“When I spoke to Reuben yesterday, he said that I could come as soon as I wanted to,” I outlined. “So, I guess, this is me asking, can we look at the website and book a flight?”
“You know that you don’t have to ask.”
“Well, yeah, but I want to.”
I couldn’t tell if Mum looked unconvinced, or whether she just didn’t want her only baby girl to move interstate for an indefinite period of time in the midst of the construction project.
“Look, I know that there are difficulties involved, and financially--.”
I breathed out, to steady myself.
“Reuben said that I could stay with him.”
“Did he just?”
“Yeah. Why? Is that bad?”
“I heard that Reuben’s converted an old office block into his house.”
“So? It’ll be good experience actually living at the zoo.”
“Yes, it would be.”
“So, you’re happy for me to go?”
“Yes, I am.”
I called Reuben again.
“You have a new housemate.”
“Fantastic. What time are you flying in?”
“I don’t know that yet,” I admitted. “When would you like me to come?”
“There are flights from Hobart to Melbourne every day, I’m pretty sure.”
I walked from the kitchen into the loungeroom to get onto the computer.
“Well, then, I probably should book a flight.”
I sat down.
“Yes, unless you’re planning on swimming.”
Opening up Google, I searched for flights to Melbourne and found one leaving this afternoon at 4:45, trying not to look at the price.
“What about this one?” I asked.
“That sounds good.”
I could tell that Mum was holding back a little.
“Book it,” she told me, kissing my hair.
With a grin, I did just that, then, with Mum, went off to get packed. By Dad arrived home from work, I was close to being ready.
“I’m going to Melbourne.”
“Jumilah’s going to Melbourne.”
“Have you got somewhere to stay?”
“Yes, with Reuben.”
Dad seemed a little uneasy.
“What time’s your flight?”
“Alright.” Dad glanced towards his watch. “We should go now.”
I walked into my bedroom and made sure to take a good look around. With that, I took the handle of my suitcase. I dragged it after me, out to the car, then loaded it into the back seat with me. While my parents slipped into the front seats, I fastened my seatbelt across my chest. As Mum drove away, I repositioned my body. Looking over my shoulder, I gazed upon my home. I watched the half-constructed zoo, until I couldn’t see it anymore, then I turned my body back to face the front. Eventually, we arrived in the carpark at Hobart Airport, all three of us getting out of the car and heading into the terminal. I made sure I was checked in for my flight, just before the time to board. Dad held my cheeks in his hands.
“From the day you were born I knew that you were remarkable. I love you.”
“I love you, Jumilah,” Mum vowed, holding me close. “Go and be marvellous.”
She kissed me on the cheek. As I walked away from Mum, I could hear her crying. The automatic doors parted before me and I strode out, only then glancing over my shoulder. I waved goodbye, then I was the one who needed to take a sharp breath. As I boarded that plane, I couldn’t help but think of Mum leaving Nanek and Kakek in Sumatra, all those years ago. Late at night, I landed in Melbourne, rolling a wheely suitcase behind me as Reuben was there to greet me off the plane with a warm hug and kiss on the cheek.
“I’m going to work you hard, Jumilah,” he vowed.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” I promised, before he let me go.
We walked through the terminal, back to the carpark.
“Thank you for letting me stay with you,” I told him. “I do really appreciate it.”
We passed through the automatic doors and crossed the road via a bridge, to the multi-storey carpark which serviced the airport.
“Don’t thank me too soon,” Reuben remarked, fetching his keys from his pocket.
Sure enough, an off-white ute emblazoned with Zoos Victoria iconography was our ride to head back. We got into the cabin, my suitcase at my feet. I tried to make sure that my breathing was steady, a little overwhelmed by the events of the day so far. The zoo was under a cover of darkness by the time we arrived. Reuben pulled over, then hopped out of the car. He scurried through the shine of the headlights to unlock a gate, which proved itself to essentially be his driveway. Once Reuben parked, and the gate was locked again behind us, we could emerge from the car and enter the cottage, walking through into a bedroom.
“So, this is your room.” He reached inside and flicked on the light. “It’s nothing flash.”
“I swear, it’s lovely.”
There was a bed and a chair.
“Thank you for having me here.”
“It’s no trouble, I promise you. Get to bed, get some sleep. Everything starts in the morning.”
Reuben started to walk away.
“Sweet dreams,” he replied, even slipped into his own room.
I worried I’d struggle to get to sleep. My mind was full of what lay ahead, yet I drifted off pretty quickly.
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.