Aida Austin: “The one with the bird shit, Mr Company Director”

CORK AIRPORT, 3.20 pm, and I’m awaiting the arrival of my brother. Not the older one I stabbed in the arm with a sharpened pencil for stealing my pillow (don’t look at me like that) who didn’t deserve it. No, it’s my younger brother; the one who used his four sisters as psychological punch-bags, whom I called “fatso” — who deserved a sharpened pencil, but never got it because he was bigger than me.

Here I stand, waiting for him to emerge, with love in my heart and that weird laughter, ready to detonate like a bomb on a short fuse, in my lungs. For time has passed and we are, after all is said and done, siblings, with the same psychology text books locked up inside our heads, and the same blood running through our veins.

He appears, laughing as he walks towards me; a tanned, striding colossus hewn of solid muscle, to which his puppy fat turned at 17.

“Oh my God, you look like a huge… Afghani,” I say. “Your legs are like… moving stanchions.” He hefts me up into an embrace that sets my lumbar disc injury back by six weeks. I break out, and look him up and down. “You could moor a bloody boat to those legs.”

“Christ,” he says, pointing at my head, his eyes are popping, “Mum’s right. You look like a completely different person with that hair…” He breaks off, looking ruminative.

“Which person?” I say warily.

“The one off Strictly.”

“Which one off Strictly?”

“The one with the fringe that hangs into her eyes making them look all squinty.”

“Claudia Winkleman?”

“That’s the one.”

In the airport car-park he says, “Where’s the car, Winkleman?”

“Over there, the red one on the right.”

“Which red one on the right,” he says, looking nervously at his immaculate, expensive luggage, “the Passat or the decrepit Nissan with the bird shit all over it?”

“The one with the bird shit, Mr Company Director,” I say.

He places his luggage delicately in the boot, as if it is a cream cake. Then he compresses himself into the front. It is like watching the Jolly Green Giant climb back in the tin. He sits clutching coat to chest, with head touching roof and knees pinned to dashboard.

“Mum was right,” he says, looking about his tight confines, “there is definitely something of the Romany gypsy in you; some trait from our dodgy Italian side. I mean how does anyone get bird shit inside a car?”

“Move your girth,” I say, “you’re sitting on the handbrake.”

“Girth?” he says, “I think you mean stature,”

“Shift yourself, company big-shot.”

“I keep telling you, I work for a humanitarian development agency, not a corporate…”

“Whatever,” I say, “as its director, we all know you’re used to getting the red carpet treatment…”

“Well definitely not here,” he mutters, punching his knees down, “in… Mombasa.”

“By the way,” I say, crunching gears so that he winces, “just so you know, nowhere in our schedule for the next three days, have I made any provision whatsoever for an eight-hour cycle-ride.”

“Interesting tone in your voice,” my brother says, suddenly grabbing the sides of his seat as I reverse, “I remember it always was a highly effective tool.”

“A tool for what?”

“Your voice is the voice of… a captain taking the helm of a ship,” he muses, looking out of the window, “a sinking ship, which is listing dangerously to one side. It’s a voice that brooks no discussion or dissent — the one everyone listens to, when the ship’s about to go under. Amazingly authoritative really, for a voice that isn’t even loud.”

“A tool for what?”

“Subjugation,” he says.

“Like it was ever possible to subjugate you, Fatso.”

He smiles at me, a warm smile that goes straight through my heart.

“It’s so lovely you’re here,” I say, smiling back.

Yes, after the furious, clumsy thrill of childhood sibling-abuse; after the intricate domestic drama of war and peace and power, played out over years of sharing the same parents and home, finally, love and laughter is what ties us siblings together. That — and the delicate thrill of adult sibling-abuse.

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