I arrived at work this morning to find Maryam sitting at the staffroom table. She startled at my presence, then wiped a tear from her eye.
“Are you alright, Maryam?” I queried quietly, sitting down on the chair opposite and allowing my bag to slide down my leg.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she assured.
Maryam offered me a smile, even though I wasn’t that convinced.
“I’m hungry and tired and over-emotional. Also, I think that I’m getting my period.”
With that settled, I got to work on the checkout. My first customer seemed to be the standard mum, her kids with her because of the school holidays. They hung off the trolley while she loaded groceries. I’m always mindful when I’m packing eggs, making sure not to break them.
“Darling, can you pack the bags into the trolley, please?” the customer requested of her daughter.
The little girl nodded her head. She started packing the bags dutifully and I couldn’t help but smile. I’d been that little girl, once. Sure, as an only child, there hadn’t been a gaggle of other kids hanging off the trolley, but I tried to be a good girl. I retained that ethic throughout the day, working without taking a break. Eventually, Patrick arrived at the checkout.
“I’m here to work the close. I know that you need to get home to get to the airport to catch your flight, so go, I’ll take over here.”
“Thank you.” I pecked him on the lips. “I’ll see you later.”
Standing at the checkout all day made my feet ache, so I was grateful to be able to leave. I needed a clean break from the place. Going to Melbourne with Tallulah promised to be that opportunity. I left the supermarket and didn’t look back. Mum picked Tallulah up from Tranmere, then I promised I would be waiting. As soon as I got home from work, I stashed my bike and helmet and, as calmly as I could, fetched my suitcase. Sure enough, as I emerged from the front door, Mum’s car pulled in. I scampered down the front steps and got into the back seat, so that she could drive to the airport. When we arrived, Mum hugged Tallulah and I tightly, then we walked across the road and into the terminal building. The automatic doors parted before us. We didn’t have checked baggage. These days with online check-in, all we needed to do was move through security and then get on the plane at the right time. At the airport, they’d installed a pop-up lolly bar. We couldn’t help but buy some for the flight. I beamed optimistically as Tallulah and I headed to the gate. This felt like the most adult thing which I’d ever done, two girls taking on the world together. We got onto the plane and I retrieved the book I’d borrowed from the library from my bag, one of Sarah Bessey’s memoirs. I started to read for a little while. Then, I needed to stow my tray table for takeoff and, by the time that we were in the air, I felt a little tired for reading. When we landed in Melbourne, I peered out the window, noticing the other Jetstar planes which were parked up against the terminal building. Tallulah and I lingered as more impatient people got off the plane.
“Are you ready to go?” she finally asked me.
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered with a cheeky grin.
We took our carry-on luggage and walked down the aisle on the plane, thanking the flight attendants on the way off. As I crossed the sky bridge, I thought about the orange juice I’d consumed on the plane. It was super sweet, like you’d buy from McDonald’s. On the other side, Tallulah and I travelled down in the lift, to the taxi rank. I felt twitchy, even though we didn’t have to hail a cab – her mother had already pre-booked us an Uber from the airport to our accommodation. The driver alighted from the vehicle. He was a short, thin man, eager to help. Before I knew it, Tallulah and I were sitting in the back seat of the Hyundai, with our suitcases in the boot.
“Remind me I need to transfer you money,” I said to her.
“It’s alright,” Tallulah replied. “We’ll sort it all out at the end.”
“Thanks,” I said, then gazed out the car window.
“So, what brings you to Melbourne?”
“We’re visiting family,” Tallulah explained.
I thought that was a good, succinct way to put it, without having to get into the situation.
“Right, enjoy,” the driver replied. “Melbourne’s the place to be.”
Truth be told, I’m really not used to big cities. Hobart’s nothing like this. The only similarity I could find so far was the brief stretch of country on the road from the airport. From there, the bright lights started to dazzle me.
“There are two pregnant elephants at Melbourne Zoo,” I mentioned, while we were sitting in the Uber. “They’re both due to give birth in winter. It will be very exciting. One of the females lost her previous two calves--.”
The Uber driver sneezed. I glanced out the window. As we approached the city, we slowed because the traffic became heavier. I wanted to keep explaining, but I didn’t bother, simply soaking it all in. This is such a difference place. Finally, we arrived at the address we provided for our AirBnb, which Bridie had booked in support of her only daughter. The Uber driver pulled up in an almighty hurry. We’d already paid for the ride.
“Thank you,” Tallulah called out.
We fetched our luggage from the boot, then approached the apartment building, retrieving a key from a safe-like box, as the instructions online had outlined. Tallulah opened the door, then held it ajar. I passed through with thanks, then she followed, our luggage clunking all the way. As we moved our way up the stairs, I could hear a faint siren outside the building. We reached our apartment and headed inside, the two of us quickly making ourselves at home. Tallulah and I sat down on the edge of the queen-sized bed and I let out a soft sigh.
“Everything’s been just all over the place at work,” I noted. “I’m so glad to be here and away from it all.”
I breathed out slowly, then my phone beeped. Against my better judgment, I leaned back. I fetched my phone from where I’d tossed it onto the doona, not long after we’d first arrived.
“Oh my goodness.”
“Kevin isn’t in charge anymore. He’s still going to be working, but Maryam’s going to be the acting manager while Frank’s charged. That’s so good.”
I could hardly believe it.
“Hopefully things will be better now.”
Tallulah nodded her head empathetically. I felt a little bit sleepy. Finally, I took a breath. I either needed to sleep, or shake it off. The siren had been sounding in the background this whole time, then finally ceased.
“Would you like to go out? I’m starving.”
“Yeah, sure. I don’t really feel like food though.”
“We could get ice cream?”
We made sure that we had the key. Once we departed the apartment, we scampered down the stairs and burst out onto the street. Even though my jacket, I felt a chill down my arms. We happened upon a little hole-in-the-wall ice cream shop. I ordered, a cup with two scoops each – vanilla choc chip and salted caramel and white chocolate for me, and brownie choc chunk and mint choc chip for Tallulah. After paying, we ambled along the street, eating our ice cream.
“Are you alright?” Tallulah asked me.
“It’s just, I feel stuck.”
I breathed out, trying to release the tension from my chest.
“There’s so much waiting.” I stuffed ice cream in my mouth, to stop me rambling. “Sorry.”
This weekend, and this trip, isn’t about me and what I feel. It’s about Tallulah meeting her biological father. A handful of weeks of waiting and unanswered questions is nothing compared to eighteen years leading up until the coming day.
“How are you feeling about tomorrow?” I asked, to change the subject back onto Tallulah.
She took a moment to think, as she finished her spoonful.
“Nervous. I think I’m nervous about meeting the different people for different reasons. I’m most nervous about meeting Natalie, I feel like I owe her something.”
We looked out over the river. The breeze picked up, bringing with it the chill of the lengthening, autumn evening. After we finished filling ourselves with ice cream, Tallulah and I returned to the apartment. While she went to the bathroom, I wandered out onto our tiny balcony. I wondered what Bridie was thinking, the night before Tallulah was conceived. I looked out at the little, bright boxes. Our apartment building was opposite another. Feeling the breeze against my face, I couldn’t help but wonder about the people who lived there. Are some of them AirBnBs like this place? Do they like living in the big city, or do they long for a simpler life far away from the bright lights, the hustle and bustle, and the smell of pollution? Maybe I’ll find out the answers to those questions, when we meet Tallulah’s father. My phone beeped, startling me. I reached across and grabbed it. The message couldn’t have been from Tallulah; she was on the other side of the room.
Hope you’re having the most marvellous time in the big city. P xx
I couldn’t help but smile.
Thank you; I texted back. I am.
“Is that Patrick?”
I answered with a nod of my head, then put my phone down.
“What do you think about Patrick?” I wanted to know.
“Um, he’s your boyfriend.”
“But what do you think about him?” My heart started beating faster. “You’ve met him. Do you like him? I want you to like him, I don’t want to date someone you don’t like.”
“He’s a perfectly nice guy,” Tallulah insisted.
“Alright, let’s not talk about Patrick.”
We were quiet for a moment, trying to think of what to say.
“Would you like to talk about Kyle?” I offered.
“We could,” Tallulah answered, “or we could talk about how you’re going with counselling.”
“Alright,” I agreed. “It’s interesting. Hopefully it will help me.”
I rolled over.
“Like, it’s good, but I keep on thinking that she’s going to say something radical all of a sudden.”
“What sort of radical?”
“Like, you know, that I’ll only be better if I have sex with a stranger or move to Germany or something I’m not going to do.”
For a moment, I didn’t really know what to say next, feeling tired.
“You haven’t ever done it, have you?”
“Sex or counselling?”
“I’m going to be building a zoo.”
“And you kept telling that Uber driver about the pregnant elephants.”
“I did, but he was a rev-head anyway. Weren’t you practically fearing for your life?”
She 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.