I Am an Executioner Online - Rajesh Parameswaran

THE INFAMOUS

BENGAL MING

THE ONE CLEAR THING I CAN say about Wednesday, the worst and most amazing day of my life, is this: it started out beautifully. I woke up with the summer dawn, when the sky goes indigo-gray, and the air’s empty coolness begins to fill with a tacky, enveloping warmth. I could hear Saskia and Maharaj purring to each other at the far end of my compound. I’d had to listen to their cooing and screeching sex noises all night, but it didn’t bother me. I didn’t know why yet, but I realized: I was over it. Saskia could sleep with every tiger in the world but me, and I wouldn’t mind.

I stretched and smacked my mouth and licked my lips, tasting the familiar odors of the day. Already, I somehow sensed that this morning would be different from all the other mornings of my life. On the far side of the wall, hippos mucked and splashed, and off in the distance the monkeys and birds who had been up since predawn darkness started their morning chorus in earnest, their caws and kee-kees and caroo-caroo-caroos echoing out over the breadth of our little kingdom. These were the same sounds I heard morning after morning, but this morning, it was all more beautiful than ever; yes, this morning was different. It took me a little while to puzzle out the reason, but once I did, it was unmistakable:

I was in love.

It wasn’t with one of the tigers in my compound—no, I had exhausted the possibilities of our small society long ago, and other than Saskia, there hadn’t been any new arrivals in years. In fact, the object of my love wasn’t another tiger at all. I was in love with my keeper, Kitch.

I know it sounds strange. It kind of caught me by surprise, too, but there really wasn’t any avoiding the conclusion.

And it was all the stranger because I had known Kitch for years. When I was a cub, he had been something like an assistant to my first keepers. He had thick hair then, and he was skinny and nervous. It was amusing to see him struggle to keep a clear path between himself and the compound door, in case he needed to make a quick escape. It’s true what they say about us: we can smell fear, and that’s why I noticed him. I was nervous around people then, too, and his manner piqued my particular interest.

Over the years, other keepers came and went, tigers disappeared and new ones arrived, but Kitch was always there. He grew a moustache. His cheeks got round and his belly filled out. His hair went thinner and thinner every time he took off his cap. He shaved his moustache. He lost the wariness that I had once found so intriguing.

His manner changed, his appearance changed, but he was always the same sweet Kitch. And that Wednesday I had woken up and realized: Kitch. Kitch! I love Kitch. Realizing I loved Kitch was like realizing that a bone you have enjoyed chewing for months is actually the bone of your worst enemy. The bone hasn’t changed, nor your enjoyment of it, but suddenly things are seen with a whole new perspective. Actually, that’s a very negative example, but the point is this: I had just discovered a deep and endless love for the best friend I had ever had in my life.

I should probably clarify. This wasn’t the sort of love like when you see a hot new cat and can’t keep your claws off her. I didn’t love Kitch like I had loved Saskia, not with the same, shall we say, roaring passion. This love wasn’t as agitating.

This was a different love. Every morning, when the big metal doors opened in the fiberglass rock, and pound after pound of cow meat and fresh organs came slithering down the passageway, whose face was there in the dark distance, shovel in hand? Kitch’s. When Maharaj growled and got restless and came looking for a fight, who was the first to hear his shrieky howls, to fire a water hose and scare him off me? Kitch. I was inexhaustibly interesting to him, and he was an inexhaustible curiosity and a comfort and joy to me.

I think I’d call that love.

And once I realized I loved Kitch, everything else in the world seemed to make so much perfect indescribable nonsensical sense. Saskia rejecting me; fiberglass walls; lonely, zoo-wandering old ladies; little children eating caramel corn; cockatoos