top of page

Christmas

Tallulah didn’t leave until after midnight. I’d said she could say, but she wanted to wake up in the morning with her family. I couldn’t argue with that.


“Text me when you get home safe,” I requested, as we hugged goodbye.


“Of course.”

 

Tallulah got in her car and drove away. I wanted until I couldn’t see the headlights anymore. It was a little chilly outside, so once Tallulah was gone I went back inside to get ready to bed. I would still be waiting for her text message though, and couldn’t sleep until I had received it and knew that she was safe. After washing my face and cleaning my teeth, I wandered into my bedroom. I got into bed and it mustn’t have taken me long to fall asleep, after getting Tallulah’s message. I started saying my prayers, which rambled on and on. Thankfully, I was afforded a silent night. Even the macaques didn’t make noises or smells which could threaten to disturb adequate slumber. When I was a little girl, I remember being awake in the early hours of Christmas Day. I would keep my eyes closed, body still, half the night, just in case Santa Claus could tell that I wasn’t really sleeping, and wouldn’t give me any presents. That makes it seem like I was fearful. I wouldn’t have put it that way, although I see why it comes across like that. Now I woke up with the memory, which got me out of bed. I listened to the quiet house as I slipped on my dressing gown, to protect me from the slight chill of the morning. Striding across the wooden floorboards, I encountered Dad in the kitchen, humming away to carols and preparing coffee and panettone. He served a quick breakfast, before we got dressed. After fetching meat from the fridge, I exited the house, bouncing down the back stairs and out into the zoo, surveying the landscape with a smile on my lips. I sprinkled the chicken carcasses with vitamins, as recommended in the husbandry manual. My nose turned up as I rubbed the powder into the meat.

I moved the carcass into the exhibit. After I’d vacated the space, I lifted up the slide so that the dholes would be let out for the morning. Ajag tore apart his food, then sauntered down to drink from the shore of the moat. The dholes were enjoying their Christmas gift. My next responsibilities were with the primates. They would also be given enrichment. I encountered Nanek at the siamang exhibit. As we provided sultanas as a morning treat, she told me about a siamang she’d cared for at the sanctuary, who was released. Nanek mentioned that it had been Christmas morning, a week or so after the release, when she heard the siamang – a male – in full song along with another wild female.

 

“Merry Christmas,” I greeted them with a smile, then headed for home.


When I returned into the house, I checked my phone, smiling at a photo from Ella. I replied to the message with another series of photos I’d just taken, of our animals, and wondered if she was working on Christmas Day.

 

Work in the morning, my family lunch at my parents’ place with Alex; she explained.


Have a nice day!


I tossed my phone onto my bed. Getting dressed into my Christmas dress was the next task which I needed to complete for the day. Nonna had sewn an outfit for me the previous Christmas. She would be coming over with Nonno. I looked forward to seeing them again, especially for Christmas Day lunch. Stepping into the view of the mirror, I gazed down the panels of the dress – red, green and white. Not only Christmas colours, they are the colours of the flags of my parents’ countries of heritage. I paired the dress with a Santa hat. In vain, I tried to arrange it, to make sure that the pom-pom was sitting in just the right place. Eventually I concluded that it was good enough. I checked my phone again, our group chats full of Christmas messages. After sending my own, I scampered back through the house. Mum was in the kitchen, our Christmas feast in full swing, ably assisted by Nanek.

 

“Can I help you with anything?”


Nanek provided me with the instructions in Bahasa, to prepare fish with turmeric and lime, a Christmas specialty which she’d passed down to Mum. Following that, I moved onto the next dish. Pulled pork was given a vegetarian twist. I shredded the jackfruit, seasoning it with lemongrass and sweet soy sauce. At the sound of a car, I figured that it would either be the cousins, or Nonna and Nonno, but I couldn’t tell on the auditory clue alone. Dad began to prepare the kitchen table, unfurling the rarely-used extension so that we would all be able to fit. Sure enough, I heard knuckles on the gate. I scurried towards the front door. Predictably, there was a lack of traffic on the road outside our house.


“Merry Christmas,” Uncle Luciano called out, looking over the front gate.


I walked down to let the four of them in. I thought of Maryam and wondered what she’d be doing – celebrating with Ricky’s family, I was under the impression. Being so heavily pregnant at Christmas wouldn’t have been particularly enjoyable, but hopefully the baby wouldn’t arrive until his due date in early January. Christmas time made me ponder more and more what Maryam was about to go through, with giving birth to her first, precious babe.

 

“Merry Christmas,” I replied. “Thank you for coming.”


They passed through the gate, carrying presents and food, then I closed it again. I caught a whiff of the jasmine in the air. It brought to mind the Italian meaning of our surname, being a place where flowers are grown. The Anglicisation of the spelling did not change its roots. I followed my extended family through into the house.


“Welcome, welcome,” Dad greeted them. “Merry Christmas.”


He hugged his brother. As they parted, we heard another car – Nonna and Nonno. This time, Luke went out to greet them. I ran my fingers through my hair. A number of the zoos would be closed for Christmas, although others – like Taronga and Melbourne – remain open 365 days a year. They returned to the house, while I smoothed down my hair with my fingers.

 

“Are you all ready for your big opening?”


“Yes,” I agreed with a nod. “We’re as ready as we can be. It almost feels a little weird to have a day--.”


I noticed that I was rambling.


“It’s lovely to see you.”

 

Just before lunch, I took my cousins outside.


“Well, this is the zoo. There’s the nocturnal house, which is where the inside exhibits are, and then the islands and the aviaries,” I explained, “and the dholes, of course.”


I could hear the birds chirping sweetly, singing a Christmas song. First, we headed into the nocturnal house. I paused outside the tarsier exhibit, but didn’t say anything.


“Wow, there are Christmas baubles,” Angus gushed.


The tarsiers seemed to pay little attention to them. All the enrichment in the world, but we couldn’t pick what the animals will be interested in. We exited the nocturnal house, spotting the devils outside. I listened to the hum of insects and the summer heat, while leading Luke and Angus to the aviaries.


“We would like to get some more birds, some breeding pairs, although we have to be careful about not hybridising them.”

 

“Right.”


I stepped through into the lock, preventing the birds from escaping. They would need to get used to having people around, upon the zoo’s opening. I spotted one of the lorikeets, perched upon the boulder which had been relocated from elsewhere on the property. After a little bit of twitching, we departed out the other end of the aviary. The birds chirped in our wake. Within twenty-four hours, this zoo would no longer be our private kingdom. For the meantime, running around with my cousins, this was a Christmas day tinged bittersweet. We would not be here, like this, were Kakek still alive, and I would have traded it all for him. I counted out the dholes, all visible flashes of red.


“Yeah, there are three,” I confirmed, then pointed them out. “There’s a mother and son, and then another young female. Hopefully they’ll breed, sooner rather than later.”


I didn’t mention what had happened to the others. Enter: guilt. I tried not to allow it to seep in too much. We zig-zagged back across to the gibbon islands. I took a moment to spot Laki and Mawar. They were nestled amongst the leaves.


“I like to think that they get along well with each other. They were together at the sanctuary in Sumatra for a while and we think they’re about the same age.”

 

The gibbons started calling.


“What do you do when you need a vet? Do you call someone?”


“Yes, we have a really good relationship with the vet at Dodges Ferry. That’s where Tallulah works.”


“What about tranquilising?”

 

“We have some drugs on-site, that’s fine.” I flicked away a fly. “It’s the gun that’s the problem.”


Luke drew his brows together.


“You have a gun here?”


“Would you like to see the siamangs? Baby Jelita is so cute.”

 

I plastered on a grin, even though they could see right through my deflection.


“I’ll take you across, I’ll take you into the area we go to put them away.”


I led Luke and Angus around to the back of the exhibit, where there is no visitor path, as it is beyond the main area of the zoo. The moat was required to be the same width, to prevent escape.


“Have you gone swimming there?”


“I have, once, since we started construction. At the moment I wouldn’t recommend it.”


Luke glanced towards the slopes on the opposite side of the nocturnal house.

 

“Remember when we were younger and we used to do slip and slides?”


“Yeah.”


“Maybe going for a swim in the moat is the modern-day equivalent.”


I glanced down at my clothes.

 

“Well, I can’t really now, can I?” I remarked with a laugh.


“Yeah, fair point,” Luke agreed.


We started ambling back to the house, figuring that Christmas lunch would be ready soon. Sure enough, I could smell it on the way. Angus walked ahead for Luke and I on the way back to the house, so we’d have the chance to talk.


“So, the zoo is opening tomorrow.”


I nodded firmly and confirmed that, indeed, it was. Indefinitely our lives were about to change, even more than they had already.

 

“I’m serious about this job. I can’t say that we’d pay you much--.”


“Oh, I’m not worried about that.”


“Well, you know, you’ve just finished school. I don’t want you to be without an income when ordinarily you would be going for a job at this stage.”

 

“Thank you, I do appreciate that.”


Finally, we returned to the house, where Christmas carols were playing. They were soft enough that we would still be able to hear the animals, if needed, during lunch. I hoped that they would appreciate their Christmas enrichment and have a lovely day themselves. We filed along, collecting the parts of our meal from the kitchen island. I did add a little of the fish onto my plate, making an exception to my vegetarianism. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it reminds me off my childhood. In front of me, I noticed Aunty Paula looking uncomfortable. Her brow was furrowed with thoughts I gathered she didn’t want to voice. Angus cut in front of her and reached for the avocado.


“I’ll have some fre shavoca do.”


Aunty Paula pulled her brow together. I tried my best not to choke out a laugh at the reference I hadn’t heard for a while.

 

“It’s a meme, from Vine,” Angus translated. “Even I know that, Mum.”


“Right,” Aunty Paula replied. “I’ll get myself some fre shavoca do, then.”


She scooped some of the avocado onto her plate, along with other food. I wasn’t too fussed though, so I passed on it. I placed the jackfruit like a garnish on top of the rest of the food, then meandered over to the kitchen table to sit. Once we were all ready, Mum said grace, then we tucked into the food. The conversation continued to flow, in between, and sometimes even during, mouthfuls. The taste of lime and turmeric mixed with sweet coconut served as a delicious reminder of the celebration. We’d made it through to the end of another year. While we were eating lunch, Isobel came to mind. I figured that she would be with her own mother, as well as Joel’s father like she’d mentioned. Hopefully being together would become some comfort. This was also their first Christmas without a loved one, just like it was for us. Following the meal, I gave Isobel a call. I appreciated a cool breeze rustling through my hair as I stepped outside.


“I’ve been working today,” Isobel explained. “It’s been quite nice, actually. There are still plenty of people at the zoo.”

 

“Lovely.”


“You still have to get all the regular work done, cleaning the glass and making sure that the animals are cared for. I bet you’re just starting to learn that.”


“Ah, yeah, of course.”

 

It was just the beginning for me.


“Well, it’s important to keep these things maintained,” Isobel pointed out. “I’ve been even taking my admin work out into the zoo a little bit.”


I was keen to learn what Isobel was up to. Unsurprisingly, that involved imports.


“They actually have a pretty good zoo just outside of Helsinki. Obviously, it’s on the other side of the world, so that would need to be taken into consideration. It’s good to have a bit of a sister zoo relationship with them, though.”

 

During pauses in the conversation, I tried to listen out for Adelaide’s animals. I suspected that if Isobel was speaking to me from out in the zoo, she would have found a spot in the Jewels of Asia precinct, perhaps near that grad fig tree where dusky langurs hopped about. The conversation jumped to the Javan gibbon breeding program.

 

“Well, for a little while, there were more males around, but Arjuna and Layar at Mogo have had quite a few baby girls in a row now, so we’ll see,” Isobel mentioned. “For a long time, silveries were the in-vogue species. I’m sure that we had them on the masterplan at some stage.”


I was confident things would have been different if the pair at Taronga had finally bred.

 

“Heading into 2023, we’re quite keen to advance the masterplan,” Isobel noted. “So far, we’ve opened the revamped Australian section which is really good, the playground especially is quite popular with the kids. Because we’ve got such a small footprint, we have to build up as well as out.”


I took a deep breath. We didn’t have the same concerns with our large property.


“It won’t be too long until the giraffes get moved out. That will be a big change for Adelaide Zoo.”


“Oh, for sure.”


“Did you have any Christmas enrichment?”

 

“Yes, of course,” I confirmed. “I’ll have to send some photos.”


“That would be great.”


I checked over my shoulder, dessert set up in the kitchen.


“I probably should go now,” I admitted. “Merry Christmas.”

 

“All good,” Isobel responded. “Merry Christmas to you too.”


If I was searching for Christmas miracles, then perhaps I’d found one. Isobel and I ended the call. I straightened Kakek’s cross on the chain around my neck. It seemed like the next course was ready, but nobody had started eating. I returned to the table while my relatives were swapping stories from our childhoods.


“You took a long time to speak, Luke,” Aunty Paula recalled, “but because you were my first, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I only really had Jumilah for comparison, but you were nine months older.”

 

Dad stifled a yawn.


“I think that I’m going to want a sleep soon.”


Uncle Luciano patted his belly.


“Well, not just yet.” Mum leaned forward. “We still have dessert.”

 

The cousins and I, at least, were pretty keen. We carried our plates into the kitchen and stashed them in the sink, rinsing them with a little bit of water. The traditional Christmas pudding had been paired with a chocolate one. Having the family around meant that the dessert went quickly, even though many claimed to have already been full.

 

“You know, the birthdays are pretty evenly distributed in our family,” Nonna mentioned.


“That’s not right,” I pointed out. “My birthday is in March, and Mum’s and Kakek’s.”


I sat back in my chair.


“Alright, technically, I know Kakek isn’t one of your relatives.”

 

“It’s probably true for the Fioray side of the family,” Uncle Luciano affirmed.


Once we were finished eating dessert, it was time to move onto presents. I chose a seat from which I could look out the loungeroom window, with a view towards the nocturnal house and the primate islands in the distance. With smiles, we received our gifts. Dad carefully unwrapped the present from Uncle Luciano and Aunty Paula. He uncovered a small box, which caught the light. Dad showed off the watch which he had been given.


“Oh, you shouldn’t have, this must have been so dear.”

 

“I know that you’ve had a big year, with your father, Catherine, and with everything else.”


Aunty Paula did know about Sungai Willow. The tree’s leaves rustled in the gentle breeze, quite warm for Hobart. I found myself glancing out the window.


“I thought that could come in handy.”

 

“Thank you.”


I was truly grateful that we were blessed by our extended family. Following presents, I found myself a little distracted by my phone. Perhaps the food coma was starting to set in, but I was tempted to wish others a merry Christmas and find out what my friends were up to. From the mainland, Ella texted me a picture of her Christmas pudding, custard and ice cream, prepared by Alex’s mother. I love-reacted to the photo, then responded with my own Christmas dessert. I suppose lapet cake, deliciously coconutty and sweet, looks a lot like pudding. Finally, Angus turned to me with an enthusiastic smile.

 

“Let’s have a slip and slide.”


I scurried into my bedroom and changed out of my nice Christmas dress, into my swimmers. On the way out, I slapped a bit of sunscreen on, just to be safe. We headed outside, into the Hobart heat – twenty-six degrees for Christmas, albeit lacking the humidity of Sumatra. Some Tasmanians preferred the weather to stay cool. I understood that perspective, even though I didn’t share it. Within the context of a warming world, it would sometimes be unnerving to feel the burn against my skin. At least I hoped that the animals were appreciating the weather, especially seeing as many of them originated from tropical climates. Wearing a bikini top and board shorts, I climbed the slope. From the top of the hill, I surveyed the zoo. If I’d had my phone, I would have snapped a picture of the majestic view. Yet, that would have been a hazard with the slip and slide. Mum must have switched on the tap, because water flowed from the hose. I shifted myself onto the tarp. Immediately I was brought back to my childhood. I allowed gravity to take over. Hurtling down the hill, I might have let out a little bit of a scream, which was quickly soothed by the laughter of my cousins. At the bottom of the hill, I made sure to stick the landing. Just like when I was little, Mum and Aunty Paula were waiting for me. They were chatting.


“We’re more than happy to help.”


“Thank you.”


The boys also had their turn coming down the slip and slide. Before long, all us ‘kids’ were wet and dirty. We scampered back into the house. Angus was allowed to shower, to wash off the mud, whilst I simply got changed. I returned to the loungeroom and sat down at one end of the couch, grateful that I’d cooled off. We found ourselves on our phones, even my parents’ generation.

 

“You could have a gender reveal for the animals like they do for people.”


“You know, I quite like that idea,” I admitted. “I suspect we’re a fairly long way off needing to think about that, though.”


I didn’t think that Aunty Paula fully understood. Neither Georgia nor Mawar was pregnant. It shouldn’t have bothered me. I never wanted to give up. Still, I decided that I wouldn’t say anything. Maybe when the time hopefully came for a baby to be born at Acarda Zoo, we could have a gender reveal at Aunty Paula’s request. I knew Adelaide Zoo did something like that once. I thought about Patrick, so I sent him a text to wish him Merry Christmas. This would be his first Christmas in Launceston with Reg and the kids, so instinctively I thought about Grace as well. I didn’t even know if she’d travelled, or whether she was alone. Was she with other family? Patrick texted me back a selfie from their Christmas table. I noticed his mother amongst the smiling faces, which made me feel more at ease. It wasn’t for me to decide how Patrick dealt with his family circumstances. Yet, it would have been a little uncomfortable if Grace had been alone for Christmas. I should have been more invested; I should have made sure that she was alright, even though Patrick and I had broken up. Even though I was feeling a little tight in my chest, I didn’t reach out. Patrick and my relationship had mostly been focused around our house and work, but I wasn’t sure whether I had interpreted a boundary which happened to be a coincidence. ventually, I did give Grace a call, but she didn’t answer. The home phone started ringing.

 

“Oh, that’ll be Roz.”


Mum answered the call.


“Hello, Roz, Merry Christmas, how are you?”


She stepped outside onto the deck so that she could speak with her closest friend. Once Mum returned into the house, Aunty Paula, Uncle Luciano, Luke and Angus bid us farewell. I followed them out the front, to wave them goodbye. Once the car was gone, I walked back into the house. We had talked about checking in on the animals, and offering a feed if needed. Just as we were about to head outside, my phone rang.

 

“Merry Christmas,” I greeted Reuben. “Is the zoo very busy today?”


“It’s about the same as every other Christmas,” he told me. “Oh, and mazel tov, merry Christmas to you too.”


“Thanks.”

 

I breathed out in thought.


“This time tomorrow, our own zoo will be open.”


I started strolling towards the back door, unclipping it and stepping out.


“Have you got anything left to do?”

 

“Not really.”


I breathed in the scent of the jasmine. It calmed me just a little bit. I still felt like I couldn’t empty my lungs.


“Were you working today?”

 

“Yes, I worked today. I’ve got Wednesday off.”


I had to do the maths to work out when that would be, the day after Boxing Day.


“I’m heading out to the Test, and then Alex and Ella’s wedding is the following day.”


“They’re having the reception at the zoo, aren’t they?”

 

“Yes.”


We finished on the phone. As night fell, the four of us put the animals away for the night, completing our final set of rounds through the zoo before it would officially open in the morning. Once we returned home, the news bulletin informed us of the selection shocks for the Boxing Day Test. Imagine that. I couldn’t fathom it. You’d feel so relieved, then so robbed. Thankfully, we turned off the television. I put my shoes on, then headed out to the car. Dad drove the four of us to the church, parking out the front. I gathered that most people would have already attended Mass by that point of Christmas Day. We were the tardy ones. I walked through the doors of the church and could have been ready for bed. Keen for Communion and the singing of the hymns, we greeted other families.


“Oh, my goodness, you’re so tall.”


I wondered for a second if she was being sarcastic. Bernadette was a stalwart of the church community. I knew I was the one who hadn’t been around enough. As we sat down for the Mass to commence, I thought about Kakek’s funeral and his burial. The service had been conducted by a Catholic priest with all our Indonesian family around, except for my parents.

 

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”


The priest crossed himself, and we did the same. There’s something bodily about that gesture, which is automatically soothing. I suppose that’s what Christmas is all about – the incarnation of God, made flesh.

 

“Amen.”


“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”


I closed my eyes, feeling at peace within the environment of Christmas Mass. The priest must have been tired by this point of the day. Still, he didn’t show it. He was even a relatively young man. I thought about when we’d come to Mass for Easter, and Uwak Andrew had departed during the service. We can never assume what a person’s going through. Sometimes, even loving a person isn’t enough to truly understand. We left Mass following the conclusion of the service and drove back home. I completed a final check of the animals, then I laid down in bed and knew that I should have prayed and gone to sleep. I thought of the three-hundred-and-sixty-four days which had already passed. If I could bring myself to sleep through another, then the following day would dawn, and we could open the zoo.


 

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.


0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Aurora

The horizon was awash with a lime green glow. Above it, the sky sparkled, stars so visible amidst a sea of purple, the contrast stark. Right over us the hues darkened, to a vivid shade of navy blue. A

Rehome

The thought of the Kalgoorlie animals gnawed away at me, figures which have loomed in the undercurrent of my dealings within the ZAA, but as ghostly figures, rather than main characters. Now they were

Insecure

Monday afternoon and another primate TAG meeting rolled around. My brain felt scattered. “Let’s move onto the member reports.” I draped my hand over my stomach. While I would have appreciated a lie-do

Comments

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page