“First, from this moment on, I’d like to be called Ty.” I decided that last night. Ty for tiger. It’s the first thing any human will notice, anyway. Might as well lean into it. “Second, I’m fully aware of the constraints of your job. I believe if you simply line the males’ lounge walls with mirrors, I’ll be able to take my instruction from YouTube.”
I stand straighter and make certain I look the Colonel directly in the eye. We were taught it’s the respectful way to interact with others. I also noticed it tends to scare the shit out of humans and makes them back off. Win-win if you ask me.
The Colonel says nothing, which surprises me. I’d prepared for several responses and have debates at the ready for any comeback. I didn’t expect him to actually consider my proposal.
After a minute passes, I ask, “Colonel?”
He shakes his head as though he’s returning from somewhere far away. “I just… didn’t see you as the dancing type, but certainly, Tyler—I mean, Ty. We’ll order floor-to-ceiling mirrors and we can look for on-line classes. The military will pay, of course. I imagine there must be ballet tutorials somewhere on the Internet.”
I burst out laughing, though I try to control it. The soldiers told me my laugh sounds like it belongs in the jungle and can be… I believe they used the word off-putting. As they walked away, I heard Corporal Barton call it “scary as shit.”
Now I see why I’d made Colonel Slater speechless earlier. Was he picturing me in a pink tutu?
“Not ballet. Bollywood.” For a reason I don’t understand, I punctuate my statement with an emphatic chuff.
I have to hand it to Olivia. Her face is calm and impassive. If I didn’t know better by the flair of her terror-scent, I’d think I hadn’t scared her at all.
“Are there Bollywood tutorials?” she asks.
“I’ll see, but I think the learn-by-watching method will serve me well for the time being.” Although I turn to leave, I make a full circle so I can look her in the eyes when I say with sincerity, “I wish you the best with Mane Street Fashions.”
I left my room without my earbuds, but I don’t need them to remember the words toWalking on Sunshine.To be honest, I feel as if I’m not walking at all. The words to another song about floating on air come to mind as I return to the dorm.
The males are all at their placements during the day, so I have the males’ lounge all to myself. Between watching more vids and scrolling through my computer tablet, I’m busy all day.
When I’m too tired to dance, I research India. It’s as if another world opens up. I’ve spent the last three years learning what I thought was human culture. Now it’s surprising to realize I only learnedoneculture of many. I’m thrilled to open the door to another culture with its own rich history and heritage. Where Bollywood fits in still isn’t clear to me. All I know is it calls to something deep in my soul.
Through my readings, I find mention of Bengal. Time blurs as I read about the long and storied history of the region, beautiful pieces of art made from bold colors, pictures of rich fields and misty mountainsides. All through it, I see images of prowling Bengal tigers, and get the feeling they are the closest things I have to ancestors.
When I can’t contain my urge to move, I cue up new music videos and practice more dance moves.
One of the first things the military expected of us after they liberated us was that we wear shoes. They’re uncomfortable and ungainly and make it impossible to be graceful or stealthy.
The new me, Ty, considers burning all my shoes. I won’t go that far, but my days of wearing footgear are over. Toeclaws have no place in leather torture devices. Besides, my dancing is much better when my pads can touch the floor.
When the males trickle back from their placements in the afternoon, they all have to file through this lounge to get to their rooms. I’d heard them come through and assumed I was alone in here. It’s only when my concentration breaks and I turn around that I see most of the males are standing behind me, staring as they sway to the music.
Now that I’ve stopped dancing, it’s Nyx the naga who speaks first. “Ty, are you having as much fun as it looks like?”
“So much fun.” A happy roar bursts from my throat.
For a moment, a picture of a dancing naga teases the edge of my thoughts. It’s certainly never been done before, but for that matter, neither has the world seen a dancing tiger-guy.
“The more the merrier.”
“How about me?” It’s my friend Brock, a burly male who has obviously been gifted with a boatload of grizzly bear DNA.
“I’d love to have you on board.”
“And me?” Warren, who looks very wolfy, is already approaching me as though he can’t wait to get started.
“Anyone who wants can join me. Not only is it fun, but the best thing about it is it’s best done without shoes.”
Two other males who had seemed to be on the fence kick off their shoes and step forward.