I awoke this morning to a sore leg and a familiar ringing sound, so I scrambled across the lounge to answer the phone. It didn’t seem to recognise the number, although I wasn’t too surprised by that, because I knew it would happen on occasion.
“Hello, Jumilah Fioray speaking,” I instinctively answered, listening to the thumping of my heart.
There was a pause, the response not coming straight away. My hands started to shake a little. Finally a voice came over the line.
“Jumilah,” Mum breathed. “Did you manage to get any sleep?”
“A little bit.”
It wasn’t exactly true. I’d slept better than I thought I would. I didn’t really know what to say. A part of me felt grateful that I remain physically unharmed, and I sensed Mum felt the same. I couldn’t bring myself to feel hopeful or certain, and I still can’t now.
“Is Ibu awake?” Mum wanted to know.
“I’ve just woken up.”
I walked through the house.
“Yes,” I confirmed in a quiet voice, because she was lying in bed with her eyes open, thankfully.
Sweat ran down my limbs.
“Would you like to talk to her?”
“Yes, I would, please,” Mum requested, so I walked into the bedroom and handed the phone over.
Nanek started to converse, in a hushed and exhausted voice. I lingered in the bedroom to listen in, to their plans. It was only when Mohammed returned that I stepped out.
“Mum’s on the phone with Nanek,” I told him. “I think we might be leaving.”
“Right,” Mohammed replied, sounding skeptical.
The other option is for my parents to come over, but I don’t think that’ll happen.
“Usually we would bury the body today,” Mohammed noted. “I don’t know what Jelita wants to do.”
Kakek remained within the house.
His own parents were buried on this property. I didn’t really remember them.
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” I admitted, my heart beating faster than usual, even though it was fast becoming usual, since the events of yesterday.
The phone call must have ended, because Nanek came out of the bedroom. She came over to me, holding me, telling me that Kakek was indeed to be buried. I wanted Mum and Dad, but the warmth of Nanek’s body would have to be enough. She said that extended family were coming, not that it was how I wanted to be reunited with them. They needed to be careful, she reckoned, because we did not know if the culprits were coming back. I felt afraid, but there was nothing that I could do. Instead I offered if I could help. Nanek requested that I find some saplings, to fashion a cross for the grave, and some flowers to decorate. I accepted, and heeded her warning to be careful. Mohammed and Nanek were speaking amongst themselves. I went outside, not knowing what secrets the jungle still held.
The siamangs started their morning song. I wondered how much longer that they would be able to stay safe. Questions lingered in my heart, and I wasn’t sure how much Mum and Dad knew. Thankfully there was a sapling near the mesh, which I was able to yank from the soil. I felt like I was being violent, but it needed to be done to satisfy Nanek’s request. I searched for another, freezing at a rustle in the trees. Glancing up, a white-handed gibbon was nestled amongst the trees, on my side of the mesh. I wondered if she’d escaped, or whether she’s a wild one, but she moved away before I had the chance to find out. If I went too much further, I would reach the shed, a little building where I knew Kakek kept supplies.
I wanted to stay away from it. What secrets lingered there I couldn’t possibly know or presume. Time moved faster than I wanted it to, so I approached the shed and scurried in there, to find some string or twine. I could have just used vines, but I only thought of that after the fact. With some twine and branches I produced a cross, taking it to the location which had been decided. I set it upright, then returned home. While I didn’t like to be alone, there was nothing that I could do. We were all waiting to be ambushed, although there were extended family coming. They would be at the burial, while Mum and Dad aren’t able to be here.
Mohammed had dug the grave. My eyes stung and I blinked hard to stop myself from crying, the image of the hole in the ground confronting. My body trembled, as I couldn’t hold back the tears, noises echoing and ricocheting in my mind. The priest said a prayer, and Kakek’s body was lowered into the ground.
The family members moved away. I closed my eyes and Nanek told me that she loved me. Somebody, an older woman, shepherded back to the house and prepared green tea, even though the air seemed soupy to begin with. I knew what came next. Mohammed lingered, but I still saw a shovel. He seemed pitiful, which was all that he could do. I felt light-headed and queasy. There’s a stench to the jungle at the best of times, a low hum like the mosquitoes we avoid because of the death they bring. Death had already arrived, despite the signs of life.
Most of the relatives must have gone home. The sun was due to set, and Mohammed had prepared more tea for Nanek and I to drink, because we weren’t up to eating any dinner, despite his insistence that he’s a good cook. We went out onto the veranda, even though that meant that we were away from the refuge of the house. Nanek told me that she didn’t believe that we were safe, and that the animals aren’t safe. I asked her whether she’d talked to Mum about this, and she confirmed that she had, and that I will be flying back to Australia tomorrow, but without her. With my might I protested, because I couldn’t bear, and I couldn’t say what I couldn’t bear, even though I knew that Nanek could read it on my face.
She insisted that she needed to protect the animals. She’d spent her whole adult life protecting the animals, that’s all that Kakek had ever wanted to do. That’s what Kakek had died doing. We changed the subject, Nanek running through the relatives who’d come to the burial. Her brother and his wife, who must have been the lady who led us away while Kakek was being buried. Within the Islamic faith, the burial must be shortly after death. This was the faith that Nanek had left when she married Kakek, but many whom she loves are adherents.
“We could bring the animals to Australia.”
I’d broken the topic of the conversation, and reverted to the language I’m more familiar with. Nanek insisted that we could. The question had entered my mind and it couldn’t leave, even though I knew that would be taking them from their wild home. Nanek reminded me that they aren’t wild, anyway. They will never be wild again. Even if they are, they are not safe here. We sat in the silence of that realisation, the air already thick with humid also pregnant with grief.
“Would you take them, in Tasmania?”
“We could,” I agreed, the possibility open. “They could be in a breeding program.”
Nanek assured me that she and Kakek wanted to breed their animals. They try to keep the animals as wild as possible, and they are still within their habitat. I know that we can’t replicate that on the outskirts of Hobart, so it’s just a silly idea. Silence fell as the sun went down.
“I want the animals to be safe,” Nanek insisted. “Whatever it takes.”
There was a twinkle of defiance in her dark eyes. Whatever it takes hadn’t gotten us far to date. All that had ended up was that Kakek was dead, a potential killer on the loose. Once we finish our tea, we go inside. It’s time for bed but it’s time to call Mum and Dad again before I’m able to sleep. I don’t want to tell them about the burial. At the same time I know that I have an obligation. I still don’t think that I can imagine what Mum is going through, although she would say the same about me.
We spoke for a little bit, then I settled for sleep. I hadn’t talked about the possibility of the animals coming to Australia, because I don’t know if that would even be possible, with quarantine and everything. We would need licences and permits and money. We’d need to build exhibits for them, and plant plenty of trees. Even if they weren’t wild, we couldn’t give them the life that Nakek could. Then again, we don’t know what life Nanek can give them at all. I wished that I would have agitated more, especially when I was on the phone and had that lifeline to my family back home. This is where my family is, all of my family on my mother’s side except my mother herself.
The nightly rains come as a rushing noise, like a freight plane. I try to find them calming, but there’s only so much that I’m capable of. Kakek’s body was no longer in the house. The warped image remained within my mind, of the rain soaking into the soil which surrounded his corpse. To try and get to sleep, I think about the animals, reminding myself of their names, and how many there are of each species. Five White-Handed Gibbons. Two males, three females, all of them rescued from the pet trade and unable to be released. The gibbon I’d seen must have been an extra one, a wild one. All were accounted for, all are accounted for right now, which is good news. I want the animals to be safe, but I want for Nanek to be safe even more.
Tomorrow morning I will be on a plane. I will be flying home to Hobart to be with Mum and Dad, which I appreciate, even though I am nervous about leaving Nanek behind here. All I wish is that she’d come too, but she doesn’t want to, and I can’t help but wonder why, because I would have thought that she would have wanted to be with Mum in these circumstances. I suppose that she does, but she can’t, because of what else has happened. These thoughts swirled in my mind of mourning. Eventually, 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.