I kissed Mum on the top of the head.
“I’m really sorry, but I have to go now.”
“Have a good day, Jumilah.”
I walked out the door and rode my bike to work. When I arrived in the staffroom, Lucy was decorating the benches.
“Hey,” she greeted me. “I know that she might see some of this, but I thought it was good to be prepared.”
“Of course,” I agreed. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Not really at the moment,” Lucy answered. “We’re all under control.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “I’m sure Sloane will really appreciate it.”
I exited the staffroom and got to work. Being on a checkout, rather than the service desk, proved itself to be a quieter day. I scanned groceries and made small talk. Eventually, a young woman approached. Activewear, long blonde ponytail, packets of microwaveable quinoa and a single bottle of almond milk – late twenties, I reckoned, and probably single. While I was putting through the account, the customer tucked her hands into her pockets.
“Oh, my goodness, I must have left my card at home,” she gushed. “Do you mind if I quickly pop home and get it?”
“Of course, you can,” I agreed, going along with the adage that the customer is always right. “Look, I’ll just put your groceries over there.”
“Thank you, thank you.”
She rushed off, so I served the next customer. I busied myself with work for the next twenty minutes or so, before hearing footsteps again.
“Sorry, sorry, I’m back.” The blonde customer rushed back. “Thank you for saving my shopping.”
“That’s alright, no worries.”
I finished serving the other customer. Once she was gone, I put through the quinoa and the almond milk, and allowed her to be on her way. I made polite small talk with the next customer. Able to smell the booze on him, I felt a little uncomfortable, but didn’t say anything. I noticed that Sloane was a few checkouts down from me. Secretly I hoped that I wouldn’t have to be the one to get her to the baby shower. Lucy swung by, although I couldn’t exactly ask her with Sloane in earshot. Therefore, I continued to keep the peace and hoped like anything that I’d know what to do when the time came. Two paramedics walked into the supermarket. Ricky at the service desk directed them, and they moved with their medical bags out of sight. I wanted to follow, but I had customers to serve. My heart was beating faster, throbbing in every part of my body. Finally, my queue dried up, and I caught Maryam as she walked past.
“Hey, what happened before with the ambulance?”
“Oh, a guy passed out. We called the ambulance as a precaution. He’s fine now, his blood sugar just got really low.”
“That’s good that he’s alright.”
“Is it time for the shebang?”
“Yes, it is,” I confirmed, once I checked my watch.
I closed my checkout. With a coy smile, I followed Maryam through the store to the staffroom. We entered, where a number of the staff were waiting, but Sloane was nowhere to be found.
“Maybe we should have organised a barbecue.”
“And where would we have a barbecue?”
The door to the staffroom opened and Sloane stepped inside, bringing the bickering to an abrupt halt.
“Guys, what’s the matter?” she requested.
“Surprise,” Lucy called out. “Welcome to your baby shower.”
Sloane didn’t say anything. I thought she might have been about to cry. My heart thumped, as I tried not to look at Lucy.
“Thank you,” Sloane finally said.
“There’s cake,” Lucy mentioned. “Please, please, have some cake. I even baked it myself. It wasn’t on quicksale.”
Nobody took her up on the offer, so she had to cut another piece of cake for herself and start eating it.
“Thank you, Lucy,” I told her.
“You’re welcome,” she responded, with a mouthful of cake.
I turned to Sloane.
“Would you like some cake? You don’t have to say yes.”
“No, I’d love some, thank you.”
I cut Sloane a slice of cake, handing it over on a plate with a fork.
I made myself my own plate, the cake delicious and sugary. It felt a little awkward to watch Sloane eat. Instead, I glanced around at all the decorations – Lucy really went to town.
“We want you to feel celebrated and loved,” I told Sloane. “I really mean that. You deserve to feel special.”
She rested her fork on the plate.
“Thank you,” Sloane answered, still with half a mouthful of cake. “Usually, I just feel like a harlot.”
My brow furrowed, and I knew I was giving her a look. I honestly didn’t know what to say, but that must be how people think when they think about me, and what I’ve been through. Before it actually happened, I wouldn’t have known what to say, either.
“That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
I looked Sloane in the eye while I spoke.
“Thank you, Jumilah,” she responded with sincerity, despite the blush in her cheeks.
Sloane finished off her slice of cake.
“That was lovely,” she ensured, then departed the staffroom
I thought that I should have been getting back to work, too. Therefore, I checked my phone, not finding any notifications, then returned to the checkout. The afternoon passed without incident. Eventually, I popped back to the staffroom before my shift was due to be finished.
“Sorry, just taking a toilet break.”
“Please, please get out of here. Go home, love your Mum.”
“Thank you, Maryam.”
Leaving work, I rode home, grateful for the early mark, and not just to spend some more time celebrating Mothers’ Day. I returned home from work to find Mum and Dad outside.
“Hey, how can I help?”
“Hello,” Mum greeted me over her shoulder. “The steel mesh is in the shed, you could bring it over.”
“Yeah, of course,” I agreed, then turned around and walked back to the shed.
As Mum had promised, the mesh was sitting just within the doorway to the shed. I tried to lift it. The mesh was heavier and larger than I expected it to be, so I decided to lug it in the wheelbarrow, rather than try to carry it myself across to the aviary site.
“Thanks, Jumilah,” Mum said once I’d returned.
She helped me remove the mesh from the wheelbarrow. Mum and Dad unfurled it, planting one edge into the footing they’d prepared today. All of a sudden, our finch aviary had a wall. I closed my eyes, trying to imagine what it would be like with birds inside. I opened them again after a little while, and the sweet sounds of birdsong left my ears for a better place.
“When do you get paid?”
“Tomorrow,” I answered. “As soon as I get paid, I’d transfer over some money to go towards the glass panes.”
“Thank you, that would be great.”
I figured that it would be helpful to set a reminder on my phone. After doing just that, I scanned my eyes across the landscape. I could hear the gentle trickle of running water through the creek. It was a calming noise, which also kind of made me want to go to the toilet.
“So, is there anything else I can do right now?”
“You could make dinner?”
I was just about to head back inside when I heard my phone ringing – not the usual sound, but the FaceTime tone. To my surprise, it was Isobel from Adelaide Zoo. I answered her call.
“Hey, Jumilah, I hope that it’s alright to call you like this. Georgia’s in labour. Wait, let me turn my phone around, I want to show you.”
Isobel brought up black-and-white footage of the siamang night dens.
I stood still, eyes bulging. Medan and Georgia gingerly swung from ropes within their dens. After eight months’ gestation, the time had come for her to give birth. Helplessness pooled within my gut.
“I wanted you to be able to watch what we’re watching,” Isobel explained. “We can monitor right through the labour.”
“Jumilah, is everything alright?” Mum called out.
“Yes, yes, everything’s fine,” I insisted, to answer her. “Isobel’s called, from Adelaide Zoo.”
“Georgia’s gone into labour.”
Mum placed down the tools she held. Eyes fixated on my phone, I kept looking, waiting for the moment when the baby would be born, assuming without reason I’d be able to tell straight away. On a small screen, I could make out the figures of both siamangs, but the resolution was not particularly clear. Mum started to walk towards me.
“Wait, do you mind if I go inside and get this up on my computer?”
“Of course not, would you like me to call you again?”
I scampered back into the house.
“Yeah, that would be great, actually,” I requested.
Isobel and I ended our first call. I sat down at the computer and opened my emails. Before long, Mum and Dad joined me inside. They hovered over my shoulder, while an email came through. I opened it up, containing a Zoom link, for a more reliable call than Isobel filming her computer screen on a FaceTime call.
“Just let me start screensharing.”
Mum sent the link to Nanek, who joined the call. I breathed out while Isobel brought back up the footage on the screen. I could see Georgia on a platform. Medan swung over and jumped onto it, keeping one hand hanging onto the rope, while reaching out for Georgia. Her abdomen seemed to quiver.
“Is that?” I asked.
“That’s not the baby, she hasn’t had the baby.”
“I was going to ask if that was a contraction.”
“Yes, I would think so,” Isobel confirmed.
There was little I could do to assist the progress. I clasped my hands firmly, while Mum rubbed circles in my lower back. Slowly, I breathed out, trying to calm myself down a bit. Medan moved into the way, obstructing our view of Georgia, then he swung to the side. All of a sudden, there was a baby in Georgia’s hands. I raised one hand to my mouth as tears welled in my eyes.
“I watched my grandfather die and I just watched Georgia give birth to a baby, to a gorgeous, healthy, alive baby.” Mum rubbed circles between my shoulder blades. “Thank you. I’m sorry.”
I wiped my eyes.
“And it’s Mothers’ Day.” I kissed Mum’s shoulder. “It’s Mothers’ Day.”
She ran her hands through my hair and we said prayers of thanks.
“I’m sure you’ve got work to do,” I mentioned. “Thank you for letting us share in this.”
“You’re welcome. I’m going to go down with the other keepers and the vets and check on Georgia and the baby.”
Isobel made me the host of the call, then dropped out. Nanek, normally stoic, started to weep. She told us that there’s always new life; we can’t discount that. A tear came to my eye, as well, and Mum and I held each other until we were exhausted, but overjoyed. I blew Nanek a kiss goodbye, then left her and Mum to talk a bit longer. My body felt heavy, and yet like it was buzzing. All I could pray for was Georgia and the baby. While I cleaned my teeth, I could feel my eyes welling with tears. I texted both Tallulah and Patrick, to tell them about the birth. Reuben could find out later; that wasn’t my place to tell him. I’d just gotten into bed when my phone rang. I answered the call, from Isobel.
“I just wanted to let you know that we believe the baby is a female,” she told me. “We went down there and took some pictures.”
My phone tolled. I lowered it from my ear and put the call on speaker, so that I could check the photos and keep talking to Isobel at the same time.
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.