It’s been a while since I posted a short story, so here is another one about my gran, the one with the improbable black hair. She was born in the middle of one of those long families so common in the early years of the last centaury. Her eldest brother was killed on The Somme, this is a story about her youngest brother and the last of her mother’s seventeen children.
“Do you want to take my arm?”
“No, I do not want to take your arm” she replied crisply. “I’m quite capable of walking.”
She planted her stick more firmly in the turf and moved ahead of me, her face rigid with determination.
I followed; concerned the long hours in the plane and the now crushing humidity had taken more out of her than she was prepared to admit.
Her slow, but steady progress forward defied both me and the heat.
When I caught up she was looking around with her assessing eye, the one I recognised from childhood, the one that was so often the precursor of some ego shattering comment.
“They keep the place nice,” she said, approvingly.
I sighed with relief.
“For natives,” she added, with a disdainful sniff.
“Gran you can’t say things like that,” I protested furiously.
“Why not?” she demanded and moved on again between the rows of headstones.
I didn’t argue. More than years separated us; the world she had been born into was very different from the one I had entered. A difference perhaps greater than the one between the country we were visiting and the one we’d left to come here.
Two great wars stood between her birth and mine.
Ahead of me she made an incongruous picture against the back drop of vivid jungle green. I wore the lightest summer dress I owned, but she was all in determined black. Certain clothes went with certain events as far she was concerned and neither heat nor location would alter her view.
Even more incongruous was the small wreath of scarlet poppies in her hand, aliens bravely holding their own in the face of tropical magnificence. As alien as the old lady who had brought them half way around the world to this land of streaming heat and palm trees.
She moved ahead of me between the rows of headstones and I realised tears had dimmed her eyes and she had walked passed him.
“Gran,” I said, gently. “He’s here.”
Turning she came back to Plot 18, row D, grave no. 10.
Silently her hand went out and touched the badge cut into the stone; then she traced the letters of his name with fingers twisted by arthritis.
“I thought you were out in the jungle somewhere,” she whispered. “All alone.”
I took her hand and we stood silently while the long ranks of his brothers in arms stretched away from us row upon row.
“He was our Mam’s last baby. God knows enough of us had come and gone before, but there was something about him. We all loved him.”
She made a small derisive sound,
“Even our Da.”
She bent her old bones down to place her little wreath and was finally able to say goodbye to the little brother she had loved so much.
KIA Burma 20th Jan 1945