No one escaped the clutches of Tiger Man.
Tiger Man, with his striped face, and his orange cloak. Tiger Man, with his monkey sidekick and deadly foes; his array of weaponry and gadgets, his vehicles and accessories.
Malcolm and Arthur, eight and six, sat in the back seat; each clutching a Tiger Man, each of them lost in some private Tiger Man game for they had long ago realised that, even in the seemingly limitless world of imaginative play there was only one Tiger Man.
The city’s a jungle and the people are scared. They need a hero, a man who’s prepared.
Tiger Man was going to be at Fairleader Shopping Centre from noon. Half hours drive, piece of cake.
Can we please go and see Tiger Man?
We have to see Tiger Man.
Are we going yet?
Are we there yet?
Why aren’t we moving?
Their mother, Karen, sat in the front passenger seat.
Bill was driving, though he hadn’t actually trod even slightly on the accelerator in ten minutes.
All because of a fucking cloak.
If we hadn’t had to go back to get Tiger Man’s cloak we’d be there now.
It was Arthur’s Tiger Cloak.
No it wasn’t.
It doesn’t matter.
Look what you’ve started.
I’m just saying.
Are we going to miss Tiger Man?
That question hung heavily in the stale air of the car. Bill exhaled heavily knowing any answer given was a potential minefield.
No, we’ll get there.
Karen shot her husband a look. She had lots of those. Like Tiger Man and his endless conveyor belt of merchandise, her face was a smorgasbord of expressions, an unfathomable sea of glances, nods, frowns and winks that no one could ever truly be certain of navigating safely past.
This particular look was somewhere past agreement but a little south of outright reproach, Bill felt. A tightening of the lips, a slight hooding of the eyes, but yet something sympathetic might be discerned by an experienced and optimistic traveller in those lands.
To take on the forces of darkness and greed. Tiger Man’s the one that the villains should heed.
You can’t make Tiger Man fly.
This was Malcolm.
Yeah I can.
Where’s his booster boots?
He doesn’t need them in this game.
He can’t fly without the boots.
No he can’t.
Can you please be quiet please?
There was beeping from up ahead. Distant but persistent, like a brass band at rehearsals.
He’s quick to the chase and he doesn’t know fear, Watch Out Hoods! Tiger Man’s here!
Why don’t you get out and have a look, see what the problem is.
Bill closed his eyes and let out a sigh. He knew he shouldn’t but it was all he could do.
One day, he thought, one day I’ll get out.
Because by the time I get up to the end, the traffic will start moving and I’ll cause another hold up.
I’ll go. Is that it? Do you want me to go?
No. Just. I’ll go. Just hang on a sec.
It had begun to rain. There was nothing on the radio about a hold up. Bill glanced to his right, to the car stuck in the same direction as his. A far more expensive car but the same dynamic within, two boys off to see Tiger Man, the tense parents up front.
Bill wound down his window. In the other car a button was pressed to the same end.
Do you know what the problem is?
The woman spoke.
There’s an accident up at the next junction, bad one. Radio said there’s a three mile tailback. We’re going to be here a while, I think.
I hope not. We’re off to see Tiger Man.
And us. Well, we hope.
Silent looks of concern were exchanged, sly diagonal looks across the tarmac. They were strangers, united by a longing for Tiger Man.
Bill undid his seatbelt and turned to look at the boys. Malcolm was reading the ingredients off the side of a Tiger Juice carton. Arthur was whispering quietly to his toy.
Are we going to miss Tiger Man, Daddy?
I don’t know. We’re stuck here.
We’re going to try, ok, kids?
Why don’t you get out and have a look?
It’s Tiger Man. It’s Tiger Man.
Bill felt a tension rising in his chest, a raw congestion in his entire being. What to do, what to say? To lie, to guess, to give them hope, to take hope away. Life is a series of failed appointments and missed opportunities, he said to himself. There was no way they would be seeing Tiger Man now. Their hearts would be broken. They'd get over it eventually. After a long teary drive home and some ice cream.
He closes his eyes and remembers a film he’d seen once, a long time ago, where a man floated up into the sky out of a traffic jam. He can recall nothing else about the film, just that image.
It’s Tiger Man. It’s Tiger Man.
He grips the wheel and begins to scream.