Life trapped in a hidden cage

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Poolski, Flickr
Poolski, Flickr

Let me paint you a picture if you will, a minds eye view or a story if you prefer.

Imagine a cage. It’s large and rectangle with a secure top, concrete floor, bars, plenty of air flow. We all know what cages look like.

There is an opening. It’s a door on the short side of the rectangle, closer to one end. At that end, pacing back and forward along that side’s length is a panther. Black, sleek, beautiful muscles flexing as he paces intentional, eight paces turn, and eight paces turn.

His claws click on the cement floor, rhythmic and sinister as he paces, each breath sounds more like growl. Back and forth, back and forth in a way akin to those who rock themselves for comfort.

This, however, is not for comfort. The panther is not agitated, he is in a resting state. This is where this sleek, muscled and agile animal lives. There is beauty in his movement and the way he carries himself, but the claws on the cement floor remind us all of his potential.

Now add to this scene a woman, standing at the opposite end of the cage. Around her she has her three children. The two under five cling to her with wide eyed terror, while the older girl stands slightly separate from mum, defiant, hostile and dangerous in her own right.

Dangerous because the woman senses she; the girl, is not going to be afraid anymore; she is sick of being afraid; she has chosen “fight”. She flicks things at the panther, things bounce of his coat, his rump but occasionally these things hit him in the head.

He allows himself a deep growl, but doesn’t stop pacing.

Tambako The Jaguar, Flickr
Tambako The Jaguar, Flickr

There is a baby in her arms, innocent of the threat, meeting the milestones of growth and finding comfort with mum. When we look closer, zoom in with our powerful mind eye we see she is carrying another child. Her body reveals her to be about six months pregnant.

The panther never stops pacing, meeting whatever need he has with movement. Growling softly, he’s calm.

It hasn’t always been calm. The defiant young girl standing to mum’s left has seen the panthers potential and holds the scars to prove it. She’s been hurt, they all have. They are living in a cage with a panther, for goodness sake.

This pacing, this attention isn’t that special, they’ve been here before cause its always about him, this panther regardless as to whether he is resting, eating or “playing”; the attention is always on him. But today is a bit different. She feels like he knows; knows what she is thinking.

She tries so hard not to look toward the door, its closer to him than her, she has four kids attached and one that’s going to be slow.

That door to the outside opens in, not ideal when trying to beat a panther. She knows if she even looks towards it he will glance directly at her, like he knows what she is thinking.

She has tried to leave before and bears the scars, but it’s getting close, something will have to give; he is upping the ante, purposeful, intentional, and strategic.

His claws are massive, his arms powerful, his body agile and sleek, always looks so good. There hasn’t been company for years but she remembers the transformation when the company used to come. From dangerous to darling.

“You’re so lucky,” they would whisper.

Our angry adolescent is getting more provocative, more personal and targeted. It’s working and she knows it. She wants to send her to her room; the old protective factor; but she knows she is going tonight and she needs her close by.

Now, let’s close the bars in and cover them with weatherboard or brick and veneer. Suddenly we can’t see in, but we can just hear the clicking and the breathing and the jabs from the young girl.

We can’t see the mother and her kids anymore.What we see is a nice house, the yard is done and the flowers are growing. There are bikes and swings and normal stuff but it’s the clicking of claws on concrete that keeps us riveted.

She tries to get normal inside; whatever that is, “another night in paradise” she laughs; it’s about manoeuvring, reassuring, placating, comforting, accommodating, and trying to bring the tension down. With each failed attempt to distract him, his entitlement grows and she becomes more determined.

“I’m going or will die trying.”

“Get out the door and we will get you safe,” she’s been assured. Simple, right? But as the determination rises so to do our tensions, there are inches and seconds here; moments of meaning and this is just in our mind’s eye!

We can leave it there and pretty well write any script, the endings are multiple and varied. Some do, some don’t. Some can’t stand the tensions and turn to other ways to manage it all. For some the run for the door goes well, they are out and into the night with nothing but their lives. And then the cat and mouse begins and we know what good hunters panthers are.

Others are disabled at the door as the claws tear down their back, ripping muscle and tendons. Other don’t wake up and the kids get to live with the panther and practice the pacing.

Click, click. Fear never leaves once you’ve spent time in a cage with a panther.