By Kenneth W. Jenks
Tranderpost was a trader of animals, only one among a whole tribe of traders whose flags went all adroop the day that Tranderpost let the tiger go. He shouldn’t have done it, Lord knows, opened that cage and set the killer free. He risked his own neck doing it, thrusting that the tiger would disappear into the bush instead of turning on the hand that had tripped the lever that lifted the cage door. It did run to freedom. Tranderpost knew his tigers. He also knew his traders. He had opened the cage at night when he and the tiger were the only ones who had their eyes open. Well, an ocelot in the cage next to the tiger’s opened its eyes and the eyes asked to be set free too, but Tranderpost opened only the tiger’s cage. I’ll explain why in just a minute.
In the morning, Tranderpost kept at a safe distance from the other traders so they wouldn’t see him enjoying their response, savoring their rage when they saw the empty cage. The traders were in the business of capturing creatures that shouldn’t be caught, and for that very reason, because they should not be caught, some sorts of people would pay very high prices if you did such catching especially for them.
Why had Trader Tranderpost done it? It would severely reduce his profits for that season, along with everyone else’s. It was not for that moment of pleasure, watching the outraged cagers. He did it because the tiger told him to. Not in so many words, of course, Trader Tranderpost and the tiger didn’t speak each other’s language. But they did understand eye work. That’s the work that eyes do when they sparkle. You’ve seen that of course. Lazy eyes don’t sparkle. This tiger’s eyes did a lot of work. He needed to get out of that cage. He didn’t snarl and bite the bars or try to reach the traders who fed him, the way other caught creatures did. He was a quiet tiger. He sat back in the cage serenely and let his eyes do the work. And they were successful. They found their target in Tranderpost’s eyes. Or Tranderpost found the tiger’s eyes. Hard to know whose eyes found the other’s. It happens out here between the gazes, doesn’t it? Yes.
But however it happened, Tranderpost went mad, it can be said. But just because it can be said doesn’t mean it’s true. No. I misspoke. He didn’t go mad. He went into a surprising mode of thinking. Yes, that’s better. He began to think things like, ” Tranderpost, the scourge of the jungle! He can outrun a wildebeest, kill it, and eat it.” The eyes of the quiet tiger had put mayhem into Tranderpost’s thoughts. In his normal thinking, he could not outrun a chicken, let alone a wildebeest, but the eyes of the tiger told him that if he’d let the tiger run, for him, run as him, he could ride inside the tiger’s eyes.
I wonder how eye work can effect a person’s thinking that way. Come to think of it, what we call thinking is only a certain kind of eye work, a subcategory of how we see things, or is it the other way around? And when I really look closely at what I’ve been saying, I don’t think I’m seeing this very clearly. Isn’t it my clear vision that sees that the thinking is cloudy?
However it works, it happened just the way the tiger had said it would. The first morning after the tiger had gone free, that eye worker kept his part of the bargain. Tranderpost had just finished his second cup of coffee when he looked in the empty cup and saw in the clear bottom of the cup, two egrets flying up from a marsh and over a row of trees. The egrets and the tiger had surprised each other and the shock of their flight had been transmitted to Tranderpost. When he watched the egrets fly away, he saw the bottom of the empty cup again. He didn’t understand what had happened. He didn’t know that the tiger was doing eye work on him.
He had a third cup, thinking that what he’d seen was the effect of the caffeine, but when he’d drunk the third coffee and gazed casually into the bottom of the cup, all he saw was the bottom of the cup. He was only aware of the buzz from the extra caffeine, so he didn’t drink any more coffee, but he carried the cup with him all day and looked into it several times. Once when he had been staring into it intently, trying to make the egrets fly up again, one of the cagers who had been watching him, asked, ” What have you got in there, Tranderpost?” He had to say ” Nothing.” because that was the truth. He turned the cup over and shook it and left it at that. The cager accepted it at that, that Tranderpost had gone mad.
That’s what I meant before when I said that Tranderpost might be mad. The cagers thought he was mad. Maybe he was. Sometimes he thought he was mad. For instance, one morning as Tranderpost studied the bottom of his coffee cup, the figure of a man appeared there. The man raised a rifle and pointed it at him. Tranderpost slammed his hat down over the cup and screamed, ” No! Don’t shoot! No! Get down! Duck down!” He ducked down behind the table, and one of the other traders said, “Your coffee cup take a shot at you, Tranderpost?”
The traders let him keep his coffee cup with him all the time, not out of any generous motive, but so they could be entertained by asking what he had seen today. Soon, he stopped telling them, and they tired of watching him, so they put him and his coffee cup into the empty tiger’s cage, and latched the door shut.
Tranderpost was glad that they had left him his cup because it gave him something to look at besides the bars of his cage. Imagine his surprise then, a day or so later, when he glanced into his cup and saw those very cage bars, exactly the way he’d just been seeing them! You see, that’s the tricky thing about eye work. It works both ways. The tiger sometimes saw what Tranderpost was seeing, not in a coffee cup, of course. In this case, while the tiger was looking into a pool of water, he saw the bars of that hateful cage from Tranderpost’s point of view.
The tiger backed away from the pool. He tried to ignore the image, but he could not. It made him feel that he was caged again. It gave him bad dreams. He kept his daylight vision focussed on getting something to eat and avoided pools of water as long as he could. When he had to get a drink, he would close his eyes. That was messy, and a time or two, he got water up his nose. In dreams he could not close his inner eyes and the water was there again, reflecting the bars of the cage.
Tranderpost kept seeing those some bars in his coffee cup, and he couldn’t understand that at all. He knew that he really had gone mad. On one night of his madness, staring into the forest of the night, he saw the eyes of the tiger, not in his cup, but right in front of him. He felt the tiger’s breath. I guess the tiger had gone mad, too, because it tore at the lock and lever of the cage with its teeth and claws until the door fell open. Tranderpost and the tiger escaped into different portions of the forest of the night, hoping that that was the end of seeing cages.
It wasn’t, though. Before he had gone half a mile, Tranderpost stopped to rest and get a drink of water. When he had emptied his cup, lo and behold, the bars were still reflected there. But, no, he beheld more closely. They were not the same bars. It was a different cage. Then he remembered the monkey who was in the cage next to his. As the tiger tore the cage open, the monkey had implored Tranderpost to open his cage, but the trader eyes were so enmeshed with the tiger’s, he didn’t see the monkey’s eyes. But he saw what they were seeing now. They were still caged. For the sake of his own vision, he had to go back. He released the monkey and they ran away together. The monkey was afraid of the night, so he climbed onto Tranderpost’s shoulders.
At dawn, they parted. The monkey could make better progress swinging from tree to tree. Tranderpost heard the whistle of a train, the train that would take him home. As the monkey climed into a tree, he looked into Tranderpost’s eyes, and in a way that only eyes can speak, said, ” Now you see what it’s like, being a monkey in an age of tigers.” Tranderpost replied, ” It’s worse than that, being an eye in an age of eyes. . . all those other eyes. ”
Later in the day, he rested by a stream near a railway watering station, waiting for the next train that would stop to take on water, and a solitary passenger. He used his precious coffee cup to get a drink of water. When the water was gone, he looked into the cup and saw a canopy of jungle trees. He was looking across the top of the canopy. His vision leapt from the top of one tree to another in perfect freedom.
Copyright 2007 Kenneth W. Jenks