This short story is aimed at young children as a way of introducing some of the important principles relating to the pandemic in a setting the author thought would resonate across cultures. It covers topics such as viruses, vaccines, and immunity, told through conversation between members of a family of tigers.
On the 1st of July 2020 a worldwide lockdown for the Tiger Kingdom was announced. The world as the tiger cubs Hameesha and Sampha knew it had changed overnight.
“I’m bored,” whimpered Sampha.
“I’m so bored,” echoed her brother Hameesha.
“I miss Tayla, I want to go see her now,” Sampha cried, “it’s not fair that I haven’t seen her in a whole sixteen days.” Sampha had collected a new leaf each day and stored it under her bed to mark all the days she has been unable to see her best friend.
Mama Tiger sighed. She was tired of the cubs’ whining about all the activities they had missed out on. First it was the rain dance that was cancelled, then their cousin’s birthday party and now they had been unable to attend the latest game of snakes and ladders. Every day her answer to her children had to be the same. So, using her wisest and calmest voice for her cubs, hoping they did not notice any of the fear beneath it, she pleaded: “Cubs, you know that Grandma is getting old now and so is Papa. It’s too risky for you to be playing outside with your friends. Chief Tiger has advised against it too. You wouldn’t want to go against the Chief now, would you?”
“No we wouldn’t want to do that,” replied the cubs in unison. Sampha nudged Hameesha, signaling that he should ask Mama the question he had promised her he would earlier that day. “But Mama, we are young and healthy cubs, what’s wrong with us going out into the rainforest to play with our friends just for a little bit? How is it all right for Big Brother Sido to spend his whole time running in the rainforest but we must stay here with you?”
Mama’s black stripes on her forehead furrowed and her eyes narrowed as she declared, “To your room the pair of you, or there won’t be any dinner for you.” As the cubs hurried to their room, Mama sat pensively, her black stripes furrowing further as she thought of ways to solve the cubs’ unhappiness without endangering them all. She decided she would ask Sido his advice that evening as the cubs looked up to him so much.
Sido bounded into the kitchen, back from his run. He glanced over at Mama who was hunched over her cooking and had not even looked up to greet him. She seemed upset so he put his paws around her and hugged her tightly. It was crazy, he thought, how much he had grown recently while it felt like Mama had shrunk; he was now a whole tiger paw taller than her.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” he asked her, caringly. Mama breathed heavily and explained her dilemma to Sido, begging him to think of a solution for his younger siblings’ boredom. Sido paused for a moment, his huge golden- brown eyes screwed up, deep in thought. Then it occurred to him and his eyes lit up.
“Mama, I’ve got an idea!” he exclaimed excitedly. “I’ll take Sampha and Hameesha out on a run with me tomorrow. That way they will be able to stretch their paws and breathe in the fresh rainforest air, and all the while I’ll be looking after-“
“But is that a good idea Sido? Is it safe for the cubs?” Mama Tiger interrupted.
“I never bump into any other tigers on my run because I’ve worked out a special route through the rainforest. So they will be completely safe and there is no need for you to fret Mama. I can even try to explain to them a bit more about this deadly virus if you like?” Sido responded.
A wide smile of relief spread right across Mama’s whiskers. She had known Sido would think of the perfect solution. Now it was Mama’s turn to embrace her eldest son in gratitude.
That night as Hameesha and Sampha lay in their beds looking up at the stars, they could hardly sleep with excitement at the thought of the day ahead. After weeks at home they were finally going to be allowed to roam around the rainforest with their big brother. It was going to be the best adventure.
The next morning Hameesha and Sampha were up early enough to see the fiery sun wake and rise up high in the sky above them. They went over to Sido who was still sleeping peacefully and stroked him with their paws until he awoke with a yawn.
“It’s time to get going!” beamed Sido, and his brother and sister cheered in response. “I know how much you both love The Great Tree and so we will visit that first, but remember to stay close behind me at all times.”
Sampha and Hameesha nodded their heads obediently and off they all went, dashing into the heart of the rainforest.
The Great Tree loomed high above the three tigers. It was the oldest and most beautiful in the whole of this part of the forest. Hameesha jumped onto the lowest branch, a trick he had just mastered, and began teasing Sampha who was not quite big enough to reach it yet. Sido watched the cubs by the tree and suddenly an idea dawned on him and so he interrupted their squabbling by announcing, “Look Sampha and Hameesha, look at the branches of The Great Tree. Look at how they all connect to one another and spread out long into the sky further than any of us can see.” Sampha and Hameesha tilted their heads back, eyes gazing up at the wondrous tree. Sido went on:
“Now this virus which Mama is trying so hard to protect us all from, is just like The Great Tree. You see, if you went to visit your friends they might pass it on to you or you to them and then on to their families or our families and soon the virus would spread just like the branches on the tree. Do you understand? We are all connected like the branches on The Great Tree.”
Sampha and Hameesha were silent for the first time in a long while, their mouths opened wide as the workings of the virus finally began to sink in. They had heard Mama say some of these things but looking at the tree made them understand the connections that could be wonderful or could be dangerous. Hameesha reached out his paw to Sampha, thankful of one connection he could still have. The two cubs began to roll around on the leafy ground playfully, throwing balls of mud at each other and sniffing the brightly coloured flowers they bumped into.
A plop sounded right in front of Hameesha’s front paw, and then another and another; it was starting to rain.
“We better head back to make sure we don’t get caught out in a big storm,” declared Sido. Hameesha and Sampha shivered as he spoke. They hated thunder and lightning more than anything. Sido scooped each of them up gently in his arms, and placed them on his shoulders, one on either side. This way they would be back home in no time. The cubs held on to Sido’s big furry ears as he bounded through the rainforest and roared with laughter as they tried to catch the raindrops on their tongues.
“I know it is only raining lightly now but we are taking shelter just as a precaution.”
“Of course, we know that, silly Sido,” giggled Hameesha, tugging at his brother’s ear. “It is the same with the virus you see, we must stay away from other tigers now as a precaution - so as to make sure we are as safe as we can be.”
In no time at all the three tigers arrived at the gate to their home, from where they could already smell Papa’s cooking. Eager to have their dinner, Sido quickly untied the key for the gate which he had attached to his tail. As he put the key into the lock he paused and turned towards the cubs.
“The key in my hand fits perfectly into the lock on our gate. This horrible virus has keys too and when it finds a lock that fits, it opens and enters.” His siblings looked very confused and he could see them rubbing their tummies to show Sido how hungry they were, but Sido knew it was important for them to understand this so he carried on: “Some tigers’ lungs have the right lock on them and so the virus’s key turns the lock, allowing the virus to enter and begin to multiply. Luckily most of us can kick the virus right out straight away but a few tigers can’t, and this is why they become very ill.”
The cubs nodded their heads at their big brother. The tigers trudged inside but as soon as they saw Papa’s dinner, their spirits lifted.
“Wash your paws you three!” Papa reminded his children as he did every day, and so the tigers scrubbed whilst humming along to their favourite tune. Finally they settled down to their meal.
After dinner it was tradition for Mama to tell one of her stories but today, as the tigers huddled round the fireplace, Hameesha could not help but ask Sido more about the virus.
“But how can we stop this virus fitting its key into Mama and Papa’s locks?”
Sido smiled comfortingly. “Don’t worry, our bodies have a whole army of defenders that can help us fight the virus. Some soldiers in this army are particularly good at protecting us from getting infected because they have exactly the right weapons. They can make lots of little caps that coat the tip of the key and stop it fitting into the lock anymore.”
“But how can we get hold of the right soldiers to make these caps?” asked Hameesha.
“Well,” replied Sido, impressed by his brother’s important questions, “as we speak, my friends have just finished working long, hard hours in the heart of the rainforest to make a vaccine for that. It is now ready and will be given as an injection. This will help all of our bodies to make enough of the soldiers with the right weapons so that we can have caps ready to cover the virus key before they can fit into the locks in our bodies.”
The vaccine was a word the cubs had only learnt recently, but Hameesha liked the way it rolled of his tongue and so often used it to show off to his brother. However, it was only after Sido had explained about the locks and soldiers that the reality of the important word began to sink in.
Sido hugged the cubs in closely, “We are very fortunate”, he began, “Papa and grandma are some of the first in line to receive the vaccine as they desperately need their soldiers to protect them from the virus. This means that soon they will be safe. All you have to do is be careful and listen to mama for a little while longer until enough tigers have got the vaccine and then it will be back to usual.”
The cubs yawned. It had been a long day with a lot of new things to absorb, and the warmth of the fire was so soothing that their eyelids began to droop... until a familiar sound began to grow louder and louder. Since the start of lockdown, each evening had been sealed with the most magnificent of sounds. Just as the sun would slip out of sight to its bedtime, Chief Tiger could be heard letting out a giant roar, one so strong that it echoed through the whole kingdom. Gradually all the tigers raised their voices and roared along with the Chief to thank the tigers who were looking after the sick and making sure the kingdom continued to prosper.
At the top of their voices Hameesha and Sampha would call, ‘ROA-AR!’ Soon the other animals in the rainforest began to join in with the Tiger Roar. They made whatever sound they could; some roared, some hissed, others chirped or growled, all showing their support to the tigers’ suffering in their own way.
And so every night the rainforest felt alive and overflowing with love, one huge community, apart but united by their gratitude and hopes for a quick recovery of the Tiger Kingdom.