Nikki was going to take me back to the doctor. I did feel anxious, because I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to go to Werribee. Sure, Nikki had found me something to do while I was out of action at Healesville, but I would be new to Werribee and expected to be working with much larger and potentially more dangerous animals. Sitting in the waiting room, I felt short of breath. This little country doctor’s practice was nice enough. It wasn’t that different to the clinic back home.
I rose to my feet and followed the doctor, with Nikki waiting for my privacy, though I didn’t mind.
“Take a seat,” he urged.
I sat down. He closed the door behind us.
“How can I help you?”
“I hurt my wrist falling off a ladder.”
So that the doctor could take a look at it, I extended my arm.
“Your wrist is fine, it’s just sprained.”
I breathed out with relief.
“That’s good to hear.”
“I’ll give you a brace, which will provide you with a bit of support. See how you go with it, and if you’re not in pain when you don’t wear it, then you can take it off.”
The doctor fitted me with the brace, which slipped over my hand. As the surgery bulk-billed, I didn’t have to pay. We stepped out into the bright sunlight, returning to Nikki’s car to drive back to Healesville Sanctuary. Hopefully this beautiful weather would remain for Emmie and Vel’s wedding. Nikki parked in the staff carpark, then I followed her into the sanctuary grounds. Our first destination was the wildlife hospital. Nikki fetched her radio, then headed off for her Friday rounds.
“All staff, Nikki to all staff. I am back on site and making my way around. Jumilah is with me.”
“Thanks for that, Nikki,” Pearl replied over the radio. “I’ll see you soon, no doubt.”
Sure enough, her statement pulled accurate. Going right from the wildlife hospital, Nikki and I entered what was called Kangaroo Country on the maps. A group of Tasmanian Pademelons were housed in the first of the walk-through sections. None of them required medical attention, but their exhibit worked as a good shortcut.
“I reckon they would be a good species for you. Like, you’re Tasmanian, they’re Tasmanian.”
She laughed, but that didn’t mean her point wasn’t serious.
“Do you know how many there are in zoos and wildlife parks?”
“They’re relatively common, actually. More common than Red-Necked or Red-Legged.”
“Oh, that’s good, I wouldn’t have realised that.”
We reached the area for the Kangaroo Island Kangaroos, with their chocolate-brown fur, one of which would be the first patient.
“If you could choose any species to have at your zoo, what would you pick?” Nikki proposed.
“Oh, Sumatran Rhinos would be my ultimate fantasy species. That’s an easy question.”
I smiled fondly.
“If I remember right, there’s a photo of my mum with one, when she was a little girl. The rhino is a long, long way off in the background, though.”
“A wild one?”
“That is cool.”
“Hello,” Pearl greeted us.
She was crouched on the grass, beside one of the younger kangaroos.
“Ruthie keeps licking her wounds.”
The name reminded me of the chimpanzee at Taronga Zoo, with the checkered reproductive history.
“Oh, you silly billy.”
Ruthie bent over, like a cat. She thoroughly applied her tongue to a red, bleeding atch near where her tail joined her body. Nikki grasped her radio.
“Derek, could you please come to KI roos with a blood test kit?” She placed the radio back and turned to Pearl. “I just want to check her white blood cell count.”
Pearl nodded with understanding. She ran a hand over her hair, and I noticed that her nails were painted rainbow. Just before I had the chance to compliment her, Derek arrived.
“There we go, thank you. You’re as nimble as a numbat.”
“That takes me back.” Derek turned to me. “We used to keep a numbat, but not anymore.”
Nikki took blood, just to be safe.
“Good girl, you’re a good girl.”
She rubbed the injection site with a swab. Nikki handed the vial over to Derek.
“Can you please check that for me?”
He stashed it, to take back to the hospital.
“We’ll let you know once we get the results.”
We let ourselves out of the walk-through exhibit. Upon our return to the wildlife hospital, Derek departed to process the blood test. I slunk off to the admin block, at Margie’s request.
“Thank you so much for having me here,” I told her. “I hope that we’ll keep in touch.”
“Oh, of course we will.”
Margie set out some tasks for me to finish off, before needing to return to her own office. Nikki ambled into the working space.
“Hi. Is there something you want me to do?”
She nodded, approaching the desk.
“Jumilah, can I check the CCTV cameras near the wombat exhibit?” Nikki requested. “The outdoor one.”
“Yeah, of course,” I permitted, bringing up the feed and feeling every bit the pro.
These skills would come in handy once again, hopefully.
“What’s the matter, Nikki?” Margie wanted to know.
“I just wanted to run over if there was anything the volunteers had missed.”
Satisfied, Margie retreated to her office. I hoped nothing was wrong, on either front. The tape ended, and I finished off my admin work. Nikki was still hanging around. I could hear a faint hum, which might have been a vacuum cleaner, so it was time to go elsewhere.
“You know, I was a wildlife carer back in Tasmania.” I’d not told Nikki this story before. “We’ve only been doing it this year. We thought that it would be good experience with getting the zoo up and running, and besides it’s good to give back. Anyway, we looked after this orphaned wombat. We named her Lowanna, it’s the palawa word for ‘woman’.”
“Yeah, right,” Nikki responded, showing her interest by maintaining eye contact.
“Last I heard, she’s still alive.” I sighed. “We haven’t been very good at keeping in touch with Carol, though, especially since I’ve been on the mainland.”
“I’m sure that you did your best,” Nikki told me.
We separated briefly, so that I could have a bit of free time, downtime on my final afternoon at the sanctuary. There were many highlights around the loop, like Healesville’s famous platypussary, where the species has bred. The swish of the monotreme through the water, reminded me of the giant animal we’d released from Dodges Ferry. I let myself into the swamp wallaby exhibit, to bid my farewell to the four girls. Madi and Awaba hopped over first. The others remained lounging in the shade, although I didn’t blame them. I crouched down and gave Madi a bit of a scratch on the neck, just like she preferred.
“Goodbye, girls,” I eventually farewelled them.
I departed through the gate, and spotted movement beyond the enclosure. The baby skink crawled over the rock. I smiled. Such a little animal, but a gorgeous one. I wasn’t exactly sure of the species, but I hoped the skink would forever be wild. The flapping of my heart was wild enough for me, though. I knew my love came from the wild, for the wild.
“Oh, there you are.”
“Sorry,” I apologised to Nikki. “I just had to say goodbye.”
“Are we going back to the wildlife hospital?”
“It’s alright,” Nikki assured.
She checked her watch.
“By the time we got back anyway, it would pretty much be clock-off time.”
Therefore, we headed out to the carpark and left the sanctuary in Nikki’s car. I’ve loved my time at Healesville. I made sure to take a last look. I’d miss the place and the people, and I would definitely miss the animals – baby Ori the little tree kangaroo, and the swamp wallaby girls. On the way back to the Roberts’ farm, a police car passed in the other direction. I found myself following it with my gaze. Nikki said nothing, so I tried to distract myself with thoughts of the wedding. What sort of dress would Emmie wear? I was pretty sure she and Vel were taking photos at the zoo. The carnivore exhibits would provide wonderful backdrops. By the time the zoo closed, the golden light would be beautiful, to illuminate the happy couple. I could feel that my phone was ringing, through the vibration. So, I reached into my bag and retrieved it, answering the call from Mum.
“Hello, Jumilah,” she greeted me, in a sombre voice. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, what’s the matter?”
“They’ve made an arrest, of some of the poachers. They’re the people who killed my father.”
I sunk back into the seat.
“And they’ve got them for murder?”
“No, not yet,” Mum qualified, “but they will, I know they will. The police tracked them down with tiger carcasses.”
“Oh, that’s awful.” I wiped my nose. “How is Nanek holding up?”
“She’s alright, she’s a stoic lady.”
“How are you?”
Mum gave her customary dry laugh.
“I’m alright, I’m--.” I could hear her breathing over the phone. “It’s a strange thing. They finally got them. I should feel relieved, but I just feel nothing.”
I breathed out.
“Mum, I love you so much,” I promised her.
“What are you doing at the moment?”
“I’m just on the way back to where I’m staying. Reuben’s going to come and pick me up.”
“For the wedding.”
“Yeah. I’m really looking forward to it.”
“That’s great. Take care, Jumilah. I love you.”
“You too, Mum.”
We ended the call. I thought about who else I might have been able to call and tell – Uwak Andrew and Kem already would have known. Maybe Patrick, although I didn’t want to go there – we weren’t each other’s problem anymore. My heart felt heavy, my arm aching. Things were going to be alright, but it wouldn’t bring Kakek back. I lowered my phone from my ear. The cool of the screen pressed against my palm, I took a breath, as Nikki flicked on her blinker.
“My, um, grandfather’s killers,” I divulged. “They’ve arrested them.”
My heart was beating a little faster than usual when Nikki drove in the Roberts’ driveway and approached the house. Their cars were out the front like usual, although the ute was gone – most likely because Mr Roberts was working in one of the paddocks, but it didn’t stop my mind from wandering to the worst of places, until I was out of the car. I closed the door behind me, waving Nikki farewell. As she drove away, I turned around. I noticed that there was washing on the line and a basket underneath it, with clouds brewing. With haste I plucked off the clothes, dropping the garments into the basket and the pegs into the bag, before escorting them inside. I slotted back in the sliding door. Mrs Roberts, standing in the kitchen, spun around, like I’d accidentally startled her.
“Hello, I didn’t realise that you were home already.”
“I just thought I’d bring the washing in. It looks like it might be about to rain soon.”
“Oh, you’re a gem,” Mrs Roberts gushed. “I don’t know what I’ll do without you when you go.”
I set the washing basket down at the end of the dining table.
“You’ll be an asset to that sharehouse,” Mrs Roberts assured. “You normally live at home with your parents, don’t you, love?”
“That’s correct,” I confirmed. “I’ve never really been in a sharehouse before, but it’s not long, so I’m sure that I’ll get used to it.”
“If they love you there, then you might not want to leave.”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll want to go back, eventually.”
We heard the car outside, Reuben approaching the farm.
“I’ll get the gate, you get your bag.”
I nodded my head, then scampered off to collect my luggage to head back to Melbourne. Once I returned, Reuben and Mrs Roberts were both down by the gate to the farm. The cool evening breeze blew against my face, as I approached them.
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Reuben and Mrs Roberts shook hands.
“Thank you for having me.”
Mrs Roberts and I hugged. Then, Reuben and I departed the farm, my bag at my feet in the front seat. I took an extra moment to glance over my shoulder as he drove away, grateful for the opportunities I’d received here.
“We’ve got to drop in at the airport on the way,” Reuben told me.
“We’re collecting Emmie’s parents and taking them to their hotel.”
“Alright. Will Emmie be there when we get there?”
“Yes, she will be, with Vel.”
We drove to the airport and parked, not far from where Reuben had on that very first night, when he’d collected me off my flight from Tasmania.
“The wedding cake is at the zoo and they’re keeping it safe doing the things which they know how to do.”
“You haven’t ever been married, have you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
As Reuben and I got out of the car, we spotted a middle-aged couple approaching from across the skybridge. Their red hair and pale, freckled skin was unmistakable as matching Emmie’s, as well as their cheery punctuality.
“Welcome to Australia,” Reuben greeted them with a grin, putting on a brave face.
Mr and Mrs Quinn seemed grateful for the lift. We arrived at the hotel, struggling to find a place to park.
“I can take Mr and Mrs Quinn up, if you like,” I offered to Reuben.
“Oh, don’t you worry about us,” Mrs Quinn insisted, in her thick Irish accent. “Our Emmie will be there.”
He accepted that, letting them out of the car with their luggage, the two of us remaining inside. Another piece of the wedding puzzle was in place. Therefore, Reuben and I drove back to Melbourne Zoo, feeling like a homecoming of sorts as he parked in his spot near his cottage, once an office block.
“You know, they caught the poachers. Mum called me on the way back from Healesville.”
Abbey Sim is a candidate for Honours in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. She lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Having started Huldah Media in 2021, Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.