I wrote this piece to raise awareness of the illegal pet trafficking trade and also based on my own experiences in a souk.
The souk was bustling with shoppers and sellers yelling themselves hoarse as they jostled for attention. Silver and gold beads jangled on stands, swishing silks draped the doorways and the delicious scent of freshly picked dates filled the air.
A stray cat, her soft striped belly swaying, pounced her way through a flock of pigeons, sending them spiralling into the blue sky. The creek gurgled against the docks and small dhows giving rides to tourists cruised past, sending small waves sloshing against their sides. The sun blazed down, casting long shadows on the pavement, as Emily and her little sister pushed their way through the crowd. Emily’s sister, Cynthia, was only seven and she jabbered away in rapid French, her silky sheet of silvery-blonde hair shimmering in the sunlight. Emily fixed her gaze on the dirty floor and tugged her sister through the throng, searching for their stepmother, a haughty woman with a sleek knot at the back of her head and sharp blue eyes.
She was stopped by a terrible mewling sound and halted abruptly, peering round the corner where it had come from. She was confronted by a gap-toothed man with a filthy yellow smile. He was the shopkeeper of a cramped pet shop. Emily shuddered and turned away, but then the mewling came again. Tightening her grip on her sister’s hand, and summoning her courage, she entered. It took her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, but once they did, she stifled a gasp of horror. Crouching in a corner and spitting in fear, was a striped tiger cub, its fur grimy and matted, its large amber eyes wide with fear.
She approached it, murmuring softly. Slipping her phone out of her pocket, she gave it to her sister. “Call maman, Cynthia.” Her sister nodded and punched the numbers into the dial pad.
While she spoke to their mother, Emily coaxed the cub closer and rested a hand on its small head. She rubbed its fluffy cheeks as it purred weakly and then tucked it into a blanket, cradling it close to her chest. There was a tip-tapping of heels, and their stepmother strode through the doorway, calling for them.
Emily turned, the tiger cub grasped in her arms, awaiting her stepmother’s harsh words. But they never came. “Oh!” she said, staring. Then her face curved into a small smile. “C’est un tigre!” she exclaimed. Emily explained the situation, and her face hardened. She wheeled around, marching towards the eagerly waiting shopkeeper, whose face fell when he noticed her expression. She told him off in the snobbiest way possible, throwing words around like ‘illegal’ and ‘arrested’ and ‘infringement of the law’. He shoved a rusty cage towards her.
“Take ‘im.” He stammered, and fled.
A huge grin plastered on her face, Emily, Cynthia, and their stepmother left, the cub tucked tenderly against Emily’s chest. It miaowed softly and pawed at the blanket. It would be raised by them then taken to a sanctuary to live out the rest of its life in peace. Its future was finally secure.