Waking up this morning I would have been tempted to just hit the snooze button, but the obligation of work kept me awake. As I got out of bed I could faintly hear the TV. I dressed. Padding through the house, I located Mum sitting on the lounge, before the screen. She hunched forward and I swayed to the side to grasp the doorframe, studying the bright light.
“Oh.” She turned to me, her cup of tea quivering. “Good morning.”
“Are you going alright?”
Mum eyed me up and down.
“Are you off to work now?”
I glimpsed my watch.
“In a minute. Are you OK?”
She finished her tea.
“Do you have time to help me with the animals first?”
“Yeah, of course.”
The two of us fetched their food from under the sink, then headed outside. The buckets clattered on my way out the back door into the bright morning sun. A hint of warmth in the air brought a smile onto my lips, promising a proper summer day. I felt at peace, trying to ignore my impending shift. We let the macaques out for the day and fed them. I kissed Mum on the cheek, then placed one headphone in my ear so that I could listen to the morning radio while I rode downhill to work. The Hurricanes were playing again tonight, apparently, against the Melbourne Stars. At the shopping centre, I disembarked, a little puffed. The headphone slipped from my ear and I stuffed the pair into my bag, despite knowing it would be a tangled mess by the afternoon. I worked throughout the day, the pre-Christmas rush overwhelming. While my mind was filled with thoughts of the animals, wishing I was with them, I soon found myself – eight hours later – returning. Maryam waddled around the staffroom, one hand resting on her belly at all times.
“Today’s not your last day, isn’t it?”
“I’m rostered on one day next week.”
She should have known that, but I didn’t blame her for forgetting.
“Oh, good on you.”
Maryam spoke casually, but I appreciated the praise.
“You are the best boss I’ve ever had.”
“Small playing field, but I’ll take it.”
“Alright, I’m off, see you later,” I farewelled.
As I left work at the end of the day, I spun around, looking back into the store. While I planned to be back, I just felt like I needed to take a last look. This would be the end of one chapter of my life, no matter what happened in the future, and the beginning of another. When I returned home from work this evening, the smells coming from the kitchen were incredible. Mum and Nanek were standing over the stove, hard at work preparing dinner. I gushed my thanks in both English and Bahasa, kissing them on the shoulders in greeting.
“Has it been a long day?” Mum wanted to know.
I nodded my head vigorously as I fetched a drink of water from the fridge.
“It’s two days before Christmas in retail. I don’t think that I got a moment to myself all day.” Closing my eyes for a moment, I sipped the drink. “It’s done now. It wasn’t the end of the world. I’m sure there’s plenty to do here.”
“You should have a rest. Dinner won’t be ready straight away.”
“Thanks, Mum,” I agreed with a smile.
I retreated to my bedroom and turned on the fan, collapsing onto my bed. After shifting into a more comfortable position, I closed my eyes and let it swirl above me. I must have fallen asleep. When I finally awoke, I startled. The relative darkness made me feel unnerved, although it still would have been the same day, a slither of light creeping through. I smelled the dinner which Mum had cooked. She and Nanek have always been fantastic in the kitchen, loving us with their food. I rolled over and checked my phone. Finally, Tessa had texted me back.
I’m still pretty sick
That’s no good; I responded swiftly
Her illness, so unexpected, gnawed at my gut. Tessa stopped responding to my messages. I slotted my phone into the top drawer, in the hope I wouldn’t be distracted by it. Rolling onto my back, I rested my wrist on my forehead. There would be work to be done, I was sure, so I pulled myself out of bed. At the very least, the delicious smells of savoury food, wafting in from the kitchen, beckoned me from my room. I crept through the house. Mum greeted me with a smile, then placed a bowl of dinner in front of me at the table. I told Nanek that I was worried the tarsiers weren’t spending enough time on the ground. She assured me that I didn’t need to be concerned. Nanek wanted to know what we’d be feeding them, recommending the diet she provided over in Sumatra. I finished off my mouthful of delicious dinner. I reminded Nanek that we couldn’t provide live lizards. She flashed me a cheeky smile and I giggled, while Mum looked at both of us. It must be a special feeling, seeing your daughter reflected in your mother. Nanek remarked that the frozen variety would have to make do. I must not have slept for long. Still, I felt a little lethargic as I ate. I tried to tune back into the conversation, keen to savour this time with my grandmother. Nanek reminded me that there have been many, many more animals who were returned to the wild. Others, which couldn’t be kept at the sanctuary, were relocated to other permanent homes. I suggested that Nanek might know where dholes bred here could be sent.
“There are lots of zoos in Bali. There’s not so many in Sumatra. I do not know all those people in Bali.”
“Right,” I replied, nodding my head.
I recalled that some animals from Australian zoos had been rehoused in Bali. Mum and Nanek got up from the table, to pack away after dinner, while I wanted to call Ara. I’d saved her number in my phone when I’d been at Melbourne Zoo, but I’m a Generation Z – we generally don’t talk on the phone with our peers. Even though they were out of sight, I listened in to the hushed conversation taking place in the kitchen. Were they speaking Bahasa out of habit, or to keep their discussions about money from Dad? I nibbled on my lip. Calling Ara, like I planned, would hopefully distract me. The phone rang for long enough that I found myself surprised when she really answered, rather than her voicemail.
“Hi, Jumilah. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, looking forward to opening in a few days.”
“Have you heard?”
Obviously not. My heart started to beat faster.
“I’ve taken up a role at Kyabram and I’ll be starting there in the new year.”
“Oh, that’s great, I’m really pleased,” I gushed, trying to hide the surprise in my voice.
“Thanks. It’ll be really great to have a fresh start.”
We ended the call. I noticed I’d received a text. Zella had given birth at Taronga. The sex of the baby was still unknown, as the experienced mother had been keeping her offspring close to her chest. I displayed my phone to Mum, showing off the photo of the gorillas.
“Such a beautiful little baby.”
I happened to think about Kakek. My vision started to mist over. Mum began to rub circles into my back. I wiped the tears away with the heels of my hands. My sinuses felt engorged as I sniffled to prevent my nose from dribbling.
“It’s just been a lot.”
I placed down my phone.
“Let’s have some dessert, yeah.”
Dad returned from the kitchen and handed out bowls of the sweets Mum had prepared for us, perhaps while I was asleep. We ate our food, then packed away. Especially with work thrown in, it had been an arduous one. It took me longer than expected to fall asleep, probably because of my nap before dinner.
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.