Tiger Moth

We are sitting on my sister’s veranda in Kuranda among the rain forest treetops, listening to the double whistle and crack of whipbirds and watching the wallabies grazing below. The smell of baking fruitcake wafts through the house and mingles with the fresh damp smell of new rain on wet leaves.

‘He did I swear, Mum told me when I was at boarding school. She wrote a letter and told me that he joined a flying school where he was learning to fly Tiger Moths.’ I insist.

‘What’s in that drink’ Bruce says.

‘No honestly Mum said— look, he’s here, ask him. Hey Ian, you learned to fly a Tiger Moth when you were at Uni in the UK didn’t you?’

‘What. No. You must be thinking of someone else.’

‘You did, I am sure you did. Mum said.’

‘I don’t think so. I think I would know if I ever learned to fly a Tiger Moth.’

‘But I was sure…’ I lapse into silence searching my memory. I can remember distinctly, Mum telling me that story. I worry now that it is so wrong. Since I was fifteen I imagined, and I expect boasted of, my valiant brother who zipped around the Bristol skies in a Tiger Moth, merging into a latter day Biggles in my mind.

‘You have to wonder how many of the rest of your memories are accurate’ Bruce says. That was the beginning of years of my family’s cruel mockery. Every time some contentious memory arises, they chorus ‘Tiger Moths!’ It is as effective as a mouth clamp.

Like other families, mine have many common traits. I could talk about the propensity for red hair, the shape of our mouths, eyes that tilt upwards ever so slightly, or the gapped teeth, the flat ankles and thunderous thighs but to me the most interesting trait is my family’s inclination to assign my eldest brother heroic status.

He is a man who talks in a deep authoritative voice, modulated with such precision, at everything in his path, animate or inanimate. He has always been perfect, more intelligent, more honourable and somehow at a higher level of being than the rest of us.

He excelled in school, university, work and sport and he was the most popular. He was never embroiled in childhood squabbles and was always the peacemaker. Of course, like the rest of us, I was devoted to him.

It is the first time we have been together in more than twenty years. My parents are both long gone and we have been scattered around the world, along with the rest of the Zimbabwean diaspora.

Despite the twenty-year separation; despite our professional positions; despite our extensive travel and experiences and despite our multitude of children, it takes seconds in each other’s company to revert to our childhood characters.

I am still not convinced my brother did not fly a Tiger Moth. He’s just the type.

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