We stayed in the barn past midnight. Really, there wasn’t much which Reuben or I were able to do, the elephant aunties and keepers were responsible for supporting her through labour. Finally, we heard the rush, not as loud as I thought it would be. Chaba trumpeted loudly, then Reuben rose to his feet and rushed in. I leaned to the side, to get a look at the live action in the barn. There wasn’t much that I could see, anyway.
“It’s a boy,” Reuben confirmed when he returned, beaming.
He must have been softened by the exhaustion that comes with an elephant birth. Reuben and I briefly hugged. One of the keepers fetched sparkling apple juice. We stayed at the barn for a bit, before finally returning home, trudging through the zoo in response to the first crack of morning light.
“Are we square?” I asked.
“Of course, we are.”
I popped back to Reuben’s place for a quick shower, and I wanted to call Joel. With all likelihood he might have already known the good news. Reuben took the first shower, but it would have been too early to call Western Australia. Instead, I found myself calling Patrick. No matter how excited I was to tell him, he didn’t answer. When Reuben emerged from the shower, dressed for the day, his hair was still a little damp.
“Your turn for the shower. I know that you might want to sleep--.”
“It’s alright, I know that I need a shower.”
I scampered through to the bathroom. Once I’d showered and dressed, Reuben and I were able to begin another cold winter’s day at Melbourne Zoo. We went around to Wild Sea, where the Australian Sea Lion bull leapt up onto the rocks to greet us.
He’s a very personable sea lion.
“Have you ever thought of breeding with this fella?”
“Nah.” Reuben shook his head. “We don’t breed here.”
“They breed at Taronga,” I pointed out, knowing how to push Reuben’s buttons.
“I know they do,” he responded, with something of an eye roll, “but they have the shows. That’s why they breed there.”
We came across one of the female marine mammals keepers, Beth.
“Ah, Beth, can you please give Jumilah here the grand tour?”
“Yes, of course,” she agreed. “It’s great to have you join us.”
“Well, I’ll be off,” Reuben farewelled, glimpsing his watch. “You’re in good hands.”
I nodded my head. Reuben left, allowing Beth to take me on a tour. Our first stop was a pool containing a female fur seal, Melbourne’s last.
“We used to have two females, but one of them passed away not too long ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“All the years the rescued seals have here, is a blessing, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier.”
Beth and I shifted back into the on-display area.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t really have anything else for you to do at the moment,” Beth admitted, “so you’re more than welcome to go back and find Reuben. If you can’t shadow him, you can come back to me.”
“Alright, thanks for the tour.”
I departed Wild Sea, locating Reuben back on the Main Drive. We greeted each other.
“We’re going to move the cotton-tops from Adelaide into their exhibit on Monday,” Reuben told me. “We’ll have them on both sides of the path in Treetop Monkeys and Apes.”
“That sounds great.”
We ambled through the zoo, ending up in the direction of the Growing Wild precinct.
“You know, it almost could be considered the South American Treetop Monkeys and Apes. There’s really only the gibbons and the colobus which aren’t.”
“Ah, I’d love an Amazon trail, wouldn’t that be amazing?” Reuben remarked.
“Yes, it would be,” I mused.
I decided to let myself dream for a moment, as we wandered around Melbourne Zoo – the monkeys and macaws in the trees, with tapirs roaming on the ground.
“It’s Alex’s last day,” Reuben mentioned. “Has he told you that?”
“We’re losing him to Werribee.”
“That’s what happens when you give them gorillas.”
“That sounds like something I would say.”
I smiled. Reuben consulted his watch.
“I’d better make tracks. Work to do.”
“See you later.”
“You know, if you’re keen,” Reuben mentioned, “there’s probably still cake in the staffroom.”
We headed in opposite directions. I turned up at the staffroom where, sure enough, a half-eaten cake was in the centre of the table.
“Have some,” Violet urged, gesturing towards the cake as she made her own way out of the staffroom.
I cut myself a slice, then slipped back out of the empty staffroom. Cake in hand, I walked off through the zoo, down the Main Drive. I looped around the Carnivores Trail the long way, past the tigers. Indra was out on exhibit, playing about in the wet leaf litter. Eventually, she settled down to rest. Therefore, I made tracks to reach my original destination, the place where I’d be able to enjoy my cake. I took a moment to sit down by the window, where the hyaenas were snuggled up against the glass. Leaning against the wall, I stretched out my legs. There were certainly worse places to be. I consumed the celebratory baked goods, savouring them and the opportunity to watch the chests of Melbourne Zoo’s newest residents, rise and fall without a care in the world. Hopefully they would have a peaceful life here. Eventually, quietness and darkness started to fall upon the grounds, so I could hear the swish of the water at Wild Sea nearby as a more pronounced sound. I heard a squawk of a bird, which might have been from the Amazon aviary. Apparently the number of birds at Melbourne Zoo will be increasing soon. I returned home to a warm house. Reuben made fish in a box and oven chips for dinner.
“I’m sorry, this is all we’ve got for now.”
“That’s alright,” I assured. “I’ll make another exception to my vegetarianism.”
“Oh, I forgot--.”
I flashed Reuben a grin.
“Don’t worry, I eat soto padang.”
Even though I didn’t think that Reuben would recognise it, he smiled.
“I remember your mother cooking that, at university. It was delicious.”
Reuben’s eyes lit up. I smiled, even though I could feel my heartrate rise with a velocity I didn’t appreciate.
“Yeah, it is delicious,” I agreed, then ate my fish and chips with haste, even though seafood makes me a little queasy.
“Are you OK?”
“I have a complicated relationship with eating meat.”
“You don’t have to eat it.”
“Usually, I would say I’m a vegetarian.”
I set down my plate.
“But, soto padang, that’s my grandparents’ best recipe. We also have turmeric and lime fish at Christmas time, that’s something which Mum’s good at making.”
“So, you’re the reverse of a Christmas and Easter vegetarian?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
I finished off my chips.
“I can do a lot of things with tofu, let me tell you. I’ve made a cheesecake with tofu.”
Reuben appeared impressed.
“Are you breeding your GLTs, here?”
Reuben shook his head.
“Not at the moment, she’s contracepted.”
“The man from Adelaide mentioned something at the carnivore meeting yesterday. He talked about importing clouded leopards.”
“Yeah, right,” Reuben responded, before stashing his last mouthful of dinner between his lips.
“I thought that it sounded like a reasonable plan, I’ve gotta say.”
“You should get some sleep,” Reuben advised. “We’ve had a big last few days.”
“Alright,” I conceded, even though I was still buzzing. “Goodnight.”
I got up from the lounge and left the room.
“Goodnight,” Reuben called after me.
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.