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Curious

I squirted sunscreen into my palm. Dabbing the fingers of my other hand into the cream, I spread some across my cheeks. I listened to gentle birdsong amidst the trees, feeling optimistic about the day. Hearing the crunch of leaflitter underfoot, I turned around.


“We’re going for a walk,” Patrick mentioned. “Would you like to come?”


“Yeah, that would be great.”


I followed them on the walk, the two of us finding ourselves in step at the back of the pack.


“Are you all finished your course and stuff?”


“Yeah, I’m finished the class. I still have one more assignment left.”


“I’m sure you’ll smash it.”


We wandered down through the grasses, to the shores of the lake. Ricky noticed a splash in the water.


“Do you reckon that’s a fur seal?”


“Mate, you’re not going to get fur seals here.”


They all looked at me, like I would know.


“You’re not going to get fur seals here.” I gestured back towards the way we came. “I’m pretty sure that there’s a devil sanctuary nearby, we could go and have a look at that.”


The others relied upon my expert advice. We followed the maps, towards the sanctuary. I found myself enchanted by the forest around me, listening out for every bird and every footstep. The devils, I presumed, I would hear in advance. When we arrived, a woman greeted us. We introduced ourselves as she welcomed us in. Terri told us she ran the sanctuary. She squinted at the sound of my name.


“Oh, Jumilah Fioray, I’ve heard that name before.” We shook hands. “You’re from down south, aren’t you?”


“Yes, yes, I am, we all are,” I confirmed, even though I knew that wasn’t quite what she was meaning.


“Some of the devils we display here did come from the mainland. They’re older animals, they can’t breed anymore, but they’re really sweet.”


One of the devils ambled up to the barrier. I noticed that age seemed to be catching up with him. He moved slowly and part of one of his ears was missing. I smiled, although my expression was a little bittersweet.


“We don’t want them to go extinct, it would be like losing a piece of our souls if they did. It’s challenging to think of wild animals as not being in the wild, though.”


It was a bolder approach than I would have taken to the issue, but that didn’t mean it was wrong. Joey cooed within the pouch on Sloane’s chest.


“You’ve got a beautiful baby girl there. What’s her name?”


“Joanna.”


“That’s a gorgeous name.”


“Patrick picked her name,” Sloane supplied. “We call her Joey for short.”


“That’s adorable. You must be a really proud dad.”


Both Sloane and I looked at Patrick, while his face froze. Kerry must have noticed something.


“Yeah, she’s a great little kid,” he responded, therefore not needing to explain.


“Do you think we should make tracks?” Sloane suggested.


I would have preferred to stay, but was willing to oblige. On the way back, I started to feel brain zaps, having forgotten to take my medication in the morning. Joey was grizzling. Taking a baby on a camping trip perhaps hadn’t been the best idea.


“I can take her,” Patrick offered.


“It’s fine, Patrick,” Sloane insisted. “She’s my baby, Patrick.”


He parted his lips to argue, but I knew, though, that his heart wasn’t in it. Patrick and Sloane wandered off into the bush, in the hope of coming back with baby Joey having fallen back to sleep. The rest of us stayed behind. Discreetly, I made sure to pop my pill, then settled in with the others, breathing in the clear mountain air.


“Alright, Jumilah, tell me something exciting which happened when you were on the mainland,” Maryam invited.


“I’d think most of it would have been pretty exciting,” Ricky pointed out.


“Well, yeah, it was, there were up and downs, for sure.” I found myself craving to have a drink in my hands, but it didn’t need to be alcohol. “There was a new silverback gorilla who arrived at Melbourne Zoo while I was there, that was pretty cool.”


“So, any pitter-pitter of gorilla feet?” Ricky asked.


“Well, I’m hoping that they’ll be able to announce a pregnancy by the end of the year. All four females are off contraception, so it’s just a waiting game to see which one gets pregnant first. Hopefully, all of them will eventually.”


“Oh, so they can do that?”


“Haven’t you already had enough of an education?” Maryam quipped.


“No, I don’t mean it like that,” Ricky insisted. “I didn’t know they used human contraception on gorillas in zoos, but it makes sense due to the similarities in DNA.”


“The problem with gorillas is what to do with the excess males,” I explained, “because each troop is led by a silverback alpha male, as you would probably know, with several females.”


“Right.”


“So, the males who don’t get to head up a troop, usually end up in bachelor troops.”


“And that’s alright for them?”


“Well, we don’t have much other choice, so generally zoos try their best to make it work. It’s better than the alternative.”


It was wrong to say that I never believed animals were better off dead. After all, I didn’t disagree with euthanasia. For young, healthy animals, though? That was another story and one which was much more controversial, putting animals down as a population management tool. It was a confusing situation. I could privately hold a particular view, but that didn’t mean that I wanted to vocalise it.


“They’ve been gone a long time,” Ricky pointed out. “Do you reckon that one of us should go and check on them?”


“No, it’s fine,” Chris insisted.


I was starting to sound out who knew and who didn’t – or at least guessing the location of the line. Chris scratched the back of his neck with his stubbed fingernails. I breathed out and figured that I could change the subject by being vulnerable. Perhaps it wouldn’t pay off.


“Turned out that Mum and Kakek didn’t really get along that well. I didn’t learn that until after he’d died.”


“I’m sorry.”


“Do you remember your grandfather’s funeral?”


“Yeah, I do remember it, of course I remember it. There’s a fair bit of that trip which is a blur, his funeral’s kind of a bit lost, but, you know, I’m getting better, in terms of the loud noises.”


“I’m pleased to hear that,” Ricky responded.


I gave a polite smile.


“At least for the meantime, I take medication, which, I don’t know, I think that it helps.”


Not having brain zaps was something I appreciated from taking the pills.


“Is that something that you’d like? You know, to get off the medication one day?”


It was certainly one option, but I didn’t know whether or not it was the best one. My preference would have been to say nothing. Ricky being a medical student made me feel like the answer was loaded, even though he was a kind friend.


“I don’t mind either way, whatever’s best for my mental health.”


I reached for Kakek’s cross. When Chris walked off to go to the bathroom, Ricky shuffled closer.


“Do you think that you’d like to have another relationship with Patrick?”


I rolled my lips.


“Well, the ship has well and truly sailed for me.”


Finally, I could hear leaves scrunching underfoot on the way back to the campsite. I couldn’t help myself, I glanced up with expectation. Patrick emerged first, then Sloane, with the baby on her chest in the pouch. They seemed fine. With nothing else to do, I lay down on the grass. I tried to take a deep breath. I rolled onto my side, checking my phone, wondering if I should call Mum. She would want to know about what we were up to, out of her worry about me being away with Patrick and the group. I decided that I would make the call. Thankfully, there was enough signal to get through.


“It’s good to talk to you.” I felt likewise. “How are you?”


I smiled.


“Yeah, I’m good,” I confirmed.


We fell into chatter, weaving between languages. Mum and Dad had been working on setting the entrance prices for the zoo, which was causing a bit of consternation. Where was the tipping point between charging too much or too little? I smoothed my hand over my stomach. It concerned me whenever I didn’t know the answer. I glanced over towards Sloane. She seemed to have walked away from the rest of the group, rocking Joey off to sleep, bathed in evening light. Mum and I finished on the phone. I felt tight in my chest, missing her, even though it had only been a short time. I pressed the button to turn the screen of my phone black, then pulled myself to my feet. Taking a breath, I returned to the others. The sun dipped. In the national park, a calm overwhelmed me of a kind I hadn’t felt since I’d first arrived in Sumatra. I listened to the birdsong. Darkness swept quickly across the mountainside. It seemed to have happened so suddenly, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. I sat down, Patrick dropping behind me. Ricky lit a campfire to keep us warm. I listened to the crackle and observed the glow, while a packet of marshmallows was burst open for roasting on sticks. As to be expected, the drinks started to flow. Amber bottles clinked in the dark. The sense of peace I’d experienced before had dissipated. Patrick seemed agitated. I didn’t know how he managed to still have the energy.


“What’s the matter with you?”


“Oh, it’s just this spot.”


He pointed out a widening red welt just below his shorts.


“Do you think it’s a bite?”


“Oh, probably.” Patrick couldn’t stop scratching. “I didn’t think I would need to worry about mozzies at this time of year.”


“Oh, you always need to worry, these days.”


Breathing in all the smoke made me feel a little light-headed. I wouldn’t have hoped with being born a generation or two before, when smoking cigarettes would have been commonplace amongst friends.


“I reckon I might try and have a lie-down, get off to sleep,” I spoke up, then allowed myself a hint of a smile.


“Sweet dreams, Jumilah.”


As I settled in to sleep, I ran through our plans in my mind, as they were supposed to soothe me. Upon opening, the zoo is planned to have ten species. Expansion will be possible in the future, but I felt mindful of not wanting to overdo ourselves. There will be a level of upkeep involved. That means that we need a plan for who will work at the zoo, when, and how we’re going to pay them. I suppose that last bit will be easier once we’re open. As I lay awake at night, I listened out. I wondered whether I could hear animals, or if the sounds were just the swish of the lake.


 

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.


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