The Circus of Life

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A tiger cub is captured and sold to a circus. She wants to escape, but she learns the harsh realities of life in captivity. A metaphorical story about the stages of my life and my journey through mental illness.

The Circus of Life

In the beginning, she felt relief and a surge of excitement. She had finally found food, the first in days. She tore into it immediately, savoring the taste of fresh, bloody meat.  She was weak and very tired. A moment later, she felt a sharp sting in her shoulder. It startled her, causing her to flinch and turn away from her meal. Fear and adrenaline pumped through her simultaneously as she tried to identify the cause of this sudden pain.

Soon, she began to feel drowsy. Confused and frightened, she struggled to stay on her feet. Moments before sleep overtook her, she saw strange creatures cautiously approaching. They stood upright, walking on two feet. One of them carried something which he threw over her head. Then everything was dark.

When she opened her eyes, she found herself trapped inside a small, dark place, like a strange type of tiny, inescapable cave. It was unlike any place she had even been. It smelled like trees; the ground under her was hard and smooth, yet it was moving and shaking. She found it very hot and loud in here. The sounds she heard were foreign to her: a loud rumbling and what could have been the call of an animal that she couldn't identify. She wondered if it might be coming from whatever creature had covered her head earlier. 

What was this place? She was afraid. She called for her mother over and over, but got no reply. She saw that there was sunlight coming into this space through some holes in the walls. She felt wind coming through the holes, but it carried an unfamiliar and unpleasant smell. She tried to get to her feet to look through the holes, but the continuous shaking and vibrations made her stumble. This situation was all wrong. She felt that her life was in danger and that she had no control over what was happening to her.

Gradually, the heat and exhaustion overtook her and she slept. Suddenly she felt the whole enclosure tipping and dropping, jolting her awake. When the unpredictable, jerking movement finally stopped, one wall of the enclosure slid upward, plunging her into bright sunlight and fresh air. She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the light. She saw those same strange creatures standing very close by, so she tried to withdraw as far backward as she could. She was trying to stay away from the opening and the creatures who were now, in her mind, associated with the feeling of fear.

However, she immediately felt something hard poking into her from the back. One of these creatures had thrust a thick stick through one of the holes, forcing her to move forward. She heard loud calls and banging noises all around her. Fear and confusion caused her to bolt through the opening and into the bright sunlight. She had no idea what lay ahead of her, but it had to be better than this pain and terror.

She was not able to run far. She found herself in another type of enclosure, this one slightly larger than the first. At least this one was outdoors, with sun and fresh air. She was glad for that, but still trembling. The creatures, which she later learned were called "men", cheered loudly, for they had captured their prize and would now be paid handsomely.

She was given some meat and left alone to eat and rest. Once she was calmer, she discovered that there was water in her cage with her, and she drank deeply. She did not know why she had been brought to this place or what was going to happen to her. She just knew that she hated being trapped and that she wanted to get away from here. She was watching the men, studying them, fearing them, preparing to attack them as soon as she got the chance. She snarled and bared her teeth any time one of them came close. They, however, did not appear to be afraid of her.

Soon after sunrise the next day, she was moved again. The men loaded her back onto their noisy moving machine, and the next leg of her journey began. At least this time she was able to see around her and breathe the fresh air. The trees were passing by her very quickly; it made her feel dizzy and disoriented. She snarled and growled throughout the whole trip. She was angry and scared, and she would make sure the men knew it. Just wait until I get my teeth into you, she thought. I'll tear you apart and eat you.

Before too long, she found herself being unloaded again. This time, she was put into a large, colorful enclosure that flapped with the breeze. And this time, she was not alone. She saw many animals in cages like her own. Most of them, she could identify from her short life in the wild. Her mother had told her which ones were for eating and which ones to avoid. She saw a few of those big grey ones that she was supposed to avoid. They blatted to each other loudly, making her cringe. They pulled against the chains that circled their legs, but to no avail. They were as trapped as she was.

She heard the unmistakable sound of monkeys chattering to each other, as they do. She noticed a few large cats, lying in their cages. Flies crawled over the lions as they slept through the remainder of the early evening. They would wake soon and roar their displeasure to the men. They would be hungry, and their instincts would be telling them it was time to hunt.

Suddenly, she heard a very familiar sound coming from a cage nearby. She turned her head to investigate. What she saw made her heart jump: it was a young, sleek tiger, larger and older than herself. She immediately cried out to it, thinking it might be her mother. The other tiger, lifted its head at the sound. It looked at her and sniffed the air as if to say, "Do I know you?" But it decided that it didn't, and it lay its head back down in the straw that lined the bottom of its cage.

She was very disappointed. Pangs of loneliness struck her once again. This place was all so strange; it was noisier and smellier than anything she had ever experienced. It overwhelmed her. She missed her mother desperately. Resigned to the fact that she was stuck here, at least for now, she lay her head down. That night she dreamed of her mother running through the wild plains, searching for her. The older tiger, hearing her whimpering in her sleep, glanced over at her. He sighed and closed his eyes.

Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months. The tiger cub had grown a great deal. In fact, she had been given a much larger cage to accommodate her increasing size. She had come to know the male tiger next to her. In the beginning, when they were placed into a large, circular cage together, he had snarled at her, preferring to have his own space. She had watched as a man interacted with him, forcing him to jump from here to there, through flaming hoops. If he snarled at the man, he was swiftly corrected with the loud snap of a whip and a pole forcing him to back away. 

Gradually, the man had begun to interact with her in the same way. He used meat to lure her into whatever position he wanted. If she cooperated, she got to eat it. However, she grew to fear the man and his aggressive attitude toward her. This fear caused her to occasionally strike out at him with her large claws, baring her teeth. The more he punished her, the angrier she became. If she went too far, she would be hit with a powerful jet of water from a large hose. She did not fear water, but this kind of assault was unwanted.

During those early months (which became years), she maintained her belief that she would kill this man and somehow find her way back to her mother and her home. She performed his tricks in front of crowds of men, but she resented every moment. She would snarl and growl at him. She noticed that the men watching her from outside this circle would become excited whenever she did that. They would cheer and shout, whooping in joy. She would kill them, too.

One day, the old male tiger asked her why she still bothered with this childish behavior. "You might as well just give in," he sighed. "You're never leaving here. Neither am I."

"I will leave!" she retorted. "I'm going home to find my mother."

"Your mother is dead," he replied fiercely. "They killed her before they took you. That's how they do it. That's how they caught me. Trust me when I say, you are never leaving."

She was shocked into silence by his assertion. She turned away from him and lay down. After a while, he heard her grumbling, trying to soothe herself.  "She's not dead. I know it. I'll never give in!" But there came a day when she began to question her beliefs.

Her companion became ill and was "retired" to his cage, never to perform tricks again. She wondered if the men would release him now that he was of no use to them. If they did, then there was hope for her, as well. But that was not what happened. His cage was removed from the tent. As he passed by her for the last time, he looked at her with great sadness in his eyes. He knew his fate.

Minutes later, she heard a deafening CRACK! that reverberated momentarily in the still afternoon air. She never saw him again.

The old feelings of loneliness returned, causing her to become sad and listless. She was alone again and she would never return to her home. Her mother was dead. During this time, she thought a great deal about things he had said to her. "You might as well just give in." She had witnessed his progression into old age, and he had been right. The reality finally sank in: he never left this circus, and neither would she. There was no reason to continue to fight. And so she gave in. All hope was lost.

Soon, another cub was brought in and placed beside her, just as she had been placed. She looked at it with pity but said nothing. She didn't want to be the one to destroy this one's hope and spirit like the old tiger had done to her. But she knew what lay ahead for this baby and for herself. She sighed and closed her eyes in resignation.

Submitted: August 04, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Tammi Fitzpatrick. All rights reserved.

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I could have cried over this, Tammi. That poor tiger cub, removed from it's own life for no other reason than to provide human entertainment. And that other tiger, disposed of when he'd outlived his use. A circle that goes on and on - one that makes me so mad!
Excellent writing!

Tue, August 4th, 2020 7:13pm


Thank you. It's a metaphor for my journey through mental illness.

Tue, August 4th, 2020 3:07pm

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