“Perth’s two hours behind.”
I consulted my watch, before pulling my hair back into a ponytail.
“So I really don’t think that anything would have happened yet.”
I bid Mum and Dad farewell and left for work. A day’s work on the checkout served to distract me. When I was finished my shift, there would likely be news, and hopefully good news. The first customer seemed to be a tad fidgety, out of breath as he loaded his groceries onto the conveyor belt.
“Yeah, hi, just this, thanks.”
I sensed that he wasn’t in the mood for conversation and left it at that while I scanned his small amount of groceries.
“Are you paying by card?”
I reached for the EFTPOS machine. The silly thing wasn’t working.
“Sorry, just a second,” I apologised.
I grunted and tried troubleshooting on the machine. When I glanced up, the man had bundled his groceries under his arms and started to run off. Breathlessly, I burst out from behind the checkout.
“I think I’ve got it working, maybe, sir,” I called out, but he was quickly gone.
“What’s the matter?” Maryam asked as she approached me.
“A customer just ran off with his groceries while I was fixing the EFTPOS machine.”
“Are you alright?”
Maryam took me into the staffroom. I felt close to tears. She poured me a glass of water from the tap and handed it over.
“It’s not your fault, Jumilah. We’re a supermarket, people steal from the supermarket. He’s probably desperate, he’s probably starving. The fact that he got some food without having to pay has probably helped him. Look, neither of us know for sure, but let’s think about it that way. I know that you’re humiliated, but that doesn’t have to last.”
“When you put it that way, it makes me feel better.”
“It’s OK.” Maryam passed me the box of chocolates. “Eat some chocolate, go into your meeting. Take a break, take a breath.”
Maryam stood up.
“I’m just doing my job.”
“Thank you, anyway. You know, you could be a therapist whenever you stop working here.”
“Thank you, maybe I’ll consider it.”
Maryam slipped out the staffroom door. I took a breath and downed the rest of my water. Seeing as Maryam was providing me with the opportunity, I figured that I may as well join the bird TAG meeting. I fetched my laptop and logged in, placing in my headphones to reduce noise in the rest of the staffroom. To my surprise, Robin wasn’t running the meeting. Having arrived a little late, I didn’t receive the explanation. Instead, a man was in charge. It turned out to be a pretty regular discussion. Following the TAG meeting, I got back to work, this time taking advantage of the quiet of the service desk. There really aren’t that many people buying cigarettes, and only a few more for returns and exchanges. I’d only seen a couple of customers before Maryam scurried over.
“Could you please take a checkout?” she requested. “I can get someone else to twiddle their thumbs here.”
“I’m taking that as a compliment,” I remarked.
I opened up one of the closed checkouts and started serving customers, who flowed over from one of the longer queues. Still, I found myself keeping an eye on the service desk. Sure enough, Eamon eventually ambled over with a coffee. He’d fit the bill of someone capable of twiddling their thumbs, although maybe that’s uncharitable. Feeling a little guilty, I served the customers until the rush came to an ease. I went through the motions, but that doesn’t mean I was really paying that much attention. I found myself staring into space. My body kept moving, even though my brain was dancing in another direction.
“Jumilah, are you alright?” Maryam asked me.
“Yeah, I’m just a little distracted.” I exhaled. “There’s a pair of Indian rhino arriving at Perth Zoo today.”
“Oh, right,” Maryam responded with a smile. “It’s always about animals with you, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed, grinning. “Little wonder I’m the zoo girl.”
“I’m just pleased there’s nothing wrong.”
“I mean, it did shake me up a bit this morning, but just because I think I’m a perfectionist.”
“You’re not just a perfectionist,” Maryam reminded me. “You care, you care about doing things right.”
A customer approached her checkout.
“And now, I’m sorry to say, we’ve both got to get back to work.”
“That’s fair enough.”
I started scanning the groceries on my conveyer belt. After a few customers, I got into a rhythm. So much so, that a familiar voice caught me off-guard, when the next customer rolled her trolley in.
“Hi, Juliet, how are you?” I greeted, scanning the groceries without looking. “I didn’t realise you were back in Tasmania.”
“We came back after this little one was born.”
Juliet spun around the pram so that I could lay eyes upon a beautiful baby girl inside.
“Oh, she’s gorgeous,” I gushed.
“She is,” Juliet replied, beaming, every bit the proud mother. “We’re renting a place near the airport. It’s under the flight path, which isn’t fun with a newborn, but it’s all we can afford until the insurance money comes through.”
“It still hasn’t been sorted out?”
“No, not yet, but hopefully soon.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
I reached for the EFTPOS machine so she could pay. Juliet tapped her card against the reader.
“It was so lovely to see you,” I gushed.
“Same to you,” Juliet responded. “Give all my love to your mum and dad as well.”
“I will, of course I will.”
Juliet and her baby left the supermarket. I checked my watch and noticed that it was time for the primate TAG meeting. Eager to attend, I kept working until I snagged someone else who could take over my checkout.
“Thank you,” I gushed, then rushed to the staffroom, where I fetched my laptop from my bag.
I placed it on the table. While I logged into my laptop and then the meeting, I placed my headphones over my ears and plugged them in. Having joined a little late, they were already up to reports.
“We have done some maintenance on our orang-utan exhibit.”
This I already knew from my time there.
“We introduced the new male squirrel monkeys to the females, but there was a scuffle and Christos ended up with a broken jaw.”
“That’s not good,” Christine responded. “Do you think it’ll impact your breeding for this season?”
“I’m not sure at this stage, to be perfectly honest with you,” Gerard answered. “There has been some mating already. We have returned Christos to his brother, Georgie, while he heals. Hopefully soon we will be able to reunite him with the females.”
“We sent our male gorillas to Werribee.”
“Orana Wildlife Park?”
“One of our male spider monkeys died suddenly during the week.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Sam commented.
“Our male orang-utan was seen by an eye specialist late last week. We were worried about possible glaucoma. Thankfully, he received a clean bill of health.”
“Werribee Open Range Zoo?”
“Well, as Reuben mentioned earlier, we received the three male gorillas from Melbourne at the end of last week. There was a bit of a scuffle when they first arrived. Thankfully, that’s settled down.”
The meeting came to an end, so it was time for me to get back to work at the service desk. I walked down the confectionary aisle.
“I’m back,” I announced. “Thanks for taking over for me.”
“Thank you for saying thank you,” Mbeli replied, departing the checkout to take her own break.
I got back to work for the rest of the afternoon. At the end of my shift, I was eager to get back home. I rode up the hill through a light smattering of rain. As I approached the corner near our place, I noticed that there was a black car stopped. I pulled over to the side of the road. Getting off my bike, I rested it against the fence. I took off my helmet and walked towards the car. Tentatively I approached the driver’s side. I noticed that there was a woman sitting in the seat, head down and long, dark hair covering her face. Even though I tried to approach gently, she must have spotted me. She pushed back her hair from her face and lowered the window. A part of me wondered if I would recognise her as a customer from the supermarket, but I didn’t.
“Sorry to bother you, are you alright? I live just near here, I saw your car pulled over.”
“Oh, I’m OK, I’m sorry.” The woman tried to pull herself together. “I just needed to take a moment.”
She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. I felt a little guilty for intruding. Maybe I didn’t need to stop after all.
“My name is Jumilah,” I introduced myself.
“It’s good to meet you, Carly.”
“Come around, take a seat, if you’ve got time,” she requested.
I walked around the car and slipped in the passenger seat.
“You know, my grandfather was shot in front of me.”
“Last year, Boxing Day.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Carly responded. “Did he--?”
I shook my head.
“I’m very sorry.” Carly sniffled. “My father’s dying, it’s cancer. I’ve just been to see him. I was just on my way home. Thank you for stopping.”
She took a deep breath.
“Is there anything that I can do for you?”
“No, you’ve been good to me,” Carly answered. “I’ll be right to get home. Thank you.”
I got out of the car.
Carefully, I closed the door behind me. When I leaned down to pick up my bag, I noticed that it had been dipped in mud. Saying nothing, I returned home and found Mum in the kitchen.
“Hi, Jumilah,” she greeted me. “How was your day?”
“Yeah, good, alright.”
I hoped she wouldn’t notice the bag. It was nobody’s fault other than my own. I just didn’t realise the mud.
“Did you have a good day?”
“Yeah, it was a regular day, it was fine,” Mum answered.
“I’m going to go and have a shower,” I announced, bringing my bag with me into the bathroom.
Dumping it on the vanity, I removed the contents, placing them on the counter. I put my backpack into the bath to be scrubbed down later, then had a shower, washed my hair and returned to my bedroom to change into my pyjamas. As I walked down the hallway, I could smell dinner. Brushing my hair, I entered the loungeroom and sat down in front of the TV.
“Do you mind if I just have my dinner here tonight?”
Mum walked into the loungeroom with two plates. I checked my watch.
“Do you think that it’s too early to call?”
Mum returned with my dinner on a stable table.
“I’d wait until tomorrow,” she suggested, “but you could ask someone else, not from Perth.”
“Thanks,” I murmured as I accepted my meal.
I felt a little dazed while I ate. It had been a long and tiring day. I knew that I’d need to clean off my bag at some stage, but I couldn’t have been bothered. Instead, I figured I could drown my exhaustion with mushroom and feta quiche.
“You’re working tomorrow, aren’t you?” Mum asked me.
The phone rang after we finished dinner. My heart beat faster at the thought of speaking to Charlotte.
“Hello,” I greeted. “How are you going?”
“Well, it’s been an up and down day,” Charlotte told me.
“What’s the matter?” I couldn’t help but ask.
Charlotte cleared her throat. Maybe I’d pried too far.
“Well, the Indian Rhinos are here, let’s focus on the good things.”
“And everything went to plan?”
“Mostly. Bill couldn’t help himself. He spent the whole day chatting to one of the keepers from the US. I think she found it flattering, so everything turned out alright.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“Yeah, it’s great to have the rhinos on the ground. The male’s sweet, the female’s a bit feisty.”
“Anyway, I’d better let you get to bed,” I mentioned, although it wouldn’t have been that late in Perth in hindsight. Thank you so much for calling.”
“It’s beautiful, and it’s just the beginning.”
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.