When we arrived at the zoo this morning, Whitlam ducked into the office to sign in for both of us. Around the other side of the building, I noticed a man. Tall and olive-skinned, he wore zoo uniform, although not ours.
“Hello, can I help you with anything?”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Jeremy Childers, Head of Ungulates at Hamilton Zoo, here for today’s transfer.”
“I’m Jumilah Fioray, I’m here on work experience.”
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Jumilah Fioray.”
We shook hands. There was something about his warmth which reminded me of Joel.
“You would know Tessa Finlay, then.”
“Yes, I do,” Jeremy confirmed. “I take it that you know Tessa, too.”
“Yeah, just through the primate TAG. I attend the meetings, I’m starting my own zoo in Tassie.”
“Oh, that’s great, mate. I’ve heard a thing or two about you.”
“Hopefully all good things,” I responded.
“Well, mostly,” Jeremy admitted. “Some people think that you’re a bit of a cowboy, but Tessa speaks highly of you.”
Whitlam walked around the corner, saved by the bell.
“The man,” Jeremy greeted. “WW – it’s been a long time between drinks, brother.”
“It has, it has.”
“Dreadful news from Perth, eh,” Whitlam mentioned once they’d parted.
“Oh.” A chill seemed to go over Jeremy’s body. “Bill Nevill’s always given me the creeps.”
“Yeah, I kinda get that vibe too,” I admitted, “but I feel for him, I feel for all of them. Nobody wants to be going through this.”
“Definitely not,” Jeremy agreed.
A sombre moment of silence followed. Eventually we needed to get on our way, because even in tragedy there remains a job to do. Our particular job involves organising one of the young rhino bulls for transfer to New Zealand, to act as a stimulant and potential breeding male. We arrived at the paddock in which Kifaru had been isolated, just off the savannah. It was the same one in which Marnus’ hoof procedure had been performed, earlier in the week. That seemed like so long ago now, before we’d heard the dreadful news about Joel’s death.
“Is Bailey coming down to take a look at him?”
Zola climbed up onto the fence.
“No, Bailey’s off today.”
“Alright, so who is going to come and help us then?”
“One of the other vets, calm down. Everything is going to be fine.”
Zola flashed me a grin, then she snapped a photo on her phone.
“It’s World Rhino Day today,” she told me. “I’m sure that the socials people will love this.”
Zola tapped at the screen, perhaps to send a message, then stepped down from the fence.
“I’m happy to wait here for the vet to turn up, if you want to give Jeremy the grand tour.”
“Alright, thank you, Zola.”
I glanced at Jeremy.
“Yeah, I’m happy to have a look around.”
“See you later,” I farewelled Zola, then headed off with Jeremy.
I, by habit, started to fiddle with my hair. Pulling myself together, we strode quickly around the walking trails of the zoo.
“It’s just amazing, the wide open spaces here,” he remarked, taking his hands out of his pockets. “It just makes you feel more alive.”
I drove Jeremy out onto the savannah, where we encountered the blackbuck herd.
“You’ve got a good breeding group here.”
“Yeah, we’ve had a few calves lately, building up the numbers pretty quickly.”
I lingered for a moment, before driving back to the gate. Jeremy and I returned to the holding yard, where Zola was with Kifaru and a vet I hadn’t met yet.
“Clean bill of health,” the vet confirmed.
“We’ve just placed some food into the crate, because we’re almost ready to go,” Zola supplied.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get him straight into the crate, no dramas.”
Thankfully, Kifaru took the bait. A little slowly, but he moved into the crate.
“My kids will be sorry to see Kifaru go,” Zola mentioned, “but I know you’ll take good care of him.”
The crate was lifted onto the back of the truck. Jeremy nodded his head, confirming her statement. Whitlam and Zola left for the airport, with Kifaru and Jeremy Childers in tow. I waved them farewell, hoping that the young rhino would have a nice life in New Zealand. I’d been left to my own devices for a little while. Later on, I’d join the carnivore TAG meeting. For the meantime, I could choose what to do. Once I returned to the shed, I made sure that the ute was plugged in for charging. As I walked away, I spun around. The solar panels atop the roof glimmered in the late afternoon sun. I walked back into the main area of the zoo. Looping around the walking trails, I tracked down Jamila, who greeted me with a grin. She carried buckets in both hands, so she couldn’t wave.
“Hey, how’s your day been?”
“It’s been great, I’ve been working with Jeremy Childers transferring Kifaru to Hamilton Zoo to be a stimulant bull.”
Pinkness crept into her cheeks.
“Oh, Jeremy Childers.” Jamila gave a fond smile. “That’s not a name I’ve heard in a while.”
I tried to determine, from her tone, if they had a backstory. Wispy strands of Jamila’s dark hair clung to her temples with sweat, likely from the physical labour of her work day.
“He’s gone with Whitlam and Zola to the airport.”
“What’s on your plate next?”
I glimpsed my watch, time having gotten away faster than I intended.
“It’s almost time for the TAG meeting, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed.
“Great, I’ll see you after that to head home.”
Returning to the staff quarters, I joined the carnivore TAG meeting. The usual cast of faces were there, although I noticed that Tessa wasn’t in attendance, neither Frazer nor Sam.
“This isn’t the time,” Don murmured, and, in the circumstances, I agreed.
“Well, we may as well get started,” Bill decided. “Adelaide Zoo?”
“Our clouded leopard pairs have come out of quarantine, as of this morning. It’s very exciting for us, of course, but we’re not making a bit fanfare of it publicly. They’re not on display, as you would know.”
“We’ve been able to reintegrate our otters,” Gerard conveyed. “I also wanted to pass on some news from Paradise Valley Springs. They’ve welcomed a new litter of lion cubs.”
“Darling Downs Zoo?”
“We’ve named our new litter of meerkats. My daughter named them, actually.”
“How many do you have?”
“We have three, three surviving. There were four, originally. Sadly, one died only a few days after birth due to congenital abnormalities. The three surviving are one male and two females. They have been named Eric, the male, and the females, Ariel and Aurora.”
“Is there any further information on the Sri Lankan Leopard program?”
“I know that we’re slow to build our facilities,” Don noted, “but I would like to think that we could obtain an animal once they’re complete.”
“I can’t make any promises, but I agree with you, Don.”
“Everything’s going pretty well for us. Our lions are still alive, which is always good news considering their ages.”
“Would you want to obtain more lions once they pass away?”
“Yes, we would be seeking to maintain lions in our collection, so reacquiring individuals once the current animals pass on.”
The TAG meeting came to an end, so I shut my laptop and went to track down Jamila. I was finished for the day, so I was keen to get back home.
“Are you right to go?” Jamila checked.
“Yeah, I am,” I confirmed. “I’m not sure where the guys are. Well, I know that Whitlam was going to the airport.”
I glanced towards my watch.
“That was a couple of hours ago at least.”
“Well, he shouldn’t be too much longer, but I’m sure that he can find his own way home if need be.”
I nodded my head. My mind started to wander as we walked back through the zoo, and I could faintly hear construction in the background, working on the new elephant complex.
“Do you reckon that you’d have tigers here?”
“At Werribee?” Jamila responded. “I don’t know, I don’t think so.”
We passed out the staff exit, on our way to the car.
“They have tigers at Dubbo, but they have a whole lot of smaller species at Dubbo, unlike us.”
Jamila fetched her car keys and unlocked. She opened the driver’s door. As Jamila slipped into the car, I walked around to the passenger side and paused for a moment, looking for the earthmovers. I couldn’t see them, so I got into the car. While I fastened my seatbelt across my chest, I pondered the construction back in Sorell, amongst other topics.
“So, what’s the deal with Jeremy Childers?” I asked, when we were on the way home.
Jamila flashed me a look and laughed.
“Look, I’m sorry, maybe I don’t want to know,” I admitted. “I’ve had enough trouble with rumourmongering in Melbourne.”
Jamila raised one eyebrow.
“He’s just a charming, attractive man who’s pretty good at his job.”
“So why is Werribee taking over the blackbuck studbook from Hamilton?”
“They’ve had a few deaths; they’re downsizing their group. These things shuffle around.”
Jamila and I arrived home from the zoo.
“You take the first shower, if you want it,” she offered.
“Thanks, that would be great.”
I headed upstairs and washed off the day, then dried myself and changed into pyjamas. Once dressed, I bounced down the stairs and into the kitchen. Jamila was putting a vego lasagne into the oven.
I breathed deeply for a moment.
“Alright, I’m going to have a shower.”
“Good idea,” I told her. “Not saying that you smell, or anything.”
Jamila whiffed the underarms of her shirt.
“Don’t worry, I know that I do.”
She walked over to the base of the stairs.
“I’ve set a timer on the oven, all it’ll need once it’s done is to come out and get cut up.”
“That’s great, thank you.”
Jamila nodded her head, then scampered up the stairs to have a shower. I drunk in the glow of the oven, unable to move. Tragedies spun around my mind, causing Hamish’s presence to startle me. He remained quiet enough, that I would have been tempted to open up. I blinked, Kakek’s face flashing before me. Somehow I managed to stumble to the couch, although I didn’t pass out. When the timer went off, Jamila had returned, and dished up the food. Even though the baked cheese had steam rising from it by the heapful, I scooped the lasagne into my mouth. We ate our dinner with haste, despite my knowledge it would cost me later. Once we were done, Jamila started collecting the plates, to whisk them away to the kitchen.
“Would you like to get out the jigsaw puzzle?” Whitlam suggested, waggling his eyebrows.
I laughed and agreed. Hamish poured the jigsaw pieces out onto the table.
“Let us begin,” he declared with excitement.
We started sorting the pieces.
“You know, you can probably tell quite a bit about our personalities in terms of how we approach this,” Whitlam mentioned.
“Do any of you know your Enneagram type?”
“Yeah, I’m a One,” Jamila supplied. “I’m the oldest daughter, I think that explains a thing or two as well.”
Jamila lined up the puzzle pieces. She started to sort them into the edge pieces and the interior pieces, then into various colours. Hamish started to form the border.
“I’m a Type Eight, the challenger,” I supplied, with a self-conscious laugh. “You can tell that I’m a rebel.”
“Yeah, I’m also an Eight,” Whitlam agreed. “Funny that.”
“We have two Eights and two Ones,” Hamish mentioned, implying his own type.
That didn’t surprise me about him. I sensed Whitlam was resisting the urge to flick the puzzle pieces across the table, which would have irritated Jamila and Hamish. My mind noticed the colours which were the same, and the edges which seemed like they could have been attractive opposites.
“What’s the next big development for Melbourne, Jumilah?” Hamish enquired.
Try as I might, the edges didn’t quite fit, so I abandoned my attempt and searched for a different, matching piece.
“I’m not entirely sure, there’s a few. I’ve talked to Reuben about it, but a few weeks ago.”
The piece, however, seemed to be beyond my grasp. I took a deep breath, determined to make this the relaxing activity which jigsaw puzzles were intended to be. Meditative even, but less so when the right part seemed to be out of reach. Whitlam slid over piece after piece, although none seemed to match the outline required.
“Well, we have a bit of a pickle here.”
“Alright, let’s call it a night.”
Jamila straightened up the puzzle pieces, then we left the table, Hamish flicking off the lights. We all walked up the stairs and went our separate ways. In my bedroom, I brushed my hair for a little while, as I’d already changed into my pyjamas after my shower before dinner. I felt ready to get cozy, yet still restless. Right before going to bed, I checked my emails – a good excuse to make up for the fact that I couldn’t sleep.
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.