Nikki dropped the Berocca into the glass and watched it fizz in the water.
“It’s kind of mesmerising, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed.
My forearms were rested on the edge of the table, chin on my wrists. We’d not long arrived at Healesville Sanctuary. After last night, and having worked a seven day week, safe to say I felt a little worse for wear. Nikki skulled her drink, while I observed mine. Eventually, I started to sip it, as I heard a vehicle pull up. Nikki scampered out to the front of the sanctuary. By the time she returned about fifteen minutes later, I’d finished my Berocca.
“We’ve got a patient.”
I followed Nikki into the exam room. There was a kangaroo on the table, pelvis splayed open.
“Female eastern grey kangaroo, she was brought in after being caught in a barbed wire fence.”
“She has a pouch young. She’s not a pinkie.”
“Jumilah, could you please attend to the joey?”
I nodded my head and raced across the room. The joey was physically unharmed.
“You’re in charge of the joey,” Nikki assured me.
I nodded my head and started assessing the joey.
“Jumilah, I need you back here.”
I rushed over to the mother on the table. Nikki checked the kangaroo with her stethoscope.
“I don’t have a pulse.”
“I have a pulse,” I declared.
We waited, as the heartbeat registered on the monitors.
“Oh boy.” Nikki took an audible breath. “That was close.”
“Do you think that she’ll make it?”
“I’m not sure, I hope so.”
“What do we do now?”
“We need to give her an X-ray. That will tell us if she’s got a fractured pelvis.”
Nikki fitted us both with blue aprons.
“Do you get the gist of this?” she asked as we tied the strings into bows.
“Yeah, it’s got lead in it, so that our insides don’t get fried.”
She adjusted the X-ray machine. Nikki took the films of the kangaroo’s pelvis, then we ducked out of the examination room, in order to check for internal injuries. It was still important for me to understand the basis of veterinary medicine. I could feel my pulse underneath my collarbone, while Nikki fixed the X-rays to the light box. She squinted as she studied them.
“Alright.” Nikki ran her pinky fingernail along a gap in the density. “This is what I’m worried about, right here.”
My throat felt dry. I crossed and uncrossed my arms. Nikki removed the films from the light box and switched it off.
“I’ll give her a few days. Hopefully it will heal on its own and she’ll make a full recovery.”
She afforded me a brief break from duties. I needed a bit of fresh air to clear my head, walking out from the wildlife hospital. Visiting the animals in quarantine at least meant that I could remain productive. Once I had donned my protective gear, I entered through the first gate. The wallabies bounded over, across their yard. One of the males, Hisiu, paused by the drinking trough and dipped his head, but didn’t lap up any of the water. Satisfied everything was alright, I moved onto the cages. I couldn’t see a cuscus on first glance. Eventually they were all accounted for, mostly sleeping. It was little wonder the species would be accommodated within the nocturnal house, once they had passed quarantine and were put on public display. On the way out, I encountered a tall, young man, whom I’d seen around the sanctuary before.
“I used to think ground cuscus was something you ate with meatballs and Greek yoghurt, but--.”
I snorted a laugh.
“I’m Spider, by the way.”
“I make that same joke to everyone,” Spider remarked. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard it before.”
I nodded my head.
“First time for everything.”
I stripped off my protective gear and discarded it. Truth be told, I didn’t know whether it would be thrown away, or disinfected for reuse. I would have preferred the latter, but understood if there was a greater imperative to prevent the spread of disease, not that I truly believed the animals from Papua New Guinea would pose a threat.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Why are you called Spider?”
“You know, it’s not that complicated. My name’s Joseph Webb.”
I stifled a giggle.
“It’s alright, laugh away.” He looked over my shoulder. “How are they going?”
“Hopefully the cuscus will get along with the sugar gliders.”
“Is that the plan, to mix them in the exhibit?”
Spider took a deep breath.
“Well, nice to meet you, Jumilah. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
I returned to the wildlife hospital, where Nikki was trying to get the joey to take a bottle.
“We’re going to need a name for this girl.”
“My best friend back home, her name is Tallulah. How about that?”
I tilted my head to the side in thought.
“Or, we could shorten it. How about Lula?”
Finally, she accepted the teat.
“How’s the mum?”
I folded my arms.
“She’s going alright, she’s still a little sedated.”
I nodded my head sympathetically.
“Have you had anything to eat today?”
“She’s drinking well.”
Nikki glanced up at me.
“I was talking to you.”
“Oh. Yes. I had breakfast this morning.”
“If you feel hungry, I’m pretty sure there’s tea and biscuits in the staffroom.” Nikki glanced towards the clock. “We’re supposed to be doing health checks on the plain wanderers for release today.”
“Right, I didn’t realise.”
“That’s probably not going to happen. It’s alright, we’ll plan for another day.”
“Plains wanderers are bred at Werribee as well, off-display,” Nikki noted. “It’s all part of the conservation efforts.”
Lula finished her bottle.
Nikki’s pager vibrated. She lifted it from her belt and squinted a little to read the message.
“Oh, Margie would like to see you at the bilby exhibit,” Nikki announced.
“I’m sure that there’s nothing wrong.”
Nikki was able to spare me, as Derek was also present on-site, in order to manage both Lula and her mother. As I strode out into the light, my phone vibrated. I checked the text from Patrick, confirming that he was a blood type match for Reg, his biological father, and would be going ahead with the surgery.
You’re a good person; I texted, then flicked my phone onto silent and dropped it back into my pocket.
I knew that there was more to say, but that was all I could manage for now. I took the path down past the platypus exhibits. Standing there for a moment, I distracted myself with the calming properties of the running water, before I needed to leave for my destination. I cut down the main path and reached the nocturnal house. Inside, I met Margie outside the bilby exhibit, like we’d agreed. There is a group of three male bilbies at Healesville Sanctuary, with most of the breeding taking place at Taronga and Monarto.
“Hey. What did you need?”
“Oh, I just wanted to walk you through a few things. It was good to see you last night.”
“Yeah, you too.”
Margie escorted me out of the nocturnal house and into the koala breeding complex.
“I love this place, I love this life. Personally, I don’t need anything else.”
I grinned. We paused before a stall, an awake koala in the fork of the tree.
“This is one of our breeding males, Thunder,” Margie introduced. “Do you know why he’s called Thunder?”
I hummed in thought.
To answer the question, the male koala bellowed.
“My goodness, I see what you mean.” I giggled. “Well, I hear what you mean.”
Margie led me through the complex.
“A number of these animals were wild-born.”
“And couldn’t be released?”
It almost went without saying. Margie reached over into one of the enclosures.
“Thunder wasn’t wild-born. He came to us from Australia Zoo. You’ll find all of that information here.”
She pulled up the whiteboard for me to view. I nodded, surveying his key statistics, etched in marker.
“A good old fashioned whiteboard’s never going to glitch or stop something, although I see the benefits of technology, too.”
“My birthday is the sixth of March, too,” I noted. “How about that?”
“There you go.”
The koala, though, was comfortably younger than me.
“Well, that’s the end of my day. You can head home if you like, unless Nikki has anything else for you to do.”
Margie and I parted ways. Whilst I hadn’t mentioned it to her, I was sort of tethered to Nikki’s travel plans anyway – she was my ride, after all. I took the long way back to the wildlife hospital, so that I could take in more of the sanctuary. Visitors continued to wander around. I looked into the leaf litter in the Tasmanian devil exhibit, where Angel was kept, an old girl of Healesville Sanctuary. She was sleeping in the same spot I’d last seen her.
“Are you sure that’s alive?” a kid asked, but the gentle rise and fall of her black fur confirmed that she was still kicking.
I returned to the wildlife hospital. Glancing through the window, Nikki and Derek were inside, performing some sort of procedure on what looked like a bird. Perhaps the plains wanderer health checks were going ahead after all. I chose to take a moment to have that cup of tea and a biscuit, which had been suggested earlier in the day. When I came out of the staffroom, there was a police car parked where Nikki’s usually would have been. The memory returned, that she’d pulled into a different place, being a Sunday, her vehicle still standing. Two police officers emerged from the car, carrying with them a bundle of blankets, surrounding an orphan they’d found roadside. A shudder went over me, of relief, but chastising my forgetfulness. I accompanied the officers into the wildlife hospital with the kangaroo joey. They handed the bundle over, then departed.
“We’ll have to think of another name.”
Nikki checked the joey.
“A boy’s name.”
“I’ll put my thinking cap on.”
Nikki provided the joey with formula, to boost his hydration, while she told me where to find the number of a wildlife carer. I stepped out and made the call. While we waited for her arrival, Lowanna crossed my mind.
“I’m qualified as a wildlife carer,” I noted, opening up to Nikki.
“Which you know, because you’ve read my CV.”
“Yeah, I have.”
I leaned against the doorframe.
“What about Steve?”
“Big fan of the Irwins?”
“Yeah,” I agreed with a smile, “and Blue’s Clues.”
Nikki gazed into the joey’s eyes.
“Steve, it is, then.”
Derek escorted in Janice, the wildlife carer. While he prepared the bag of supplies, Nikki explained everything she would need to know. Lula hopped into the room.
“I didn’t realise there was a second joey. I’m not sure if I have capacity for both, but I’ll try my best.”
I scooped Lula up, before she could get into any of the cupboards and cause havoc. Cradling her, I parted my lips to explain.
“Oh, we’re keeping her here, with Mum,” Nikki confirmed. “Here’s hoping Mum will make a full recovery, and they’ll be released together.”
Janice accepted this and took Steve home with her. Nikki and I, therefore, handed over to the night shift staff.
“This has been a day,” I remarked, as we finally strode out of the wildlife hospital and made our way to the car.
She drove me back to the farm. Tiredness was starting to catch up with both of us. This time, Nikki came in for a cuppa with Mrs Roberts and I, which was especially welcomed by me. I needed the familiar presence and zoo talk to calm me down before I could settle in for the evening. Out the windows of the farmhouse, I witnessed a swirling of dust.
“Jumilah’s been telling me all about your new additions from Papua New Guinea.”
“Yeah, they’ll be kept within our nocturnal habitats, and hopefully they’ll breed. Half of the animals still have one more week in quarantine, and the others have been kept at Melbourne Zoo. It’s really exciting.”
Mrs Roberts sipped her tea.
“I’m sure you’re teaching Jumilah plenty. I gather it’s not that different, being on a farm to being in a zoo, when it comes to caring for the animals, but I’ve heard you’re the best in the business when it comes to the veterinary side of things.”
Nikki smiled modestly. Steam rose into my face from the surface of my mug.
“Working with the cuscuses.” The word rolled a little awkwardly off my tongue. “That’s helpful because we will have nocturnal species in our collection.”
Having a brainwave, I fetched my phone from my bag. Nikki chomped on a biscuit off the tray. I displayed some photos of the construction back home. When a message popped up from Patrick, I flicked away the notification.
“This is the latest update from Mum and Dad. It’s great to see the roof go on, but a bit surreal.”
Nikki checked her phone, then slotted it back into her bag.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yes,” she confirmed, “but I’m starting to fade, I’m sorry. Thank you for having me.”
Mrs Roberts accepted Nikki’s empty cup, then she departed, bidding us both farewell with a wave.
“Thank you for having her over.”
“It’s not a problem, Jumilah, honestly.”
“You’ve got just a mother’s touch.”
“I’m not quite sure it’s that specific.”
“You’re a mother of three kids, I think that qualifies you.”
“Actually,” Mrs Roberts corrected, her expression changing, “I’m the mother of four children.”
“Oh, sorry,” I replied, then buried my mouth by taking a sip from my tea.
“My oldest is a boy, he would be around the same age as you are, by now.”
Mrs Roberts tilted her head to the head, remembering.
“We lost him at five months old. He’s buried on the property.” She took a deep breath. “Anyway, how was your day?”
I was worried that I was making everything all about me, but Mrs Roberts showed me a genuine smile.
“Yeah, alright, we had two joeys brought into the wildlife hospital.”
Abbey Sim is a candidate for Honours in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. She lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Having started Huldah Media in 2021, Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.