James Tennent

Image by Bruce Webber

“Bobcats are native here,” he heard someone say, a bush or two away, “at least they were. No one would have actually seen one for a good while.” The green man looked down the lens, the anchor nodded back. “Calls have suggested he’s in the area, we doubt he’s gone far.”

He moved the bush around himself slowly, edging back to a small opening. They were always going to kick up a fuss – didn’t they know that animals escaped all the time? From zoos, from fields, from gilded cages; they were just looking for a bit of variety.

It wasn’t necessarily that they all wanted to be free, like some said, it was more that they wanted a little change, a bit of excitement – a Vegas hotel, that sort of thing, not joining the Foreign Legion. They don’t have bobcats in France anyway, but here, now, in Washington DC, they do have the one.

There was a reason for it, he would later tell friends, huddled together in their private cabin, there was a reason he had done it. He knew, as well, that he put them all at risk, doing what he did, showing the green men the hole in the fence. The one they were keeping in case of emergencies.

But it was an emergency, that’s the thing. He had woken in the night and felt a speedy flutter in his heart, like something was being pushed through the valves and, once through, the beating had to catch up pace for a few seconds. He had felt the vibrations of his own heartbeat tingle his whiskers, they make the pockets of his cheek itch, they made all his fur slowly edge higher against his back.

And, well, he knew for certain that he wasn’t long for the zoo.

And, well, he knew for certain that he wasn’t long for the zoo. And, well, he knew that there were things he needed to do before his time. And, well, he knew too that they had to keep the hole a secret for the future generations, for when the real struggles came, when escape was inescapable. But once the flutters slowed down, he knew that in truth, he did not want it there for the future generations, it was instead something that he wanted to experience for himself. He wanted to race through the trees, to hunt, to catch his breath in the clearing of a wood, and he wanted to do it himself, whatever the consequences might be.

The thing about being free, he told the others, lying on his back, is that you really should be free of everything. Sensibilities,say, or responsibilities. That’s what the freedom you want is. Any other kind and you’re so scuppered down, you’re essentially being free for other people and, well – he would scoff at this point – that doesn’t sound like being free at all to me.

He was out now, out of where they’d kept him. He was in amongst the two legged and feeling the outside life.

There wasn’t much to hunt, as such, everything else seemed to be in their own fences, ones without gaps. And, well, without much care really.

Bobcats, it should be noted, are not like other wildlings. They kick in their sleep, like dogs, but they don’t do the friendship thing. They nap, like the lions, but they’re not the lazy type. Where the gorillas fulfill their time swinging from fence to fence, using the cage bars for their own entertainment, the bobcats watch and think it’s very postmodern.

They are thinkers, philosophisers, long Sunday ponderers. But don’t confuse that with being wise.

They consider themselves on the dolphin level, a bit above humans, but they would – their vanity and hubris is their real centre point. They like to ponder because my, it looks good. Philosophers do get laid quite a lot in bobcat circles – what they don’t mention is its the kind of sex that’s so obsessed with the idea that they’re having sex there’s barely an erection in sight, the incredible, uncomfortable pressure of it all.

And this was where his hubris had gotten him. Somewhere outside a cage. Looking upon more cages, wondering if they were shadows on a cave wall.

A human would notice him now and then, a child would point and an adult would shush them. He would scowl at the children and they would be quiet. Listen to your elders, he thought, they know what’s best for you. 

He was keeping one step ahead

He knew the greens were looking for him, he could smell them whenever they got close – he could smell their dogs particularly, the eagerness ripped off them like the swinging door of a bakery. He was keeping one step ahead.

But those steps, he noted, didn’t seem to be heading anywhere. The cages continued for the most part, though there were spacious caverns with glass containers too – he spent a night sleeping in the glow of the sharks and fishing through the touch pools for fresher tastes.

He was properly spotted once. A young woman with dark curls broke away from her group of friends to follow a rustle she was certain she heard, past a meagre plastic fence and down an unmarked alleyway. There, she found our man. He had been cornered, in a part of this place that neither of them knew, somewhere it didn’t seem that anyone ever came.

Grey walls of concrete felt encasing and he thought, for a quiet moment, of going for her neck. She didn’t quite get close enough. Instead, she crouched down and took out a camera – angling her legs to steady the frame.

“It’s like you’re looking right down the lens,” she said out loud, adjusting the focus.

“I am,” he replied, “I thought it might stop you taking my picture.”

He knew he didn’t have to worry about her, he sauntered past and out, past her locks of shock and shutter clicking fingers. That’s another thing – if Bobcats wanted, they really could be smart. They’re not without knowledge, not without wit or understanding – their priorities are just so strained and selfish to ever really mean anything, to ever really get anywhere, on a larger scale. 

Though he was starting to have second thoughts. He found that he was doing a circuit, a long complete circle through an area that, covered with cages inside, was surrounded with a large foreboding wall. A wall that didn’t have an gap to crawl through. He was starting to realise that for all their talk of being trapped, for all their talk of escape, the Bobcats didn’t know the half of the outside world. Cages upon cages upon cages, he could only presume. One wall down and yet, there was another, and what about another?

When he told the story of his return to the enclosure, it sounded like an sisyphean struggle against the forces that dared try to stop him; that the Gods themselves had grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and scolded him like a kitten, they’d told him that the outside world was not for bobcats. Oh what a hero our bobcat was, however unsuccessful, to stand up to these malevolent dictators.

On a late afternoon, in truth, he put on a limp and scuffed his way towards a green. He may well have purred his way back to the cage.

So he continued his way of telling the story because it made the cage better; and besides, he had found a new liking for the cage, it was his domain, his abode, and he needn’t bother himself with the other cages, the other walls, here was his place to protect and rule. He could tell whatever stories he wanted here, this was his country.

And fires might come and trap them, they might end up choked to death as smoke smothered them and holes in fences had gone. But he had his stories, he had his domain. He had priorities.

James Tennent is a writer based in Laos.
You can find him on twitter @duckytennent and instagram @jeatennent.

Bobcats was featured in our WILD issue.