The Small Boy and The Big Cat

by Kevin O’Cuinn

It was a playground like any other, apart from the tiger in the linden tree. There were swings and a slide, a roundabout and monkey bars. And there was a schaukel-korb, a swinging basket big enough for a small family to lie in and swing back and forth. It was from the schaukel-korb that the tiger came to our attention. Joshua and I were schaukeling to and fro, schaukeling and singing our new song, which was one line, ‘Fliegen, wie ein Vogel,’ to and fro and back and forth. Fly Like a Bird. At thirty months, Joshua only had the most basic phonemes downs — Fliegen sounded like leeg, but his V was coming on fine; we schaukeled and sang our line, content in the afternoon.

Joshua stopped singing.

I looked over and saw that he was staring on high, into the branches of the linden, one hand raised. He looked at me and said,


Tigger, German pronunciation for tiger. I laughed and called him a crazy little man, he frowned in reply, scrunched deep and punched his hand higher.

‘Tigger,’ he said, louder this time. ‘Yeah, yeah,’ I said, ‘A tigger in the linden, sure. And a hefelump on the slide?’ Too much TV, I thought, or too much Milne. But I looked up and sure enough — between the branches and the leaves, up high and all but out of view — was a tiger. I froze. A tiger; not a metaphor for something weird — a regular, card-carrying tiger, and it was moving south, in our direction. Unusual in these parts, downtown Frankfurt. Joshua, having lost interest in our song, sat up in the schaukel-korb.

‘TIGGER!!!’ he screamed. Even one so young knew these were exceptional goings-on.

The parents and offspring in the vicinity looked over. The parents gave indulgent smiles; the kids united in the universal hysterics of panic: screaming and running in aimless circles. Cries of Tigger! Tigger! Tigger! were punctuated with cries of Papapapapapa. Two minutes later the dust had settled from the fleeing kiddy-wagons and we were alone. I wondered, worried even, why my adrenalin hadn’t engaged. The tiger lowered itself from branch to branch to branch, pirouetted 360, then plopped into the schaukel-korb. Well, now. I’d read reports, way back, somewhat conflicting reports, about how to act when confronted by a bear — make yourself big, make yourself small, run — but tigers, this was whole new territory, so I did what came naturally: made space. Joshua squealed a squeal that knew no fear. Then he squealed another and threw himself at the tiger, pulled hard on its whiskers and did his best tiger roooaaaaaarrrr. I’ve never seen a tiger laugh and I’m not one hundred per cent sure that’s what it was — the rumble from deep, the contracting and loosening abdomen — but one thing was sure, he (she? it?) wasn’t objecting. He, let’s say it was a male, held up a paw and with a swoosh, knocked Joshua out of the korb and into the sandpit below. He joined him with a bounce and the two of them rolled around, Joshua pulling fur and biting the tiger’s face.

‘Easy, tiger,’ I said from the korb and sat up in slow-mo. If either of them heard me, they didn’t let on. Whatever possessed Joshua to push the crown of his skull into the beast’s mouth is beyond me. I cringed and looked away, ‘Joshua, nein,’ I hissed and caught the tiger’s eye, which didn’t seem especially pleased. I lay back in the korb and bit my fist. When I dared look again, Joshua was on the tiger’s back. He held himself steady via handfuls of whisker and they took off, jumping over swings, up and down the slide. It was a sight like none I’d known. I wished I’d brought the camera or invested in a fancy-dan phone. Joshua specially enjoyed the slide and shouted ‘Nochmal, Tigger, nochmal!’ and the tiger obliged and round they went again, Joshua clinging to his ears.

The sound of sirens. The tiger looked up; he knew. He looked proud and fierce and sad. He bucked his rear and Joshua was airborne and squealing again. The tiger softened his fall with a paw and ran his tongue across his face; Joshua punched him in the eye. The tiger crouched and stretched and yawned. Only now did I note the claws, longer and thicker that Joshua’s fingers. In one leap he was above us and in the linden, up and into the airy heights. The last branch gave way and leaned into the street; he leapt again and reached a roof. He pulled his weight over the apex and bounced away, disappearing over rooftops, into the afternoon. The police and fire engines and ambulances screeched to a halt. The police drew their weapons and rushed around the perimeter of the playground. They shouted ‘Keine Bewebung,’ like they meant it, but we weren’t going anywhere, we were back in the schaukel-korb, schaukeling to and fro, trying to remember the melody to our song.


Kevin O’Cuinn lives and loves and works and plays in Frankfurt, Germany. His story, "The Veil" appeared in Issue #31 of The Cafe Irreal.