While we drove to the airport, I called Wayne. He didn’t answer, but this didn’t surprise me, as I figured he would be working.
“Hi, Wayne, it’s Jumilah calling from Sorell Woolworths. I’m really sorry, I can’t work today. In fact I’m not exactly sure when I’ll be back, it’ll be a few days.”
His voicemail was just going to have to cop it. Dad pulled off the road to take the exit to the airport, where we’d leave the car for Luke to come and collect later in the day, once he’d knocked off work. He parked in the carpark and I yawned as we piled out of the car, too tired but knowing that we needed to get on the plane, if we were going to pull this off. Duffel bags over our shoulders, I followed Mum and Dad towards the terminal. Just before we passed through the automatic doors, I checked over my shoulder. I couldn’t guarantee when I would return. We approached the security gates.
“There you go.”
Dad handed me a tray.
I placed my belongings into it, then placed it down on the conveyer belt to be checked by the machines. One by one we filed through the gates, as requested. I waited for an alarm, but there wasn’t one. This was something I could feel a little grateful for, for something at least. Bags collected, I took in the sights of the airport. Last time I was there was when I returned from Sumatra. The time before that felt golden, when I was on my way, fractions of fractured light from the past. I checked the boards, and it was time to move towards the plane. To be calm I needed to make sure that we were settled in our seats long before the plan would need to take off, because I didn’t want to feel claustrophobic.
“Does anyone need to go to the toilet or have something to eat?” Mum checked.
“Yeah, I probably should,” I agreed.
Mum and I made our way to the women’s toilets, while Dad went to find himself a coffee.
“What time is it, Jumilah?” Mum asked.
“Just after 5:15,” I confirmed, after consulting my watch. “We do have a little bit of time.”
“It’ll be fine,” Mum promised.
We went into cubicle next to each other. I knew I needed to go to the toilet before I got on the plane, so that I could be relaxed. As best as I could I tried to distract myself from my headache, and before I knew it, I was back out the front washing my hands.
“Everything alright, isn’t it?”
“Well, it will be,” Mum assured, shaking her hands to dry them, even though she sounded understandably skeptical. “Ibu has been speaking with the officials and with Reuben to secure the right permits, to export the animals.”
This had the potential to be our biggest stumbling block.
“Otherwise, they’d say that we’re no better than smugglers.”
We exited the bathrooms. Sure enough, Dad had found a coffee, just one for him and not one for Mum or I, but we didn’t want them, anyway. We decided to head towards the boarding queue.
“Good morning,” the woman from the airline greeted us.
I didn’t know how she could be so cheery at this hour.
“Sorry, sir, you’ll need to finish that before you can get on the plane.”
Dad was happy to oblige, although I wasn’t sure how he did that, either.
“My pleasure,” he assured, before stashing his reusable cup back into his carry-on bag.
The woman checked our boarding passes, then we walked out the automatic doors towards the plane, a magnificent thing on the tarmac. It gleamed white amidst the darkness.
“Are you alright?” Mum checked.
I knew that we kept saying it because we weren’t. All was coming together at breakneck speed to evacuate both the animals and Nanek. Safety would not be far away, but the need for it stung like salt in a wound.
“Yes,” I promised, and we climbed the metal stairs, clanging underneath our feet.
We greeted and showed our boarding passes once again to the flight attendants waiting on the plane, who could direct us to our chairs. I don’t quite know why you’ve got to actually show it to so many people.
“Who wants the window seat?” Dad asked and I could tell he was trying to lighten the mood.
“You have it, Mum,” I permitted.
“That would be nice, actually, thank you,” she accepted, shifting down the row.
This would not be the flight that would take us to Sumatra.
“Are you happy in the middle?” Dad checked.
“Yes,” I confirmed, then slotted into my seat. “Are you fine?”
We were flying to Sydney. Other passengers filled up the plane, even though it was only about half-full when the safety demonstration started. I found myself only half-listening. After all, it hadn’t been that long ago that I had last been on a plane like this, on this route, hurtling into a future I never could have known.
Nanek cried when she saw Mum, once our travel was over. She told her that she loved her. They held each other for a long time, which was necessary, despite the work which was needed. Finally it was Mum who broke it up, and urged that we move to the car. Mohammed drove us back to the sanctuary, occasionally mumbling to himself along the way. When we arrived, they set out the plan. We loaded the animals into the crates, myself responsible for the gibbons. My head thumped but the task was clear. Once the animals were loaded into the crates they could be loaded into the trucks.
“Alright, we’re ready to go,” I murmured, padding backwards through the leaf letter.
The truck rolled in closer. I wasn’t sure if I trusted myself to lift the crates.
“We’ve got trolleys,” Dad mentioned, stepping down from the back and hoicking it after him.
“Aren’t I glad?” I remarked.
The trolleys helped us to shift the animals onto the truck, ready to drive to the next site. Gibbons thrashed about inside. There remained one left, as the wind picked up.
“There’s no point preserving this mesh,” Dad decided. “It’s no good to anyone anymore.”
He might have been right, but it still caught me off-guard.
“Alright,” I agreed, my chest tightening and my heart starting to beat faster.
I didn’t want him saying that in front of Nanek.
“You need to get a food reward to bring him down,” Dad urged, even though we were trying to wait to feed them.
I don’t want the animals to starve, but there’s only so much room in the crates. Nodding, I rushed through the jungle.
“Here you go,” Nanek offered.
There is still some food remaining, although she won’t need more supplies. Even if they’ve been ordered, if they’re delivered they’ll go to waste. I thanked her, and promised her that I love her. Nanek told me with a wicked smile that she’d be able to get Laki into the crate in no time. I didn’t need to worry, I’d learn. This made me feel a little better about myself. I want to work with animals, but I hadn’t voiced this ambition aloud, because there have been other things to do in the meantime. Nanek assured me that she’d told me, while Laki was secured into the crate. Dad lifted him into the back of the truck, Mum and I following after because there are not enough seats in the cabin. He closed the doors.
“Are you alright?” Mum asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“When you were little, you were afraid of the dark.”
I could hear some of the animals whimpering.
I did remember, even though I was trying not to.
“Yeah, I used to have to tuck you into bed, and pat your curls and read you stories while you went off to sleep.”
I could have felt ashamed, embarrassed by the story from my childhood. The idea sounded beautiful, making my heart ache even more. Just after the truck started, we drove away. The movement felt calming. I could hear hushed voices coming from the cabin, but I couldn’t fully understand what they were saying. They probably weren’t talking to me, so it didn’t really matter after all. I wondered what impact the movement would have on the animals. All I could do was wait and listen to the staccato of my heart, until we arrived at a relative’s property near the airport, where we would all stay the night before the flight in the morning.
“It’s going to be OK,” came a whispered voice within the cabin of the truck, like a desperate plea to the dark.
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.