I touched down in Hobart to learn that work was short-staffed.
“I’ve got to go, they need me,” I insisted, so we passed by home so that I could dump my bags and rush in to get changed into my uniform.
I took a breath and looked at myself briefly in the mirror, before departing. When I returned to work, Sloane was in the staffroom, smearing Nutella onto white bread. I noticed that her ordinarily long hair was cut short, and more of a shade of chocolate brown than mahogany.
“Oh, hello,” she greeted me. “I didn’t think you were back yet.”
“Well, I wasn’t meant to come back to work until tomorrow. You’re short-staffed, so I’m here.”
What I wanted to say is that I wasn’t expecting to be seeing her, either.
“Well, same,” Sloane responded. “I could tell you were thinking it.”
It must have been written all over my face.
“Yeah, sorry,” I apologised. “How are you with. . . how are you going?”
“Do you want to--?”
Maryam burst into the staffroom.
“Oh, good, Jumilah, you’re here, I need you on the service desk.”
“Stevie’s on the roster, is he here today?”
“Yeah, Stevie is helping out in the meat department.”
“Are they short-staffed as well?”
“Yeah, everywhere is.”
“Well, he’s always said he wants to work there.”
“Oh, Stevie uses she/her pronouns now.”
“Right, thanks for telling me.”
“You really have been gone for a while.”
Maryam ducked out the door. I followed shortly after, to get to work. There needed to be someone on the service desk, even though the fifteen items or less checkout was empty. Sloane’s not eighteen yet, so she’s not old enough to sell cigarettes, even though she has a child. A child named by my boyfriend, who I think that she’s raising, with the assistance of that baby’s biological father’s wife. I had plenty of time to contemplate this, at the service desk. Still, I was a little distracted, when an elderly lady approached the counter.
“Hello, how can I help you?”
“What are the specials for this week, love?”
“Well,” I said to buy myself time, as I reached for a catalogue and flipped it open, “I’ll have to look for you.”
“That’s alright, love, most of the girls do, these days.”
I wasn’t sure if that was a backhanded compliment, but I didn’t really mind even if it was.
“Do you have a cat?”
“Well, we’ve got tinned cat food on special.”
“That’s lovely, dear, thank you. I’ll have to buy some for dear Mickey.”
“I’m sure Mickey will appreciate it.”
“He likes all kinds of flavours.”
The lady coughed. At first, she tried to swallow. The coughing got the better of her, her hand clenching into a fist in which she could funnel her breath.
“Are you sure you’re alright, ma’am?”
“Marjorie, it’s Marjorie, love,” she told me, in between coughs. “May I call you by your Christian name?”
“Yes, of course,” I agreed. “My name is Jumilah.”
Marjorie smiled, but continue to cough, now into a handkerchief she’d located in her handbag.
“Thank you, love. I’ll do my shopping now. Should I come back to you afterwards?”
Technically, we weren’t supposed to make regular sales from the service desk.
“Of course, you can,” I agreed, because I couldn’t exactly say no.
“Thank you, love.”
Marjorie shuffled off to find cat food. I made sure to stay at the service desk for long enough for her to return. Once I processed Marjorie’s purchases, I farewelled her with a kind grin. In order to take my break, I found someone else to take over.
“Thanks. I’ll be back in fifteen.”
I wanted to have something to drink. When I returned to the staffroom, I skulled a glass of water, then fetched my phone. Tallulah had texted me. Rather than responding to her message, I gave her a call.
“Hello, have you landed yet?”
“Yeah, I’m back, I’m back and I’m at work,” I told her. “They’re short-staffed.”
“Because of Patrick and Sloane?” Tallulah asked, somewhat tentatively.
“Sloane’s here, Patrick’s not here,” I answered. “It’s his birthday, as a matter of fact. I’m seeing him tonight, we’re going out.”
“Lovely,” Tallulah praised. “So, how was Adelaide?”
“It was amazing, it was incredible, it was so beautiful,” I gushed. “Isobel, she’s the Adelaide primate keeper who we stayed with, she’s lovely. They had a new male lion arrive from Perth Zoo while I was there. I feel like I learned so much, and it was so beautiful to see Medan and Georgia’s baby.”
We eventually finished on the phone. By that point, Sloane had waddled into the staffroom. She seem a little ginger.
“Are you OK?” I checked.
“Yeah,” Sloane replied. “I’m sorry, my boobs are really sore. Just those new mother things.”
“Apparently if you put cabbage down your bra, it makes it better.”
“Right. Lucky, I work at a supermarket.”
Sloane got up from the table.
“I’ll see you later.”
I followed her out the door to get back to work.
“Is everything alright?” Maryam asked from the next checkout.
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “I’m just returning from my lunch break.”
I worked for another hour or two, before noticing an older man in the next lane, who dropped a bag.
“It’s alright, I can get that for you.”
Maryam stepped out from behind the checkout counter, so that she could collect the bag of rice which had slipped out of the shopping bag. I was only half watching, until I heard the vicious words coming from the customer’s lips. The man’s wrinkly hand swatted at Maryam. Although his arm lacked significant muscle, he still had enough power to cause her to lose her footing. Maryam stumbled backwards and clung to a trolley. It rolled along the shiny vinyl floor. The man hollered, flinging his limbs about, insults flying. Maryam regained her footing as I held onto the trolley to steady it. The customer was using up a lot of energy in his fit of rage.
“Jumilah, call security, please.”
She seemed as calm as anything, and yet I didn’t want to leave her, even though I also felt unsafe. Thankfully, the guard noticed what was going on.
“Dude, do you want me to kick you out?”
“You can’t speak to us like that.” All eyes turned to me when the words left my mouth. “We’re here so that you can buy food, get the stuff you need. Just be grateful.”
The man lunged towards me and I stood my ground, as the security guard took him out.
“Oh, my goodness,” I shrieked.
They were both on the floor in no time.
“Here’s how it goes. I’m going to let you up and you’re going to pay for your stuff and then you’re going on your way and you’re not bothering our people again.”
He seemed satisfied, if flabbergasted, by the outcome. The security guard hauled the passenger back to his feet. Maryam offered me a small smile.
“I’ll put it through,” I promised, and soon he was gone.
I turned to Maryam.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” she assured me, although she breathed out shakily.
“Would you like a hug?” I offered.
We hugged, then we needed to return to our work, serving customers on the checkouts. A man with deep brown skin and a shaved head who paid with an ANZ credit card. The teenage girl dressed in head-to-toe fluoro activewear, like she’d been clothed by the lovechild of Lorna Jane and Supre, who bought a birthday card and wrapping paper. An elderly gentleman whose fingers trembled as he handed over coins for his purchase. I found myself breathing out shakily, once he was gone. After what had happened to Maryam earlier, I knew that I wasn’t jumping at shadows, the reality of racism opaque and threatening to jump out at any moment. At the end of my shift, I returned to the staffroom, to check back in with Maryam, who sat at the table.
“How are you? You’ve had a long day.”
“I’m fine,” I assured, but I yawned.
“Go home, Jumilah. Get some rest.”
I gave a small smile.
I departed through the mall, returning to the bike rack. Unlocking mine, I rode home. I placed the bike underneath the house. When I came inside, I could smell delicious baking, and found Mum in the kitchen.
“How was your day today?”
“I have to tell you something,” I admitted to Mum. “There was this customer at work today; Maryam served him.”
I recognised the fear on her face. We sat down and I shared and we hugged and we cried, then rested for a while.
“Are you and Patrick going to go out for dinner?”
“Yes. We’ll drive into town. I’m not sure what we’re going to have.”
Mum kissed my forehead once again. While I was waiting for Patrick to arrive, I called Reuben.
“How was Adelaide?”
I heard a car pull into the driveway.
“Oh, Patrick’s here--.”
“The boyfriend,” Reuben remarked.
“Yes, it’s his birthday, we’re going out for dinner.”
“Ah, I remember being young and being in love,” he mused. “Enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Thank you,” I replied, then ended the call.
Mum let Patrick into the house.
“Hello, happy birthday.”
He beamed at the sight of me. I’d missed him. I handed over Patrick’s birthday present. He reached into the bag.
“Thank you. I thought our dinner was going to be a present enough.”
“Well, that’s not really a birthday present. That’s a dinner.”
Patrick retrieved the glass bottle of hot chocolate mix I’d purchased in Adelaide.
“This is perfect, thank you.”
Patrick drove me into the city. I glanced over at the waters of the Derwent, a grey-blue in the dying twilight. As the sun was going down, we parked and snuck out. The buildings of Salamanca are from another era, and the monorail would change the look of the place irrevocably. Roads gleamed with the rain which had passed, although the clouds were getting fluffier and dispersing. We reached some white buildings at the opposite end of the park to parliament and the waterfront.
“It looks like it could be Santorini, or a space station.”
Patrick laughed, slinging an arm around my shoulders.
“I did miss you when you were in Adelaide. It’s not the same around here without you.”
Patrick brushed a kiss against my temple. I didn’t really know what to say. With the sun dipping down, it was becoming a little chilly.
“Thank you, Patrick.”
We turned around and walked back in the opposite direction.
“You haven’t told me properly about your trip. Tell me everything.”
“Well, it was lovely to see Nanek. The baby siamang, Georgia and Medan’s baby, is gorgeous. I’ve never seen a baby that tiny before. We decided to name her Jelita, after Nanek."
“Yeah,” I agreed. “How are you going?”
Patrick breathed out in thought.
“I’ve started playing the Wordle in Indonesian. I’m not very good at it,” he admitted with a modest laugh. “I have a few words I try, and then the rest of it is guesswork with the letters. I’ll get the hang of it.”
We drove home and Patrick parked in my driveway.
“I really hope that you’ve had a good birthday.”
He kissed me on the lips.
“Don’t worry, I did.”
He kissed me again.
“Can I come in?”
We got out of the car, locking it behind us, and Patrick followed me into the house.
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.