Islanders

I woke up to the soft sound of conversation. This would be the end of the road, at least in terms of staying on the Cocos Islands. Reuben needed to go back to Melbourne, at least. I needed to return to work, as did Mum and Dad. Adam will stay with the animals, caring for them until they reach the end of their quarantine period. Hopefully then, there will be another home for them to go to.


“Of course, I will pay if I have to pay,” Nanek insisted, already sitting at the kitchen table.


I kicked the blanket off my legs, not that I needed it. Sitting up, I was glad that I’d slept in my clothes, even if I was starting to smell. I walked over to the table and took a seat, still half asleep.


“That is something which we will need to sort out when we make the bookings, with Don.”


Reuben glanced at me.


“We’re discussing transporting the siamangs to Adelaide.”


I nodded my head to show I registered. Thankfully Mum must have been making toast, because she placed down a plate in front of me so that I could eat some breakfast without saying a word. Having woken up unexpectedly hungry, I gulped it down rather too quickly.


“I’ll make sure that you have Don’s phone number,” Reuben promised Nanek. “He’s a good man.”


“He’d seemed amenable enough in the meeting the other day.”


“Yes, Don’s very sympathetic.”


Of course, it still depended on getting over the line with the TAG. This wouldn’t necessarily be easy, given what Reuben had told me before about Bill and his ego. Once I’d finished my toast, I got up to get a drink of water. Its trickling from the tap made me feel calm, knowing that there were goodbyes ahead.


“I expect that he’ll vote in favour when we take it to the meeting.”


“Well, you’re gifting him my pair of siamangs, so I wouldn’t blame him.”


“I’m sure you’d be welcome to visit.”


We hadn’t yet addressed where Nanek planned to live. We figured that Sumatra would be safe, without the animals. Still we couldn’t be sure, so coming to Hobart with us might not have been a bad idea.


“I would love to visit Adelaide. I’ve never been before.”


Nanek turned to Mum.


“Have you, Catherine?”


“No, I haven’t,” Mum answered, and neither have I.


“I’d love to go, though,” I chimed in.


I ambled back out of the kitchen, glass in hand.


“Well, I’m sure that Don would be happy to have all of you,” Reuben promised.


I sat down at the table, already feeling the sweat pooling around my collarbones. The humidity certainly won’t be missed.


“What time’s your flight?” Adam wanted to know.


“11am,” Reuben answered, “then I’ll connect straight to Melbourne.”


“And our connecting flight to Hobart is an hour later,” Mum added.


“We’ll miss you.”


I smiled in Adam’s direction.


“Thank you for caring for the animals,” Nanek vowed.


She’s staying on, at least until we work out next steps.


“It’ll be an honour to keep working with you. I guess that you’d like to go and say goodbye before the flight.”


“Yes, that would be lovely.”


“Come with me,” Adam urged.


We followed him outside.


“You’ll hear the plane when it comes in,” he noted. “As you know, the airstrip’s not far away.”


I glanced in that direction, the concrete still sizzling.


“I’ll miss this,” I told Mum.


“If you want to work with animals, nothing should hold you back.”


“It’s more complicated than that, you and I both know that.”


I lifted my hand to shield my face from the sun, as we approached the enclosures. Laki and Mawar, the white-handed gibbons, have a particularly warm place in my heart, due to their playfulness.


“Is it, really?” Mum challenged. “You could go to Melbourne and work with Reuben.”


“But then I would have to leave you and Dad,” I pointed out.


“You’ll be eighteen next March. I was your age when I moved countries, from Indonesia to Melbourne. Your father moved from Hobart to the mainland.”


I want to work with animals, but I don’t want to have to leave Tasmania to do it. The question can be answered another day, once we’re settled back.


“I loved this, when I was younger.”


While I wondered if Mum wanted to live through me, I didn’t mention it. It would have seemed rude.


“You should go and feed them, and say goodbye. I’ll come with you.”


We approached the enclosure.


“Hey there, girl.” I beamed.


I do enjoy being with animals, and with Nanek, and still I can’t wait to get home. These things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, I know, but I feel the pressure nonetheless.


“I’m going to miss you,” I vowed, starting to well up even though I tried not to. “Yes, I will.”


The cutesy voice would get me nowhere, so I took a step back and heard a loud drone. Glancing over my shoulder, a plane was approaching, bouncing and bounding along the small airstrip until it came to a halt.


“That’s our ride home,” Reuben remarked.


A handful of people stepped off the plane. People say that Tasmania’s a long way from anywhere – but this is a whole other kettle of fish. We bid our final goodbyes to the animals, before heading back to the house.


“Would I have time to get changed quickly and have a shower?” I asked, not confident.


Mum hummed and glanced towards the clock.


“Yes, quickly,” she answered, so I rushed around, enjoying the feeling of being cooler for just a while, and the chance to wash off the sweat and dirt of the week and change into fresh clothes for the plane.


“I’m ready to go,” I announced, packing the last of my things into my bag.


“Thank you for having us.” Reuben and Adam shook hands.


“My pleasure,” Adam replied.


He accompanied us to the plane, where we brought our bags with us into the small cabin.


“Do you reckon that there will be more than the four of us?” I asked, fastening my lap belt.


“I don’t know,” Mum answered.


Turned out there was another couple, heading to the mainland for a family wedding.


“And what have you been in the islands for?” the woman, Cindy, enquired.


“We came in with the animals quarantining here,” I supplied.


“Oh, I thought you might have been.”


“My parents and I are now going home to Hobart, and Reuben’s flying back to Melbourne, after this.”


“Right. I don’t think that we’ve had this much excitement in this neck of the woods since the elephants.”


“Ah, that was a time,” Reuben remarked.


At least this time I was more comfortable than the previous time I had been flying back. We paused the conversation for a moment, to listen to the safety demonstration. I did need to pay attention, because that was a little plane. It was smaller than the one we’d flown into the islands on, a cargo plane which fitted the animals. Still, I struggled to take the information in. I prayed for no catastrophes, grateful when the flight attendants sat down and the plane started to move, ready to take off. Cindy seemed on for the chat.


“So you were involved with importing those elephants into Australia?” she asked Reuben. “Did you all play a part?”


“Yes, I was involved, but this has been my first time here,” Reuben clarified.


I glanced out the small window of the plane.


“Catherine, Adriano and I went to university together, and Jumilah is their daughter. It’s been good to reconnect, albeit in less than terrific circumstances.”


Despite his circumspect tone, it felt like Reuben was blowing our cover.


“So these animals will be going to Australia too, that’s what we’ve heard?” Cindy wanted to know.


“Well.” Reuben threw up his hands. “The plans are a little up in the air.”


Just like that, the plane launched into the sky. The pressure in my ears increased. I swallowed hard in the hope of releasing it.


“Jelita Calang, Catherine’s mother, she’s cared for them and rescued them over in Sumatra,” Reuben outlined. “Some were in the pet trade, others had been caught in traps and badly injured.”


“That’s terrible.”


“Jelita’s staying in the Cocos for the quarantine period.”


I bit the top of my thumbnail.


“Oh, she must be at Adam’s place.”


“Yes, that’s correct.”


Reuben cleared his throat. I sat forward, in the hope my back wouldn’t ache as much.


“You said before that you’re going for the mainland for a family wedding,” I recalled.


That’s something we have in common, I guess, not being mainlanders.


“Yes,” Cindy confirmed, her eyes lighting up. “It’s my sister’s wedding.”


“That’s lovely.”


“I’m the Matron of Honour.”


Cindy laughed nervously, holding her husband, Samuel’s hand.


“It makes me feel old.”


“Just means you’re married, baby.”


“I know, I know.”


“How long have you two been married for?”


“Two years in June. We’ve lived here for a year, I came to work at the museum.”


“Well, we haven’t had much time for sightseeing.”


“You’ll have to come back, and check it out,” Cindy suggested.


“Maybe we will,” I agreed with a smile.


The future is uncertain enough. I can make all the promises I like, but I don’t have to keep them.


“What’s your dress like?” I asked, to continue the conversation.


“Well.” Cindy’s eyes bulged. “I actually haven’t seen it in person yet, because we’ve been here. We’re all really, really hoping it fits.”


“Yeah, that’d be a pickle if it didn’t.”


“Tell me about it.”


I settled back in my seat. While I was happy to talk about the wedding, I hadn’t yet picked my next line of questioning. On the plane I felt a little queasy.


“I hope that it’s a lovely wedding.”


“Thank you, I hope so too. It’ll be really good to see my family, see my grandparents, and get my sister married.”




It was a sunny afternoon when we landed in Sydney, bright light shining in through the windows.


“How much time have we got before the connecting flight?” I wanted to know.


Dad checked his watch.


“About forty-five minutes,” he answered. “We’ve got time to grab a coffee.”


This time, I requested a hot chocolate. Even though Sydney is less humid than the Cocos, the warmth and the sugar wouldn’t go unappreciated. Besides, I wanted a marshmallow, and the café nearby promised them, all stacked up pink and white within a large jar which glinted in the light of the terminal. Planes I could take or leave, but they help us to get to places far away. Dad scurried off to buy the drinks, while Mum and I found somewhere to sit down with our bags.


“I wish I could take my shoes off,” she lamented.


“I’m sure you can, even if just for a little while,” I replied.


I squinted in Mum’s direction, concerned.


“Or wait until we get back on the plane.”


Dad didn’t take long.


“Thank you,” I gushed, reaching for my cup.


I resisted the urge to gulp it straight away, so as not to burn my mouth off. The airport wasn’t busy, nor was it totally empty. I still didn’t expect there to be too many other people on our final flight home to Hobart. In the distance, I watched Christmas trees being packed away. It felt a little awkward, like spying Santa Claus without his beard.



Back in Hobart, we stepped off the plane and into the cold. I welcomed the chill.


“I still don’t know why God would have put such a beautiful place at the bottom of the world,” Dad remarked, then we entered the terminal.


 

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.


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