Updated: May 10, 2022
Today is Kakek’s birthday. He would have been sixty-four years old. I awoke with a heaviness which I did not expect, after the joy of my own birthday party last night. I’d been due on Kakek’s birthday, and born earlier by a matter of hours. As I got up, Mum and Dad had already left for work, but there was a note on the kitchen island.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Tallulah offered.
“Yes, please,” I accepted, even though I was a little distracted by the note.
“Coming right up,” Tallulah vowed.
She’s spent enough time here that she’s become part of the furniture. I was thankful, that Tallulah knows where everything is.
“Would you like a cupcake to go with it?”
“I wouldn’t say no. A cupcake for Kakek’s birthday.”
“I’m so sorry, Jumilah.”
“It’s alright,” I assured. “I want to celebrate his life and continue his legacy.”
Tallulah handed me a cup of tea and a cupcake.
“Are you sure that you’ll be alright? I can stay, or you could come with me.”
“It’s alright, I’ll be fine. My uncle’s here with me too.”
I took a sip from my cup of tea.
“Thank you for coming. I really appreciate it. I’ll see you later.”
Tallulah bid me farewell, then left, so that she could go to uni. The cupcake was vanilla, with icing and swirls of white chocolate on top. Once I ate my cake and threw down my tea, I scrolled out the back and gazed upon the trees for a moment. After taking a breath, I returned inside, so that I could get on with the day, a quiet day at home, except for the TAG meeting. I’d just not expected it to be quite this moody. I let the warmth of the shower soak me up and consume me. It was like a summer storm, a monsoon, the opposite of the Tasmanian weather in which I’ve grown up. There is something in my bones which loves that sort of weather. In contrast, it turned out to be twenty-two degrees today in Hobart, and overcast. That’s not cold whatsoever, but it wasn’t humid rainforest weather, either. After my shower, I got dressed into a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and shorts, to spend a peaceful morning.
“Jumilah,” Uwak Andrew called out from the hallway, “the phone rang while you were in the shower.”
“Who was it?”
“Bruce from the Council. Do you have his number to call back?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, my heart beating faster. “I do.”
Rushing out of my bedroom, I phoned Bruce back.
“Hello, Bruce, it’s Jumilah Fioray.”
“Hi, Jumilah, are your parents there?”
“No, they’re not, sorry, they’re at work. I’m eighteen now, if there’s anything which you need to tell me, about our rezoning application.”
“Look, I really need to speak with your parents. I’ve got your mother’s mobile number here--.”
“Yeah, if you have to, ring that, she’ll answer that.”
As Bruce and I ended our call, I frantically texted Mum to say that he was about to ring, and she needed to answer her phone when he did. I waited, very impatiently, with Uwak Andrew and Kem sitting around. As I paced around the kitchen, they looked at me skeptically.
“I don’t think that I can keep doing this.”
All of a sudden, I dropped to the floor. I must have had some control over it, because I didn’t hurt myself. Uwak Andrew lay down beside me on the floor. The tear fell across the bridge of my nose. When the phone rang again, I startled.
“I’ll get it,” Uwak Andrew promised.
He brushed his hand over my forehead, then got up and answered the phone. My heart thudded within my chest. Uwak Andrew gave me the phone, telling me it was Mum.
“We have been successful with the rezoning application,” Mum announced. “We did it!”
I squealed, which was no doubt lovely for her over the phone.
“Oh, that’s so good, I’m so happy! I wasn’t sure if this would happen.”
“Next thing, we make plans.”
Once I got off the phone, there wasn’t much to do. It wasn’t yet time for the TAG meeting.
“It’s a blessing from Kakek,” I remarked, with a tear coming to my eye again. “I’m so happy.”
Still, I couldn’t stop crying.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m great. I’d love a coffee, though.”
“I’ll make coffee,” Uwak Andrew offered. “You go and relax, you’ve got that meeting this afternoon, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Right. Thank you.”
I went in to go to the bathroom, then returned to the loungeroom. Uwak Andrew flicked over the pages of the newspaper.
“Coffee’s brewing,” he confirmed, then closed the newspaper and got up. “I should check it.”
Uwak Andrew meandered into the kitchen. He returned only about a minute later, with coffee for both of us.
In between each sip of coffee, I breathed out, trying to feel normal again. Truth be told, I haven’t felt normal in a very, very long time – since Kakek was killed. When I heard the postie, I finished my coffee and walked out to the letterbox, where a parcel was delivered.
“Thank you,” I said to him.
I couldn’t wait to get inside to open it. Not able to resist, and feeling something heavy inside, I removed the wool and brown paper. It revealed a white cardboard box. I opened it carefully, almost dropping the gift inside. A note slipped out, which I picked up and uncurled.
Never let your dreams get lost – Sam
A smile came onto my lips. I peered at the snow globe, an elephant with its trunk raised inside.
Crouching down, I shook it, then carefully placed it down on the driveway to watch the glitter fall. Uwak Andrew came around from out the back, to check what I was up to.
“It’s a birthday gift from Sam, it’s a Taronga Zoo snow globe.”
“That’s beautiful, how kind of him to send you a birthday present.”
“Yeah, it really is.”
We walked back inside the house.
“Sam’s one of your zoo friends, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he’s the bloke that I met on the plane.”
It was as if my body knew the bittersweet occasion, as my neck and shoulders felt tight. We heard a truck outside.
“I thought that the postie had already been.”
“Yeah, this seems like a courier.”
I made my way to the front door as a man in high-vis scurried up the steps.
“Thank you,” I called out.
I collected the present, but didn’t have much time to open it before needing to join the TAG meeting. Leaving it on my bed, I logged on in the loungeroom.
“Sam, I must thank you for my birthday gift, that’s so kind of you,” I gushed.
“You’re most welcome, Jumilah. I hope that you like it, you ought to have a little piece of Taronga with you.”
There was something of an awkward silence which followed. Reuben cleared his throat.
“I think that everyone’s here. Do you think we should kick on with the meeting?”
Christine agreed, so the meeting commenced.
“Today, we’ve got a presentation from the committee investigating orang-utan AI.”
“Yes, thank you, Christine,” Reuben responded rapidly. “I thought we could spend time some setting the scene. To do that, the committee has tasked Don with explaining why this program is worth pursuing in the first place. Take it away, Don.”
Don started sharing his screen.
“We have been trying to breed our Sumatran Orang-utan pair. Merah was imported from Germany and Kluet is from the US, via Taronga Zoo. Unfortunately, they have not yet conceived.”
Don changed slides, to a photograph of the pair, beautiful Sumatran Orang-utans. He clicked again, to show us a brief video of them enjoying their exhibit, swinging with the siamangs.
“Our male, Kluet, has undergone semen analysis and has been confirmed to have excellent sperm quality and mobility and a high sperm count. Merah, too, is a reproductively viable animal.”
My eyes bulged, still enamoured by the siamangs in the video. They weren’t Medan and Georgia. I would have recognised them, instantly. They must have been Adelaide’s other siamangs.
“Therefore, the issue seems to be the compatibility of the pair, actually getting them to mate. That’s where artificial insemination comes in. We have the studbook recommendation in place, so if we could achieve a pregnancy through AI, the pair would be able to breed without needing to mate.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“It would be,” Reuben chimed in. “It’s worked with gorillas before, artificial reproductive technology. We’ve learned lessons which can be applied in these circumstances.”
“So, now, we’ll look at things more broadly,” Bill went on.
Don stopped sharing his screen.
“The question is whether artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilisation is the best use of time and resources. Our recommendation is that this decision would be made on a case-by-case basis.”
“When would AI be preferred?”
“If the barrier to reproduction is social.”
“And IVF when there’s a medical reason why mating isn’t resulting in a pregnancy?” Gerard guessed.
“Either way, we’d recommend collecting as much semen as possible during electroejaculation.”
“In order to prevent the male from having to undergo multiple procedures?”
“Exactly right,” Reuben confirmed. “Of course, we might not always be able to prevent that, depending on the sample.”
“Thank you to our committee and to Don, that presentation has certainly given us a lot to ponder. I did have one question in relation to the training of personnel. How would these procedures be carried out?”
“Well, there are a number of reproductive expert veterinarians. Generally, we’d have to import them, so to speak, but there’s Doctor Andy Hope who is Australian.”
“We’ll move on now to studbook reports. Are there any reports for this meeting?”
“I’ll take that as a no.”
“I’ve got a question for Bill about the capuchin program. I’m noticing abnormalities in our youngsters.”
“Well, the population is quite inbred, I admit that, but what do you expect me to do about it?”
I heard my phone toll with a text message, so glanced down at it.
“Have we considered importing new blood from outside the region?”
“Well, have you?”
The text was just spam, so I deleted it.
“Mate, I’m not made of money--.”
“Look, it’s a valid question,” Christine interjected. “We understand that in a managed program, such as tufted capuchin, there is diversity amongst the holders.”
That was a polite way of saying that some zoos have more money than others.
“There are enough animals in the region that we do still need management of the program. It needs more management, not less, in order to cut down on the impacts of inbreeding.”
“Just before we get onto member reports, I note that there’s an item of business arising in relation to mandrill holders,” Christine noted. “Would anyone like to speak to their intentions in relation to holding or acquiring the species, or otherwise? To remind you, Reuben requested during the last meeting that we consider this issue, to determine the viability of the program.”
“We’re starting construction on our African rainforest precinct this year, we would consider housing mandrills within that, but we’d only want a bachelor group.”
“It’s not like there’s an abundance of males going around.”
“There’s not an abundance of animals, full stop, at the moment,” Sam reminded.
“Alright, with that settled, let’s move onto member reports. Adelaide Zoo?”
“We received two female baboons from Melbourne Zoo during the week, so thanks to Reuben for facilitating that. It’s really helpful for the gender balance of our troop, and we’ll keep you updated as to how we get on with introductions.”
“Have we reviewed the region’s baboon population in a while?”
“No, I don’t think we have.”
“As species coordinator, I do think that would be useful, when we have the time,” Reuben requested.
“Alright, let’s schedule that for the beginning of next month.”
“Gilead Wildlife Sanctuary?”
“Nothing to report.”
“Mogo Wildlife Park?”
“Our silverback has been having issues with constipation, so we have been trialling changing his feed. We’ll let you know how that goes.”
“Monarto Safari Park?”
“Our baby chimp is a female, she’s thriving which is really good news.”
“Ah, yeah, thanks, Christine.”
The man from Rockhampton wasn’t someone I recognised.
“We’ve witnessed mating in our chimpanzee troop, so we’ll assess the females for signs of pregnancy.”
“Yes, we’ve performed health checks on the two young male Francois Langurs which were planned to go to Hamilton Zoo. Unfortunately, we had a hiccup during one of the procedures.”
My heart started beating faster within my chest.
“Bobo aspirated some vomit. Our vet team were fantastic. They were able to stabilise him and get him breathing normally again. The vets were able to complete the health check and everything else was as we would expect, thankfully. So, I’m prepared to conclude that our plans to transfer the brothers to Hamilton are on track.”
“That’s good to hear he’s on the mend.”
“Yes. Thank you. Also, we’re anticipating the arrival of the western tarsiers from Perth Zoo later on today. I’ll call Jumilah once they’re here, and I’ll update the meeting next week.”
“Thank you. That’d be great.”
“Is there any general business?”
“Yes, I’d like to raise something,” Don spoke up. “I believe that it would be appropriate for our association to conduct a review into the use of products containing palm oil in our zoo food and beverage outlets.”
“That’s noble, Don,” Bill countered, “but what does this have to do with primates?”
“Considering that we’ve just been discussing orang-utans and how we can hopefully save them from extinction, I think that it’s entirely appropriate, don’t you?”
Don let out a sigh.
“Look, it may not be a topic for this committee, I concede that. I don’t get to stretch my legs very often these days, so I thought that it was worth bringing it up. It might be more of a conversation for the environment and sustainability SAG, who’ve we got as a representative there.”
“I am,” Hunter piped up.
“Well, if you’d be happy taking that issue to that meeting,” Christine mentioned, “then I think our work here is done.”
I wanted to ask Bill about the pregnant elephant, but I didn’t. There had already been enough he’d been involved with in the meeting. Once I got out of the TAG meeting, it would have been around the time that Patrick finished school for the day. I was writing him out a text, when he called.
“Oh, hello, speak of the devil.”
“I was wondering if I could come over.”
“Sure, that would be great.”
“Awesome, I’ll be about twenty minutes.”
“See you then.”
I had the quick chance to jump in the shower, then Patrick arrived to eat cake and stroll around.
“You never showed me a picture, of your grandfather.”
“We would have plenty in the albums, I’ll find one to show you.”
I scampered up to the attic and tracked down Mum and Dad’s wedding albums, but we didn’t get the time to look at them straight away. We sat down for a dinner of Padang soto. It’s Nanek’s recipe, actually.
“You know, this is why I could never go vegetarian,” I remarked, before scooping more beef into my mouth.
Thankfully Patrick loved the food. Finally, after dinner, Mum and Dad cleaned away. We were finally able to look at the albums. A smile instinctively came onto my lips.
“These photos are from Mum and Dad’s wedding,” I explained, slowly flipping over the pages, of film photos.
“It was the first time that my mother and father ever came to Australia. They met Adriano in person on the day before the wedding, they’d only ever spoken to him on the phone, or seen pictures that I’d emailed over,” Mum explained.
When the phone rang, I burst from my seat, thinking of the tarsiers. Indeed, it was Sam’s number.
“Hi, Jumilah, it’s Sam here. I just wanted to tell you that the tarsiers have arrived from Perth and have settled in.”
“That’s really good, thank you for letting me know.”
I got off the phone and conveyed the news to the others. When Patrick was about to leave, we started to move towards the front of the house, which gave us some time to ourselves, away from Mum and Dad.
“Patrick, I need to ask you something.”
“Do you know who the real father of the baby is?”
Patrick sighed as his first instinct, and I couldn’t help but feel like he did.
“No, I don’t, but--.”
“Well, it’s none of my business.”
I sensed there was more Patrick wasn’t saying, but maybe that was none of my business.
“Would you like me to speak with her?” I offered. “You know, woman to woman.”
“No, it’s fine, she’s got enough on her plate. I don’t want to cause her stress. She’s already going through enough with the pregnancy and now everybody, including me, knowing that I’m not actually the father.”
We moved out onto the front porch.
“Are you sure that you’re alright to get home?”
Patrick kissed me goodnight. I knew that my family might have been able to see. Finally, that didn’t bother me.
“You’re back at work tomorrow, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I am. Just a regular Tuesday.”
“We have International Women’s Day mufti at school.”
“I hope that you have a good day at school tomorrow.”
“Thanks, I do too.”
“And hopefully work’s not too painful for you.”
“I’m sure that it’ll be fine.”
Patrick kissed me again, one last time, then walked down to his car and drove away with a wave. I couldn’t stop smiling, the adrenaline of young love keeping me energised. Finally, I walked back into the house. I knew that I was sporting a coy smile and Mum, Dad, Andrew and Kem pretended to be aloof.
“I’m going to go to bed, I reckon,” I announced. “Goodnight.”
As I settled in to get ready for bed, I ran the hairbrush through my hair. Mum came into the room and sat down on the edge of the bed beside me, letting out a soft sigh.
“What do you really think about Patrick?”
“He seems like a nice enough young man, I reckon.”
“I love you, Mum.”
She kissed my forehead.
“I love you too,” I promised, then Mum departed for her bedroom.
Placing down the hairbrush, I snuggled under the covers. I sent a text to Charlotte, saying I hoped all was well with the pregnant elephant. Before going to bed, I set an alarm, knowing that I need to be up early for work in the morning. Despite that pressure, I couldn’t manage to get off to sleep. After lying there for an hour, I got up, frustrated. I wandered out to the kitchen for a little while, getting myself a glass of water, before heading back to bed. It was just before midnight when the tiredness got the better of me, and I must have fallen 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.