Reuben dropped a newspaper on the table. I smiled, scooping the muesli in my bowl with a spoon.
“Since when have you bought the paper?” I wanted to know.
“Well, look at that.”
Reuben stabbed his finger at the picture on the front page. Sure enough, the calf was printed.
“That’s lovely. Are we announcing the name today?”
“You’d have to ask Bob.”
“Bob is an excellent zookeeper.”
“I know, I know,” I assured, “but I just don’t think naming competitions are his specialty.”
“Yeah, they’re not, really.”
I finished my breakfast, then we departed the cottage.
After walking through the zoo, Reuben and I arrived at the vet hospital together. One of Melbourne Zoo’s male baboons had been brought in for a health check, after being unwell for the last few weeks. He was on the table, having been intubated by Meredith. Emmie arrived in the room.
“Could I please get an extra set of hands from somewhere, Reuben?”
“Jumilah, would you be up to it?” Ella glanced across the room. “Of course, if you’re needed here--.”
“You go, Jumilah,” Reuben urged. “There isn’t anything you can do here.”
I nodded my head and departed, even though my heart thumped within my chest from nerves.
“It’s nothing major,” Emmie assured. “I’m just the only carnivore keeper here today.”
I wondered whether Monica was ill. We did the rounds of the carnivore exhibits, feeding and cleaning.
“Going forward, there are going to be more carnivore species at Werribee,” Emmie divulged.
“Spotted Hyaenas, for one, and hopefully Sumatran Tigers.”
That sounded to me like it would be a great development, to diversify the collection. I headed back to Reuben’s cottage once I was finished with Emmie. He was there, sitting at his laptop, which answered the first question I would have asked, being whether or not the baboon procedure was finished.
“Hey,” I greeted him, and Reuben spun around.
“Sorry, you probably really wanted to stay.”
I shook my head.
I looked at the screen of Reuben’s laptop, the array of faces in the Aus mammals TAG being held two days later than usual.
“How did you get on?”
“There were a few close calls, but we got the job done,” Reuben assured. “He’s fine.”
Reuben sipped his chocolate milk.
“Is everything alright with you?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “Would Meredith like me back there this afternoon?”
“She didn’t say anything, but if you wanted to go back, I’m sure that she wouldn’t have a problem with that.”
Reuben pulled over the other wooden chair.
“Take a seat, join into the meeting.”
I nodded my head and sat down, while Reuben unplugged his headphones. Listening in, they must have been moving through the member reports.
“Unfortunately, our male Tasmanian Devil has died. We still have the female, although she’s getting on in years too.”
The TAG meeting came to an end, on that sad note.
Reuben shut his laptop.
“When are the reptile TAG meetings?”
“I’m not sure, you’d have to ask Vel.”
I made tracks, heading back out into the zoo to spend the afternoon at the vet hospital.
“Dear, could you please show me the way to the gorillas?” an old woman asked, when I was on my way.
“Ah, yes, of course, if you keep going and take the next path on the right, the gorilla exhibit’s just down there.”
“I remember when you used to have babies. Are you going to have babies again soon?”
“Well, we sure hope so.”
“That would be lovely.” She beamed. “Thank you, dear.”
The woman scurried off towards the gorilla exhibit. I made my way back to the vet hospital, where Meredith would be expecting me.
“Hello,” she greeted me. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m alright,” I assured Meredith with a breathless smile, even though it might not have been true. “I was just helping a lady find her way around. She wanted to go and see the gorillas.”
A wave of willingness to be vulnerable overcame me.
“I have PTSD. My grandfather was killed and it happened right in front of me.”
“Jumilah, I’m so sorry.”
“I see a therapist and I take medication, so I do what I can to make it better, but I just thought you should know.”
“Thank you for honouring me with your story.”
Meredith sat down opposite me.
“I used to have more panic attacks, but it’s settled down a lot now, thankfully.”
Meredith nodded her head with sympathy. While I knew I’d experienced something of a vulnerability hangover, telling her felt cathartic.
“Reuben told me that everything went smoothly with the baboon procedure.”
“Yes, mostly,” Meredith confirmed. “It’s never ideal when we’re taking significant individuals out of a troop, but all’s well that ends well.”
“The baboon exhibit is fairly new, isn’t it?”
Meredith nodded her head.
“They were in cages down the front of the zoo before then, an awful enclosure, really.”
“We did used to have a pair of bongo here, we even bred them,” Meredith recalled, “but the female died, she ran into a fence. We phased them out after that.”
“The baboon exhibit is built on that site.”
Meredith closed the cupboards with a dull thud.
“I think that we can call it a day now.”
“Thanks for having me.”
“Thank you for coming.”
I departed the vet hospital and encountered Emmie. The two of us headed for the tiger exhibit on the carnivore trail, putting away other animals for the night on the way there. A quiet envelopes the zoo, when the public have left. Indra prowled across her exhibit, before finding a tuft of grass to roll in. I beamed, feeling the slight warmth of the late afternoon sun on my cheeks.
“That’s the life.”
Once Indra retreated to her dens, Emmie and I ambled back towards the centre of the zoo.
“When are you getting married?”
“September seventeenth. Will you still be around then?”
“Maybe, I’m not sure. I’ve got a couple more weeks here.”
“We’d love to have you at the wedding if you are here.”
“Thank you. That’s really lovely of you.”
We bid each other farewell. I walked back through the zoo with a spring in my step. Emmie inviting me to her wedding was unexpected, although I felt grateful, and I do think I’ve bonded with Vel a bit, despite my relative lack of interest in reptiles. I arrived back at Reuben’s cottage. Just before we were about to eat dinner, Tallulah texted me a photo, a glorious sunset over the Derwent. Feeling a little homesick, I wasn’t far out of bed.
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.