Thankfully, the airport hotel provided a wake-up call, dragging us out of bed before dawn. Getting into our clothes for the day, we checked out, then walked across with our bags. Mum, Nanek and I boarded a plane to take us from Singapore to Medan, which would be our final destination before heading back to Nanek’s home. It’s a seven hour flight, which isn’t an insignificant length of time. Plane etiquette says that it would be acceptable to recline the seat, but I declined, with a tall man seated behind me. Besides, I knew that I would be able to sleep sitting up, if I was going to drift off.
“Tell me more about your day at Taronga Zoo,” Mum urged, to fill the time.
I clasped my hands, resting them in my lap.
“Sam told me something,” I revealed. “He said that, if I told him that I wanted him to use our property for animals, he’d tell me to get lost.”
Mum raised an eyebrow.
“That’s kind of him.”
“I think what he meant was that they get a lot of people who don’t have a clue of what they’re talking about, but we’re not in that category.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“Yes,” I assured. “In a roundabout way.”
“You really want to do this, don’t you?” Mum checked. “You’d like to have animals, and breed them?”
“Yes,” I said it out loud, and it felt good.
Admitting this, or the turbulence on the flight, seemed to wake Nanek up.
“I’m not saying that it would happen, but I would like to investigate it further. I’d like to try. We have the land.”
“But I’m not sure if we have the money,” Mum pointed out.
“We can always try.”
“Of course. I always want to make all of your dreams come true, Jumilah.”
As we got closer to Sumatra, the flight got increasingly rocky. I could tell that Mum was a fair bit on edge, and I tried to believe that I hadn’t caused that. The plane going up and down didn’t inherently concern me too much. My pulse races all the time, regardless. That has been the case since December 26, when Kakek was murdered, and I have adjusted to that pressure within my chest, like it or not. We landed with a thud, racing along the runway before grinding to a halt. Both of us could exhalet, because we were safe again. At least until we stepped off the plane, we could breathe easy once more.
“Well, thank God we’re now safely back on the ground,” Mum remarked, under her breath.
Eventually my heart returned to its normal rhythm. We waited a little, for other passengers to clear. Mum checked that Nanek was alright, before we inched out into the aisle. She asked me to look after her, while she would make sure that we had all the bags. I thanked the flight attendants as we got off the plane. We passed through the airport, Nanek directing us even though we’d been there before. I was grateful for the instruction, because I wouldn’t have remembered where I was going. It was enough of a daze the first time, and then I had all of my brain cells in close company. Mum’s younger sister, Aisha, collected us from the airport. She drove the three of us back to the sanctuary, and Nanek’s home, where Mohammed was waiting. He told Nanek that he’d missed her, and that the house was ready for Mum and I to settle in. She thanked him. I’m not sure how much longer we’re going to stay here.
Mum, Nanek and I entered the house. Mohammed spoke up that there was one more thing, that the police were closing in with their sting to catch the poachers. They would call us if they’d made an arrest. Of course I was grateful to hear this, that Kakek’s killers would be brought to justice and the animals would be safe, but a chill still went over me. Nanek invited for Aisha to stay. We could have tea, or lunch, considering that it was almost lunchtime. Aisha agreed, and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend more time with her. This was still a sombre occasion, although less so than Kakek’s funeral. Mum, Nanek and I went into the kitchen, to prepare some food. Mohammed explained to us what there was, the supplies from when Nanek had last left all gone by none. Once the meal was prepared, Nanek said grace, then we sat around the table and ate, grateful for the food. I could have eaten that plate and then another ten times over, but if I had I would have felt awfully full.
Through the window I could see the trees. The house was a little dark, cloud cover developing beyond the canopy. I wondered what animals we could find, beyond the boundaries of my grandparents’ land. There was no guarantee of safety even within those barriers, that I knew acutely. Aisha needed to return home for a little while, so we said goodbye. Once Nanek was settled back in, Mum and I decided to go for a walk. I sensed that she walked to talk to me about something, which made me anxious. We strode through what remains of the sanctuary, empty mesh enclosures. I remained mindful of mosquitoes, the unsavoury heat causing sweat to trickle down the back of my seat, underneath my shirt.
“If they find the killers, there will be a trial.”
“I would hope so,” I stated, even though I didn’t want to have to think about it.
“Aisha said that there might be an inquest, either way.”
That didn’t sound unlikely, and hopefully it would find some answers.
“Would you give evidence if called?”
“I would like to think that I would,” I answered. “I’d have to, wouldn’t I? Not that I know that much. I didn’t see who fired the gun.”
My voice thinned as I finished speaking.
“I know that you would do whatever you have to,” Mum assured me, and I want to believe that’s true.
We kept walking. I listened out for the sounds of animals. My heart longed for the calls of siamangs, expressing their affection, about to mate and breed the next generation, but instead all I could hear was the thudding of our footsteps and the beating of my own heart.
“Do you think that Nanek would move to Australia?” I asked.
“I certainly would have loved having her around when you were little,” Mum admitted, “but there are six kids, she couldn’t follow me to another country, not without Bapak. Bapak was always going to stay here, this was his home.”
“Would you like her to move to Australia?”
“I’ve always wanted to have her around, of course,” Mum answered, “especially when you were little, and afterwards. I have thought about it, a fair bit in the last few weeks, but I don’t know. It would be nice for me, it would be lovely for us, but I don’t think that I could ask that of her, it wouldn’t be fair.”
“If you asked, what do you think she’d say?”
“Well, I’m not planning on asking her. She wants to stay here and rebuild the sanctuary. Of course that’s the right thing to do, because this is Ibu’s home. It was my home, I don’t know whether I can say that it is my home.”
When we returned home to Nanek’s place, a man with a booming voice greeted Mum. They hugged, and I said hello as well, feeling like a stranger even though I recognised him. Andrew was one of the many relatives who’d been at Kakek’s funeral, although before then it had been a while. Now, I’m an adult – well, I’m almost an adult, I’ll be an adult in March – so I’m a very different girl to my family. Andrew, Mum’s eldest brother, has never married. Mum told him that it was so good to see him again. We’d not had much time to talk at the funeral, because mostly I’d hung around the older women who seemed convicted to shield me from the sadness. I couldn’t be, but I didn’t tell them that, and mostly couldn’t specifically recall what had transpired on that day.
“I would like to spend some time with my niece,” Andrew requested.
“That would be lovely,” I agreed, and we made tracks to find somewhere to sit down, near the former siamang enclosure.
“I didn’t get to talk to you much at the funeral.”
“That’s alright. It was a sad day, a very sad day. I don’t blame you for not feeling like it was the big family reunion we ought to have had when you came to visit.”
“That would have been lovely,” I stated wistfully, my brain feeling off the air again.
I needed to draw myself back, to focus.
“It’s so quiet here without animals.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Have you been coming around here often?”
“Reasonably,” Andrew answered. “I make sure to keep up with my mother. I’ll take good care of her.”
“It’s nice here. I’m sure that you would, you’re the oldest son.”
“I’ve heard that Hobart is lovely.”
“It really is,” I confirmed. “You would always be welcome to visit.”
I expected him to hesitate, but he didn’t.
“I’d love to, actually,” he told me. “I haven’t been to Australia since your parents were married.”
“And that’s a long, long time ago now.”
“Hobart’s a beautiful place. I don’t know if we actually live in Hobart though. Where we live is sort of on the outskirts, in a place called Sorell, that’s where I work.”
“Do you still work in the supermarket?”
“Yes, I do,” I confirmed, “but I’m not going to work there forever.”
“What would you like to do?”
“I’d like to work with animals.”
“Like Bapak and Ibu?”
“Yes,” I affirmed. “Exactly like them.”
I left it at that, even though a small smile came onto my lips, very much appreciating the comparison that Andrew had made.
“How would you go about doing that?”
“Well, it depends on which animals I would like to work with. I could apply for a job somewhere in Tasmania, hopefully close to home and Mum and Dad.”
“Your mother moved away when she was about your age.”
“Don’t remind me,” I lamented. “I just don’t want to, at least not yet. Maybe I’m just from a spoiled younger generation.”
“I mean, you are, but that’s not your fault.”
“That’s a little bit harsh,” I retorted.
Still, I was smiling, and so was Andrew as he threw his hands up in the air.
“Not your fault.”
“My friend Tallulah, she’s going to uni to be a vet.”
“Yeah, in Hobart.”
“See, you could do that, if you wanted to.”
Something about the idea scared me, though. Maybe it was just the thought of piggybacking off my friend. Of course, Tallulah wouldn’t mind. I’m sure that she would be thrilled if I decided that I wanted to go to uni, but by now it’s too late to apply and get accepted into a course, because the semester starts in a month. The deadlines have passed, the offers have gone out. I chose to take a gap year, the future still waiting for me. It’s still waiting.
“This year it’s not possible,” I explained, “and it’s not necessarily something that I’m planning on doing.”
I could feel my heart beating faster and faster within my chest, as I toyed with the idea of telling Andrew the truth. He’s lived a cosmopolitan life. I figured that he might understand, especially as he was being kind enough to not laugh in my face. There are six siblings in my mother’s family, Andrew being the eldest and Aisha being the youngest, and Mum is the second child.
“What I would like to do is have animals at our property, like a sanctuary or a zoo, to stay and breed in Hobart.”
“What would you need to do to achieve that?”
“Well, I was speaking with Sam from Taronga Zoo,” I noted, “as I spent the day there, when we stopped over in Sydney. I’d met him on the plane, actually, when I was first going back to Tasmania, after everything happened.”
“And what did he have to say?”
I decided not to use Sam’s exact words.
“He said that it would be difficult, but I should find out what I need to do and go for it.”
“And so you should,” Andrew agreed, with a fond smile. “You’re your grandparents’ granddaughter after all.”
I felt a gentle spatter of rain against my legs, through the leaves. Andrew and I trekked back to the house, which I could smell before I could see it, Mum and Nanek cooking dinner inside. As I passed through the front door, I gushed about how amazing it was. Mum thanked me, then we were able to all eat together, and spend the evening inside while the rain came tumbling down outside. When it came time to go to bed, Nanek gave me a sheet to cover myself, then bid me goodnight with a kiss to the forehead. I waited until she’d slipped away into her room, then I decided to have a little bit of time on my phone. Sure, I’m always tired, but sleep is elusive. It was wrong of me, because tomorrow promises to be another long and tiring day of travel. I noticed that there was an unread notification from Messenger, my lifeline to Hobart.
We’ve been picked up for another gig; Patrick told me.
That’s great news!; I replied.
The message didn’t receive a reply. Tonight going to bed I feel a little glum. My body is drained, and my head aches a touch, but that doesn’t mean I’ll fall asleep. It is good to see my extended family again, and have their support and encouragement. I don’t get the opportunity to see them that often, living far away, but I haven’t known any other life, unlike Mum.
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.