I woke up with a smile on my face, even though the phone was ringing. It really felt quite fancy to get a wake-up call, in preparation for our flight to Sydney. Mum answered the call, to stop the ringing. She confirmed with thanks that we’d received it, while I rolled out of bed and toyed with having a shower. I felt like I would appreciate one, but I didn’t know if we’d have time.
“If you have a quick one, it would be fine,” Mum assured, so I did just that.
The taps were rather fancy. Interior design has never been a great interest of mine, but I still feel like I can recognise something extravagant when I see it. After my shower, I dried myself with a soft hotel towel, and got dressed into fresh clothes.
“Alright,” I declared. “Are we ready to go?”
“Yes,” Mum confirmed. “I think we are.”
We made sure that we had our bags, and the key card to return downstairs, and left the room, door closing with a soft click behind us.
Our plane landed safely in Sydney. We took our carry-on bags with us and headed for the station to travel to our accommodation. Exploring the city could wait until after that. We were on the train when Mum messaged Nanek, to tell her that we were safe.
“Do you need to call Dad?”
“He’ll be working, I’ll just text him. We can ring him later on to actually talk to him.”
“This’ll be our station.”
When we arrived out the front, there was a text telling Mum where to find the key. We located it without incident and unlocked the front door, from which we needed to walk up a narrow staircase to get to the accommodation. With a king-size bed and a kitchenette, it was more than suitable for us to stay the night, and the people who owned it were pretty nice to boot to be flexible with us. We dumped our bags, and Mum put the key in a safe place. The two of us sat down, side by side on the bed, both overwhelmed by the choices set before us.
“So,” I proposed, “what would you like to do?”
Neither of us said anything straight away.
“We could go to the beach,” I suggested, “or we could go to the zoo?”
Mum gave a fond grin.
“I figured that you’d suggest that.”
Mum took my hand to pull us both back to our feet. We just took one bag, with just what we’d need. I’d experienced more of Sydney, like the ferry across the harbour, just a few days earlier, during my time with Sam. Having Mum with me, we had the chance to chat.
“Will Nanek be involved in moving the animals from quarantine to Australia?”
“No, Adam and the zoos will deal with that.”
“It was nice getting to see all the family.”
“I’m glad,” Mum responded with a grin. “We should have gone back more often when you were younger.”
“You did what you could, I’m sure.”
“Yes, I suppose.”
Mum went quiet.
“We’re almost there,” I noted in a sing-song voice, as the shapes of the exhibits were coming into definition.
I felt the need to change the subject, anyway. This was going to be a good day and nothing was going to get in the way of that.
“We’ll tap off when we get off.”
The ferry docked at the Taronga Zoo wharf. Mum and I got off, thanking the deckhands before tapping off and marvelling at the cliff face before us.
“That’s the sky safari, it’s a bit nerve-wracking, but it’s that or the bus or walking,” I noted.
“I think that we can deal with that,” Mum decided, so we climbed the stairs and decided to brave it.
The man letting people on didn’t recognise me, but I recognised him.
“Here we go,” I cooed, as Mum and I stepped into the cable car. “What side do you want to sit on?”
“Let’s sit opposite, I’ll look at the harbour and you look at the zoo.”
That worked, so that’s what we did, beaming as Mum snapped a photo of me.
“I’m feeling better than last time.”
“That’s good,” Mum replied.
She’s better with heights than me.
“Do we get off here?” Mum asked, when we reached the top.
The door opened, and Mum and I stepped out.
“Sam and I did the roundtrip, but that’s because I started at the top.”
Mum gestured down the stairs, towards the entry gates.
“I gather that’s where we go to buy our tickets.”
“No, actually, that’s where you go in, but you buy the tickets over there.”
I gestured towards a ticket booth close to the main entrance building.
“Although, I reckon if I called Sam--.”
I sported a cheeky grin.
“Well, you wouldn’t want to take advantage,” Mum insisted, “but if you would like to see him, then you could tell him that we’re here.”
I sent Sam a text, and we walked to the ticket booth. Mum and I joined the queue, behind some families.
“You’re back again,” Sam’s voice called out from behind us, and we spun around.
I think that Mum expected that he would have been younger.
“Sam, this is my mum, Catherine.”
“Thank you for taking good care of Jumilah.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Sam replied. “Look, let me show you around.”
We departed the queue and followed him towards the gates. I felt a little guilty, but grateful for his presence. Mum, Dad and Reuben were friends from back in the day. He hadn’t exactly been a mainstay of my childhood, especially given that he lived in Melbourne, but it had been good to have him back in our lives. I’m grateful that Reuben would help Nanek protect her animals. They’re safe, and she will be able to visit them in Australia. Sam has been tender to me, both on the plane, and now in showing me, and now Mum and I, around the zoo, and just maybe helping us with our plans. As we walked towards the gates, I cast my eyes up to the canopy of fig trees. This rainforest-like atmosphere isn’t a patch on the real thing, but at least it tries to replicate it somewhat. I’m not sure if we’d be able to do that at home. We reached the gates, and Sam ushered us through again. Mum and I smiled gratefully towards the young woman on the gate, a different person to last time. This time, we knew that we had all day to move around the zoo with Sam.
“We used to keep alligators in here,” he explained, taking us to the right.
Piano wire separated us from a body of water. All of a sudden, I jumped, at the bronze eyes staring up at me from this side of the wire – nevermind the caveat Sam had just given. He tried not to laugh, while Mum gently placed her hand between my shoulder blades.
“It gets people every time,” Sam remarked.
No doubt it would have. As my heartrate returned to a respectable level, I surveyed the exhibit, with the cable car terminal in the distance. Sure enough, I could spot the squirrel monkey group, scurrying around in the trees at the back of the exhibit. I could see how it would have been an effective space to exhibit alligators, but it works just as well for its new purpose. Eventually, we departed, to move onto the next part of the zoo, Mum and I following after Sam.
“I showed you all the big-ticket exhibits last time, sorry Catherine, but I want to take you through the Australian section. We’ll be redeveloping some of this soon, but there are some quite effective exhibits here.”
I’ve never considered myself one for architecture, but I appreciated that tour.
“What do you think about the zoo plans, Catherine?” Sam asked Mum, as we passed some native bird aviaries.
“I grew up at the sanctuary, I love being around animals.”
“So you’re supportive?”
We stopped by the cassowary exhibit, blended into the jungle.
“I am,” Mum confirmed, and I beamed. “Of course, I don’t really know where to go next, but when we’re home, we’ll be seriously considering it.”
The place where we’re staying in Sydney has Wi-Fi. I checked to see if there were any more messages in the work group chat, or anything in general. There wasn’t anything of note. That makes me feel a little suspicious, but there’s nothing to be gained from feeling left out. I’ll be back, and back to work, before I know it, and wishing I was still away. Tomorrow morning, we will return to Hobart, with more questions than answers. Perhaps the future is still as uncertain as it’s ever been. Still, I’ve been able to sleep tonight in a warm, safe bed, and that’s all that I need for now.
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.