The forests had forsaken the tiger, imprisoned in his cage, but he could not forget them. He glared hatefully at the men beyond the bars; their eyes, curious and unafraid, studied him. One of them spoke in a calm, authoritative tone: “If you truly want to do what I do, to become a tamer, you must never for a moment forget that your adversary’s stomach is your primary target. You will see that this profession is both easy and difficult at the same time. Look at this tiger: he is fierce, arrogant, proud of his freedom, his power and his strength. But he will change, become meek, gentle, and obedient–like a small child. Watch what happens between he who holds the food and he who does not, and learn.”
The men rushed to profess their dedication as students to the profession of taming. The tamer beamed, then addressed the tiger sarcastically: “And how is our honored guest?”
“Prepare my food; it is time for my meal,” said the tiger
“You, my prisoner, giving me orders?” said the tamer with mock astonishment. “What a funny tiger you are! You should realize that I am the only one who gives orders around here.”
“No one gives orders to tigers,” said the tiger.
“But you are no longer a tiger,” said the tamer. “In the forest, you are a tiger, but here, you are caged. Now, you are merely a slave who carries out orders and obeys my will.”
“I am no one’s slave,” the tiger replied testily.
“You must obey me because I am the one who holds the food,” said the tamer.
“I do not want your food,” said the tiger.
“Go hungry then if you like,” said the tamer. “I won’t force to you do what you don’t want to do.” Then, to his students, he added: “You’ll see how he changes his mind, for a head held high does not satisfy a hungry stomach.”
So the tiger went hungry. He remembered with sadness the days when he ran like the wind, free of constraints, chasing down his prey.
The next day, the tamer and his students surrounded the cage once more.
“Are you not hungry?” said the tamer. “You must be so hungry it hurts. Say you are hungry and you will receive all the meat you can eat.”
The tiger was quiet.
The tamer continued: “do as I say and don’t be foolish. Admit that you are hungry and you will be fed immediately.”
“I am hungry,” said the tiger.
The tamer laughed and told his students: “Now he has fallen into a trap he will not escape.” He gave the order, and the tiger was given much meat.
On the third day, the tamer said to the tiger: “If you want to get food, do as I say.”
“I will not obey you,” said the tiger.
“Don’t be so hasty,” said the tamer. “My request is very simple. You are currently pacing in your cage. When I tell you ‘stop’, you stop.”
The tiger thought to himself: “It really is a minor request; there is no need for me to be stubborn and go hungry.”
“Stop!” shouted the tamer in a harsh, commanding voice.
The tiger froze immediately.
“You’re getting better,” said the tamer in a friendly tone.
The tiger was glad, and he ate heartily as the tamer explained to his students: “In a few days he will be a paper tiger.”
On the fourth day, the tiger said to the tamer: “I am hungry–tell me to stop.”
“He has begun to love my orders,” the tamer told his students. Then turning to the tiger, he said: “You’ll get no food today unless you meow like a kitty cat.”
The tiger swallowed his rage and said to himself: “It will be fun to meow like a kitty cat,” and so he did.
The tamer frowned, and said disapprovingly: “That was terrible. A snarl is not a meow.”
And so the tiger tried again, but the tamer’s face remained grim.
“Just shut up,” said the tamer contemptuously. “Your meow is still terrible. I’ll give you a day to practice meowing, and tomorrow I’ll test you. If you succeed, you’ll eat, but if you don’t, you won’t.”
The tamer stepped away from the tiger’s cage with slow, deliberate steps, his snickering, whispering students in tow. The tiger called to the forests beseechingly, but they were too far away.
On the fifth day, the tamer said to the tiger: “If you can meow like a kitty cat you’ll get a big piece of fresh meat.”
The tiger meowed, and the tamer clapped.
“Excellent!” the tamer said with glee. “You mew like a cat in heat,” and he threw the tiger a big piece of meat.
On the sixth day, as soon as the tamer neared the tiger’s cage, the tiger meowed, but the tamer’s brow remained furrowed.
“But I meowed like a kitty,” said the tiger.
“Bray like a donkey,” ordered the tamer.
Said the tiger, full of resentment: “I am a tiger. The animals of the forest fear me. Bray like a donkey? I would rather die.”
The tamer left the tiger in his cage without a word.
On the seventh day, the trainer approached the tiger’s cage with a gentle smile.
“Don’t you want to eat?”
“I want to eat,” said the tiger.
“The meat you will eat comes at a price,” said the tamer. “Bray like a donkey and you will be fed.”
The tiger tried to remember the forest, but he could not. He closed his eyes and let out a “Hee-haw!”
“Your bray is not very good, but I will give you a piece of meat out of pity,” said the tamer.
On the eighth day, the tamer said to the tiger: “I will deliver the beginning of a speech, and when I finish, clap as if you like it.”
“I will clap,” said the tiger.
So the tamer began his speech: “Oh citizens…we have on many occasions clarified our position on the defining causes of our time, and this resolute, honest position will not change no matter how the enemy powers conspire against us, and with faith, we will be victorious.”
“I did not understand what you said,” the tiger responded.
“You must like everything I say and clap enthusiastically.”
“Forgive me,” said the tiger. “I am ignorant. Your words are great, and I will clap as you wish.” And the tiger clapped.
“I don’t care for hypocrisy, or for hypocrites,” said the tamer. “You will go without food today as punishment.”
On the ninth day, the tamer came carrying a bag of hay, and threw it towards the tiger.
“Eat,” he said.
“What is this?” asked the tiger. “I eat meat.”
“From now on, you’ll eat nothing but hay,” said the tamer.
And when the tiger’s hunger grew, he tried to eat the hay. He was shocked by the taste and backed away in disgust. But he went back, and gradually became accustomed to it.
And on the tenth day, the tamer, his students, the tiger and his cage disappeared, and the tiger became a citizen, and his cage a city.
The story ‘An-Namour fii al-Youm al-‘Asher’ is taken from the book by Zakaria Tamer of the same name, first published in 1978 by Riad El-Rayyes Books. Republished here under the rules of Fair Use. The illustration is Franz Marc’s Der Tiger (public domain via wikimedia commons).
The Arabic text: