I didn’t need an alarm to wake me up, even before dawn. It had been a restless night.
“Are you dressed?” Mohammed asked, appearing in the doorway.
I’d slept in my clothes the night before, to be ready. We had about half an hour to make sure that the animals had been fed, and could be loaded back into trucks for the final leg to the airport. I splashed through a puddle as I exited the room where I’d spent the night. Gentle rain pattered against my hair. I must have gotten some sleep, because I couldn’t remember the downpour. Maybe it had just slipped my mind.
“Are you happy to move the gibbons?” Mohammed checked.
“Yes,” I confirmed, fond of those animals.
I could sense their unease.
“We’re moving again,” I promised Mawar, through the mesh of the cage she was being kept.
I didn’t know whether talking to her made it better, even if it was anthropomorphic.
“Here you go.” Mohammed placed down the crate.
“There’s food already in there.”
Hopefully Mawar would be able to smell the reward, so that she would move into the crate, once I’d slid open the door to the temporary cage.
“Come on,” I urged, gesturing her down. “This is where your breakfast is.”
Back at the sanctuary, the animals had more agency. I lament their fate, but at least they are still alive. Eventually Mawar shifted, with Laki not far behind. They needed to be crated separately.
“Are you good?”
Mohammed is a kind man.
I didn’t think that he would be testing me. Once Mawar was safety into the crate, I shut the slide door. Mohammed yanked the crate out of the way and I replaced it with the next, to house Laki. Mohammed’s phone rung, or it must have because he answered a phone call as he walked around in a circle, becoming increasingly frustrated. Of course, Laki startled, and swung back across the cage, an opportunity lost.
“The plane’s been delayed,” Mohammed announced. “We’re going to have to wait until tonight to try again, which means--.”
“That we have to keep the animals here all day.”
This wasn’t news I wanted to hear. It came with danger, and any animals already loaded would need to be let back into their cages, because otherwise it would be cruel.
“Surely there’s something else which we can work out,” I pleaded.
“I’m sorry, Jumilah,” Mohammed apologised. “If there was another way--.”
I nodded my head, sadly, because I believed him – he loves these animals, and wouldn’t be choosing this outcome. My heart thudded, my brain feeling like it could have been about to burst. The animals needed to be offloaded back into the cages, because at least then they would have slightly more room than in their crates. I worked studiously, because you need to always be careful when you’re working with animals, for their wellbeing and yours. We went back to the house, belonging to my great uncle, where breakfast was prepared. I murmured my thanks, even though I didn’t feel like eating. Nanek urged that I eat up, too, and I eventually did, because I couldn’t bring myself to argue with her. Steam rose into my face. Mohammed walked in and out of the open doorway, on and off the phone. I only ever picked up about half of the conversation, and I wondered if he was shifting in and out of earshot on purpose. What I did hear made me feel even sicker to my stomach, so I was sure that eating wasn’t helping. Nanek promised me again that it would. We were eating when shots ricocheted beyond the leaves, compelling me to slam my head towards the table. Mohammed left, shouting, and seemed to return just as quickly, as I trembled and clung to Mum and Nanek on either side. She murmured prayers, against my clammy hair.
“They’re gone, they’re gone.”
I was forced to believe him, as Mum’s arms held me tight. Eventually, she let me go and I burst into a standing positon.
“We cannot stay here,” I begged under my breath. “We’ve got to move the animals, they know where we are now.”
“They’re gone,” Mohammed repeated. “We will take the flight tonight, there will be no more delays.”
For the first time his voice was firm enough, that I needed to take no for an answer. Nanek tried to supply me with more food, so that we would be able to get through the longest day of our lives.
Once night fell, Nanek and Mohammed told us the plane would be ready. We loaded the animals with haste, not caring for the noise that they made. They are obviously as unsettled as we are, but we had to move quickly. The truck drove towards the airport, under the cover of dark. I remained in the back, with the animals, and Mum. It only should have been a few minutes, we could hear the planes. Still, once we stopped, I could hear shouting voices, and I didn’t fully understand what they were saying. I wore an oversized shirt and knee-length, baggy shorts – the clothes I had on hand.
“We should be going by now.”
Mum and I didn’t have a way of communicating with Nanek, Dad and Mohammed in the front of the truck. I wondered if they were struggling to get through into the airport, onto the tarmac, to unload the crates. A faint dripping noise threatened to drive me crazy. It just as easily could have still be raining.
“What’s that?” I asked.
Maybe Mum couldn’t hear it. The animals were getting increasingly restless.
“There’s a dripping noise.”
I tried to be quiet.
“I’m sorry, Jumilah, I can’t hear it.”
We waited, just in case. Drip.
“Yeah. Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s probably just a raindrop.”
The truck rolled on.
“There, it’s fine, it’s going to be fine, Jumilah,” Mum promised.
I sensed she was reaching out, but we couldn’t touch. Beyond the truck, I could hear voices. Doors open, footsteps jumped down from the cabin. I shifted, ready. We had a plan for moving the crates back out of the truck, with the trolleys we had been able to pack. Once the back doors to the truck opened, I jumped down, pulling the trolley with me. We moved with precision, not speaking. I don’t know if that was the normal way of doing things. Staff in high-vis assisted us, against my better judgment, but soon enough all the animals were in the hold of the plane.
“Alright, we need to get in now,” Mum murmured, so I nodded and we climbed in after them.
Thankfully, there were enough seats. My hands were shaking as I fastened a seatbelt across my lap and prepared for take-off. We would fly through the night, to a destination which would not necessarily bring answers.
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.