My eyes opened, surrounded by the warmth of my bed. After a split-second, I remembered, just as I was prone to do in those first moments of a new day. I rolled onto my side, instinctively reaching for my phone. Scrolling through Instagram was meant to distract me. All I found were posts blissfully, ignorantly happy, or those mourning Joel’s loss. I dropped my phone amidst the bedclothes. Retrieving it and placing it into my bag, I dressed for the day and headed downstairs, finding Hamish in the kitchen.
“Are you alright?”
I stepped to be able to view his profile.
“Not really, are you?”
“Yeah, it’s been a tough week, that’s for sure.”
Hamish scratched the back of his hair with his stubbed fingernails, obviously bitten and torn.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be burdening you with this.”
“It’s alright, I understand,” I assured.
“Want a tea?”
Hamish retrieved two mugs and two teabags from the cupboards. As the jug boiled, he slotted one into each.
“Do you have milk or sugar?”
“Oh yeah, a little bit of each,” I accepted.
I didn’t hold strongly to how I consumed black tea.
The jug finished boiling. Hamish poured steaming water into each mug, the transparent liquid turning dark.
“You know, this sort of thing is what siblings are for,” I outlined. “Well, I’d gather, I don’t really know.”
“So, you’re an only child?” Hamish presumed, removing the teabag from his cup.
“That’s correct,” I confirmed, “but don’t hold that against me.”
Hamish dropped the teabag into the compost.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Hamish took a sip from his tea. I would have thought it to be still far too hot, but obviously I must have a much more delicate constitution.
“It’s never really been something we’ve discussed,” I acknowledged.
Hamish placed the lid on his keep cup, so we could head out to the car. We piled in, fastened our seatbelts, then Jamila started driving to the zoo.
“How about all of you?”
“I have a sister,” Hamish answered. “We’re twins, actually, I have a twin sister.”
“There you go,” I replied. “I did not know that.”
We arrived at the zoo. I headed off with Whitlam, averting my eyes from the bouquets of flowers which had been placed near the entrance. It’s awfully kind of those bringing them along, considering that we’re on the other side of the country from where Joel lived and died. Whitlam and I arrived at the hippo exhibits as the first stop, passing the enclosure empty following Harry’s passing.
“Do you think--?” I spoke up, then thought better of it.
“What’s the matter?”
“I was wondering whether you’d somehow obtain another hippo bull,” I asked, “considering that Harry’s passed away.”
“He was a big loss, that’s for sure.” We took a moment, peering into the water. “Hopefully we’ll get the IRA through.”
“Yeah, absolutely,” I agreed.
“Would you like to go and have a look at where they’re going to build the elephant complex?”
“Yeah, of course, sure.”
I set off, following Whitlam past where the zoo had already developed.
“We’ll be able to accommodate multiple bulls on site,” he explained.
I tried to imagine the elephant herd I’d come to love, roaming around this magnificent site.
“They’ve got elephants at Chester, don’t they?”
“Yes, yes, they do,” Whitlam confirmed. “The bulls at Sydney, their sire was the breeding bull at Chester before he was moved on to Dublin.”
I hadn’t realised the connection. Whitlam showed me around the site, my shoes sinking into the soil with every step. The elephants’ habitat seemed to extend all the way to the horizon.
“It’ll be a whole complex, the elephants, and then more exhibits, called the Waterhole precinct, maybe with hyaenas, or a whole bunch of Asian species.”
“Joel came to Melbourne when the hyaenas came. That would only be a couple of months back.” I smiled, recalling the memory. “He loved his carnies, but he loved talking about Pertama. His face lit up.”
The dark clouds overhead finally bore fruit of rain. We flopped our hoods over our heads. Hands stuffed into our pockets, Whitlam and I made haste for shelter.
“The keepers will come with the elephants from Melbourne,” he explained, once we jumped under an awning.
It was only two weeks ago, not months. Bob would adapt to the wide, open spaces, and Werribee would adjust to his idiosyncrasies. A break in the rain not forthcoming, Whitlam and I scampered back to the staff quarters. I shivered, shaking myself off like a wet dog, as we walked through the door.
“Alright, I’d like you for the rest of the afternoon,” Jamila requested, looking me in the eye. “Don’t worry, it won’t be hard.”
“Yeah, it’s fine. I’m fine.”
Perhaps I was speaking a little too perkily. All I could picture was Isobel, through the FaceTime call just before Emmie and Vel’s wedding reception, flashing her new engagement ring, radiating joy. That was five days ago, and Jamila and I ventured out into the zoo. If I didn’t know any better, I would have through that the oryx and camel lingered in the back of the cheetah exhibit. Eventually, I noticed the fence line, intended to blend in. I often think of immersion as relating to rainforest habitats, but Werribee’s savannahs rival many of those displays, not that I’m that familiar with the plains of Africa. We departed the cheetahs and walked up around the loop to the lions, where the young ones played.
“My goodness, they’re so big now,” I gushed. “The photos from when they were cubs, they were tiny.”
“Yeah, they grow up pretty quickly,” Jamila confirmed, with a fond smile. “It seems like the blink of an eye before the little bubbas become breeders themselves. That’s the cycle of life.”
Jamila and I continued around the rest of the exotic animal loop, back to the staffroom. There, Hamish and Whitlam were waiting for us, so that we could sign out and leave. As we headed back to the carpark, mud sloshed underfoot. Out towards the Werribee River, I could see that the sky was finally starting to lighten. We headed for home, where I was when Mum and Dad called.
“Turns out you’ve had quite the day.”
I stepped out the back to talk on the phone.
“We have,” I confirmed. “It rained pretty heavily here for a little while. I’m so glad I have a rain jacket.”
Once I had finished on the phone with Mum, I rejoined the others, where the drinks had started to flow in the kitchen.
“We’ve got Jeremy Childers coming from Hamilton Zoo tomorrow,” Whitlam reported. “He’s escorting Kifaru, our young male rhino, for his export.”
“Oh, yeah, that sounds cool.”
“Of course, it does,” Whitlam assured.
Hamish handed me a beer, which I tried and failed to remove the cap from. Wordlessly, he accepted it back to use the bottle opener, before returning it to me to my murmured thanks.
“So, do you think that you’re going to ship jump to ungulates?” Whitlam remarked before taking a sip from his beer.
“I don’t think so,” she retorted.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “We’re going to start small. We’ve got our plans, they’ve been all signed, sealed, delivered to be right. I know we’ve got a head start, with my grandparents and then with Reuben.”
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.