NOTE: I wrote this story in the summer of 2002 or 2003, when I was living in 125th Street, Harlem. My friend Karine had an apartment there, and I was staying with her during the last part of my stay in New York. The tiger was reported to be only a few blocks away from where we were. It occurred to me that it was a little too close for comfort. I wrote this story and sent it to many publications, all of which unanimously rejected it.
SUSHMA JOSHIMy name is Ming. I can't tell you why my owner named me Ming. I can only hazard a few intelligent guesses. In some blurry, peripatetic part of his brain, Alfred must have thought I came from China. Perhaps he thought I was descended from the Ming Dynasty. Who knows? Alfred, to put it kindly, is not the brightest of human beings. He watches too much television. In one of those channel hops, he must have seen two minutes of Ming Dynasty in the History Channel, and that episode about the great Dynasty must have seeped into his consciousness. He may, possibly, have felt pressured to emulate their feats.
Of course, it had to be my destiny that made him pick me from the litter when I was only three weeks old, my fate to end up with his incessant, 24 hour TV watching in New York City, instead of roaming around in the sanctuary like my brothers were doing back in Minnesota. As I think about my family, I feel a twitch in my paw. A roar comes out of me from nowhere. I couldn't control it even if I wanted to. I feel like slashing you up right there, as you peer through the metal bars. That's right, you! Grrhhhrh!! I feel like mauling you into little pieces, and stuffing all your little fingers inside my big mouth. I am going to tear you to shreds!! Arghgh!! Ouf, I am exhausted. Must lie down for a while. All this throwing myself at the bars is wearing me down.
I can't believe there's all this light all around me. And movement, men, machines. I thought Alfred was the only devil I would have to deal with in this lifetime. It seems there are millions of him out there. I am trying to understand what this big blue ceiling above me is all about. First it was blue, then bluer, than orange, then black. I am a little scared, to tell you the truth. I have never seen such a thing in my life. Or perhaps I saw it as a cub. I have vague memories of my childhood - fur, claws, milk, my mother's eyes burning brightly at night. Don't make me talk about my childhood, it makes me upset, deeply upset. It makes me wonder where all my pack has gone. I can't believe I made it out of that apartment. If you want to hear my story, stay on. You'll make the early morning edition, don’t worry. Just don't run identical photographs in all the tabloids, that's all I ask. Give me the chance to be multidimensional in my 15 seconds of fame.
Let me clarify - I am multicultural, but my heritage isn’t in China, but in Bengal. Either way, it doesn't matter, because I have never set a paw in Asia. Most of my life, except for the three weeks I was with my mother, has been spent right here in Harlem, in Adam Clayton Avenue, building number 345, Apartment 7D. I am as American as you can get, so don't try to pull that out-of-control illegal alien crap on me. Alfred would bring home The Village Voice to wipe his fingers off ketchup. Once in a while, his girlfriend would read him Nat Hentoff in a long drawn out voice, so I know what's going on with the Patriot Act. I know I have rights, and none of you can take them away from me, even if I did try to bite Alfred's legs off. I haven't broken any laws. If Alfred broke any laws, that's his problem. I mauled him, that's right, but it was only in self defense. Wouldn't you try to bite somebody's legs off if they chained you up in an apartment and tried to raise you with a five and a half foot crocodile?
Oh yeah, that's right, you heard about the crocodile. I call that infliction of mental distress and injury. If Alfred were my mom, I could sue him for neglect and bodily harm for cooping me up with that damned croc. He drove me crazy, snapping all around me, day in and day out. He would make that annoying snap-snap-snap just when I was getting into Sex and the City. Sarah Jessica! Oh sweet Sarah Jessica. What I would give to put a paw on her lovely blonde hair and give her a big lick on her face. Ah, the joys of living in New York City. I consoled myself by thinking at least my poor siblings in Minnesota don't have that luxury. Imagine, I could be walking down a sidewalk and I could see Sarah Jessica strolling down there with her new man. I know I would get insanely jealous. I am going through what experts call my adolescent phase. I am getting really horny, and really cranky. Yeah, yeah, I know all about adolescence and horniness - I probably listen to more radio that y'all combined. Of course, they talk about people, never about tigers, which makes me feel marginalized. Every time I hear one of those telephone call-in shows, I feel like picking up the phone and telling WBAI to initiate a program about the issues of inner-city tigers. That's when I knock the phone off the wall, and Alfred chides me because he thinks I am being naughty. Little does he know that I am just acting out my technologically sophisticated twentieth century tiger destiny. So the croc was driving me crazy. Snap-snap-snap, it would go on all my favorite TV sitcoms. Just to annoy me, of course. If I had my way, I would have eaten that crocodile a long time ago. But man, have you tried eating a crocodile? The hide is tough, that's all I got to say about it.
I was about three weeks when Alfred, bless that retard's heart, pulled me out of the pile. Alfred put me in a basket and drove me all the way back to the City. I mewed for about a week, but then settled down in the apartment. In the beginning, the crib was just right - dark and cosy, cavernous. He had even put a little blue plastic kitty litter box together for me. We got along real well, like brothers. I slept on his bed, and he would cuddle me and call me, "Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!" The croc wasn't too bad either - well, he was also about two feet big then, and fun to poke.
Then Alfred started to get on my nerves. He would play that damned sax all evening. He can't even breathe to save his life, let alone play a decent note on a sax. Then there was the delicate question of hygiene. When I was small, Alfred bought me kitty litter. But then as I started to grow older, and I needed a sack of kitty litter a day, he became sloppy. So I was - I am ashamed to admit, but this is true - peeing and shitting all over the place. This embarrassed me, because I am, in my heart of hearts, a finicky cat. I hate sitting around on a big old pile of shit. I need lots and lots and lots of litter, not just one little teaspoon-full. Sometimes Alfred would clean it up, and sometimes he wouldn't. One day I peed in the kitchen and I heard the urine going straight through onto the people sitting down at dinner downstairs. What a laugh! I also started to test our my roar, and this made Alfred nervous. He would shush me up, saying: hush kitty! But the more he said that, the more I felt like roaring. All these people started to tell their kids to behave or the tiger would eat them, and all these kids, of course, knew this threat was for real. Except when they went and repeated the story of the tiger to their teacher, the teacher would give them an insufferable laugh and tell them kindly: Adai, there aren't any tigers in the city.
As summer came to an end, I knew I had to make a decision. I was starting to feel pangs of depression. Alfred would bring a woman and fuck her in the next room, and I could hear her moaning and panting. Meanwhile, I was left to watch the cartoon channel, which never struck me as particularly interesting - at least, if you're going to coop up a cat and give him a croc for company, leave him something more than Tom and Jerry to watch. Alfred didn't understand my need for female company. I wondered if there were any cats out there, roaming through the streets. The bars on the windows were strong. I could never make headway by throwing myself at it. When the woman left, Alfred sat eating chicken and watching the news with a big satiated smile on his face. I knew I had to make a move. That dude was my brother, but man! he had to learn you can't treat a cat in this manner. As he started to bite off another piece of chicken, I raised myself from the floor and lunged at him, biting a piece out of his leg. Alfred must have heard a demented growl, but it was just me chuckling to myself. Alfred gave a terrified scream and ran out of the room. I let him. I knew that that bite was enough to bring him to his senses.
That night, Alfred did not return. I heard the neighbors talking downstairs. They said he was badly shaken, and had run away to Philadelphia. Goddamn that stupid man! Now he was going to leave me here alone, hungry and waiting to be let out. "I heard he hasn't paid his rent since January," said the old lady who lived downstairs. She didn't like Alfred, mainly because my pee was bursting through their ceilings into their living room every evening. She said she had complained to the landlord, and that hopefully he would get evicted. I hoped the tenant that Alfred had brought along - a sweet woman from Italy who had been desperate for cheap housing - would come along and throw me some chicken thighs. As I got hungrier, I abandoned the idea of eating chicken and wondered if she would come into the kitchen, so I could eat her instead.
That night passed in anger and misery. I could not believe Alfred had abandoned me. We had been like brothers. We had slept in the same bed. And now, just because I gave him a little bite on the leg, he had to run away, leaving me to die of starvation. This was betrayal of the highest order, I thought. Nobody responded to my roar of misery.
The next morning, as I was dozing, I heard a man climbing up the side of the building. My ears pricked up, my eyes sprang open, and I was instantly alert. I got up and padded to the window, where I saw a strange man with a big pouch around his waist, gaping at me. Bring it on!, I roared, instinctually flung my body forwards, trying to get him. The glass shattered, and I sprang back. The man was carrying a contraption in his hand. It was pointed towards me. I felt a pin-prick entering my shoulder. Bastard! I flung myself at him again. The man, his face shaken, pushed himself back and fired again. This time, the pin-prick entered my back. For some reason, my legs started to feel shaky. Then I felt myself tilting over, as if I was going to sleep. I looked at my paws in surprise. What were they doing in front of my eyes? And then, as my head lowered on the floor, I wondered if this was it, and I would never wake up again.
When I woke up, I found myself surrounded by bright lights and too many people. They were all yelling and screaming and popping lightbulbs in my face. I was a celebrity, just like the ones I had been watching on TV. I was the only tiger to have been weaned in an apartment in Harlem. I even had my own private shrink, which vindicated my status as a Manhattanite. The man was an animal behaviorist. He said I was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. I felt better when I heard this. Hopefully, they would blame the bite on the leg as a consequence of mental illness rather than pre-meditated spite. I was put in a cage and sent to Ohio. They fed me thirty-six chicken thighs, which I devoured instantly, gorging myself just in case there was another shortage of food in the upcoming days. They all said that I was the most anxious tiger reared in captivity they had ever seen. What did they expect, that I would be serene as a Buddha after that nerve-wracking experience? The city ain't the best place to learn laid-backness, not with all the Starbucks coffee Alfred poured into my chow every morning. He had a friend who worked in the Starbucks down the street, and she poured out all the coffee at the bottom – the real dark, real thick one – into a plastic bottle for him to carry home.
Alfred gave the tabloids an interview saying that the pain in his leg was nothing compared to the pain in his soul. "We were like brothers," he said, making me sound like the only mauler in the relationship. Isn't that just like him, thinking only about his own pain. Wait till he reads my side of the story. Make sure you don't censor a single roar.