Little Tigers

What’s the most significant secret you’ve ever kept? Did the truth ever come out?

A work of fiction submitted to the prompt: Evasive Action

“Okay, Micah, it’s time for bed!”

Hu called his five-year-old grandson who has just finished watching his favorite cartoon Hu had recorded earlier using his brand new VCR. Naturally, he was not too happy when it comes to bedtime, just like any other kid. But when Hu told him, “I’m going to tell you a bedtime story,” as he looked at the boy over his glasses, Micah grinned at him, showing his missing lower front tooth.

Hu walked behind the running boy to the direction of his bedroom, painted yellow on Micah’s own request before this year’s Chinese New Year. He held his duck plushie while Hu tucked him under a white duvet matching with the bed sheets and pillow covers–all the set covered in cartoon animal patterns–also on Micah’s own request. Hu sat on the small space on the bed next to his grandson.

“Are you gonna tell me a new story this time, Akong?” Micah asked him with his round, chocolate-brown orbs. Hu tousled his mop of light brown hair.

“Yes,” he answered, “I’m going to tell you a story about a little tiger who lives deep within the forest in the mountains of China.”

“Tiger? Roooooaaaar!” Micah put his hands out as if they were paws. Both of them play-roared with each other until Hu used his “paws” to tickle Micah instead. Once they stopped laughing, Micah looked at his grandfather and said,

“But Akong, I’m kinda scared of them. They have veeery big, veeeeery pointy teeth,” Micah described while using both his tiny pointer fingers to depict a tiger’s fangs.

Hu guffawed, “They are kinda scary, aren’t they? But don’t worry, this little one is a good tiger. And his teeth are not as big as his mother’s, at least not yet.”

“Oh, okay,” Micah shuffled on the bed a little, “does he lose his tooth like me, too?”

“Of course! And that is exactly the story I will tell you about,” Hu cleared his throat, “there was once a little tiger, who is the liveliest among his four siblings. He runs the fastest among them. He came up with the games to play with his siblings, like catch their mother’s tail or play-wrestling. He spots the water first whenever his mother and his siblings get thirsty after a long journey, hopping from one mountain or another. Everyone likes him, and his mother is sure he is going to be the next king of the jungle. But he has a secret he won’t tell anyone.”

“What? I can keep a secret! Tell me, Akong, please…,” Micah pleaded excitedly.

“Sssshhhh, promise me you wouldn’t tell anyone?” Hu asked him in a hushed tone.

“Promise,” Micah mimicked his grandfather, whispering,”what is it, Akong?

“He…,” Hu paused a little, “he is toothless from birth. And every king of the jungle needs to have his pointy teeth to eat, hunt and protect his territory.”

Micah gasped, “Oh no. What happened to him then?”

“He tried not to open his jaw when he’s around even his mother and his siblings. He took a far corner when sipping water from the river. Nobody knows until one day, the mother tiger decided that it is time for the cubs to teach them how to hunt. At first, she would let them watch her catching a wild boar and then give the meat for them to eat. Even though it seems everyone is learning well, she becomes suspicious of the little tiger as he will always need help to cut the meat and will eat the slowest. She thought it might be because it’s their first time and they only drink milk before. Weeks after she grows even more worried because he wasn’t as lively as he used to be, and he became thinner and thinner.”

“One snowy morning, the little tiger was too weak to wake up, and when the mother tiger tried to feed him something, she discovered that unlike his other siblings, he has no tooth. She chewed on a small bite of meat and crushed some fruit with her paws to feed the little tiger and nurse him back to health. Once he was getting better, she left to hunt some more for her other cubs. The little cubs seem to copy her as they try to feed their sibling by nibbling little bits of meat for the toothless little tiger, too.”

Micah yawned a little, “They all seem to be nice tigers, Akong.

“They are, aren’t they?” he continued, “So afterwards, the toothless little tiger grew up together with his three siblings. Even though he is toothless, when hunting, turns out he is the best at hiding and being very silent…”

“Like me when we play hide-and-seek?” Micah asked sleepily as he slowly closed his eyes.

“Yes, very much like you when we play hide-and-seek,” Hu answered as he stroked Micah’s head softly, “he would help his siblings hunt, and his siblings will help him eat the food. They became the strongest team, ruling and protecting the jungle together. Years after, they are known as the Four Tiger Kings, the Great Protectors of the Wild. The End.”

As Hu ended the story, Micah has drifted to sleep soundly, peacefully. He smiled at the sight in front of him as he gently got up and straightened up the duvet to cover his grandson and keep him warm. He patted him softly as he knelt next to the bed.

“There will come one day when you will be older and I will muster enough courage to tell you the true secret, little one. The truth is, the mother tiger wasn’t as compassionate. Once she knew one of her babies doesn’t have what it takes to survive, she abandoned him to fend for himself. If it is not for a caring neighbor who discovered him on her way home, he wouldn’t  have survived. He wouldn’t have grown up, obtained education and jobs. He wouldn’t have his own children, or grandchild. He wouldn’t be lucky enough have you.”

“My mother didn’t want me because I lack something,” he took a peek on his socked feet, “but my daughter seems to still find your abundance hard to fathom… well, she did take some time until she find my condition less appalling.” He took Micah’s right palm and held the six little fingers he has.

“I understand, and I certainly have got used to her apprehension. But certainly not to you. How can she keep herself away from such a gift?

“I sometimes blame myself, you know. Is it because I started it? I really am sorry if it does, and I’m sorry for inflicting the sense of guilt your mother is probably currently in. But then, it still bothers me why it matters that we are a little different physically, and they say I’m the old, conservative one. I hope she will be able to overcome it soon. I damn well hope so.

“And while we wait, I will always be here for you,” he kissed his grandson’s tiny hand before he patted his little head. He turned off the lights and closed the door as he murmured, “Sleep well, little one.”

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