I awoke early, not even needing an alarm. A warm, overcast morning beckoned me, as I showered and dressed in the low light. After filling the bucket, I walked outside. I fed the macaques and let them out into their exhibit for the day, finding myself wondering if they were missing the crowds. If anything, this time of quiet might have provided respite. I looped up past the dhole exhibit, pausing for a moment. By the end of the day, the grass would no longer be empty. The zoo would be coming together, adding another species through my flight to Sydney to collect the dholes, but first I needed to attend to the rest of the animals which had already made Acarda Zoo their home. On my way to the siamangs, I ran through the rest of the planned arrival dates, dividing up the species by when and how they were due to come to their new homes. Getting to the island, I let the family out of their night-house and fed them a breakfast of fruit. From the top of the climbing structure, the siamangs have fantastic views out across the view, which hopefully would be enriching. I returned home, Hunter crossing my mind. It would have passed muster for me to call him at some stage, to update him. Still, there was a plane to catch. I would fly to Sydney, collect the dholes, then come back and release them into their new home in Tasmania, all grassy and purpose-built for the three of them. I walked down the carpeted hallway towards the plane, feeling a little light-headed. Once I boarded the plane, I showed my ticket to the flight attendant, then located my seat. I sat down, feeling a little jittery. If I told Sam the story, would he laugh? Would he cry? Probably neither, out of politeness. We were colleagues, not teenage girlfriends, giggling darkly at my romantic misfortunate. The flight attendants gave the safety demonstration. While I’d first met Sam on a plane, there was nobody in the middle seat to my left. Once the flight attendants took their seats, I knew the flight would commence shortly. We lifted into the sky. The flight wasn’t the smoothest, my chest feeling tight most of the way. I disembarked the plane at Sydney Airport. Sam would be meeting me there with the dholes, to be loaded onto the flight for the next leg home to Hobart. I’d been told that I would need to attend the cargo counter. Wandering up there, I offered a confident smile.
“Hi, I’m Jumilah Fioray.”
The woman smiled back opposite.
“You’re here for the, what are they called?”
“Ah, yes. When I first saw it, I thought you meant baby dolls.”
“Oh, no, not quite.”
As the airport worker led me through, I was distracted by the dryness of my throat. It would have been nice to indulge in a sip of water, but I didn’t have the time nor opportunity to. Soon I would see my colleague and more significantly, the animals. When I spotted him, Sam’s round face was illuminated by the summer sun.
“What’s the matter?”
I wasn’t sure how much to divulge. Hey, I got broken up with in front of a Christmas tree, how about that?
“I’m alright,” I assured.
I reached into my bag to check my phone, although before I had the chance, I knew that it was ill-advised in the circumstances.
“The flight alight?”
I caught a glimpse of a red coat, through the wooden slats of the transport crate.
“Yes,” I promised. “I can call you when I get back home.”
“I’d appreciate that, thank you.”
“Will do,” I farewelled Sam with a wave.
The crates were loaded onto the next flight. I thanked the airport staff then boarded the plane. The flight to Hobart felt like liminal space, in which I couldn’t contact Nanek, or even my parents. Once we touched down, I made sure to exhale before I unclipped my seatbelt. The image of Kakek’s body on the ground flashed before my field of vision. To ground myself, I reflected upon the tasks I would need to complete upon our landing, safe, in Hobart. Mum and Dad would be waiting for me, with the van, to transport the dholes back home. We would shift them into the back-of-house area of their enclosure, releasing them into the dens, so that they would have time to adjust. I finally applied my attention to the in-flight entertainment system. The free options were somewhat limited, but I tracked down a wildlife documentary. Its focus was reptiles – with striking cinematography of crocodiles gliding through the waters of the Nile, tortoises meandering, and even a python stretching its jaw. I wouldn’t have thought that even I would have considered a snake to be cute, having a little yawn, but I smiled nonetheless, just before we were told that we needed to pin up our tray tables, to prepare for landing. In Hobart, the flight touched down. I excused myself from my seat as soon as I was permitted to, leaving via the aisle, through the door, and down the metal stairs. As I walked down onto the tarmac, I pictured the Christmas tree. The shape of Patrick’s lips was never far from my thoughts, the sound of his voice as he ended our relationship for good. This wasn’t the thing I needed to be pondering, though, because I had to ensure that the dholes were safely transported back home. I gave Mum a quick hug. Then, we slipped into our seats to head for home. Allegedly, my heart wasn’t racing, even though I felt a little jittery until the expansive grounds came into view. We were able to park on the top side of the zoo grounds, where we were met with hands on deck to lift the crates. Of course, the dholes were heavier than the tarsiers, or even macaques, had been.
Medan and Georgia greeted the dholes with their beautiful, deep-throated song. They would have heard those calls before, but back in Sumatra, and not for the last ten months since leaving pre-arrival quarantine. I hoped this song would sound like a homecoming, calming the dholes down rather than startling them. We lined the crates up in the dens. These facilities had been purpose-built, but we were still learning how to use them. I noticed that my hands were shaking, so I took a breath and grounded myself. My anxiety wasn’t helpful in this situation. Thankfully, once we raised the doors, the dholes moved into their new dens. Shortly after, they were released into the exhibit. I exited the back-of-house area. The summer air, by the late afternoon, dappled a hint of coolness against my cheeks. I easily could have stayed there, out the front of the exhibit, in the relative quiet of the zoo, but I knew that they needed their own space as well. With the dholes settled, I headed inside the house. I strode through into my bedroom and opened up the Spotify app on my phone, pressing play on the first track which came up. For a moment I dropped onto my bed, running through the other tasks I could have, should have been completing. Rolling onto my side, I sighed. Before we could go out, I needed to wash. While in the shower, I washed my hair, then strained the water from it so that it wouldn’t drip while I was trying to dry the rest of my body and get dressed for dinner. Once in my clothes, I blow-dryed it, running a brush through it haphazardly. Mum and Dad returned from feeding the animals outside. They quickly readied themselves. We headed into town, being treated to drinks in a pub in Salamanca, with Uwak Andrew and Kem. We toasted them with lemonade, served in beer glasses. As I sipped from my drink, I felt exhausted from the day, but that wasn’t the point.
“Would you like to head back to our place for dinner?” Uwak offered.
“We could just have dinner here, couldn’t we, treat ourselves?” Dad suggested.
“Oh, I’ve already got food at home which needs eating,” Uwak mentioned, which answered the question.
I would have liked to stay, also, but I understood why we weren’t. We couldn’t afford, quite literally, to be too choosy. Therefore, we finished our drinks and got up to leave the place, but Mum was searching around the stool upon which she’d been perched.
“What’s the matter?”
“Oh, I just can’t find my phone.”
Eventually, we spied it – it must have dropped into a folded-up umbrella on the ground. Mum grasped her phone, checking that it wasn’t cracked. As we departed the pub, the sky above us swirled with deep pinks and periwinkle blues. The summer evenings could start to get a little chilly, before I would even realise. We walked back to the car which was parked across the street. I glanced across the park, recalling the night before and feeling a shiver go through my body. From there we strode up the hill to Uwak Andrew and Kem’s apartment. Heading up the stairs and inside, Uwak Andrew tracked down some leftover Indian takeaway in the fridge, which he heated up. With some out-of-the-freezer samosas, the five of us sat around on the bed. We stuffed our faces with rice and curry.
Jumilah Fioray is a recent high school graduate from lutruwita, Tasmania. Her parents, Catherine and Adriano Fioray, met at the University of Melbourne in the 1990s and returned to Hobart after finishing their degrees, where they raised their daughter and worked in agriculture. Jumilah's passion for conservation reflects her grandparents' work running a sanctuary in Sumatra.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey has long had a passion for the weird and the wonderful of stories, sport and zoo animals. 'From the Wild' is her first anthology.