Léon, the Tiger
by André Gouyneau
translated by Kathy Janes

Imagination will often carry us to worlds
that never were. But without it we go nowhere. — Carl Sagan

In the old theatre, the last people were taking their seats. The compère walked back and forth in front of the red stage curtain, incessantly repeating the words on the poster by the entrance.

An unforgettable first act. From the top of the theatre, Leon the Tiger will leap onto one or two members of the audience. There is no danger, once he has landed on you he will weigh less than a small cat, a soft toy… a feather. He will fall into your arms. Don’t be afraid, have faith.

They took their seats tentatively; should they be near the aisles to escape in an emergency, or should they be in the middle of the crowd. Which strategy should they adopt? All were sceptical, not believing that a large, wild beast could, in an instant, transform its considerable weight into that of a small cat. The children were impatient and scrambling over the knees of their parents. They wanted him on their laps so they could stroke him. Anxious mothers tried in vain to keep them safely sheltered in their arms.

The wait was never-ending. Then, quite suddenly, the lights went out, taking the audience by surprise. The hubbub became a sustained whispering tinged with anxiety. Just as in the circus, a loud drum roll erupted and Leon appeared in a pool of white light. He was magnificent. He walked about to the tune of the Pink Panther, swaying his hips and rolling his shoulders.
Next, roaring in a fearsome manner, he made some jumps on the spot, perfectly in time with the loud and rhythmic music. Then, at the speed of light, he scoured the theatre in all directions. This was a well-rehearsed number, a perfectly choreographed fusion of light, sound and theatrics. This freely roaming tiger turned the audience to jelly.

Leon knew just how to play on the nerves of his clients. He roared in the face of some, swinging blows in the air at them with his paws, giving them some broad winks. Then the artist became serious. He chose his partners for this evening with care. A fleshy old man gave way to a magnificent young woman, a tattooed guy to a cute, retired couple. By turns he was wily and affectionate or loud and aggressive. He froze for a few seconds to look just right on the big screen and to allow everyone to take excellent photos. He also managed to make his breath felt on a number of spectators. This was a fierce, frightening animal and also a big pussycat, who purred and fooled around.

Then Leon, the warm up act, gave way to Leon, the artist. He became serious. From way up high in his circle of light, he slowly crouched down, hidden from the view of most of the spectators. In one diagonal swoop, like a coloured arc, he took a leap of about twenty metres and landed on a dear, old couple, who remained impassive. On his back in their arms, he begged to be stroked under the chin, then gave them a big lick with his tongue. He moved away from them nonchalant and smiling. The crowd were on their feet applauding. He returned to the top of the theatre with his supremely supple gait.

The spotlight followed him for his second performance. On his back and with all his paws spread wide, he did a kind of loop-the-loop and glided for a fraction of a second before landing on the knees of three delighted young children. The audience were completely won over. He continued his tomfoolery and his showmanship during the ovations. Now the hero of the children, he was less and less frightening.

The third jump was incredible. Swirling in the air and roaring, he espied a woman clinging to a man in a yellow suit. The panic-stricken couple threw themselves to the ground in the aisle and Leon crashed down onto their seats. The stifled, muffled sound of a bass drum rang out. Everyone understood right away that Leon had fallen with his full weight because he was not ‘welcomed.’ The anger of the crowd spilled over and they booed the couple, who had to flee. Leon went out slowly, limping, leaning for support on the shoulders of two bruisers. Turning his head, he made little gestures with his paws, he smiled at his fans. The compère quickly got the crowd back under control and announced the main attraction. In the wings, Leon’s agent congratulated him.

“Well done! With the perfectly synchronised sound system, even I thought you weighed a ton.”

“Heaven forbid. Thank goodness, I am as light as a feather, otherwise how could I make such leaps.”

“It was good tonight, but we should vary the finale.”

“I could land on a rib of beef placed at the front of the stage,” said Léon.

“Or pretend to eat me,” joked his agent.

“Why not, it’s quite plausible. After all, I am somewhat feral.”