Midway through the day, after we had checked on all the animals in the morning, Nanek and I climbed into the car. My suitcase was on the back seat, I was in the passenger seat and Nanek was going to drive. She touched one hand to the steering wheel and sighed with grief.
“If you need somebody to hang around, I can say,” I offered.
Nanek immediately firmly shook her head.
“No,” she protested. “You must get home and I have others around me, therefore I will be fine”.
Nanek fastened her seatbelt and started to drive. We travelled along the exact same route which we’d taken just a few days earlier on the way back from the airport. The sights, smell and sounds I was absorbing were exactly the same. If I had really wanted to, then I could have easily pretended that nothing had changed, when in fact everything had. It wasn’t until we stopped at the airport that I realised that Nanek was crying. I whispered that I loved her, over and over again, because there was nothing else that I could say, other than my tears.
“I’m being silly, you have a plane to catch.”
She sniffled and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, as I shook my head.
“Today, you are to go home and wait,” Nanek instructed, but she never told me what I was waiting for.
I nodded my head. Her tone made me want to obey. I gave her one last kiss on the cheek, then climbed out, fetching my suitcase. Sobs were rising within my chest and I needed to suppress them, if I was ever going to catch this flight. My body and my heart felt torn between the home where I’d grown up and the place where my mother had been from, where my grandfather had been buried, where my grandmother remains. I’m tethered to this place and I can’t tear away. I blew a kiss, while a plane went overhead, loud and droning. Nanek returned the kiss, then recoiled in her seat. I couldn’t hide my emotion, but I knew that she couldn’t bear to see it, because she needed to be able to go on. How I wished that Mum and Dad could have just come over.
I knew it wasn’t that simple. Clarity is what I crave, amongst other things, amongst so many other things. I walked away from the car, towards the terminal building. As I weaved between the cars, I cried in the hot air, finally able to breathe. I hoped that everything would be better one day, and I tried to pray. Firstly I needed to cross the road, to retrieve my passport, to get through customs. Despite being torn, I needed to get on the plane. It must have been worse for Nanek. I knew that she wasn’t alone. She has her extended family here, my extended family too, even though they seem like strangers. I look like them and speak their language but Hobart is my home. The particulars I must speak are wrote-learnt, beating through the fog in robot-like fashion to complete my tasks.
I realised that I would miss this place, too late, but job done. By then I was on the plane, face still puffy. A flight attendant with her hair in a perfect bun offered me a plastic cup of water. I thanked her profusely in both of my languages, and I wondered what she thought happened to me. While I started to tell her, I stopped myself. I hate pity, I always have. The water tastes nice, but my throat is tight. It gets stuck there and I find myself spluttering it up, the centimetre I have left really not helping, and I don’t know why I thought that it would. She effortlessly pours me another, and it’s nice to know that there are still people who have their lives together. I feel sick with grief, but I don’t say. Eventually the flight attendant needs to move away, pushing her trolley with an annoyed expression on her face. I’m pretty sure it’s not at me though, but that she wasn’t supposed to have the food and beverages out in the first place. I feel bad for her, with the remaining energy that I have to do so, and start counting down the hours to home.
“Just tell me anything,” I say to the man beside me.
He’s older than me, although most likely younger than my parents. He has a round and friendly face and he smiles back when I smile at him while pushing my face back from my face. I felt sorry for him, having to sit next to me.
“I’m Sam,” he introduced. “What’s your name?”
I beam at his Australian accent, a reflex because it catches me off-guard. Maybe it was just his friendliness, despite how I’d felt at home in Indonesia, because of my conflicted feelings. During the safety demonstration I cried because I could not help myself.
“Are you Aussie?” I asked.
The flight attendants point out our closest exits, and for the first time I don’t want to jump from the plane.
“I’m flying back to Singapore, then Sydney.”
“Me too,” I affirmed, “but then I’m flying onto Hobart. That’s where I’m from, well that’s where I live.”
I sensed he’d understand the tension.
“What do you do for work, Sam?”
Running through my small talk kept my mind focused. Otherwise I would focus on anything else, and I didn’t want that.
“I work at Taronga Zoo,” Sam supplied. “I’m the Senior Mammals Curator.”
My heart started to beat faster and I smiled, then the plane started racing along the runway. I must have fastened my seatbelt at some stage, but I didn’t remember.
“Are you looking to import animals into Australia?”
“That wasn’t the purpose of this trip,” Sam outlined, “but we do, when we need fresh blood.”
Sam settled into his seat, just as I was becoming more edgy by the movement. My chest felt tight, but I didn’t say anything.
“Tell me more, I just need to listen to something.”
I tried to bury the back of my head into the headrest. Sam nodded, and I thought that he understood, even though I hadn’t told him why I was so agitated. At least he was kind, and I’m thankful.
“Well, tell me if you’re not following, but there’s a studbook of animals in a breeding program around the world, managed by a studbook keeper. They make recommendations and from that, animals get moved around between zoos in the hope of breeding.”
The plane took off, and I gasped softly. There’s always a moment, between the land and the air, between death and life, but you don’t realise what you no longer have until it’s gone.
“Are you following?” Sam asked.
“Yes,” I agreed, even though I wasn’t looking at him. “My grandparents run a sanctuary.”
I didn’t correct the present tense.
“Right,” Sam replied. “In Hobart?”
“No, here in Sumatra,” I corrected.
There was a moment of silence, probably longer in my mind than it really was. I turned back to look at Sam.
“My grandfather died, that’s why I’m like this.” I generally gestured all over me. “He was shot at the sanctuary, we think my poachers, but we don’t really know.”
“That’s awful, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Sam’s compassion was touching. I wanted to give him a hug, but I couldn’t. Overhead the seatbelt like flicked off. I could have taken mine off, but I didn’t, because it made me feel snug. Stillness felt hard to come by, like I could feel the force of the plane hurtling through the thin air.
“Thank you,” I replied, because that was all that I could say.
“I didn’t catch your name,” Sam admitted.
“Jumilah Fioray,” I introduced myself. “Mum’s Indo, Dad’s Italian, I was born and bred in Tassie, so there you go.”
“Your grandmother is running the sanctuary now, did you say?” Sam checked, appearing interested.
“Yes, she is. I’m worried about her.”
It was the first time that I’d allowed myself to admit it out loud, and to a stranger. There is something about someone removed which brings my guard down. I didn’t realise that that would be the case, because usually I’m afraid about seeming vulnerable. If Sam was holding anguish too, about something, he didn’t show it at all. Just a few days ago I knew what that felt like, but I didn’t anymore. Sam continued to tell me about his work at the zoo, while my eyes were closed. His presence soothed me, as I didn’t have the energy to engage in conversation or silence.
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.