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Blackout

I was already awake before my alarm. I’d been awake for a while. I really didn’t need to hear that blasting, so I switched it off and got out of bed, just a few minutes before it would have been due to go off. Feeling less tired than I expected to, I showered and dressed into my work uniform. With my belongings, I walked out to the kitchen. Everything felt familiar again.


“I’m off to work.” I kissed the top of Mum’s head. “Have a good day.”


“Thanks, you too.”


Backpack slung over my shoulder, I walked out to my bike. Sure enough, it was underneath the house, just where I would have expected it to be, although the lack of rust indicated that Mum and Dad had taken good care of it in the interim. I unclipped my helmet, placed it on my head and straddled my bike, riding down the hill with the wind in my hair as I returned to work at the supermarket in Sorell. Arriving out the front of the centre, nobody had moved the bike rack again. I felt a little light-headed as I walked back into Woolworths for the first time since July. Perhaps surprisingly, the shop hadn’t been rearranged.


“Jumilah, it’s so good to see you,” Ricky gushed. “How are you?”


“I’m good, really good.”


“Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of work for you to do,” Ricky assured me, “but first, come and have a cuppa.”


I followed him to the staffroom, where we chatted over tea.


“Jumilah, you’re needed in seafood.”


I downed the remainder of my tea. Discarding the cup in the sink, I scampered out into the store. I arrived at the seafood counter, a relatively unfamiliar work location for me, but they must have been short.


“Hey, I’m here,” I announced, then glanced up with a grin. “Patrick.”


My expression faltered.


“Hey, Jumilah,” he greeted me with glee, wrapping me into a tight hug. “It’s so good to see you again.”


“Yeah.”


The warmth of his body sent a shiver through me. We stepped back from each other.


“It’s good to see you too, Patrick,” I confirmed.


My eyes swept over the prawns, underneath the glass cabinet. The question – of what needed to be done – got stuck in my throat.


“I’m sure that you’ve got plenty of stories of lions and tigers and bears, oh my.”


“Well, lions and tigers, for sure,” I assured. “No bears, though.”


“Other than koala bears.”


I poked out my tongue at him, like nothing had changed.


“Right, we’d better get to work.”


In the seafood section we were bundling up customers’ orders in white paper. Patrick and I returned to the staffroom for lunch at the same time, and I felt like I ought to ask him about Joey and Sloane.


“Yeah, Joey’s great,” he answered as we walked through the staffroom door. “She loves Bluey.”


Patrick giggled.


“Well, I love Bluey,” he conceded. “Can kids really take in TV at that age?”


“Well, she’s only almost four months old,” Maryam reminded, “so I don’t think so, but who knows? Jumilah, good to see you.”


She pulled herself off the chair, more visibly pregnant than when I’d left.


“It’s good to see you too.”


We hugged. It was hard to believe that, twelve months ago, we were all none the wiser about Maryam and Ricky’s relationship.


“How it’s going at your place?”


“Yeah, good,” I answered, with a big smile. “There’s been lots of changes since I left.”


“Anyway, we should get back to work,” Patrick chimed in.


Maryam was first off, to compensate for being slower. I ran my hand over my hair, flustered. As we were walking down the stairs, the lights went out. Patrick instinctively reached for my shoulder.


“It’s alright,” I assured. “The generators will kick in soon if they’re needed.”


However, they did not. Therefore, we needed to evacuate the supermarket. I approached a man using a mobility scooter.


“Hello, sir, I’m sorry, we’ve got to move everyone out with the power going out. Is there anything I can do to help you?”


“Yes, I’d like to bring my groceries with me.”


I instinctively glanced towards the checkouts. With the power out, we couldn’t operate the cash registers. I wanted to just let him bring him shopping with him, even though it could have technically constituted abetting a crime.


“Listen, I’ll wheel out your trolley.”


I took it as far as the roller doors. Trying not to let the man know, I parked the trolley out of the way. Yet, I didn’t want him to think that I had betrayed him or stolen his treasured groceries.


“Look, listen--.”


“Love, I understand.”


This made me feel much better.


“Thank you.”


I glimpsed my watch. Soon I would be pressing into overtime. As long as I documented it, I would get paid. Maryam came over and I explained the situation.


“It’s alright. Head home. We’ll have the next shift coming in and they can deal with the next stretch.”


I accepted the offer, feeling a little queasy from the time stumbling around in the dark. At least I could put into practice some of the skills I’d learned about tracing my own footsteps. Patrick and I went back upstairs to fetch our bags before we could head home.


“You’ve had quite the first day back,” he remarked.


As we fossicked around in the dark, I retrieved my phone from my bag, which thankfully still had a little bit of charge.


“Yeah,” I agreed, and we farewelled each other.


I let my parents know that I would be on the way. Whether or not they had power back home I wasn’t sure. I hoped that there would be electricity. Having those creature comforts wasn’t the be-all and end-all, but it remained appreciated. I rode carefully on the way home, because the street lights weren’t on, although it wasn’t really that dark. It was just as I turned left into our road that they flicked on, although they’re few and far between along our country road. The zoo buildings were in view as I slowed and I indicated, to turn right. I pulled into our driveway, stashed my bike and headed inside, taking the cardboard with me.


“Hi, sayang,” Mum called out. “What happened with the blackout?”


“Powerlines went down, apparently.”


We were just about to have dinner when the phone started ringing. I stood up and went to answer it.


“Hi, good to hear from you.”


“Listen, there’s something I need to tell you,” Reuben divulged.


He let me know that Melbourne’s male giraffe had unexpectedly died. I hadn’t spent that much time with the ungulate division. While Washington was familiar to me, I hadn’t bonded with all of the giraffes.


“We went in this morning and he’d just died,” Reuben explained. “Of course, we knew that he’d been sick, but we really thought that he’d pull through.”


“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I replied, with a heavy sigh. “How are you holding up?”


“I’m alright,” Reuben assured.


It would be his stock-standard response. I wanted to pry further, but didn’t try myself to be able to provide the support that he needed. There were plenty of male giraffes to go around. Still, there was an intense grief involved with losing any animal, but especially a young animal who should have had their whole life ahead of them.


“Honestly, I’m ready to just throw in the towel,” Reuben admitted. “It’s not worth it for us to persevere.”


I thought that it sounded like an extreme response to what had occurred, although I knew that I shouldn’t be the one policing Reuben’s response.


“I’m so, so sorry.”


“You would know more than me about everything that’s happened lately,” Reuben outlined.

I presumed, correctly, that he’d leapfrogged in the conversation to Werribee. Any zoo year was filled with peaks and troughs. After Reuben’s news, I didn’t really feel like doing anything other than going to bed. It wasn’t like there would be a great rush to make nestboxes. Really, it could have been considered wishful thinking at this stage.


 

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.


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