Updated: May 6, 2022
I rolled onto my side as I woke up. It took a moment for me to realise – it’s my birthday, I’m officially eighteen years old. I smiled, rolling onto my back. Taking a breath, my chest rose and fell. I couldn’t hear any rain against the roof. Therefore, I smiled and got out of bed, walking out and through the doorway into the loungeroom.
“Oh, don’t look yet,” Mum insisted, so I giggled and covered my eyes with my hand. “Just a second, Jumilah, just a second.”
I could hear her scampered about, while I waited patiently. When Mum finally breathed out, I knew I had my cue.
“Happy birthday,” Mum wished me as I uncovered my eyes.
A delicious breakfast of pancakes was set before me on the kitchen table.
“Thank you,” I gushed, wrapping Mum into a hug and kissing her on the cheek. “This looks absolutely, positively delicious.”
I sat down at the kitchen table and started to eat.
“No doubt about pancakes.”
I devoured my breakfast and was almost finished when Mum’s phone rang. She answered it, then handed it over to me.
“It’s Roz,” Mum supplied.
“Jumilah, Milah, my darling, you are eighteen years old, what a beautiful day. Have you received my gift yet?”
“No, not yet, but thank you, Roz, that’s very kind of you to send one. I’m sure that it will arrive soon.”
Another call came through. Nanek wished me a happy birthday, telling me that of course she would wake up early for me. We didn’t speak for long, as she seemed to be emotional. Even though I wished that I did, I didn’t really know what to say. The grief that we all experience permeates all that we do, even these happy occasions. Once we were finished on the phone, I changed into my birthday present.
“This dress is so beautiful,” I remarked as I walked back out of my bedroom, wearing a dress patterned with tigers running around the jungle. “You’ve spoiled me that this isn’t even my birthday dress.”
“The best is yet to come,” Mum promised me.
I spent the morning at Tallulah’s place, so that I was out of the house for Mum and Dad to get ready. From her front porch, I could see snow on the top of the mountain.
“Thanks for bringing me over here,” I commented, as Tallulah unlocked the door.
“That’s alright. Do you want to stay here or would you like to go out somewhere?”
Tallulah glanced over her shoulder.
“Staying here would be fine. We can just hang out and chat, I don’t mind that. That actually sounds like quite a nice way to spend my birthday.”
So, that was exactly what we did, until it was time for me to go back home. Tallulah’s mum, Bridie, walked in. She carried two large boxes.
“I bought some cupcakes from the good bakery, for your birthday party.”
“Oh, that’s lovely of you, thank you, Bridie.”
She placed them down on the kitchen bench. Given that we were soon to head off, we went to the cupcakes.
“These are so lovely, thank you,” I gushed.
Creamy icing was piped onto the top of each cupcake, with some sort of adornment – whether a jersey caramel cut in half, or some broken-up jaffa, or a chocolate freckle, the sprinkles rainbow.
“Here, let’s take some chocolate with us too.”
Tallulah handed me a block of dairy milk.
“They delivered a whole bunch of that to work the other day, you know, the sponsor’s product,” Tallulah quipped.
We bid farewell to Bridie and headed out to the car.
“I can get my wildlife carer’s certificate today, now that I’m actually eighteen,” I mentioned as I got into the car, making sure that I didn’t drop any of our precious cargo.
Tallulah drove away from her place, west towards Sorell.
“Listen, I know that you don’t drive much, but now that you’re eighteen, have you looked into getting your green P plates?”
“What, are you sick of being my chauffeur?”
“No, never, never, but I was just wondering.”
I returned home and walked out the back, to find not one, but two, pairs of giant helium balloons bearing the numbers one and eight.
“I’m turning eighty-one?” I asked, as Tallulah giggled and the wind twisted them around.
Mum slipped out the back door.
“Patrick dropped them off on his way to work.”
“Sloane was with him, she’d brought her own, apparently.”
“Well, that was very sweet of him.”
“Listen, I’ve got to tell you something.”
“Is it Nanek?”
“No, she’s fine. Um, Kem, Andrew’s partner, is flying in this evening.”
“For my birthday?”
“No,” Mum answered, with a bit of a sheepish laugh, “but he’ll be here for your party. Are you alright with that?”
“Yes, that will be lovely, the more the merrier.”
We walked up to the jacaranda tree, which um had adorned with pink decorations.
“Thank you, this is beautiful. You’ve really spoiled me.”
I gave Mum a hug.
“My pleasure, my only daughter will only turn eighteen once.”
I kissed her on the cheek.
“There’s something else as well, inside the house.”
We entered through the back door. On the kitchen bench, I noticed a bouquet of irises. The flowers were vivid purple, with streaks of sunny yellow on the insides of the petals.
“The irises are from Patrick, and Sloane brought the gerberas.”
Smiling, I walked to the bathroom and I got in the shower, then dressed myself in the beautiful dress I would wear for the party. With a champagne flute in my hand, I slipped out onto the front porch, to watch Patrick’s car arrive in the driveway. My face faltered a little when I noticed that Sloane was with him. I welcomed both of them into the house, nonetheless.
“Don’t worry, I’ll give you two your space,” Sloane assured, raising both hands. “Besides, this pregnant lady needs to use the bathroom.”
“Of course, it’s just down there on the left, you can’t miss it.”
“Thank you,” Sloane called out.
Patrick kissed me as soon as she was gone.
“Happy birthday. Do you like the balloons?”
“Yes, I love them, thank you,” I gushed, “as long as they don’t get here any turtles.”
“You really do need that therapist.”
I gave Patrick a look.
“OK, these are your last-ever balloons,” he told me with a grin, “for the turtles. Anyway, blame Sloane.”
The toilet flushed and she emerged from the bathroom.
“What are we blaming Sloane for?”
“The balloons. Jumilah is worried about killing the turtles.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t even think about that. If you’d like, I can--.”
“It’s fine, thank you. It’s really sweet of you to buy me balloons for my birthday.”
At 6pm, the rest of the guests started to arrive – like Maryam and Ricky, who gave me a gorgeous potted plant.
“It’s a bushmint.”
“Like Bushmint Lovechild, that’s so sweet, thank you.”
I placed the pot in a careful spot next to the back steps. Patrick ambled over.
“Look at this, it’s a bushmint.”
“Would you like a drink?”
“That would be lovely, thank you. What have you got?”
“I could do lemonade?”
“That would be great, for both of us, please,” Maryam accepted.
“Coming right up.”
I scurried inside the house to fetch the drinks. Patrick seemed to be following me like a lost puppy.
“Thank you for the flowers, by the way, they’re beautiful.”
I made my way back outside, handing Maryam and Ricky their drinks.
“Are you all set for the wedding?”
Maryam looked at Ricky and laughed.
“Ah, we’re getting there,” she admitted, “but as long as we have each other, that’s OK.”
They pecked each other on the lips.
“It’s going to be a good day.”
“It definitely is,” I confirmed.
“Now, I don’t think you’ve ever told us who you’ve picked as your groomsmen.”
“Well, that’s because I haven’t asked all of them yet.”
Ricky looked at Patrick and Caleb.
“Would the two of you like to join the fun? I know that we’d talked about performing and you can still do that, but I would love to have you stand beside me as well.”
Patrick and Caleb looked at each other, happily surprised.
“We would be honoured, mate.”
Mum had prepared the food – bean chili, chopped lettuce and tomato, cheese and sour cream. The corn tortillas had been lightly warmed, albeit in the microwave, and a table set up out the back.
“I thought of my answer to your question the other week.”
Uwak came outside and rested one hand on my back, asking me to come inside.
“It’s nothing bad, I promise.”
We passed into the kitchen, then the loungeroom.
“Jumilah, I’d love you to meet Kem. Kem, this is Jumilah, my niece.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kem. I gather that Kem’s--.”
“Happy birthday, Jumilah. I brought this--.”
Kem reached for a present, from the top of his suitcase.
“It’s nothing special, but it’s not every day that you turn eighteen.”
Kem handed me the gift.
“It’s really kind of you, thank you.”
Patrick walked into the house and, when I glanced up at him, his brow was furrowed.
“Hey. Are you OK?”
“Yeah,” Patrick answered, unconvincingly. “No. Can we go somewhere private?”
The introductions would have to wait. I mouthed my apologies to Uwak Andrew and Kem as we scurried off to my bedroom.
“I’m not really the father of the baby.”
I gasped softly, hand extending towards Patrick’s hunched back to comfort him, but I stopped without touching.
“I’m really sorry, Patrick.”
“It’s fine, honestly, it’s fine. Now I don’t have to spend the rest of my life worrying about where she is, what she’s doing--.”
“But you still will, and that’s not a bad thing.”
Patrick went to protest, but instead he just sighed heavily.
“So, can I ask something? Did you ever actually--?”
“Yes, we did sleep together, once, on the night of Bonnie’s party. I’ve been telling the truth this whole time, but Sloane’s actually too far along. There’s no way that I could be the father.”
Patrick let out a breath.
“Look, we can talk about this more later.”
Patrick cupped my face in his hands and planted a kiss onto my lips.
“Let’s get back to enjoying your party.”
We did exactly that, even though I didn’t really have the energy. There was still a bit of dinner left over. I made myself another plate, this time with extra sour cream, and stuffed my face with food while I watched Maryam and Ricky swaying to a Taylor Swift song, practising for their wedding day. After I’d finished eating, I took my plate inside. I left it on the kitchen bench and went to the bathroom. On my return, I located Lucy in the kitchen. She was fiddling with her puckered bottom lip.
“Thanks for having me, Jumilah. I was just looking, looking for something, looking for a plate.”
She picked up my discarded one.
“Are you OK?”
“Jumilah, there’s something that I have to tell you.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Patrick isn’t really the father of Sloane’s baby.”
“I know. Patrick told me.”
“He already knows?” Lucy raised her hands to her mouth. “I feel so sorry for him.”
“Sloane told him.”
I startled at the sound of a knock at the door. Lucy took a breath, then spun around and opened it. As Tallulah came inside, I tried to pull myself together.
“I’ll leave you to it.”
Lucy stood, taking a sip from her iced tea.
“Actually, everyone knows now,” Tallulah chimed in. “About Sloane and Patrick and the not-really-being-the-father-of-the-baby thing.”
Tallulah rested her hand between my shoulder blades. I felt like my knees were going to buckle underneath me, nothing holding me up. Out the kitchen window I could see the pink sunset in the west, our faces reflecting on the glass.
“Are you OK, Jumilah?”
I nodded. Turning around, slowly so that I wouldn’t fall over, I rested the small of my back against the edge of the bench.
“I feel like I should feel grateful. My boyfriend isn’t actually having a baby with another girl. Hooray!”
Sloane burst in through the back door.
I tried not to show that she’d frightened the life out of me.
“Jumilah, I’m so sorry that I ruined your party.”
“It’s alright. You haven’t ruined anything.”
“Let’s get back to the party.”
Night had fallen. I flicked out my hair, then strutted out the back with a champagne flute in hand. Through the kitchen window, I eventually noticed the glow of Mum lighting my birthday candles. A chorus of happy birthday broke out. I laughed modestly as my nearest and dearest were singing. They all cheered as I blew out the candles. At one time there was blazing light, then it was gone, in tiny puffs of smoke. As Dad snapped photos, I could feel tears welling within my eyes. There wasn’t time to cry – instead, we needed to eat cake. That was what we did, although after that, I felt ready for bed. Mum started packing away the decorations, so that they wouldn’t get ruined. Once the cake’s been served, it’s acceptable for party guests to leave. Luke and Angus both gave me big hugs, then left with their parents. I approached Maryam and Ricky.
“How are you getting home?”
“I drove both of us, so I’ll drop Ricky home and then I’ll drive home, get to bed. Thank you so much for having us both. I hope that you’ve had a lovely birthday.”
“Thank you, I definitely had.”
We bid farewell, and Maryam and Ricky left. As she drove down the road, I heard thunder rumble, and lightning flash in the distance. I glanced towards the jacaranda tree, emblazoned with tiny, sparkling fairy lights. At least the storm wasn’t coming from that direction, so I could view a full moon.
“We never drunk the champagne.”
As fat raindrops started to fall on our heads, we scurried inside.
“You know, we really should try some of that champagne,” Tallulah insisted.
“Alright,” I agreed. “You can stay the night, if you like, if you don’t want to have to drive home in this storm.”
Tallulah fetched two champagne glasses. While she poured the drinks, I walked into the loungeroom and sat down for a rest. This had been a bigger day than I’d expected, followed by pouring rain outside. My best friend walked through and sat down, handing me a glass of champagne.
“Happy birthday, Jumilah,” Tallulah wished me, charging her glass.
I clinked mine with hers.
I took a sip of champagne.
“This is actually disgusting, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” Tallulah agreed, and we couldn’t stop laughing.
We pulled out the sofa bed and dragged out my mattress, so that we would be able to sleep out in the loungeroom. Once Tallulah and I changed into our pyjamas, out of our party clothes, we lay down.
“You know, I thought that I would feel something different.”
“When you turned eighteen?”
“Yeah, that too, but I meant finding out that Patrick isn’t the father of Sloane’s baby.”
“It should be a relief. I don’t feel relieved, though.”
“Do you think that there will be some sort of paternity test just to make sure he isn’t the father?”
“Maybe, but if she’s further along than she said, that would explain a few things.”
“Who do you think is the father of the baby?”
“I don’t know. I’d have no idea. Sloane’s two years younger than me, we were never super close until recently."
“Do you think that you should ask her?”
“No, I’m not going to ask her.”
“Do you think that maybe she was raped?”
“I don’t know, that would--.”
“Explain why she told Patrick he was the father.”
“Yeah, it would,” I agreed. “The poor girl.”
“Hopefully now, the truth’s out, she might be able to go to the police, not that it necessarily makes things better. Now, Patrick’s got to live with what’s happened, too.”
I took a breath.
“Patrick never told me what he wants to do after school.”
“He’ll tell you eventually, if he knows for himself.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, even though I sounded unconvinced.
I tried to sleep.
“Oh, one more thing,” I noted.
Tallulah made a noise to prove that she wasn’t asleep yet.
“Tomorrow is Kakek’s birthday. I’m not sure if Mum and Dad will be around when we wake up, but--.”
“Thank you for reminding me.”
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.