We were looking at the television - grainy footage of an Asian man inside the lions den at a zoo. He was wearing a white shirt. He seemed to be calmly talking to the lions. It was as if he fancied himself as some kind of missionary and was trying to convert the lions to his creed. There were two lions, a male and a female. They were side by side, about two feet from the man and entranced by him, perhaps a little irritated by his presumption. I looked at Katie. She had a hand to her mouth, another mysterious thing women do. The male lion casually but also warily stepped forward and opened his jaws. The utter passivity of the man clearly bewildered the beast. Nevertheless it gave the missionary a warning bite on his leg. It was an impressive gesture – the electric springing forth, the wide mouth, the sharp teeth, the lick of the tongue. The man sat back on a white rock. He seemed disappointed. His message, whatever it was, was clearly not getting across. He then stood up again and held his arms aloft. The camera panned to a uniformed man pointing a telescoped rifle. Then back to the lion’s den. You could sense the lioness was getting irritated, as much by her mate’s prevarication as the intruder himself. It was like the conversation you could imagine a middle-aged married couple having in bed while a noisy party was going on in the flat downstairs – the wife exhorting the husband to do something about it, the husband reluctant to make a scene. The lion then pawed the man twice and gave him another half-hearted bite, on the arm this time. It was roaring now, showing its teeth. There was then an untidy cut in the film and the next shot showed medical staff inspecting the man’s wounds and then the two lions asleep or dead on the ground.
“It’s not often you see news, is it? Usually you just see someone talking about the news,” I said.
“I’d hardly call that news,” she said. “Poor things. As if it wasn’t bad enough being locked up in a zoo. Can you imagine a woman doing that? A woman would never do that,” she said.
“Why is that? Do you think?”
The lions had restored some semblance of our old relationship. We had something external we could comment on, share our opinions about.
“You tell me. You’re a man.”
“Because half the time we think reality is nothing but an extension of our own imagination? Because there are moments when we need something as fiercely independent as a lion to prove to us that this isn’t the case? I wonder what he’ll do next? The man in the white shirt. That’s the real story. What will he wake up thinking about tomorrow morning? How will he view the whole escapade in retrospect? Why don’t they put people like that on reality TV? People who aren’t sure what reality is.”
“Like you, you mean?”
I raised my eyebrows – my little-boy-lost look. Then I smiled.