And every night he would take her and the aged tiger into the tent where the bright lights hurt her eyes and the people oohed and aahed and the smell of stale butter and sweat and the heat confused and disoriented her. There he would ask for a brave soul in the audience to come up to them and touch them and stand still while the tiger grabbed a slab of meat from his hand and the bear danced circles around him. The people would yell, and some women would faint, but tremendous applause usually followed like thunder, hurting her ears. And the chains chafed her wrists as she was led to the cage afterwards. But she gladly bore it for the sake of being with Cameron.
One night after a long and difficult performance, she and the old tiger were led back to their cages. Charlemagne, the tiger, purred and padded the length of his cage irritably, as was his habit.
“These humans.” He spat. “manipulating us as if we were… pets! I want to eat every last one of them. Especially the man who is called Cameron.” His tail twitched in his fury. “He feeds us and PRETENDS to be our friend, but he makes us laughingstocks and playthings, fit only for the amusement of those HUMANS.” Angrily he stalked the length of his cage.
The bear watched him for a while, then said, ” He is a good man, this I know.”
The tiger laughed at her condescendingly. “Good? Good is nothing. Good is when he feeds you and keeps you sheltered from the wind and the water and the ice and the heat. But he brings us out every night and makes us less than nothing, jumping through flaming circles and doing his every whim to amuse the other humans.” He snarled, “You are naïve, for a bear.”
Timidly, the bear said, “I do not mind.”
The tiger ignored her, having decided not to waste his time on her. The last thing she heard him say was, “ Tomorrow, they will see. A tiger is not a plaything.”
The next night, the tiger was restless. The bear knew he was up to something, and tried to tell Cameron, but all he heard was growling. “Shh, lady bear.” He laughed. “I’ll give you a little more honey.” And he did.
The bear was getting more and more frustrated, while the tiger sat smugly in his cage and calmly regarded her. “He is a human, bear. He only hears what he wants to hear. And tonight he will pay.”
And she despaired.
That night, Cameron called a little boy to volunteer from the audience. He went to the ring, trembling, and the bear saw the tiger lick his lips in satisfaction. The boy’s father beamed with pride that his boy had been chosen, but his mother had gone pale.
As the boy stood with his arm out, waving the piece of meat, waiting. The bear stood behind him, taut and tensed, waiting. It seemed like the whole audience held their collective breaths too, waiting. And the tiger made his move.
While he was poised to spring, the bear roared and knocked the boy down, eliciting screams of terror from the audience. And the tiger grinned and padded away.
“The bear’s wild!” A woman screamed.
“It’s going to kill us!” A man added.
The boy whimpered in terror under her, and from the corner of her eye the bear saw a glint of steel. She turned her head to see Cameron aim a gun at her head. His eyes were devastated and full of tears.
“I’m sorry,” he mouthed. With another roar she got off the little boy and staggered outside, escaping to the forest. And she was gone.