Peppercorn

Part of the plan which we agreed upon last week was an offer that I could attend the Bird TAG meeting. It was due to commence at 9:30am our time, so I made sure that I prepared myself a cup of coffee and logged in on time, eager to make a good impression to this new group of people. I glanced out the window and noticed that it was raining.

“Last week, I represented this TAG at a special meeting in regard to the Hobart zoo project. The decision was made that Hunter and Sam would determine finch species to be transferred, as well as a pair of Scaly-Breasted Lorikeets and a pair of Rose-Crowned Fruit Doves. I move that this decision be ratified by this meeting.”

Thankfully, it was passed unanimously. I beamed.

“Next agenda item is the report from the vet SAG, although I see that Doctor Hope isn’t with us. We might move on, then.”

Robin took a sip from her cup of tea.

"Does anyone have anything to report from their institution?”

At the birds TAG meeting, I’m learning, they don’t go around the circle. It’s a much bigger circle, after all, than it is within the primate group.

“We’re starting an encounter with our orange-bellied parrots.”

“Over the next couple of weeks, we’re moving animals into our new Australian section. It will be a big undertaking, but I’ll share some photos at the next meeting.”

“Due to construction, our Rainforest Aviary only has one entry and exit at the moment. It’s in a fairly quiet area of the zoo, so it’s been manageable so far.”

There was a pause. Now was as good a time as ever for me to speak up.

“I just wanted to say, thank you so much for having me. It’s good to be able to learn and hopefully contribute.”

“You’re most welcome, Jumilah,” Robin assured. “It’s great to have you.”

Once the birds meeting was finished, I checked my phone.

Is Patrick going with you to Melbourne

“Sloane knows that I’m going to Melbourne on the weekend. How does Sloane know that I’m going to Melbourne on the weekend?”

“I don’t know, did you mention it at work?”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Listen,” Mum requested, “could you please come outside with me? There’s something which I would like us to do together.”

“Sure.”

I followed Mum outside. It wasn’t raining anymore. I wondered why Dad wasn’t part of this. Still, I didn’t ask.

“The peppercorn tree arrived while you were in your meeting,” Mum noted.

She reached for a shovel.

“So, we’re going to plant it.”

Mum started to dig the hole. There wasn’t a second shovel for me to join in. Therefore, I stood to bear witness.

“I’ve been thinking of a name, for a baby,” Mum mused. “I didn’t know what I would have called him, had he still been with us.”

“Do you reckon the baby was a boy?”

“We’ll never know,” Mum conceded, “but I’d like to think he was. I don’t know why.”

“Maybe because then you’d have a girl and a boy.”

“Ibu would like to move back to the house and the sanctuary.”

“Do you want her to?”

“I’d like them to catch the murderous poachers first.”

“What’ll happen when they find them?”

“Well, I gather that they’ll be charged and convicted and go to prison for a very long time.” Mum shifted over the tree, so that we could plant it into the hole together. “However long, won’t be enough.”

Her anger caught me off-guard.

“I know my father and I had our differences. I’m still angry that he died.”

We patted down the soil around the base of the peppercorn tree.

“And I’m angry for those animals.”

“So am I.”

“Do you have another psychologist appointment booked?”

“No, not at the moment. I’ll need to make a GP appointment first, to get a prescription.”

We walked back to the house. My body and mind felt heavy and tired, but I had other commitments, so I wouldn’t have time for rest. There was a bit of hubbub at the start of the TAG meeting. I scanned around the Zoom screen, to see if there were any new additions. Not only could I not see anyone new, Mick Sutton didn’t seem to be around, either. I get the impression that the others feel that he’s a bit cocky and too big for his boots, which I don’t wholly disagree with, but I feel awkward admitting to that.

“Good afternoon everyone, good morning Bill.”

Mum wordlessly placed down a cup of tea in front of me. Making sure that I was on mute, I mouthed my thanks towards her. Mum could have sat in with me in the TAG meeting, but she needed to do her own work from home, because she’s no longer on sick leave.

“Today is the baboon program review.”

“Just to clarify,” Gerard spoke up, “are we specifically speaking about Hamadryas Baboons, or is there scope to discuss other potential baboon species for the region?”

“I was thinking just Hamadryas Baboons, but we could widen the scope,” Christine agreed.

“Is there interest for other baboon species?” Des wanted to know.

“I’m not sure,” Don admitted, “but my view is we should stick to the one baboon species in the region.”

“Let’s move onto the member reports.”

Christine took a sip of water.

“Adelaide Zoo?”

“There’s been a birth within our baboon troop. I know that we weren’t planning to breed at this stage, but a baby’s a baby.”

“And the baby’s healthy?”

“Yes. So, we’re going to have to think of a name. We’d usually go with a T name, to reflect the mother’s initial.”

“Lovely.”

“It would have been helpful to mention this earlier,” Bill chastised.

“I’m sorry, Bill, I couldn’t get a word in.”

“Well, better late than never.”

“Does this change our breeding recommendations?”

“No, I wouldn’t think so.”

“Altina Wildlife Park?”

“Nothing to report today, mate.”

“Auckland Zoo?”

“I wanted to update you on the baboon sanctuary situation I mentioned last meeting.”

Gerard cleared his throat.

“They’ve said that, if we cease the partnership, they won’t be able to feed the animals. They would have to release the baboons which they’re caring for.”

“Would that really be so bad?” Angelique asked.

An awkward silence came over the meeting.

“I’m just asking questions.”

“Of course, the animals’ needs are paramount. That doesn’t mean that I’m not really concerned about what’s going on there and the fact that we’ve been told about it.”

“Look, I would be willing to refer this up. We can take it to the ethics committee. This is a delicate matter and I’d advise that we use the contacts that we have, so please speak up if you know anyone who could be of assistance,” Christine urged, but nobody did.

“I would be comfortable with that,” Gerard eventually agreed.

“Beerwah?”

“We’ve been in conversation with our contacts in Indonesia regarding a potential orang-utan import.”

I smiled, sitting forward.

“It was always Dad’s dream to breed orang-utans, and I would like to fulfil that.”

My heart thumped faster. I see so much of myself in Hunter.

“Borneans or Sumatrans?” Reuben wanted to know.

“Sumatrans. We’re not sure at this stage how many we would be able to import, financially, or the gender ratio.”

“I would appreciate the opportunity for input,” Bill interjected.

“Yeah, of course, mate,” Hunter agreed. “This isn’t going to happen overnight. We’ll need to raise funds.”

“I’m happy to speak with you after this about that,” Reuben offered.

“Crocodylus?”

“We lost one of our marmosets during the week.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like any transfers for the stability of your group?”

“Well, we wouldn’t say no, but they’re alright, thank you.”

“Darling Downs Zoo?”

“We have a pregnant Ring-Tailed Lemur at the moment, we’re expecting a birth within the week.”

“That’s good news,” Tessa chimed in, as she seemed to be back.

“Yes, it’s nice to have a pretty cheery update this week.”

There was an awkward pause. Angelique wasn’t in the meeting.

“That’s alright, we’ll move on.”

I didn’t recall ever hearing an update about Angelique’s own pregnant lemur. Truly I hoped that nothing was wrong.

“Hamilton Zoo?”

“Firstly, I wanted to give you a more personal update on John. He is currently in hospital with a broken leg, he was in an accident at the zoo, someone ran into him by accident with a trolley.”

“That’s awful.”

“Currently, John’s on indefinite medical leave. With the consent of the chair, I will be taking over his responsibilities in primates.”

“I have no objection to that,” Christine assured.

John’s news placed a sombre mood over the meeting. However, we needed to press on.

“Mogo Wildlife Park?”

“I mentioned about a month ago about our silverback’s constipation. What has worked is giving him two milligrams of cilium husk broken down within fluid.”

“Great, we’ll make a note of that for the next husbandry update.”

After the meeting, I texted Tessa.

Really sorry to hear about your colleague’s health, but pleased to get to spend more time with you xx

Yeah, been a few ups and downs; she responded quickly. How is your zoo development progressing?

Still wanting on planning permission; I conveyed.

Patrick popped over after school.

“I thought that we could take our bikes out somewhere, go for a ride, what do you say?”

“That sounds lovely. Would you like to go this afternoon?”

“We might have a little bit of time tonight.”

“Alright, let’s go,” I agreed, and we pumped our legs on the pedals up to the top of the hill for a rest.

“The June long weekend, that’s when they’ve said that we can go and play in Launceston.”

“That’s further away than I thought that it would be.”

“Yeah, same, I was a little surprised. Anyway, I think that it will be good.”

“We seem to be being called the Hobart zoo project,” I outlined. “I haven’t really thought about names before.”

“Would you want to call it Hobart Zoo?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Is that what they called the old zoo, in the Domain?”

“Yeah, they did, but I think they also called it Beaumaris Zoo.”

“Where did that name come from?”

“I’m not sure.”

Potential names ticked over in my mind.

“What about Sorell Wildlife Park?”

“It kind of doesn’t sound like a big deal.”

“Alright, fair enough,” Patrick agreed.

“How about Acarda?”

“What?”

“Well, Andrew, Catherine, Agustinus, Richardus, Djuni, Aisha, they’re Nanek and Kakek’s kids’ names,” I outlined my grandparents’ children. “Acarda, Acarda Zoo. It’s something a bit different at least.”

I leaned against Patrick’s shoulder. We kissed, Patrick’s hands starting to traverse across my back, over my shirt, then under my shirt.

“Uh, no, thank you.”

“OK.”

“Sorry, don’t take it personally.”

“I don’t take it personally, for what it’s worth.”

“Thank you.”

We sat down again, where there will hopefully be a finch aviary.

“Do you think that Frank and Mary are going to get divorced?”

“Maybe, but if he goes to gaol for a long time, they might not have to.”

“Do you think he’s going to go to gaol?”

“I have no idea.”

We decided to head back on our bikes. I felt the rush of wind around my ears. Dad was cooking dinner when Patrick and I returned home.

“Did you have a good time?”

“Yes, we did,” I confirmed. “Would you like any help with dinner?”

“Yes, please, that would be lovely,” Dad accepted, to my surprise. “You can slice the carrots.”

I started to slice the carrots, while Patrick was hanging around behind me. While I could tell that he was feeling a little awkward, I didn’t say anything.

“You can cut the beetroot, Patrick,” Dad requested.

“Of course,” he agreed.

I looked over my shoulder, as Dad handed over a knife and a beetroot. Patrick started to cut, getting the purple-red juice all over his fingers. Dad poured water into a saucepan and placed it on the stove to boil. He boiled potatoes, presumably for mash. I don’t like that as much as baked potatoes or chips, but I know it’s Dad’s preference. Patrick and I helped him out with the cooking. After about half an hour, a colourful array of vegetables had morphed into a hearty meal. Dinner was served.

“Have you had any updates on your zoo plans?” Patrick asked, half with a mouthful.

I shook my head, as I chewed.

“Nothing new from the council,” Dad reported.

“Right,” Patrick replied.

I could feel every inch of my skin, abuzz with nerves.

“They told us at work today when we’re going to be having our flu vaccinations,” Dad mentioned. “The two of you will need to make sure you book in at the doctor or the chemist.”

“We will probably get them at work too,” Mum pointed out.

“That’s a good idea actually, I should mention it to someone,” I noted.

I turned to Patrick with a smile.

“And what’s on your mind, Patrick?” Mum wanted to know.

“Frank’s out on bail,” he outlined. “His parents have set him up in an apartment so that Sloane doesn’t have to move out.”

The table conversation went silent.

“Right,” Dad eventually said.

Sure, it’s not exactly a dinner chat. I tried my best to think of what we could speak about instead. The perfect topic finally came to mind.

“I’ve thought of a name for the zoo,” I mentioned. “How about Acarda Zoo?”

Dad squinted, but I noticed something soften within Mum’s expression.

“That’s interesting.”

I waited, wide-eyed, for anything more than that.

“It’s our initials,” Mum explained to Dad, picking up on the obscure reference. “Andrew and Catherine and Agustinus and Richardus and Djuni and Aisha.”

“Don’t forget Aisha,” Patrick quipped.

The joke fell a little flat.

“Do we want to be called a zoo?” Mum wanted to know.

“Well, I don’t know,” I answered. “What else could we be called?”

“A wildlife park, perhaps,” Dad suggested, “or, you know, Catherine’s parents called their place a sanctuary, although that’s a little bit different.”

“There’s a place in New Zealand called Gilead Wildlife Sanctuary.”

“Do you know the people who run it?” Patrick queried.

“Yeah, Angelique comes to the primate TAG meetings,” I answered. “They have siamangs, they have a pair, I think, and they have orang-utans, they have heaps of orang-utans, I’ve heard.”

“Sumatran Orang-utans?” Mum checked.

“Yeah, they are,” I confirmed. “They are the only Sumatran Orang-utans in New Zealand, Auckland Zoo have Borneans.”

Patrick seemed a little dazed. We finished our dinner. While we were cleaning up the table, I briefly checked my phone, noticing that there was a message from Tallulah. I took a moment to read it.

Apparently Eliza loves cricket and fairies. I’d like to get her a gift. I’ll pick up something from work for the cricket side of things.

I love-reacted to her message, then put my phone down. Later on, I could fully answer the rest of it. I contributed, along with Mum, Dad and Patrick, to ensured that the kitchen and table were spotless. Once the work was complete, Dad poured wine, but just for himself, and retreated to the lounge. Mum left the kitchen, leaving Patrick and I alone. He glanced towards his watch.

“I reckon that I’d better head off, it’s getting late. Thank you for having me for dinner tonight. It’s really lovely of your family.”

“Sorry that Dad put you through your paces in the kitchen.”

“That’s alright,” Patrick assured

We migrated out of the house.

“I’ve had a really good afternoon,” I assured.

“So have I,” Patrick confirmed. “We’ll have to do it again sometime.”

As he ambled down the front steps, I leaned on the railing. He got into his car. We waved each other goodbye, then I walked back inside. I went to bed, feeling a little shaky, but thinking about the day. Maybe in another life I could have had a later-in-life little brother, but I couldn’t bring myself to dream about that. I’d almost drifted off to sleep when I awoke with a jolt at the sound of a ringing phone. I burst out of bed, but Mum beat me to it. While she was on the phone, I listened to the throb of my heart. Then. Mum ended the call and placed the phone back into the cradle.

“Who was it?”

“It’s alright,” Mum promised me with a kiss to my forehead. “Just a telemarketer.”

 

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.


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