“Are you going to call your mother again?” Dad asked Mum.
I was making my way out to the kitchen, to have breakfast. He was eating honey toast, while I craved muesli with almond milk, if we still had some in the fridge.
“Yes, I will today,” Mum promised.
I waited a moment of silent, then emerged. While it didn’t surprise me that things seemed to be on edge, I was feeling increasingly more eager to find a way that I could help the situation.
“Good morning,” I greeted, perhaps too cheerily.
I had the day off work, so I would be staying home with Mum.
“Morning,” Dad replied, then finished his toast.
“What would you like for breakfast, Jumilah?” Mum wanted to know.
“Just some muesli and almond milk,” I expressed, “but I can get it myself. Thank you.”
“All good,” Mum responded.
I worried that she felt put off. Once I put my breakfast together, I pulled up a chair to the kitchen island, a chunky wooden bench in the centre.
“Well, I’ll be off,” Dad farewelled, kissing Mum and I each on the cheek before placing his plate in the dishwasher and departing.
I waited to see his car, before speaking.
“Are you alright?” I checked.
“Yes,” Mum insisted. “It’s fine. I just need to do it, I just need to book the flight. Nobody should tell me that I can’t do that.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “Look, if you need some money--.”
“It’s not that,” Mum assured. “I mean, that’s one consideration, but I know that it shouldn’t be.”
“I’ve worked these extra days, I can give you a bit of money,” I promised. “Let’s go and book that ticket right now. Would you like me to come with you?”
I wasn’t sure whether that would be beyond the stretch of our finances. Mum shook her head.
“No, I made sure that you came home for a reason.”
“It’s the poachers, isn’t it?” I asked, being bolder than ever.
“Yes,” Mum confirmed. “I’m worried for Ibu’s safety.”
She sighed heavily, then walked out of the kitchen.
“I know that there’s a risk in going over there, but I can’t not go, I can’t not see where my father is buried, I can’t leave my mother alone.”
“If Nanek won’t leave the animals, could we evacuate them?”
“I don’t know how we’d achieve that.”
Mum sat down at the computer as I followed her, only half-eaten breakfast in hand. I knew that Sam had promised to help, but another name seemed to come into both of our minds at the same time.
“I’ve got to call Reuben, don’t I?” Mum suggested, sounding resigned, and I nodded.
“Make the call,” I assured. “Worst he can say is no.”
Mum reached for the phone and dialled the number, putting it on speaker so that we both could hear the phone ring.
“He probably won’t even answer,” she insisted, checking her watch.
“Catherine Fioray,” Reuben’s booming voice greeted over the phone.
We looked at each other, and I tried not to blush.
“Come with me, I’m just heading out to work,” Reuben noted, and the line seemed to flick over to speakerphone.
“Thanks for giving me some of your time.”
“Catherine, I’m sorry, I heard about your father. Did you receive the flowers?”
“No,” Mum replied. “I’m sorry I haven’t, but thank you.”
“I tried to send them, but considering they had to get all the way to Hobart--.”
“I’m sure they’ll be lovely. Listen, I’m calling because of that, actually. My mother’s running the sanctuary on her own.”
“If she’s anything like you, I’m sure that she’s more than capable to do that.”
The compliment became backhanded, and just seemed dismissive. I would have thought that I’d heard enough, but I chose to linger.
“Well, she is more than capable,” Mum insisted, patiently, “but how much have you heard about Bapak’s death?”
“I know how he died, Catherine,” Reuben assured, “and I know the assumptions about who killed him.”
The base of my brain ached all the more.
“I’m concerned that they would come back,” Mum admitted, “particularly considering the track record. Aren’t you worried for the animals, if they’re safe?”
This line of questioning was clever, because Reuben is an animal man.
“Of course I want your mother to be safe, Catherine.”
Reuben’s tone was sincere.
“I don’t quite know what you’re asking me to do.”
“Would you happen to know if there’s some sort of holding facility or other place the animals could go?”
“Your mother would have better connections than I would.”
“That’s alright, it was worth a try.”
“How are you?” Reuben wanted to know, speaking tenderly.
“I’ve been better.”
I stood a step closer, although I didn’t plan on interjecting.
“Jumilah, when she was flying back, she met a man on the plane from Sumatra to Singapore and then to Sydney,” Mum noted, as if she could read my mind.
My heart started to beat faster.
“His name was Sam, he was very kind to her.”
“Oh, yes, I know Sam,” Reuben assured. “He works at Taronga.”
“If you could, it would be nice of you to thank him,” Mum requested, even though I have Sam’s number, and I could do that myself.
“Of course I can,” Reuben agreed.
I’m grateful for that, but I will need to call Sam also, or at the very least send him a text, to express my gratitude.
“Thank you,” I called out.
I rocked onto the balls of my feet.
“Ah, there you are, Jumilah, hello,” Reuben greeted me. “Are you eighteen yet?”
“No, not until March,” I answered.
I took another step forward, so that I could stand next to Mum and properly join in the conversation.
“If you’d like a job in Melbourne, I’m sure I could find you one.”
“Thank you,” I answered, “but I have a good job for the meantime.”
“Catherine, listen to that--.”
Reuben scoffed, and Mum smiled to be polite, even though he couldn’t see her face.
“I’m sure that you’d rather work with animals, wouldn’t you. Wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “I would enjoy working with animals.”
A spark had been let off in Sumatra, which I’m not fully ready to admit to, but it’s still there.
“Well, leave it with me,” Reuben declared. “Leave it all with me.”
Mum and I settled on the back porch tonight, with cups of tea under a starry sky.
“I don’t know what to do,” Mum admitted. “Really, I don’t know what to do.”
“If what you just need to do is jump on a plane, I will support you,” I vowed.
I’d started to feel guilty that I’d agreed to come home.
“Even if we can’t afford it, I can take on more shifts, to make back the money.”
Mum shook her head.
“It’s not really about the money.”
“What is it, then?” I asked.
I wasn’t going to allowed myself to be lied to, or be a vehicle for hiding the truth.
“My father was killed by poachers. I believe that. Even Ibu believes that, and that means that the animals are at risk, but she’s at risk, everyone who is over there at the sanctuary is potentially at risk from them.”
Mum showed me a sad smile, stroking her fingers through my hair.
“That’s why I needed for you to come home. I didn’t want you to be in danger.”
“You’re good to me,” I assured her.
I don’t want Mum to be in danger either. We are walking a tightrope, with no right answers.
“I’m so sorry,” I apologised, leaning into Mum’s chest. “This is awful.”
“It’s not your fault, Jumilah.”
“I could never expect Ibu to leave her home. The animals deserve to be cared for, I know what she’d say, that the poachers win if we just leave them there to be slaughtered, they’ve come too far.”
“They can’t be released back into the wild, I know that.”
My mind was stretching beyond measure.
“They’re effectively zoo animals, with wild origins,” Mum elaborated. “Ibu and Bapak were talking about breeding them. It’s no guarantee, because of their histories and their pasts, and they haven’t been swapping them around.”
“Do you think that Australian zoos would accept them?”
“Maybe,” Mum conceded, “but that would be expensive.”
“If it’s possible, if we asked Reuben or Sam, then perhaps that could remove the danger. I don’t think that Kakek was killed on purpose, from what I saw.”
Of course, I couldn’t know for sure.
“They didn’t kill any animals,” Mum stated. “Not this time. Which means that there could be a next time.”
The idea plagues both of us. We cannot let it go because it cannot let go of us, we’re tethered to the tragedy. I can’t imagine being taken from my home, from everything I know, so I wouldn’t expect that of Nanek, but it’s a past that her animals would know, if only their stories could be shared. The ringing of the phone inside the house startled us both.
“I’ll get it,” Dad called out from inside.
We waited for a moment. I took another sip from my tea. It wasn’t long before Dad came out, puffing a little, to hand over the phone to Mum.
Mum accepted the phone.
We were close enough that I could hear what he said, faintly.
“I told you to leave it with me,” he noted, “and I’m sorry, I can’t make any promises, but I have been making some calls.”
Mum gave a modest laugh.
“No doubt about you.”
“Firstly, I think that your mother should take her website down. Not just because of the cringeworthy gifs, but it’s probably not the best at the moment.”
“That point’s definitely noted.”
“But I was able to use the website to work out the collection at the moment, which I can probably cross-reference with Jumilah to make sure that it’s up to date.”
I shifted, and Mum put the call on speaker, so I could hear more clearly.
“I’m here,” I promised.
“Good. I just wanted to run through the collection with you, to make sure I’ve got it straight.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“There’s not a number of tarsiers listed on the website,” Reuben noted.
“Yeah, there are five,” I clarified. “One male and four females.”
“All the same subspecies?”
“Yeah, as far as I’m aware. They’re western tarsiers.”
“Makes sense,” Reuben conceded, “but that does make the job harder.”
I sensed he had a plan afoot, although it still not clear.
“And the gibbons, the white-handed gibbons, there’s one female who is post-reproductive, is she still alive?”
“Well, good for her.”
My chest tightened. I tried to concentrate as best as I could on what Reuben said.
“You know, we can give you Nanek’s contact details.”
“I’ve found them on the website.”
“Well, that’s something. Thanks for doing your homework.”
“Anything else, Reuben?” Mum wanted to know.
“Yes, just one more thing. Do you have an exact number on the macaque troop?”
“No, I don’t, sorry,” I apologised.
Mum could tell that I was becoming increasingly agitated, although I couldn’t claim that to be Reuben’s fault.
“Thank you, Jumilah, I appreciate your help. I’ll make more calls, and I’ll speak with Jelita.”
“No,” Mum interjected. “Sorry, I would prefer you didn’t do that.”
Oh, God, help me to stop being terrified. Help me to know what to do, because I don’t know what is right or what is good. There are no happy endings to this story, no matter how hard we try.
“I’m going to go to bed, Reuben,” I announced. “Thanks for helping.”
This was a battle Mum could fight. I kissed her on the head, then went inside for bed.
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.