“I am a tlacuache, and your extinction is my fault, Armando.”
With his pointy snout, his furry body, and his rounded little tlacuache ears, Tsu told me only two grave things throughout his life:
“They will delete us, Armando.”
And that other one: that he bore the guilt of my extinction.
“Armando, I feel awful. You know we tlacuaches stole the fire for humans?”
Tsu lay down on a little hole in the ground and crossed his arms over his chest, as if the hole were a divan, and I, the main jaguar of his life, were his psychiatrist.
“I didn’t know it either, because, obviously, I’m a colonized tlacuache,” he said, losing his gaze up in the sky. “But that’s what the myths of this land say. The myths of the Coras, the Nahuas, the Tzotziles: the truth is everywhere. It was us. It was me.”
I didn’t know if he was joking. As often, I didn’t have the words to reply to the tlacuache’s verbal diarrhea, listening only half-heartedly while begging for peace with the other half of my brain. I asked the heavens that, if my sentence was to always be accompanied by Tsu, we could at least walk in silence across the ever-more-desertified rainforest.
“They made an example of Prometheus for doing the same thing,” Tsu digressed. “It may have been a little bit out of proportion, but you know, the Greeks and their punishments. Although, it’s so typically human to believe the gods went over the top with that thing of having your guts devoured every night. But, Armando?”
Tsu looked at me with his flaming eyes. He knew I didn’t always listen to him. It was his way of calling up my attention.
“Hmm?” I turned my face to him so he knew I was listening.
“Just think about it,” he told me. “Maybe, the gods knew it. They knew how it all ended. I mean, it wasn’t just fire to heat their soup and invite the family over for a barbecue, Armando.
“Fire is industry. The smoke that smothers the planet. Fire is the little rainforest we have left, Armando. Fire is the jaguar children you won’t father.” His eyes pleaded. He pressed his long fingers against his chest. “I stole the fire so humans could kill you of thirst.”
“Tsu …” I didn’t know what to say to him.
“I’ve read that the human being has cutting-edge technology but an immature psyche. A teenager that doesn’t know how to drive, but owns a Ferrari. Why?” He covered his face with his hands. “Because the tlacuache stole the keys and said: ‘There you go, arrogant primate, just drive.’
“What a lack of judgment, Armando! Prometheus’s punishment was fair. Tlacuaches should be punished, too.”
Tsu moved to a fetal position, with his back turned to my face.
“It wouldn’t fix anything, but I would feel better.”
“Tsu, the punishment should befall the humans,” I intervened, but he ignored me.
“Instead of that, you know?” he said, sunk in the ground. “This land’s myths tell about how tlacuaches deceived the old guardian of the fire. While he was sleeping, we ignited our tails and brought the fire down for humans. But the only consequence was that our tails remain bald. Other than that, they offer us oblations. We are given our pouch. Wixarikas forbid their people to eat our meat because we’re sacred … Sacred!” he panted. “We’re a cursed species, Armando!”
In the following days, Tsu repeated this relentlessly: “Armando, you’re one of the last jaguars, and it’s my fault.” Otherwise, he walked silently beside me across the drylands.
We must have embodied a strange image of the end: a jaguar and a tlacuache—once predator and prey—walking together over the borders of a shrinking rainforest, looking for water and ever-more-scarce food.
I didn’t understand at the time, while I begged the heavens for Tsu to shut up and let me think—because yeah, right, I was an important jaguar; I had to think. But think about what? The sky was dyed in smoke. The green vastness was losing against the color of sand. I knew I was alone, without females, and far from transcendence. A jaguar that cannot leave behind a legacy doesn’t have anything to think about.
Conversely, Tsu knew he was going to survive. Small fauna survive: they adapt, they crawl around the city and learn to snatch food from humans. Tsu and his kin have always done so.
He was going to survive, and still, he roamed with me around my dead world. I didn’t realize it, but all that grayness, all that desert we were walking on was only bearable because he made me so mad.
“Shut up. You’re annoying,” I told him thousands of times.
“And you’re a tsundere,” he would say. “This is otaku culture, so educate yourself. A tsundere is a character that pretends to be cold. Oh, don’t touch me, don’t touch me. I don’t have feelings. But, deep down, you’re sentimental. I’ve always told you this, Armando: you’re a melancholic clerk trapped inside a feline Bruce Wayne body.”
Yes, he had always told me so.
“Armando? You really call yourself Armando?” He laughed at me the first time I told him my name. “Look, Armando. Having a name is already typical of a loser. But on top of that, ‘Armando’? It’s a super loser name, like the name of a defeated office worker.”
Saying this back then, Tsu shook his long fingers carelessly at me. His energy seemed limitless.
“If you were human, you would be a ladies’ man. An alpha male. A Bruce Wayne with feline vibes. Female humans with you … puff.” He smiled, lewd and fervid as if his tongue were blazing. “But deep down, that’s what you are: nothing but a melancholic clerk.”
I missed Tsu saying that. Since I didn’t have anything to think about, I would go over our conversations back to day one, when I almost hunted him down and he played dead on the grass.
“Playing dead is the oldest trick of a tlacuache,” I blurted out when I saw him motionless, lying on his back on his gray fur. “You really think I’m falling for this?”
“Well, and what about falling for my new trick?” Tsu raised his index finger like a torch, even though the rest of his body was still playing dead. “Look, jaguar, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You can eat me and have meat only for today … Or I can become … your vassal, so to speak.”
He got up at once. His tail was waving.
“I’m an expert thief, and I perform great in the city. In the supermarkets. How about you spare my life, and I regularly bring you fresh steaks from the supermarket? Think about it, huh.” Tsu brandished his index finger like the wise animal he actually was. “I appeal here to your status of apex predator because, do you know what the neurological difference is between predator and prey?”
I groaned. The tlacuache annoyed me, but he was too … smart, too outspoken, for me to feel comfortable just eating him.
“Predators can arrange future plans. The prey is just there, vegetating. Our friends, the cows? They live on the moon. But not you, jaguar. You know what’s good for you.”
And it was true. Had I eaten Tsu, I would have satiated my hunger that day, but maybe I wouldn’t still be around in the world. My prey are dying, or they leave because the desert drives them away. But Tsu has kept me alive and healthy. He even has kept me informed because: “You know why I know so many things? I’m a library tlacuache. At night, I get inside the libraries, and I steal knowledge from humans. I’m an enlightened tlacuache.”
But that buoyant Tsu was gone. Tsu was also a desert, now, and he walked beside me with his eyes ravaged by fire. After learning about his cosmic theft, he would only let out the occasional comment:
“Do you know at which temperature the coral dies?”
“Do you know how much forest is left?”
“All my fault, Armando … It’s all my fault.”
I insisted that it wasn’t his fault, that myths are just myths. That, at any rate, the tlacuache who stole the fire was an ancient, unknown tlacuache. Not Tsu himself.
But it was typical of Tsu to believe that the tlacuache from the myths stood for all tlacuaches. Tsu was skeptical about personal identity. “It’s so typically human. And feline, I suppose.” Being a tlacuache was more important to him than being Tsu. Allowing me to call him Tsu was almost a courtesy to our relationship of vassalage. No. It was a courtesy to our friendship.
When I first asked him for his name, he almost seemed offended.
“I don’t have one of those, Armando,” he told me, crossing his arms.
“If you’re gonna be wandering with me everywhere I go, I have to call you something. You can’t go through the end of the world without a name,” I blurted out. “So stop complaining and choose one.”
Tsu stood in anger, and, using a dry branch on the ground at his feet, he drew a happy face: ツ
“Call me like this,” he said.
“You want me to call you ‘Emoji’?” I mumbled.
“No,” he said, earnestly. “This is a Japanese katakana, that is to say, a symbol of one of their phonetic alphabets. It stands for the syllable ‘Tsu,’ I believe. You can call me that if it pleases you. Although, when you think about me, I’d rather you picture the happy face.”
So I called him ‘Tsu,’ but I did remember the happy face. ツ: the cunning, arrogant smile. The awareness of being the most skilled thief in America. The consciousness of being a vassal, but who was really the vassal? My life depended on him. I was the vassal of his joy and his random facts. Tsu brightened up my last days, which are all my days because I endure the end of my species. And I wasn’t able to understand it.
After the knowledge of the cosmic theft, I didn’t know how to turn back Tsu into that ツ drawn on the soil, so his name didn’t vanish into just an empty sound.
One day, he came back from one of his silent trips to the city, and he told me the thing that ruined everything:
“They will delete us, Armando.”
Tsu had seen it in the libraries, but it was also happening in the digital collections—in all the archives of knowledge.
Back then, when there was still some green land left and I would sometimes encounter one of my kin, we would say that, if humans didn’t do their part, soon their scientists wouldn’t be able to cope with the obituaries.
“Last black rhinoceros.”
“Mexican wolf vanishes.”
“African lion goes extinct.”
“Extinct. Extinct. Extinct.”
But “extinct” is a shocking word for humans. I guess they’d rather not have to say it. So that’s what they do: they don’t say it.
“Nothing can go extinct on Earth if there never was anything to begin with, isn’t that so? In this scant planet, there has never been anything but desert,” their new version of history will claim. “There has never been anything other than factories and combustion and smoke clouds. There have never been jaguars. What even is a jaguar? We, humans, are alone.”
Tsu says that humans are rewriting their loneliness. They reinvent themselves as the only inhabitants of the planet.
That’s why, when a species goes extinct, they don’t write obituaries now. They delete the historical records. They burn our names in the fire. They vow silence, and their presidents pass decrees of national oblivion. Tsu says we are not the target of their oblivion. They themselves are the target because they cannot stand their embarrassment.
“They’re sentimental creatures, after all,” he said. “They can’t bear their crimes. I understand them. I can’t bear mine either.”
With those words, Tsu’s shutdown was complete, because he knew his theft—his fire—had not only deleted my body, but was now also going to delete that we ever existed.
“I will remember you, Armando,” he said. “My children will know you spared my life, and they owe you everything. Although, you know what? We animals are not good at remembering across time. We don’t write myths.”
After that, Tsu no longer walked beside me. He curled up on a little mound of withered grass, and I thought that I, who was the condemned one, would have to watch him die. And later, I would die alone because we jaguars have no hope.
“Tsu … How do we fix this, Tsu?” I mumbled as I wandered alone across the borders of the desert.
Some days after, I found the bunker. A human-made metal hole that old criminals had hidden among the thick vegetation, but in its present condition, it certainly didn’t serve as a proper hideout.
I went back to the mound of grass in which Tsu had stayed, and I blurted out:
“Tsu, get up right now. I’ll take you to see something.”
“Let me die, Armando.” Tsu half-opened his eyes. “My vassalage is over. You can eat me now if you want. You must be hungry.”
“I won’t allow you to insult me like that. I don’t eat my friends,” I roared. “And I’m telling you to get up. Robber of the fire, you have a mission.”
“I won’t fulfill any more missions.”
“Then it’s your punishment. Didn’t you say tlacuaches must be punished? Then get up. Letting you die is going easy on you.”
Weak and reluctant, Tsu followed me across the depleted rainforest. Then I took him to the edge of that metal hole, which was perfect for the goals I had in mind. We contemplated it together. Tsu didn’t understand my intentions.
“Tsu, you stole the knowledge for humans. Now, you will steal the knowledge from them. And here, Tsu, here we will store it.”
I would never have children, and Tsu’s lineage wouldn’t have a long memory. But, sealed inside the metal, we would preserve our memory across time. I didn’t intend to preserve the crime or the perpetrators. Humans are creatures that don’t understand, and it’s fine. I don’t hate them. I just want to defy their oblivion. If circumstances change and survival gets tough for him as well, I want Tsu to be remembered.
I want him to be remembered as the great thief. Not the robber of fire. Not the one who brought to humans the industry and the fires and the fixation to set everything in combustion. I want him to be remembered as the thief who slipped through the libraries, the one who mugged the carts in which they carried books tagged for deletion, the one who pulled out, with his pinkish fingers, stacks of books: biology treatises, children’s books with illustrations of us, poetry books in which we were the image of beauty, and also, those compendia of Mesoamerican mythology that enthroned Tsu as the ancient robber of fire.
Tsu stole all the books that talked about us. Inside the bunker, he built for us the temple that saved our names from oblivion.
If we shall disappear, that’s fine. We won’t exist anymore. But we will exist here, on paper. We will exist in myths that someone will unearth in a distant future. We will be real for them.
After sealing the lid of the bunker, we covered the spot with dirt. And, on the mound, Tsu drew with a dry stick, like on that ancient day: ツ
As long as I live, as long as the jaguar has hours left on Earth, I will never allow the tiny face of the animal Prometheus to be erased from the desert.
1. Opossum. [return]