An account of the first time I came face to face with and touched a tiger.
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Following is an account of the first time in my life that I touched a real, live bengal tiger.
It's funny how, years later, I still remember the tiny little details. There was a soft breeze, enough to blow a stray strand of hair into my eyes, but not enough to really cool me. It was ungodly hot, but then, I was in Aruba. It was December, and I was there on vacation. We - myself, my mother and father - walked the half mile or so from the port where our cruise ship was docked to the Seaport Market Village Shopping Mall. It wasn't really a long walk, and had it just been my mother and I, it wouldn't have been a problem. But, we had "The Foot" trailing behind us, so it was much more difficult than it should have been.
We stopped here and there along the way, to take pictures and shop, but always with the thought that we had a destination in mind, and therefore had to hurry. We, of course, arrived much too early, and so had to wait. The waiting was almost unbearable. We had been waiting months, since we had first discovered the opportunity we were about to take advantage of, and to have to wait the 30 or so minutes until she arrived was almost too much on my already fragile nerves. I knew that another opportunity like this one would not be soon in coming, if it ever did.
We decided to take a break from shopping and sit at an open air cafe only a few hundred feet from where she would be, where we would soon get to meet her. I remember looking at my watch over and over again, thinking, "Surely more than 30 seconds must have passed!"
I ordered a hot tea from the waitress when she came to take our order. It's my customary drink, regardless of the setting. It calms my nerves. The girl looked at me like I had two heads.
"You gonna ordah a hot drink like dat? You in de islands, girl!" she said in the patois particular to Aruba. She seemed almost offended that I didn't want an alcoholic drink. "Is too hot for dat."
I insisted that I wanted the hot tea, and my mother and father ordered iced tea. She wandered off, her back stiff, and we tried to make small talk, to pass the time.
"I wonder what kind of vehicle they bring her in," I said, more to fill the uncomfortable silence than out of any real curiosity.
"I suppose it would have to be a van or s.u.v.," my mother commented, "she's a pretty big kitty, I don't think she'll fit in a volkswagon."
"You don't think she should be here already?" asked dad, always the optimist, "Maybe she's not coming today."
I rolled my eyes. "The signs say she'll be here, she'll be here," I said. "She's a major tourist attraction, you don't think somebody would have known if she wasn't going to be here?" We had been asking every clerk in every store along the way about her.
The waitress wandered back with a tray. On it was two glasses of unsweetened iced tea, with condensation beading the glass, and a glass mug with hot water and a cup with several types of tea bags. I chose the strawberry tea, since English Breakfast was not one of the choices offered. The waitress wandered off again, and I took my time dunking the tea bag and adding sugar, just to occupy my mind while I waited. Suddenly, my mom turned, looking at a small bluish-grey Caravan which had just pulled up behind the glass enclosure.
I wanted to get up immediately, but I forced myself to take a deep breath and wait. I blew on my tea, in an attempt to cool it. I was beginning to regret my choice, since it meant I would have to sit longer to wait for it to cool so I could drink it before we could get up and go over to the enclosure. My father still had a mug on his face.
"You two are fools if you do this, you know that." He had been saying the same thing for about two weeks leading up to this day, getting more and more vehement each time. He didn't come right out and forbid us to do it, but he was skirting very close to that particular line. I had no intention of allowing him to cross it.
"Yes, I am, and don't blame me if you're too scared to do it. I'm not about to pass up a once in a life time chance just because I'm nervous." I gulped my tea down, burning my throat, and put my mug back on the tray. "Do you want money?" The tea cost maybe $1.50, and with tip, I offered my father 2 dollars.
"No, go ahead if you're so determined. I don't want to hear it if you get bit."
I rolled my eyes at my mother and she gave me that little shrug that said, Just ignore him. I got up and turned to my mother.
"You're still coming with me, right?" I held out my hand, and she took it. I pulled her out of her chair and we walked over to the enclosure together and peered inside.
It was a large glass walled habitat, with pools of water and large rocks to climb on and trees for shade. It encompassed perhaps one half acre of land. It wasn't her home, and I think, ultimately, that made me feel better about going in there, but it was still "her territory," and that made it dangerous enough.