I needn’t have been worried about sleeping in. When I did awake, there was just a slither of light. It was enough to prevent me from going back to sleep. I got out of bed and showered, changing into my work uniform and preparing my bag. Mum and Dad were yet to rise, so I slipped out of the house without saying goodbye. I rode down the hill. Arriving at work, I locked up my bike, then dumped my bag in the staffroom, laptop in my backpack so that I could join the TAG meetings later on. I got to work assisting the others in stacking shelves, distributing the produce which had been delivered via truck overnight. Eventually, the store opened, and I was assigned the service desk. It was a reasonably quiet morning there, not really work having missed the bird TAG meeting for. Eventually, a woman approached. The distress on her face was obviously without either of us even needing to speak.
“Can I help you with anything?”
“I can’t find my little daughter, she’s three, she was right there.”
“It’s alright, we’ll look for her. What’s her name?”
“Ayla,” she supplied. “She’s wearing a pale pink dress.”
“What’s your name?”
“Hi Amani, I’m Jumilah. I’ll put a call throughout the store. We’ll get onto centre management.”
“She’s my only child.”
“We’ll look for her, I promise.”
I returned to the service desk and put out the necessary calls, through the store and to centre management, for the rest of the mall.
“How about you wait where you last saw her?” I suggested. “She might go back there.”
Amani nodded and departed for the deli. Keeping my eyes out, I headed in the direction of the staffroom, to mobilise anyone without any immediate task to complete. I encountered Maryam.
“Is everything alright?” she checked.
“No, not really,” I answered. “Missing child. A little girl, three years old.”
“Have you called the code?”
“Alright, let’s start looking.”
Maryam and headed off in opposite directions. My heart thumped with nerves. I walked around the corner, encountering a girl of about three, climbing into the shelves of cheese.
“Hey, there,” I greeted her calmly, flashing back to Melbourne Zoo and when Billy had gone missing. “My name’s Jumilah. What’s your name?”
“Cheese,” was all she said, although the pale pink dress confirmed her identity.
“Are you Ayla? Your mum’s looking for you.”
As I stepped closer, I heard Maryam and Amani behind me. She ran forward to embrace her daughter, even if she was separating her from her goal of cheese.
“Thank you so much for finding her.”
The mother rushed into my arms.
“It’s no problem. I’m glad she’s safe and sound.”
Mother and daughter purchased their shopping, then headed home. I checked my watch, then rushed back for the primate TAG meeting. They were into the reports already.
“Yeah, we’ve got some unfortunate news, I’m afraid. Yesterday morning we found our male siamang unresponsive. Thankfully, our vets are looking after him, but it’s touch and go.”
“We’re paired the young colobus, in conjunction with the breeding recommendation.”
I felt a sense of pride towards Mapenzi being paired for breeding. Hopefully she would fall pregnant soon, and successfully breed.
“Mogo Wildlife Park?”
“We have some exciting news. Wasia is pregnant.”
“Oh, that’s really good,” Reuben gushed.
He seemed more excited than I’ve usually seen him.
“Monarto Safari Park?”
“We’re making good progress to construct our colobus exhibit. I’m hopeful it will be finished early next year.”
Mal had been running things, not Christine, but I didn’t ask why that was. She didn’t seem to be there at all.
“Well, I’ll see many of you tomorrow. Thanks for letting me have the reins for today.”
After a chorus of goodbyes, Mal ended the call. I breathed out, then closed my laptop and got back to work. The rest of my shift passed without incident. I rode home from work, to find that Mum and Dad had already returned from their jobs.
“We got a phone call today. They’re coming for the inspection next Monday, to decide whether or not we get a licence.”
“Oh my goodness.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I assured her. “It’s a big deal, but it’ll be good. It will be all good. This is just the next step in the process.”
Mum poured me a cool drink out of the fridge. With my glass of iced tea, I wandered out the back, feeling tighter within my chest than I appreciated. The zoo buildings, perfectly complete, felt eerie without animals. At least we’re down to a week’s wait. That will give us an answer – yes or no. I walked around for a bit, then came back and called Tallulah.
“We’re having our inspection next Monday.”
“Wow,” Tallulah responded. “How do you feel about that?”
“Good, I think. I mean, it’s the next step. I’ve been preparing for this, by being in Victoria, and I just want to get it done and see what they say, hopefully it will all go fine and smoothly and it’ll get sorted.”
Once we finished up talking, I hopped into the shower. Just as I stepped back out, Patrick texted.
Hmmv; was all the message read.
Cryptic much?; I replied.
Sorry; Patrick responded. I just sat on my phone.
Once I was dressed, he called, and I answered.
“Did you just sit on your phone again?”
“No,” Patrick responded. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“Groovy. I wanted to talk to you too.”
“What did you want to talk about?”
“You first,” I decided. “How was your day?”
“It was fine, thanks. The exam wasn’t really that hard, I got it all finished on time, which is good. I can’t always say that.”
“Nice. We have our inspection for our zoo licence next Monday.”
“Is this the part when you ask if I can take your shift next week?”
“Truth be told, I hadn’t been thinking that, but it would be helpful,” I admitted, “but you’ve got your exams, I can’t ask you to take on more work.”
“It’s no problem,” Patrick assured. “I know that I’ve got to study and that, but it’s good to get a bit of extra cash.”
“Well, if you can, I’d love that. Thank you, Patrick.”
“It’s honestly not a trouble. Anything for you, Jumilah.”
Patrick and I finished on the phone. I mindlessly scrolled through social media for a bit. It came up as a reminder that tomorrow is Mbeli’s birthday. I happened to think of Tim, our farmhand. His birthday had been November 1, too.
Hey….; I texted her. Do you have plans for your birthday tomorrow?
We’re going out for dinner with my parents tomorrow night; Mbeli informed me.
I love-reacted to the message, then lay back on my bed, staring up at the ceiling.
Tomorrow I’m heading to The Shot tower, if you want to come?; Mbeli offered.
We made the plan – the who, what, when, where, why and how of the trip. I felt good to be included in celebrating Mbeli’s birthday, even though I’d been away for so many months in Victoria.
Awesome, I can pick you up.
I felt a little guilty, because it’s Mbeli’s birthday, after all. When Mum called Nanek, that distracted me. I asked her if she ever marked Halloween, when she was living in America. She laughed in that addictive way she does, and confirmed that she did, dressing up her baby Andrew as a pumpkin. I wondered whether Nanek had a photo. She promised me that she did, although she didn’t know where it would be. We ended the call and I couldn’t help but grin. Speaking with my grandmother made my heart feel secure, and at home.
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.