Mum and Dad were already home when I came back from work.
“Hello,” I greeted them, sitting in the loungeroom with Nanek.
“Don’t be worried,” Mum assured, reading my expression, “but we’ve got some news.”
I pulled up a chair from the kitchen table and sat down. Nanek told me that she’d been speaking with Mohammed. He’s been liaising with the police. There’s still the sting on, but there is only so much we can know, because of the operation. Meanwhile, because the TAG agreed to rehome all the animals in Australia, they are wanting to move forward with planning moving the animals.
“So what are we going to do?”
Mum reached for Nanek’s hand.
“When I was little, there were always more animals than we could take in.”
Mum nodded, while Nanek pulled herself together, and was able to continue telling the story herself.
My head felt tighter and tighter. Nanek said that sometimes they couldn’t take animals in. This wasn’t part of the story which I’d heard before, away from the rosy picture of Mum’s childhood. Breeding was out of the question, if there wasn’t even space or money to care for the animals already born, who really needed it, so they would go to other sanctuaries, or be left to fend for themselves. Nanek seemed genuinely pained to be telling me this. Perhaps the memories of Kakek were flooding back. Kakek’s dream was to breed their animals, which has happened with the dholes and the macaques. I knew that breeding in that environment would be ideal for breed-for-release. Dad reached across to the kitchen table, and picked up a notebook I hadn’t seen before.
I knew it was Kakek’s, before they even said anything. Dad opened it, carefully. He thumbed through the pages, then handed it over to me, so that I could read. Kakek mostly wrote in gentle pencil, his letters perfectly and romantically shaped, pages and pages of mundane notes and wildest dreams in Bahasa. My throat tightened and my eyes welled up with tears, and I heard his voice. Kakek’s tender gentleness was vivid. Nanek told me that, when they catch the poachers, she will go back to Sumatra. She will rebuild the sanctuary, not physically as the structures and jungle remain, but working with other groups to rehabilitate animals. Maybe even orang-utans, once again, as Kakek wanted to do, his desires laced with regret.
Wildlife conservation is a delicate calling. To walk as stewards of the earth, alongside plants and animals, is holy, sacred work, but tinged with the sadness that all is not as it should be, with habitats devastated. In the meantime, though, the existing animals, animals who were rescued time and again, they will need to come to Australia once they have finished their quarantine. The zoos will plan the flights. This is really happening, and it feels like an ending. Once the animals fly out of the Cocos Islands when they finish quarantine next month, they will not be returning to Sumatra. One chapter in Nanek and Kakek’s work will be over, even if it will maybe be rekindled in the future. My grandfather is dead, no matter how much I try to hide from that truth.
I tried to smile, so that I wouldn’t cry anymore. There is a beauty to having his words. I will commit myself and my life to Kakek’s vision, even if things have changed. The grief is a memory, a slap in the face. It comes after a split-second, every morning when I wake up. It permeates the moment, of taking a breath after turning off my alarm and trying to recalibrate myself with the light. I cannot escape, even though I look like I live without it. It is Kakek whom I live without. We are all in the wake of his passing, of the loss of his presence. Mum and Nanek remained in the loungeroom, while I thumbed through Kakek’s notes. Dad departed into the kitchen, so that he could leave us to it, and start making dinner so that there would be sustenance after a tiring day before too long.
As I wiped another tear from my eye, I thought of the plans that we’d floated, to use our land to build a sanctuary here in Tasmania, on the outskirts of Hobart. Once I reached the end of the diary, I handed it back to Nanek, telling her that she’d need it. I reminded her that she’s the one going back to Sumatra, to finish what she and Kakek started all those years ago. Nanek told me no, and it was more pointed than I expected that she would be. Sure, she will be going back to Sumatra, but she hopes that she doesn’t have to rescue any more animals. Nanek wishes that they wouldn’t need rescuing in the first place, but she admits that that’s unlikely, given what she’s seen so far.
She told me that she wanted me to have Kakek’s diary. Nanek wants to make sure that I remember him. I assured her that I will always remember him, that I will always love him, and her, and finally I thanked her. Nanek insisted that, if I want to, I should work with animals. Wherever that takes me, even if it doesn’t take me far away at all. I looked at Mum.
“Have you spoken to Reuben?”
Dad returned with dinner, before she had the chance to answer the question. We sat down at the kitchen table. I felt sheepish for asking it. If we want to start our own wildlife park, it doesn’t matter what Reuben thinks. Still, there are things that he would know, that I do know.
“Thank you, Dad, this looks delicious,” I praised, changing the subject.
Nanek said grace, then we started to eat.
“I haven’t brought it up with him again,” Mum answered.
Dad scooped up some of his soup with a chunk of white, crusty bread.
“We need to talk about whether we’d consider ever having animals here again, on this land.”
“I don’t think that we’d ever go back to farming.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
I seemed to have the energy for eating, even though my mouth was sore. Maybe I’d burned it on the soup, a little too hot to consume straight away and so hastily.
“I wouldn’t know the first thing about starting a zoo or a sanctuary here.”
“Luckily I’ve done that before,” Nanek chimed in, beaming.
“What would you like us to do?”
“Well, doesn’t matter what I think.”
“Ibu,” Mum interjected, keeping the peace.
There’s not ordinarily animosity between Nanek and Dad. By all reports she has always been willing to welcome him into the family, even if their marriage meant Mum never permanently returning to Indonesia.
“Jumilah, is this what you want to do?”
“Well, yes, I’d love to,” I admitted, maybe for the first time. “Being able to work with animals, from all over the world, here in Hobart would be a dream.”
Mum looked at me, putting down her spoon. I couldn’t tell if she was proud or dissatisfied.
“Jumilah, I can’t promise you what would be possible, I don’t think that either of us can.”
“If she wants animals, and the zoos here in Australia are breeding animals, then why not? It’s in the blood, we’re animal people. You’ll learn quickly.”
Nanek spoke as if the matter was settled.
“You’ll need to get some sort of registration, for charitable purposes, especially if you want visitors.”
“I don’t know, I’d thought that of course we would, to fund caring for the animals.”
“You have to, I believe.”
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.