The Angel Tiger


For he counteracts the Devil, who is Death, by brisking about the Life.

– Christopher Smart


Geoff spent the first two years of his life watching traffic from the windowsill of our Ang Mo Kio flat. When we moved to a house backing onto the forest of the Macritchie Reservoir, we kept him inside, afraid that he’d get one whiff of the great outdoors and disappear forever. One Friday evening though, when we went onto the patio for a beer, he slipped out.

I went to grab him but Justus said, ‘Wait, let’s just see what he does.’

Geoff sniffed his way around the glass railing and when he came to the stairs leading down to the grass, he lowered himself to the deck and watched the trees in the garden. Ruffled by the breeze, his ginger fur glinted in the sunlight and I knew I wouldn’t have the heart to keep him inside anymore.

Still, when it looked as if he were about to venture down the stairs, I snatched him up. ‘That’s about enough excitement for one day,’ I said.

The next morning Geoff was waiting at the kitchen door. We took our coffees outside and Geoff did the tour of the patio again, and we let him go down the stairs to explore the garden, shaking his paws as he walked through the wet grass. Ours was one of the few places with a cast-iron fence instead of a solid wall around the rear garden: all he had to do to get to the forest was step through, but he seemed content for now to explore beneath the pomegranate and the frangipani. We watched him until we got bored, and around noon he came to the kitchen door, meowing to get back in.

The same thing happened on Sunday: I let him out just before eight and he came back in the early afternoon.

Monday morning, as we were getting ready for work, he was meowing to get out again. Justus made eyes at me over coffee. ‘We’ve set a precedent, you know.’

‘I know,’ I said. ‘It’s fine. I’m done by noon all this week.’

So we let him out, and when I came home that afternoon and opened the back door, he was sitting on the patio looking up at me. In front of him was a bird.

I wasn’t sure how to react. I didn’t want to congratulate him. For a mouse or a rat, OK, but not a bird. He sat there as if it were some sort of offering. Was I meant to accept it? I guessed it was a starling. It was black and glossy and, something I’d never noticed before, faintly speckled up close. The red eyes were kind of eerie. It was dead. No saving it. Geoff meowed and walked past me, headed for his bowl. I picked up the starling with a piece of kitchen towel and buried it beneath the pomegranate.

I told Justus about it at dinner. ‘It was just lying there at the back door. I buried it in the garden.’

‘Well, well! So he’s not been entirely domesticated.’

‘Hopefully he’ll take an interest in snakes,’ I said.

That night we watched the news, then half of some American reality show about a cake shop before Justus started kissing my neck and we went upstairs to bed.


When I came home on Tuesday afternoon, Geoff was waiting for me at the back door again. Between us were two birds. He sat there behind them as he’d sat behind the starling, looking up at me for a reaction before walking inside.

One of the birds was a sparrow, its legs stiff with rigor mortis. The other was a young bulbul, still all in grey, his black and white and yellow yet to emerge from the fluff. There was no blood. Not a mark on either of them. They looked like museum specimens. I buried them beneath the pomegranate and then went looking for Geoff. I found him curled up in my open underwear drawer, right in the midst of my panties and Frou Frou bras. ‘Two birds, Geoffrey? You think you’re clever.’

He yawned, blinked, went back to sleep. When Justus got home he was impressed. ‘Two?’ ‘I think we’d better keep him inside now,’ I said. ‘Singapore hardly needs our help getting rid of its wildlife.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘but it’s not unnatural. I mean, it is what his species has evolved to do.’ ‘House cats are not native predators,’ I said. ‘He may be acting on instinct,

but that doesn’t mean we have to stand by and let it happen.’

He shrugged. ‘Couple of birds. Just a fluke.’

That night, we didn’t last long in front of the television. Justus and I had been trying for over a year. The first time either of us actually wanted sex to do what it was meant to do, and it didn’t. In the past year we’d been strategizing our love life. For a few months it was all about denial. No alcohol, coffee, eggs, kaya, chocolate, bacon, Pepsi. No excess fat or sugar at all. Lots of pickled beets and exercise. Then, when that didn’t work, wild abandon. Smoked salmon eggs Benny. Oysters on the half-shell at Jaan. Dancing at Sky Bar. Making love like we were shooting a porn flick. Making love so drunk neither of us could remember it.

Then, when that didn’t work, another Spartan routine. The move to a real house seemed like a step in the right direction; those empty bedrooms were a statement of purpose.


On Wednesday Justus called me at two on my mobile. I asked if there was something wrong.

‘No,’ he said. ‘Just had a moment of downtime.’

‘And you thought of me?’

‘Yes. And the car.’


‘Is it still making that sound?’


‘Good. Oh, and did Geoff catch any more birds?’

‘Three,’ I said.

‘You’re joking.’

‘Do you want to see them? You can take over burial duties from now on.’

When Justus came home he put the birds – another starling, another bulbul, and an olive-backed sunbird – into a brown paper bag. I went inside to make some dinner while he buried them near the fence.

When I came back to the doorway of the patio, Justus was sitting on the deck chair, his knees up, staring at Geoff sleeping beneath the other chair. He was on his back, his white belly all on show, front paws held up, his den of woven rattan making leopard spots of scumbled sunlight on his fur. I could tell he was thinking – Justus, that is. His gaze went from hard and critical to something more like admiration to a kind of smile. Then he looked over and saw me. He reached out for my hand.

‘What a lazy-bones he is,’ I said, coming out to join him. I sat on the arm of his chair and he put his elbow on my thigh, palm on my knee. Together we watched the cat.

‘He’s mesmerising,’ Justus said.

‘Mesmerising? I’ll admit he’s pretty.’

‘Nah, that’s not the word. He’s got tiger in him.’

I watched an oriole pecking at fruit in the neighbour’s palm.

‘That sleep,’ Justus said after a while. ‘No human knows a sleep like that. The only thing close. . . .’


‘I don’t know,’ he said, talking to himself as much as to me. ‘It’s a kind of selflessness. That’s not the right word. It’s absolute fulfilment of purpose. What human being ever feels that way?’

I kissed him on his balding crown. ‘I never thought you were such a cat person.’

After dinner, Justus lay on the sofa watching sports highlights on TV: football, tennis, basketball, cricket, golf. They all looked so simplistic. Cricket, for instance. The dedication it took to master one trick: how to hit a bouncing, spinning rubber and leather ball with a special curved stick. You could spend twenty years practising it, just this one thing. Their white trousers and shirts were laughable, but I didn’t think Justus would see the humour. I went to the kitchen, took my things from the fridge and did my toenails with pink varnish.

It wasn’t long before Justus came in. ‘I love the smell of this stuff,’ he said, getting down to kiss my ankle and behind my knee.

‘Mmm, that’s nice,’ I said.

‘Nice? A back rub is nice.’

‘It’s very nice.’

I went for a run afterwards. Justus called his mum.

‘Say hi to your dad for me,’ I said.

I thought about Geoff while I was running. What if we put him out at night instead? He’d sleep all day and hunt all night and maybe he wouldn’t come back with birds. Bats and snakes and shrews, maybe, but surely no olive-backed sunbirds. Then again, he’d also be hunted himself. There are owls, cobras, eagles and reticulated pythons in the Macritchie Reserve. I could just imagine a yellow python with a Geoff-shaped lump in its mid-section. I’ve seen two big pythons while out jogging in the morning. And I mean big. One of them was crossing Thompson Ridge Road and there was a moment when I couldn’t see its head or tail. Think about that for a moment.


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