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Debut

I checked my watch as I walked into the break room and did the maths to work out the time in Adelaide. Calling Isobel would be a way of finding out what was happening, whilst also investigating if there had been any developments with the clouded leopard breeding program. To be perfectly honest, I did feel a little bad about manipulating her for information about Reuben and the elephant importation.


“I’ve got a quick minute,” Isobel confirmed.


“How are you going?” I wanted to know.


“Our older female tapir is unwell,” Isobel told me. “She’s suffering from an infection and we’re treating it, so hopefully she’ll be on the mend.”


“Oh, that’s not good.”


“She’s on antibiotics, so the prognosis is good. It takes a lot to knock her down.”


Isobel and I ended the call. I dropped my phone back into my bag and returned to work. Thankfully, the rest of the day passed by, relatively uneventfully. I had the chance to knock off from work a little bit early, riding home with haste. Sweaty, I stashed my bike under the house. I sat down for the carnivore TAG meeting as soon as I returned home. There was a part of me which would have preferred just to rest.


“Darling Downs is keen to import.”


It took me a moment to realise what species Raffa was referring to.


“There would be a limited window in which transport would be desirable. The heat of summer would be unadvisable on animal welfare grounds, but we also don’t want them trying to settle in during winter.”


Therefore, it was concluded that Raffa would follow up with the EEP. It turned out that he was hoping for Darling Downs to bring in clouded leopards. This didn’t surprise me, even though I didn’t quite understand how the zoo managed to sustain the level of species growth which had taken place in recent years. It was certainly an example to follow once we were on our feet at Acarda Zoo.


“It’s tricky. I wouldn’t just want to import the one pair. At the same time, I don’t know if we’d be offered two.”


It appeared that Adelaide got very lucky, despite the other misfortunes facing the Australian zoos this year.


“Perhaps some financial reimbursement--.”


“That’s not part of the deal, I will assure you,” Raffa insisted.


Reuben’s lips were ajar, trying to hide his disgust that Stefan had made the suggestion. Maybe he just held a low view of Raffa.


“Does anyone have anything else to report?”


Generally, there wasn’t much else to add. The lioness at Perth Zoo, unfortunately, had suffered from an as-yet unexplained allergic reaction. I didn’t know much about her, other than that she was Mwenyezi’s mother.


“Does that mean that she would be removed from the breeding program were you to receive an unrelated male?”


“I’m not sure,” Jimmy admitted.


“That’s what happened with our tigress,” Amy explained.


“There is an unrelated male currently in Germany, as a matter of fact,” Reuben pointed out.


“Perhaps we could nominate someone to get in contact with the EEP,” Raffa advised, “although I don’t like your chances of securing a transfer at the moment."


Almost as soon as I left the TAG meeting, my phone rang, with a call from Isobel.


“Can I tell you something, Jumilah?” she requested.


“Of course,” I accepted, even though I didn’t know what she was going to say.


“Joel and I were together, before he died,” Isobel said.


“Yes, I know that,” I assured her, then cleared my throat.


“Even though we weren’t married yet, Joel left some money to me. I didn’t realise that I was in his will, we didn’t talk about that.”


When Kakek had died, Mum, Nanek and the other siblings had sorted out the financial details. I didn’t know how to respond to this unexpected news, nor the potentially the funds would be donated.


“Perth or Adelaide could do with the money. I know that Perth Zoo was where Joel worked and died, but Adelaide is my future.”


I couldn’t possibly tell Isobel what to do. Thankfully, she didn’t expect me to find a resolution, although I wondered if the money could fund safety upgrades, which would be a bittersweet legacy. Isobel and I finished on the phone. I was glad to be home, rather than still at work for Thursday night late-night shopping. I decided that I would help Mum with preparing dinner.


“Oh, we’re going to go out tonight,” she explained, which caught me by surprise a little – she hadn’t been cooking after all.


“Do you mind if I talk about Reuben?” I asked.


“Jumilah, you can talk about Reuben whenever you want,” Mum promised. “It was a very long time ago. I did feel guilty about how he felt, but I couldn’t fix that. It was a good thing that he went to Ireland--.”


“He met someone else, when he was in Ireland,” I divulged.


Mum smiled.


“Well, that’s good, but I’m gathering it didn’t work out. He’s always been a bachelor, married to his work.”


I needed to take the opportunity to tell her the truth.


“Reuben has a daughter over in Ireland. She’s seventeen or eighteen, I think, just a little bit younger than me.”


Mum’s eyes widened. I sensed that the version of events which I understood to be true, was in fact accurate. Reuben had run away to Ireland once my parents had married and conceived me.


“Sometimes I would wonder if he would pretend--.”


“Pretend that I was his daughter?”


“Yes,” Mum confirmed. “Don’t worry, you’re most definitely not. Nothing ever went on.”


I believed her. While I didn’t really want to be having this conversation, I also knew that it would have been a big deal for Mum, too, to learn that a friend of hers was going through a significant life event.


“Is he going to be able to meet her?”


“Yes, I think that’s the hope.”


Mum nodded.


“That will hopefully be good for both of them.”


I sensed that would be the end of the discussion for the meantime, which was fair enough, given that we didn’t know that much more about the situation. Walking outside, I snapped some photos. The sun shone perfectly onto the structures of the zoo, the images gorgeous to send to Whitlam, Hamish and Jamila. I’d been let into their world, although mine remained somewhat of a mystery for them, far away and unrefined. I slipped into the car, and Dad drove Mum and I into town, for a welcome home dinner at Uwak Andrew and Kem’s place. We parked at Salamanca Place, then strolled up the slope. Uwak came downstairs to let us in with warm embraces, then bring us up to the apartment. I could already smell the delicious dinner being cooked, even before I walked into the kitchen. I glanced out the window in the direction of the river. A hint of tightness in my chest briefly distracted me from the conversation. Kem mentioned that some of the produce in Hero supermarkets comes from northern Tasmania. I asked him cheekily if he thinks that it’s any good, and he confirmed that it’s not bad. Kem then enquired as to how I’ve found returning to work at the supermarket in Sorell. I assured him that I was going alright, although it was strange to think that this stint would only be short-lived. What I didn’t elaborate on was how that made me feel in relation to Patrick. We sat down for dinner of aloo gobi and samosas.


“My goodness, this looks delicious,” I gushed, then tucked into my food.


Mum asked if they’d be returning to Uwak Andrew’s old townhouse, but he shook his head. It was difficult, given the predominant religion, but that wasn’t the only factor to keep in mind.


“It’s not like Catholics have the moral high-ground over Muslims when it comes to not being homophobic.”


Uwak Andrew refilled our glasses of water.


“I think Ibu thinks Kem is a very handsome young man.”


“I’m not so young anymore.”


Finally, it was getting late, so we bid our farewells to Uwak Andrew and Kem and thanked them for dinner. It had been a big year for all of us. We walked back down into Salamanca, to the car. Dad drove us home from dinner and I felt tired enough to almost fall asleep. He and Mum were chatting about the night and started to reminisce about their younger days.


“I never wanted you to forget or be separate from who we are. We love you so much.”


 

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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