver. They climbed on its back. Pity and sadness filled me, helpless to stop its plight.

Yet. The tiger did not slow down. Amazingly, despite their best efforts to subdue it, it sped upstream, unhindered.

It left a wake on the river’s surface as the men, forced to let go and be left behind, treaded water and watched it disappear up the channel. My insides let out a victorious shout!

Yet, my relief was imbued with sorrow. Bereft, I recalled when I first saw its glorious promise of something else. A stirring deep within, then, reminded me it hadn’t gone. Even though I didn’t know where, it lived. And hope filled my heart.

Who knows what The Sea Tiger is about? There’s something about reality and power and gender and violence, and God knows how I put it into words – I can only feel it and know it to be true.

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