The Boy Who Got Stuck to a Tiger’s Tail

Once a boy got his fingers stuck to the tail of a tiger, how or why he could not say, unless it was that he happened to be gluing together a model ship at the time that a tiger happened to pass down the street, and he may have leaned a little too far out of his window and stretched his fingers out a little too far as the tiger passed underneath, to see if its fur was really as fine as it looked.

Whatever the case, he found his fingers glued tight to the tiger’s tail. The tiger, no matter how fast it ran, or lashed its tail back and forth, could not shake the boy off. Eventually, in an open space in the middle of a dense, dark jungle, the tiger stopped and said to the boy, “Well, I may as well bite you and crush your bones and eat you, for I cannot go everywhere with a scruffy boy stuck to my tail.” For tigers, more than almost any other animal, are very proud.

“Oh no!” the boy started. “I only touched your tail because I couldn’t help seeing how fine and thick it is. I don’t deserve to be eaten for that.”

The tiger was pleased with what the boy said, for of all creatures, tigers are the most vain, and it would have waved its tail for pleasure except that the boy was holding on to it.

“Hm,” said the tiger. “I have often thought my tail far superior to that of other tigers. Let me call my brothers, and you who are such a good judge of tails, and tigers’ tails in particular, shall say whose is the finest.” It let out a long, wavering, blood-chilling roar that made the boy shiver from his toes to the very tips of the hairs on his head.

In no time they were surrounded by tigers, so many that the boy felt he was swimming in a black and yellow sea and he must drown before long. But he kept a brave heart, saying to himself, “Well, I’m not dead yet and where there’s life, there’s hope.”

The tigers prowled around, waving their tails and sometimes flicking them carelessly to try to pretend that they didn’t care whose tail was the finest, which the boy knew to be false because of all vain, proud creatures, the tiger is the most competitive.

The boy cleared his throat and said in a voice as calm as he could make it, “I’ve never seen tails as fine as these, long and thick and beautifully coloured. However,” and he faltered a little, “some of your tails need brushing, some of them need to be trimmed, and all of your tails, I’m sorry to say, are in need of washing.”

“What?” the tigers growled. They showed their teeth like savage daggers, and their eyes glinted.

The boy’s heart quailed, but he said to himself, “Don’t leave a task half done”, and “No turning back when the journey’s end is in sight”. He said more loudly, “Your tails would be the most handsome I have ever seen if they didn’t have leaves and sticks caught in them, and if they weren’t spoiled with dirt and all sorts of rubbish. What they need is a good wash.”

The tigers set up such a howling and growling, like a hurricane of noise battering against the boy, that he had to put his hands over his ears and curl into a very small ball to withstand it, for the one thing that tigers hate most of all, more than getting their claws trimmed or finding that a hyena has stolen their breakfast, is cold water.

None of the tigers wanted to wash their tails, so one by one they slunk away, leaving the boy in the middle of the clearing with the first tiger looking at him. And presently the boy realised that he must have pulled his fingers unstuck when the tigers began their howling.

The tiger looked at the boy, and swished its tail. The boy thought it looked quite hungry. He said, “I think there’s some glue left in your tail. May I brush it out for you?”

The tiger flicked its tail a little carelessly, so the boy took a comb that he happened to have in his pocket and he combed and brushed the tiger’s tail until it shone in glossy splendour. The tiger stalked off proudly to show its friends, without even saying thank you.

The boy went home and shut his windows firmly, and the next time a tiger happened to be passing down the street, he took great care not to open them.

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