Pamba hungered. Tired, she padded her way through the forest, all the while listening to the birds call back and forth. Hot, still, air weighed upon her. The thick atmosphere, hard to breathe, rendered her even more tired, more hungry. Bright streaks of sunlight filtered through the tree tops to the forest floor.
“Scraw, Scraw, Scraw!”
Pamba knew this meant, “Beware, Beware! A hungry tiger is about!”
How shall I ever catch some food if those pesky birds keep telling everybody I am here? Pamba kept walking until she came across a running brook of cool water. Well, if I can’t find something to eat at least I can take a nice bath.
Pamba lapped up a small mouthful of water, savoring its restorative coolness. She swallowed the water and sprung headlong into the brook. Water sprayed every which way. Falling water drops, caught by the probing sunbeams, sparkled like small diamond rainbows. These new streamers of light fluttered in the air. Dazzling colors danced among trees, forest floor, and along the soft orange and white fur of Pamba herself. Pamba watched the colorful diamonds float about her. One sparkled on her nose. And, for a moment her muzzle shone pink and blue.
She stared cross-eyed at her many hued nose, watching the colors slip off and gently plop into the water. Pamba backed out of the cool brook and onto the bank. She gazed wonderingly as the sparkling colors floated to earth, turning back into water, flowing into the brook.
Pamba’s cocked head surveyed the brook, the air; she crossed her eyes and gazed at her own nose. All the colors slipped back to normal. Careful to make no splashes, Pamba eased herself back into the brook and lay down. The water coursed all about her. Its liquid purity cooled her hot fur. Her worried muscles appreciated the gift as well. Only her head, resting on a log, broke the water’s surface. She dozed and dreamed happy, cool, tiger dreams.
“Scribble scrap, scribble scrap!”
Pamba awoke to the mutterings of the birds perched in the lower trees. The birds inquired furiously about where that brash young tiger had gotten off to. Pamba did not even open her eyes, but lay in the water, listening. She sniggered a little and all of the birds scribbled for a moment and then stopped. Pamba suppressed her sniggering, but not the smirk that followed. Birds just hate, Pamba knew, that tigers understand their speech even better than they can themselves. She lay very still, the babbling of the brook drowning the sounds of her own breathing. A few flies buzzed about.
After a long satisfying snooze Pamba rose from the water, now very hungry, but no longer hot nor tired. She tested the air with her nose and froze.
Humans, oh no!
Instantly alert, Pamba monitored the landscape. She smelt two of the murderous beasts, and nearby too. They had something else with them, a goat by the smell of it. A typical human trick, she thought. But Pamba’s stomach, not comprehending the difference between bait and an honest meal, still growled. She could not recall when she had last eaten. I should run away, she thought, those humans will want to make me into a rug, or worse, a rich lady’s handbag. If they are so desperate for stripes and fur, then they should have chosen to be tigers and not humans. Perhaps they were not noble enough to be tigers, she thought, so they settled for just human.
Pamba knew she had a problem. She was so very hungry, but humans were near. She settled back into the water, her head like an orange turtle shell with furry ears sticking up. Pamba held her breath, the buzzing of flies grew more insistent, and the humans came ever closer. The flies buzzing became flute-like and a horrified Pamba sensed the humans were nearly upon her. The sound of the flute played in harmony with the water of the brook and Pamba heard the voice of a human girl.
“Come out, Tiger. We have brought your lunch.” The buzz of the flute died down and the sound of bleating filled the air. Pamba’s stomach tensed and growled.
“Screek scraw, ha ha!” The birds mocked Pamba’s predicament.
“Two little humans to kill one little tiger, har har har! They will turn your skin into a lamp shade; sell your bones to impotent men.” The forest canopy burst alive with mocking, screeching birds.
Pamba, angry, stood upright from her submerged position. Tiny little rainbows flitted out from her. Her sharp claws swiped at one and more shards of light burst out. She raked again at one of the wet rainbows and the air burst with even more vibrating colors.
“Oh look! She must be over there, where the rainbows blossomed!” Announced a human girl’s voice, “Come, let’s look.” Footsteps and bleating became louder. She said, “Silly! Now is not the time to wonder if this is a good idea.”
The human odor stung the air. The voices came closer. “Slow down! Okay, then, let me have him so I can see what you’re saying. You’re not being very clear, use both hands. I’m sorry they hurt, but I need to see them.” A moment of silence hung in the air. “What do you mean, ‘what if this is the wrong tiger?’ Here, take the rope.”
Pamba eyes locked on the two dark brown children’s arrival. They half dragged a struggling goat towards the eruption of rainbows.
The boy fidgeted with his fingers.
“It will be okay. It can’t be the wrong tiger. And besides,” she added, “we have an offering.”
The children stood opposite from Pamba, separated by the brook, the rainbows, and the mocking howls of the birds.
“Screek, scrawk, pok, pok, pok!”
“The birds say that I am going to eat you up.” Pamba, her ears laid flat against her head, hissed at the children from the far bank.
The little boy’s hands trembled, formed twisted fists, opened, and then grabbed at his elbows. The rope holding the goat fell to the forest floor.
The little girl smiled at Pamba and said, “Oh, I suppose you could, too.” She pointed up at the feathered chorus, “But they also say that we will turn you into a rug.”
“You know the feathered speech?” Pamba asked, still soaked.
“All children know the All-Speech until they are made selfish – then they only talk to themselves.” She frowned. “After that, only a few know about the Word.”
Pamba sniffed the air currents and lay down. “The birds lie.” She smelt no oils, no powders or grease; no older humans were about. “I shall not eat you.” Pamba said, “Not today, not before the selfish takes you.”
“And I shall not make a rug out of you.” The girl said, “Not ever.”
The boy placed one trembling foot on the goat’s lead rope.
Pamba asked what it was then they wanted, if not her bones, or her skin.
“I am Sharna, my brother is Pok, and we have come to trade gifts with you. You need to eat and we have come to practice the All-Speech,” she said. “And, to seek the Word.”
“I am no grown tiger, not yet. What do you mean?”
“Make the rainbows, make the Words,” Sharna said.
Pol nodded along dumbly. “Make Words,” he mouthed, but no voice came out.
The soaking Pamba stood up and considered the two children.
She vigorously shook her drenched coat. The water arched out from her, forming a shower of perfect rainbows. Colors floated everywhere, engulfing the brook, Pamba and the children. Myriad colors danced and swirled through the forest. The birds complained and fled the touch of the approaching colors. The wondrous strange tints of the rainbow vibrated and filled all living things.
Pamba splashed into the water, creating ever more light, ever more rainbows. Sharna ran and danced, waving her arms through the streams of vivid color. Pok sat on the ground with his feet in the water, arms outstretched, fingers twisting, mouth agape. In the hue of the rainbows, all was Light and Life. It was a blink of an eye, it was eternity. They danced for a moment; they danced forever, they were experiencing the Word.
Exhausted, sated, the girl and the boy collapsed on one side of the brook, Pamba sprawled on the other. Pok sat up and, grasping his elbows tightly, stared at the colorful stream. Sharna bathed in the gentle, moving water. The vibrant colors slowly swirled to the ground and returned to the brook. The tip of Pamba’s tail, colors running from it, rested in the water.
Sharna pointed at Pamba’s tail and giggled. “You need to flick it,” she said.
Pamba raised herself up in one fluid motion and flicked all of the remaining water from her tail. The spray rose above the brook. Catching the light, it became a large butterfly of constantly changing colors. It soared above them, gliding on air currents, pausing momentarily over each of their heads. Light from the sun passed through its wings, casting warm hues upon them all.
Pok, bathed in the color filled shade of the butterfly’s wings, smiled. He released his elbows for just a moment, and mouthed, “Thank You,” to Pamba.
The butterfly descended and settled upon Pamba’s nose. Sharna waded across the brook, knelt before the young tiger and slowly put out her hand. The butterfly crossed over to her extended finger. Thanking Pamba, she waded back to her brother. She gently set the butterfly on Pok’s forehead. The flying rainbow settled in his hair, wrapped around him, and then vanished. Water ran down Pok’s head and his arms, his fingers unclenched.
Voiced Words assumed shape on Pok’s lips for the first time:
Pok gave thanks to Pamba for the Word. “I – Thank – You.”
The children offered the Lamb to Pamba and the young tiger was never bothered by mocking birds, fashionable women, or impotent men ever again.
Pamba never hungered again and the children never became selfish: For each of them rests in the Word.