The water rocks the boat as though running aground, only it never sinks. Above the surface, the boat floats heavy on an ocean without horizon. On the boat rocks an ape. Peacefully meditating a world into existence.
In the world of the ape, there is a tree in which lives a large horse and a small tiger. The tiger is too small to eat the horse, so she never tried. The horse never thought of eating the tiger, so he never tried either. When manifesting the rules of the world into existence, the ape made sure the tiger would grow slower than the horse to keep their friendship alive for longer. But the ape knows that a horse can only be so big, and, eventually, the tiger will be big enough.
“Good morning, Tiger,” says the horse when skipping up from its resting place on the grass beneath the tree.
“Good morning, Horse,” answers the tiger and yawns, lazily remaining on the lowest branches of the tree.
“Today we have many things to do,” says Horse excitedly and trots around the tree on the ground. “We will go to the watering hole, then to the boulder collection, then to say hi to the ducks in the pond.” The horse eats some of the grass growing around the tree as he speaks. The horse loves grass and eats a lot of it for breakfast.
Tiger smiles at Horse, who is much stronger and much faster, but who thinks like prey that never was hunted. Tiger, who is much smaller and slower, still thinks like a predator. A predator with claws simply not quite sharp enough, teeth not quite long enough, muscle not quite strong enough. Tiger is lazy and intelligent, but she is also playful and loves to join Horse on his adventures. Being with Horse is fun, Tiger thinks. Horse made Tiger happy. Horse makes Tiger happy. So with a swift movement, Tiger casually jumps down to walk alongside Horse and the pair continue forward together.
With a mouthful of grass, the horse turns to the tiger. “You’re not having breakfast?”
“Not yet,” answers Tiger. Smiling at its friend, Horse nods and Tiger smiles back.
Sometimes when they walk together, Horse runs ahead. Long legs take him fast where he wants to go and back again as though he never left. Tiger is also fast but does not bother to run very often. Tiger runs only at night to hunt prey slower than her. So when Horse lets his strong build take him away, Tiger watches as though he were a prey fleeing, yet captivated as though she was the hunted one. Sometimes she doesn’t watch at all. Instead, lazily soaking in the sun, remaining in that world of books to be read, paper to be written and students to be taught. Existing, simply by waiting for Horse to come back to pick her up where he left her.
The other animals in the Ape’s world exist only in relation to the tiger and to the horse. Some know the horse, others know the tiger. Even though they live together and spend much time in close proximity to one another, few animals know both of them, and there are no animals that know neither. The Ape’s whole world exists only to fuel the relationship between Horse and Tiger.
Horse’s friends think Tiger is harmless but never come close enough to check. Tiger’s friends think Horse might be dangerous but they also don’t come close enough. Thus, none of their friends know the truth. Both Horse and Tiger think their friends are right. Horse thinks Tiger is very sweet and harmless. Tiger thinks Horse is large and very powerful.
One of Tiger’s friends is Hyena. Hyena is a group of five thinking as one and eating as ten. Hyena knows Tiger is hungry. Hungry like Hyena is hungry. “When will we eat the horse?” It asks again. “When will you start the hunt?” But Hyena knows Tiger’s not yet big enough. “When will you be strong enough?” It asks.
“Not yet,” Tiger answers as usual.
Once out walking, not used to persistent daytime activities, Tiger got tired. Horse suggested Tiger should ride him for a bit. Following suit, Tiger jumped up and for the briefest of moments, the predator’s claws marked the back of the prey. Horse shrugged, Tiger fell and Horse stepped on Tiger’s tail. “I’m sorry! I am so sorry!” Horse had said repeatedly but Tiger did not know if Horse apologised for stepping on her tail or for feeling sorry for himself. “No, I’m sorry,” Tiger had replied also not sure herself if her words were for hurting Horse with her claws or for revealing her true nature to him.
Neither friend had enjoyed the experience but awkwardly as mismatched friends and lovers doomed to fail, they acted as though nothing major had happened. Tiger still remembered it in detail. If Horse remembered, he did not let it show.
The days passed, the seasons changed and Horse who had grown fast every day slowly started to settle in his size. Green grass, rough hay and delicate wildflowers were now part of his legs, torso and head. Beautifully nature had painted itself on his muscles, the energy of soil and sun flowed in his veins and floodwater was the spark in his eyes. Tiger kept growing at the same speed. Each life taken extended her own life. Each limb devoured, extended her own limbs. Tiger was still smaller than Horse, but no longer weaker.
This truth had been made very clear to Tiger one day when Horse had excitedly jumped into the pond and swum around with such excitement, only to not be able to get up on the steep, muddy bank. Tiger had helped her friend, and to her, pulling him out had been easy. The knowledge that the difference in his size compared to hers had diminished fueled this newfound realisation that her strength had surpassed his a long time ago.
Once Tiger had been small enough that she could walk between Horse’s legs without hindrance. Now, head bent down, crawling underneath Horse, Tiger’s furry stripes tickled Horse’s belly. Both friends enjoyed that sensation and they often walked so close that Tiger’s stripes tickled Horse’s legs.
One day when Horse was out and about Hyena snuck up on Tiger as she was resting in the sun. “Grand tiger, you are much bigger now… when is it time to take the horse?” Revolted by Hyena’s sudden appearance and persistence, Tiger shrugged and pushed her friend away. Tiger is stronger than Hyena, but Hyena is five, not one. Tiger knows she can beat Hyena in parts, but does not know if she can beat Hyena in full.
Horse sleeps early. The sun sets and Horse leaves this dream world to awake into a world of work, obligations, complicated feelings and complex situations. When Horse sleeps, Tiger hunts. But Horse is not dumb and knows what Tiger does. Neither friend can do anything about it. They are what they are. They accept each other.
A while back, Horse stopped growing. Now his thin muscular legs made for running long distances stand in sharp contrast to the dense pillars of a fighter. Tiger knows Horse has no chance. Sniffing Horse when he sleeps, she smells the fullness of the blood, the flesh, of a lifestream ready to surrender under her teeth.
Tonight, Horse isn’t sleeping. He opens his eyes as Tiger circles her prey. In a moment of devotion, of surrender, of love, Horse closes his eyes again.
The ape rocks on his boat on water still as a mirror.
“What? Feasting alone?” Hyena approaches and surrounds Tiger and Horse on all sides. “Waited I did. Waited patiently for your call. Now I find you eating alone?”
Horse eyes open again, without devotion, without surrender, without love. Instead, fear has taken its place, his eyes fueled by the anger of betrayal.
Tiger’s heart breaks. Looking at Horse with devotion, with love, with surrender, she hopes her friend knows she would never betray him. She could never. Was he not the belly that tickled her back? Was he not the morning order in her chaos? Was he not the return to paradise from her stressful dreams of work and worry? With a gentle pat, she pushed him up to his feet.
“Run,” Tiger whispers to Horse. Turning to Hyena, she growls in a defensive stand.
Hyena laughs. “You turn on me, your friend? For food? You are not yet so big… I do not know what tiger taste like, but I think I don’t mind trying.”
“You are smaller and weaker,” Tiger responds through her uncertainty, knowing she is stronger than Horse, but not knowing if she is stronger than five of Hyena.
All battles must start, and they do so with the misguided certainty in the uncertainty. Feigning confidence in numbers, Hyena surrounds Tiger and with an attack synchronized with a touch of independence rarely displayed by Hyena. Tiger is stronger than she expected and Hyena anticipated. But strength alone is not enough against numbers. Hyena bites into Tiger’s flesh, claws bury themselves into her joins. Her stripes ripped, yet she rages against the attacker until three of its five separated parts lie lifeless on the ground.
Horse is long gone on legs lifting him like the wind. Fear sent him flying over the fields. Tiger. Tiger is stronger, he thinks. Tiger is stronger than I, he knows. Is Tiger stronger than Hyena? Horse doesn’t know. Mid-jump Horse comes to a halt, turning around to his friend in spirit rather than voice. Tiger is not stronger than Hyena, Horse knows. Horse lets his long legs take him back, faster, as fear is bested by love.
Back under the tree, damaged and grieving, Tiger fights the last parts of Hyena. Losing alone.
Hyena laughs. Moving in on its latest prey.
Horse is large and very powerful. He runs over the field ready to die for his friend. They will eat me, he thinks. Or she will. He continues. Rather it would be her, he thinks, then we are together forever as one, and as he approaches the battlefield he tramples one of Hyena with his hooves. An easy defeat that leaves all of them surprised due to the shock to their worldview.
The last remaining Hyena will not go down so easily. Fused with the power of its fallen comrades, it turns to Horse with hunting intent. Hyena lashes out, claws and teeth ready for the kill. But Tiger’s claws are sharper, Tiger’s teeth are longer and Tiger’s muscles stronger.
Tiger feasts on her friend. Growing stronger, healing. The spirit of conversation and battles fuses the wounds. Horse watches as Tiger grieves her friends, now forever part of her. Then walks away.
Tiger watches Horse walk away.
“Today is a busy day, we have many things to do,” he says as he turns around and motions to Tiger to join him. “We should go now.”
Tiger gets up from her position, heavy with guilt, lightened by forgiveness, and joins her companion. Her stripes tickle his legs as they walk onwards in space and time, together still. Together forever.
The Ape awakes and the dream space fades into reality.