Have you ever looked into the eyes of death?
I imagine that, for most people, this question would evoke long-standing images of a skull’s hollow orbits shrouded in the shadows of a black cloak. For me, the eyes of death will always be the golden eyes of a black panther.
The camera was light on my hand that day, and my finger was nimble on the shutter. And, unbeknown to myself, my steps were slowly taking me away from the others.
I was deep into the forest when I noticed the heavy unnatural silence, as if every living thing were holding its breath.
I let the camera hang from the strap around my neck, its smooth shape bouncing off my chest as I looked around.
And there she was, lying in the low branch of a gnarled fig-tree—staring at me.
Her yellow eyes locked with mine. So bright, as though the same anomaly that had made her skin produce an excess of melanin, had also brought an extra twist of gold into her eyes
It is said among those who’ve worked with felines that sometimes you feel as if their eyes are burning two holes into your brain. I felt nothing of this.
To me, it seemed like she had accessed all my memories, all my fears and yearnings. I felt she was becoming a part of me, and this I both longed for and recoiled from.
I was certain I would soon be a part of her too. My cells would merge with hers, and I would be perpetuated in the flesh of her offspring.
We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Time had stopped around us, frozen in the mosaic of green light and green shadows and blue blades of powdery sunshine that surrounded us.
Finally she stood. Unable to run—captured in golden chains — I waited for the fatal leap. She looked at me a final time before fluidly moving away — a shadow lost in shade.
Freed, I sat on the forest floor, water trickling from the burdened leaves onto my skin and clothes. Alive and unable to say why.
I still can’t explain it. Maybe she didn’t recognize me as something edible. Maybe she wasn’t hungry.
Or could it be, that on that day, she too looked into the eyes of death.