He, a young man from Birmingham and she, a young woman from Buckinghamshire, had first met under the sliver twilight of Fresher’s Week; those seven days of relentless drinking and partying, undignified fornication and the intoxicating buzz of being emancipated from the iron-clad shackles of parents. Reminiscent to a fence that had suddenly been eradicated around the perimeter of a zoo, the inhabitants and victims of inhibition, the champions of vitality, the oppressed souls of freedom, ran forth and free in a powerful stampede, devouring everyone and everything that stood in their way. Charlie and Kate, a uniquely conservative pair of intellectual young adults, had been unable to resist the flirtatious curve of total freedom; the stampede devoured them with its hungry jaws like a roaring army of water, hauling them downstream and imprisoning them in a tumultuous frenzy of booze and sex – the latter of which they had practiced together like animals on a tight schedule to breed.
Year in year out, Fresher’s Week claimed its immeasurable list of victims on university campuses all over the United Kingdom. The aftermath of those seven days was often catastrophic; the scrapheap being an amalgamation of eighteen-year-olds that had blown the entirety of yearly student loans in a week on booze, marijuana and needless luxuries, along with a dysfunctional battalion of baffled boys and girls whose only mutual interest had been sex and nothing else. The shells of those awkward memories usually lingered among roommates and classmates like ghosts – glows of knowledge and memory, twangs of awkwardness which evoked uneasy smiles and terse eye contact. Something close to a stick-thin truce between two antagonist nations, young adults who had been intimate days before became distant entities of formality and feigned courtesy.
Only Charlie and Kate had been different. Unlike most of their frolicking companions, their playwright hadn’t consisted of a single act. Yeah, Act One had sure as hell existed, but there had been also been Act Two; an act which had seen their naked bodies cut into bars by the silver light spearing through the window; a scene which had seen them lay together with entwined thighs and fingers, whispering and laughing with one another in that radiant afterglow of satisfying lovemaking. Charlie had proposed during the anniversary of their third and final year of school.
It was a textbook marriage; the blissful college romance novel. But there was something unusual. Unusual not in the eyes of modern society (or so the government and media so loudly and boldly proclaimed) but unusual in the eyes of two wily old women who’d been young girls when fighters and bombers sporting the Swastika sailed over the City of London in mosquito-like swarms.
Unusual for Mary Bishop and Lucy Hayter, for Charlie was black, and Kate was white.
Wearing a black tux and a white dress, newly deemed husband and wife performed their solo serenade on the spacious hardwood dance floor, protected by the oval perimeter of watching bodies that were dressed in smart clothes. Men grinned whilst women shed tears. The proud parents of bride and groom stood in a foursome, abound by their offspring’s recited vows. Only Mary and Lucy remained seated around one of the many platoons of dinner tables assembled around the spacious hall, watching bride and groom slide across the floor like elegant swans.
“My boy looks handsome, doesn’t he?” Mary spoke of her godson in her raucous, almost withered voice. Each word she pronounced always seemed laced in bitterness. She was an old woman with caramel coloured skin that was criss-crossed by streams of wrinkles. She wore a black wig that was about as conspicuous as a polar bear roaming in the sand dunes of the Sahara. Her short, plump frame seemed about as sturdy as a battle tank.
“Of course,” the pale skinned Lucy answered with a smile, taking a sip of her white wine before saying, “and my goddaughter looks like a goddess.” Lucy’s appearance was far more rigid than her newly deemed best friend; even in the twilight of age, she was a tall, slim woman. The round glasses that hung onto the tip of her sharp nose magnified her pea-like grey eyes to comical proportions, giving her the look of a badass high school maths teacher. Her wispy white hair was always tied in a rigid bun. “Did you watch the news last night?” Lucy then asked her friend.
“Well, savage young men tried to rob a NatWest branch in Manchester.”
“Yes, and whilst it is shocking that such a thing can happen, it is even more shocking that a group of grown men actually think there’s any money in any of the NatWest banks.” Lucy smirked, shaking her head in disapproval. “NatWest,” she snickered, “that’s like the McDonalds of British banks – there’s one on every corner.”
Mary couldn’t help but chuckle, patting her legs that were as thick as a tree’s trunks in the process. “I didn’t watch the news last night. I was too busy with The History Channel.”
“Yes – a very extensive portrait on Christopher Columbus; about how he ‘discovered’ the Americas.” Mary’s words were followed by a slow shake of the head.
“I sense a sarcastic intonation in your voice, Mary,” Lucy said with a smile.
“Do you really believe Columbus discovered the Americas? I mean, think about what the word ‘discovered’ really means. It means that no one else knows about it – that you are the first living soul to have grasped such knowledge. How can those idiots on The History Channel say Columbus discovered the Americas, when the Native Americans were living on the Great Plains of North America and the Aztecs were ruling the South American jungles? That’s like me stealing one’s car, and then telling the police that I ‘discovered’ it.” She paused before she said, “Oh, and then telling them that I gave the indigenous driver a reservation in the trunk.”
Lucy’s lips, twisted with scars of age, formed a wide smile. She patted her friend’s arm. “You are too much, my friend.”
“I also watched The Discovery Channel later that night,” Mary continued.
“Yes. It was an interesting show, about ligers. You know, the cross-breed between lions and tigers.”
“Oh.” Lucy blinked and thought for a moment. She pushed the bridge of her glasses further up her sloping nose. “Fascinating.”
“Yes, they are quite fascinating.” Mary eyes caught her friends – it was a moment of clarity that only two women with mutual interest could share. The interest which had seen the old women entwine and become as one during the year-length engagement of their godchildren.
Lucy leaned forward, placing her arm on the table. She smiled. “Well, go on then. Spill the beans.”
Mary smiled, crossing and uncrossing her legs in a flash. “Well, you see, ligers are magnificent animals. But most people aren’t aware of what lies beneath the pretty face.”
“Lies beneath the pretty face?”
“Yes,” Mary said, sparing a glance at the serenading loved up couple before looking at her friend. “Lions hate water. Tigers love water. What do you think happens when the genes of an animal that hates water intermix with the genes of animals that loves water?”
A wry smirk creased Lucy’s face. “Well, it’s an absolute contradiction, isn’t it? Maybe a conflict of interest?”
“A conflict of interest, indeed. Imagine it’s a boiling hot day. And one part of the liger is urging it to cool down in water. Whereas the other part of the animal resents water like a vampire resents light. I mean, do you call that nature? An animal should have clear clarity of its actions. It should know what it likes and what it doesn’t. It shouldn’t be complicated – it shouldn’t think and contemplate as if it’s a human being. It shouldn’t be walking back and forth next to a river like a madman.”
Lucy stared at Charlie and Kate. The young couple shared a tender kiss. A huge cheer rose from the men while suppressed sobs choked from the throats of women. “Their children will be coming soon.”
“A contradiction,” Mary reiterated, “a conflict against nature.”
“I mean, we’re not racist, are we?”
“Of course not. I’m black. You’re white. Would we be friends if we were racist?”
“Dear golly gosh no.”
Mary nodded, as if her friend’s words were words from Jesus Himself. “Look, tigers are tigers for a reason. Lions are lions for a reason. They breed with their own species for a reason. In large, they stay away from one another in the wild because they know it’s against nature.”
“Exactly. The only thing that’s supposed to be black and white about bride and groom is the tuxedo and the dress.”
“Yes, yes of course.”
“I love how you failed to mention that ligers wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for humans,” a deep, masculine and unfamiliar voice suddenly shattered the composed muse reverberating back and forth between the women like pounding bass.
As though they were twins, the old women swung their heads back and stared at the young man standing behind them, a flute of champagne in his right hand. What shocked Mary and Lucy wasn’t the fact the young man had overhead their politically incorrect conversation – it was the fact that the very quintessence of the genes they had condemned was standing in front of them.
The handsome young man looked no older than twenty; he was of a very light complexion of brown, and his eyes were a shade of tranquil grey. His short, wavy black hair indicated he was the descent of what Charlie and Kate’s unborn children would be. He wore a neat grey suit with a black tie.
Summoning their feminine pride and confidence which had been hardened by decades on earth, the women adopted impassive expressions and straightened their backs. The young man took a swig of his champagne, smiling like a good little boy. There was no malice in his eyes. This made the women nervous, although they ruthlessly adopted a face of nonchalance to mask their discomfort.
“And who may you be?” Lucy asked, raising a sceptical eyebrow.
The young man flashed a beautiful smile. “Basically, if humans didn’t taint everything they touched, ligers wouldn’t exist. They are bred for human entertainment in captivity. Yes, you’re right when you say it’s unnatural, because ligers suffer from horrific medical conditions throughout their short lives; some of them are even born with physical birth defects, or die with them during birth. However, what I find hilarious about this ‘debate’ from you two senile old racists –”
“Excuse me, young man!” Lucy hissed, outraged.
“- Is that not only you think the contrasting genes of tigers and lions are of equal comparison to the genes of different human races,” the young man continued, “but also because you think the reason tigers and lions stay away from each other in the wild is because ‘they know better than to mix.’” He grinned, winking with his left eye in the process. “You old hags need to look at a map. Or did explorers find a way to circumnavigate the world in your days by drawing lines on the beach with a stick?”
Mary snarled, half-standing and shaking her fist. She trembled with rage. The hat of a wig almost fell off her head. “Why, I should slap the taste out of your mouth!” She snapped, her voice drowned by the ripple of applause ricocheting through the grand hall after the couple’s serenade ended. “Your whore-of-a-mother was sucking on her whore-of-a-mother’s breasts when I was –”
The young man finished his champagne before slamming it against the table with a small thud. “Tigers live in South-East Asia; lions live in Africa. So how the fuck do you expect them to meet each other in the wild? In case you hadn’t noticed, thousands of miles of ocean separate the two continents. And I ain’t ever heard of tigers and lions booking travel tickets from airline companies and gawking at the sexy cabin hostesses in first class. So unless the continent of Africa collides with the continent of Asia in the next five minutes, your comparison about the unnaturalness of ligers being on par with interracial couples and their offspring, is about as fucking valid as Adolf Hitler setting up a children’s charity in Sudan.” The young man smiled, winked again and walked toward the rippling applause emanating from the enraptured crowd. He soon melted into the sea of bodies.
Mary was still trembling when she sat down. She glanced at her friend; Lucy’s pale skin had transformed to crimson red. She was biting her bottom lip. The women stared in the direction of the clapping crowd and the couple basking in the warm glow of love and adulation. They then met each other’s eyes; they smiled wryly without speaking, the strenuous impact the young man’s words had had evident in their uncharacteristic silence.
What remained characteristic, however, were their xenophobic views. Major wars weren’t won or lost after a single battle – only a series of cataclysmic agonies would decide who flew the flag and who was buried six feet under. Like the Russians had regrouped and counter-attacked after the devastating German invasion in 1941, and reminiscent to General Gregory Zhukov conjuring up a way to stick rockets up a Nazi’s arse, the old ladies soon assumed their composure and like the senile old racists they were, they conceived yet another brilliant strategy to corroborate how correct and righteous their views were. They refused to be swayed.
Even with the fact that lions lived in Africa and tigers lived in Asia.