I shook my snow globe from Sam, taking a second to watch the flakes fall onto the elephant. It brought me a moment of calm. I took a breath, then placed down the snow globe and grabbed my bag, heading outside and ensuring the door was locked behind me. It didn’t take long to ride to work and chain my bike up at the bike rack. There seemed to be an army of elves setting something up in the middle of the mall when I arrived. I could see them through the front doors, then walked around the back to enter the staffroom.
“There are quite the number of people in costumes out there.”
“It’s Santa photo time,” Lucy explained. “There’s going to be an installation here this year.”
I walked out into the store, pinning on my name badge as I went.
“Sorry,” a woman said as we approached the checkout. “Do you have oat milk?”
“Yeah, we should do, it would be in Aisle Three, that’s where the non-dairy milks are.”
“Alright, thank you. I couldn’t find it, but I’ll look again.”
I sensed that she might have been trouble. The customer turned around and started to walk off.
“Well, I hope that you find it,” I called out after her.
Back to work, I was trying to play ever the good staff member. Thankfully, Maryam let me take a long lunch break. This allowed me to tune into the primate TAG meeting. It had already started, so I apologised in the chat that I was running a little late. With headphones on, I felt like I was in my own kingdom, in which the zoo world was all mine.
“Bungarribee?” Christine called upon Peter.
“Well, we’ve had quite the dramatic morning already with our male orangutan. He’s had a wound on his thigh which we’ve been treating, but this morning we needed to rush him to the vets. We were worried that we might have needed to amputate, but we think that we’ll be able to get the infection under control with antibiotics.”
“Here’s hoping, that’s for sure.”
“Mogo Wildlife Park?” Christine invited. “Julie, we’re so glad that you’re able to be with us today.”
My heart started to beat faster. I’d heard bits and pieces of what Julie’s been going through, although not the full story just yet.
“Yes, thank you, Christine. I returned home from Sydney on Tuesday night. To be perfectly honest, I was pretty tired, so I didn’t check in with the animals. The kids and my staff kept the ship running while I was away. I still should have checked in.”
“Please, don’t blame yourself,” Sam urged.
“Thank you. Some of the details are pretty hazy. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, I went to the gorilla exhibit. Wasia had given birth. At that stage she was caring for the baby, but they were both pretty weak. We made the decision that we needed to separate him for his welfare, and perform a procedure on Wasia as well, to give her a blood transfusion and ensure her wellbeing.”
Julie took a deep breath.
“The baby is still requiring around-the-clock medical care. He’s with our vets at the moment, so that I could take this time to come into the meeting. I know that you’d want to know what happened. I’d want to know, if this was happening somewhere else, to someone else.”
“Oh, Julie, my heart goes out to you.”
“Handrearing isn’t the worst-case scenario. Losing him would be the worst-case scenario. It’s still hard to make decisions, though.”
“You have our full support.”
“We are, of course, working towards a family reunion.”
“Thank you so much for sharing with us, Julie,” Christine told her. “We really appreciate your time.”
Julie gave a small smile.
“Thank you, Christine.”
“Monarto Safari Park?”
“Nothing for us this week,” Blessing mentioned.
“Our orangutan babies are going well, thank goodness. They’re very cute.”
He cleared his throat.
“There’s something I would like to raise,” Jimmy mentioned. “As part of the investigation into Bill Nevill’s misconduct, the Perth Zoo board is inviting submissions. If you have any allegations or personal experiences to share, you can pass them on, and anonymously, if you want to.”
We stayed silent for a moment. I pondered the thought. Maybe I would be able to pass on what happened at the wake, but that was just creepy, not illegal.
“My turn.” Christine started sharing her screen. “I thought I would just show you some updated chimpanzee photos.”
She flicked through the images of the members of the troop.
“So, there you go, they’re all growing up, in their own ways.”
“That’s lovely, thank you, Christine.”
She stopped screen sharing.
“Is there any general business anyone would like to cover before we wrap up today?”
Silence followed, implicitly answering the question anyway.
“Well, thank you for this meeting. Next week we’re going to be focusing on our priorities for next year,” Christine announced, “and we’ll decide whether or not we’re going to meet on the nineteenth.”
Once the TAG meeting was over, I removed my headphones.
“Are you finished your meeting now?” Maryam wanted to know.
“Yeah. I can get back to work now, thanks for that.”
I put my laptop and headphones away in my bag, returning to the checkout for the rest of the day. Upon leaving work, the elves’ labour had borne fruit, namely a Santa photo area, complete with imposing reindeer statues. I weaved around the crying children and returned to the bike rack. Unchaining my bike, I rode home from work, to find Mum and Dad were already back.
“How was your first day back?”
“Good, thanks,” I replied, heading to the fridge to get myself a drink of water. “Christmas has certainly come to Sorell. There are Santa photos in the mall now.”
Dad grinned fondly.
“Oh, I remember those days.”
“They were a nightmare.”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“Jumilah, you screamed and screamed and screamed when you saw Santa Claus. We weren’t able to get any photos. Instead, we had to wrap you in tinsel. We ended up with cute enough pictures, though. They’d be somewhere in an album. They were the days.”
I laughed along, even though I don’t really remember.
“Are we going to send Christmas cards this year?” Dad wanted to know, as he sorted the mail.
“Did we send them last year?” I asked.
“Yes. Last year was a big year, Jumilah finished school. Yes, we’ll send them again this year. Once again, there’s a lot to report, to tell people about the zoo.”
I was agreeable enough. Before dinner, I went to have a shower. Afterwards, I changed into my pyjamas and brushed my hair as I strolled back out to the kitchen table.
“Have we thought about what we’re going to do for Christmas this year?”
“Well, I thought we’d go to Luciano’s. That’s what we normally do.”
While having dinner with my parents, my phone beeped.
Would you like to have dinner out together tonight; Patrick proposed.
“We won’t want to have anyone here, Catherine. I’m sure Paula won’t mind. She’s never minded before.”
Mums just cooked; I told him. Dessert?
Sure; Patrick agreed.
“I’m going out with Patrick tonight for ice cream,” I announced, “if that’s alright.”
“Yeah, sure, of course.”
We finished off our food, then Mum cleared the table. Upon returning to my bedroom, I slotted the hairbrush back into the drawer. I’d left the towel on the floor, so I walked it into the bathroom and hung it up, flicking off the fan which I must have left on. You can always turn out to be a good daughter in the end, if you get everything done in time. I exited the bathroom, ensuring I had all the belongings I’d need.
“Alright, I’m off,” I announced to Mum and Dad.
They bid me farewell, then I departed the house. Noticing my bike, I figured that I could ride it down to Sorell, then catch the bus in. The warm summer evening filled me with optimism, the breeze rustling my hair hanging out from under my helmet. I disembarked my bike upon reaching the bus stop. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. The bus arrived, my bike and I climbed on and I sat down, feeling abuzz knowing that I would soon see Patrick. I checked my phone and noticed that Tessa had never answered my message.
Hope you’re going well!; I messaged again, with a photo from the zoo.
The bus arrived in the city and I alighted at the right stop so that I could amble down to the waterfront. A group of singing Santas played carols, right here where I found Patrick.
“Hey,” I greeted him with a smile. “Does Bushmint Lovechild sing Christmas carols?”
“Well,” Patrick responded. “I wouldn’t have thought so.”
Regretting the quip, I nodded my head soberly.
“Sorry, I know that might be a delicate issue.”
“How have you been going?”
“Yeah, good,” I answered, with a nod of my head to reassure myself. “I worked today, at work, that was fine. It’s not for that much longer, anyway.”
We wandered down the waterfront.
“I know that it was me, Jumilah.” Patrick took a laboured breath. “I know that I was the one who said that we should give things another shot. Really, now that I think about it, I shouldn’t have done that. I can’t give you what you deserve in this relationship.”
I turned around to face Patrick, baubles glittering behind my back.
“Are you breaking up with me in front of a Christmas tree?”
“Yes, yes, I’m sorry that I am,” Patrick apologised, “but I think this is for the best for both of us. We need a clean break, a final goodbye. Of course, we can still be friends, but I’m not in love with you anymore. I’m in love with Sloane.”
I nodded my head.
“I’ve suspected that for a while.”
We found somewhere to sit down.
“I thought that it was just about the baby, and then--.”
Patrick swallowed hard.
“I thought I was scared to be happy. What I thought was that being with Sloane was easier. I could give that baby a good dad. Really, I wanted to give her what I’d never had for myself, at least until now.”
I honestly didn’t know what to say. The finality of the blow was yet to hit me. Patrick was a good, honest man, to the bitter end. There was a small group of people on the parliament lawns. I found myself focusing on them, or really, distracted by them, dancing, laughing and picnicking. A part of me longed for friendship to be that carefree, like it used to be. Perhaps it could be again, if I allowed myself that luxury.
“I would like if we could stay friends, if you would like that too,” Patrick requested. “I’m still so proud of you.”
In the past I would have kissed him, to thank him, maybe to get him to stop talking.
“Thank you,” though, was all I managed to say.
“I can drive you home,” Patrick offered.
“We haven’t even had our ice cream yet.”
“Do you want to have ice cream now?”
“Well, yeah, it was part of the offer.”
The thought of having around, pretending like everything was normal, seemed unbearable. Therefore, we abandoned that plan, and Patrick just drove me back home. I thanked him, then emerged from the car and scampered up the front steps. I sauntered back into the house, the unmistakable dialogue of ‘Love Actually’ sounding from the TV. Sitting on the lounge, Mum’s face was aglow with soft light. I walked through into the loungeroom, not saying anything.
“How was your ice cream?”
I lay down on the lounge, leaning into Mum’s outstretched arm.
“Patrick and I broke up,” I told her.
“Oh, Jumilah.” Mum stroked her hand down my cheek. “I’m so sorry.”
She reached for the remote and switched off the TV. I cried and cried and cried – for Patrick, for Kakek, for the baby gorilla.
“We didn’t even have ice cream,” I admitted. “It all happened before we had the chance.”
“Oh, Jumilah. At least that’s one thing that I can fix about this.”
I narrowed my gaze, while she got up and departed into the kitchen. Shortly after, Mum returned, with two bowls. She handed one over to me, containing both choc-caramel and vanilla ice cream.
“I didn’t realise we had any in the freezer.”
“We bought it while you were in Sydney, your father and I just felt like we wanted it.”
Mum sat down beside me and we started to eat.
“This is better than any ice cream from the waterfront.”
I genuinely meant it. Mum’s care has made all the difference, in stopping me from falling apart. I finished my ice cream. Handing over my bowl, I went to get up, to go and have a shower, get changed and clean my teeth.
“Are you alright, Jumilah?”
“Yeah, I am,” I decided. “It’s time for a fresh start.”
“I love you.”
Blowing Mum a kiss, I told her that I love her too. I walked through into the bathroom. Getting into the shower, I washed off the day, then dried myself and scampered into my bedroom to change clothes. Before going to bed I did the Wordle and guessed TAMAN as my first guess. Somehow, that was the right answer, five green squares all at once. I rolled onto my back, eyes bulging. Placing my phone atop the bedside table, I realised that I felt more anxious than I expected, despite my unexpected victory in the Wordle. Somehow my exhaustion got the better of me, so it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
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.