I braced myself for working the Thursday before Good Friday. The shops only close for twenty-four hours, yet everyone treats it like it’s the end of the world, and they treat supermarket staff accordingly. When I arrived at work, Sloane was sitting at the staffroom table, reading a magazine.
“Oh, hello, school holidays, I remember.”
“Actually, I wasn’t meant to be in today. They asked me to cover. Lucy’s not coming in, I don’t know why.”
Maryam waltzed into the staffroom, and others followed.
“Hey, good morning, I’ve called a staff meeting.”
We gathered around the staffroom table.
“We’re having a visit from head office today,” Maryam mentioned as she reached for her drink bottle. “So, I know that you always are, but everyone needs to be on their best behaviour.”
I nodded my head.
“That’s all. Go back to work, be fabulous.”
After the staff meeting, I lingered. Patrick waited by the door, but I shooed him off so that he could start work for the day. Generally it’s nice having him around in the school holidays. Still, this wasn’t a conversation which needed a third wheel. I approached Maryam with trepidation.
“Sloane said that Lucy’s not at work today, is everything alright?”
“Her grandfather died last night.”
Maryam reached out and put her hand on my shoulder.
“I reckon, if you’re up to it, that if you reached out to her, she would really appreciate it. It’s not the same, but you’ve been through something similar.”
“Yeah, of course, that’s awful to hear about her grandfather.”
I ended up working on the checkout next to Sloane. There was a carnivores meeting and I wanted to be able to attend, even if just to find out how it all goes down. I scanned through Easter egg after Easter bunny after parcel of prawns. Wanting to have some credits in the bank, I didn’t take a lunch break. When I finally returned to the staffroom, I had a question for Maryam, our brand-new shift manager.
“Hey, can I ask you a massive favour? Could I please take an early mark? There’s a carnivores meeting this afternoon, like a zoo thing--.”
I could sense from the look on her fact that I was asking too much.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll work a double shift if you let me do this meeting.”
Therefore, I would be working a double shift – not exactly what I wanted to do on the Thursday before Easter, but it was worth it in order to attend the carnivore TAG meeting. I texted Mum to tell her I was working through a double shift. She wasn’t in love with the idea, I could tell, but she loves me enough that she didn’t tell me that I couldn’t. As I sat down at the staffroom table, I took a deep breath. I covered my ears with headphones. Placing down my laptop, I opened it. I turned it on and logged into the carnivore TAG meeting, right in time for it to start.
“We welcome Jumilah Fioray to the meeting. Along with her family, she is planning on making an application for institutional membership. Jumilah is the granddaughter of Michael Sitompul, who tragically passed away late last year.”
“Thank you very much for having me.”
The faces looking back at me were warm enough, but I still felt anxious.
“I’ll have member reports first today, we don’t have a presentation or any pressing studbook matters to discuss.”
So far, Bill seemed to run his ship a little differently to the primate meetings.
“Some sad news, I’m sorry. Our oldest red panda has died.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you, his time had come.”
“We received a female Sumatran Tiger from Hamilton Zoo at the end of last week, she’s gone on display today in preparation for the Easter long weekend.”
“And that’ll free us up for a new breeding male,” Tessa chimed in.
“Yes, well, wait your turn,” Bill insisted. “Darling Downs?”
“We’re planning to transfer our male Sumatran Tiger back to Tasmania Zoo. It’s on welfare grounds for the female there, his sister, they’d been housed together and she’s quite distressed without him. Unfortunately, that means that our pair haven’t successfully bred.”
“And your female is getting on in years.”
“Yes, she seems to have been quite selective in relation to her mate,” Raffa noted. “One potential option would be to transfer two male tigers of equal genetic value, and hopefully she’ll take her pick.”
“Like you’d do with cheetahs.”
“There are the two brothers at Mogo,” Bill mentioned. “I haven’t run the figures, but what can I do off the top of my head? Your female would be the first cousin of those males through their fathers. So, it’s not an ideal genetic match, but it might be the best we’ve got, at least inside the region at such short notice.”
“My only problem with that is that we only hold two Sumatrans. We do have the generic male--.”
“Yes, you do.”
“So, that means that our exhibit won’t be empty, but if we do transfer both Sumatran males, I would appreciate if, when the opportunity arises, we could acquire Sumatran Tigers again.”
“Now, Julie, don’t get pushy--.”
I waited for someone else to say something. Nobody did, so I raised my hand, but Julie could fight her own battles.
“This wasn’t part of the plan.”
“Julie, you don’t make the plans--.”
“With respect to both of you, you don’t either, Bill, I’m sorry,” Monica, the Melbourne Zoo representative, interjected. “Sam and I will review this matter and we’ll report back once we’ve ran the genetics.”
“The tiger transfer went well, as Gerard said. We’ll be hoping to be transferred a male shortly.”
“And hopefully this one won’t eat his mate.”
Nobody said anything, but there were a handful of winces.
“We’ve had a lion birth, two cubs. Mother and cub are doing well, we hope to sex the cubs when we get the chance.”
“Yes, she’s proving an excellent mother once again.”
“Speaking of lion cubs, ours are on display. It’s a real shame that we’ve lost two of them before this point, but thankfully the remaining three are thriving.”
“Yes, going well, thanks, we’ve named the red panda cubs, Pabu and Amala."
“I’ve received apologies from Sam,” Bill noted. “He’s on leave. He hasn’t sent a representative in his absence, unfortunately.”
I would have liked to speak with Sam.
“Taronga Western Plains?”
“We’ve been able to confirm a pregnancy in our lioness, so we’re expecting cubs to be born relatively soon.”
“Some sad news, unfortunately. We made the decision to euthanise our caracal.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Well, another one bites the dust.”
The TAG meeting came to an end. I removed my headphones and closed my laptop. Once I stood up, I walked across the loungeroom and slipped my laptop back into my backpack. I was about to get back to work, when Sloane followed Maryam back into the staffroom. My stomach was starting to grumble, but there was still plenty of work to do.
“So, what time are we ordering pizza?” Sloane asked.
“I don’t know, I was thinking that we could shake things up. No offence to your Italian side--.”
“But how about Thai?”
“That would be lovely.”
“Alright, what would you like?”
“Ah, tofu pad Thai, please.”
Maryam made the order and I transferred her some money to cover the cost of my dinner.
“Alright, tell me when it’s ready, please.”
“Of course,” Maryam promised.
I slipped out and went back to work for a bit, until Patrick turned up to bring me back to the staffroom.
“I thought you’d appreciate some dinner.”
“Yes, of course, thank you,” I gushed.
I found somewhere to sit down, where Patrick placed a bowl of food in front of me, which I started to eat.
“You know, I haven’t really seen anyone from head office today yet.”
“Oh, they left hours ago,” Maryam informed us.
She dug around with chopsticks in her pad Thai like she was mining for gold.
“They didn’t really say much. I thought that they would have more to offer, really.”
Maryam ate a mouthful, then sipped her lemonade.
“They said that we need to understand each other more, to work together better as a team. I don’t really see that as the problem, but anyhow. They want us all to do Enneagram personality tests.”
“Oh, I’ve already done that one, I’m a Type Eight.”
“There you go, so am I,” Maryam remarked. “That doesn’t surprise me, actually, we’re pretty similar.”
“Is there a link or something to this?” Patrick wanted to know.
“Yeah, there’s a link, I’ll send it through to the group chat.”
As soon as everyone’s phones buzzed, their heads were in the quiz.
“I’m a Type Six,” Patrick read off his phone.
I smiled towards him. That really makes a lot of sense. Patrick is terribly loyal, it drips off him – it’s obvious from how he’s reacted to Sloane. He hasn’t let go, even though they only ever slept together once, even though he’s not actually the biological father of her baby.
“Turns out I’m a Type Six as well,” Sloane supplied.
She rubbed circles in her belly.
“You know, and please don’t take this the wrong way,” Maryam spoke up, “you don’t have to stay. We’ll be right for the rest of the shift.”
“You sure?” Sloane replied. “That’d be ace.”
With Maryam’s seal of approval, she went home, with Patrick to drive her. I gave him a wave goodbye as he slipped out the back door. Trying to shake off my exhaustion, I got back to work until the close. Once the supermarket had closed, I was able to return to the staffroom, where Maryam sat at the table.
“Are you OK, Maryam?” I checked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she insisted. “Lucky it’s almost the long weekend.”
“Do you have any plans?”
“Not much. I’m going to church with Ricky and his family.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Yeah,” Maryam assured. “It’ll be lovely.”
“Well, have a good time.”
“Thanks, you too,” Maryam responded, before I slipped out the back door.
Mum came to pick me up at the end of my shift. I got into the car and fastened my seatbelt.
“Thanks for coming to get me.”
Mum drove through the carpark.
“How was your shift?”
“Manic, which didn’t surprise me. It’s the Thursday before Easter after all.”
“Please don’t work a double shift again.”
“We need money for the zoo, anyway.”
“Just don’t run yourself ragged first.”
“I’ll try my best not to.”
When we arrived home, I hopped into the shower. After I got out, I quickly changed into my pyjamas. Sure enough, Mum appeared in the doorway.
“You’re good to me,” I told her.
“No, you’re good to me.”
“Go to sleep.” Mum kissed me on the forehead. “I love you.”
She slipped out of the room, flicking off the light on the way. I crawled into bed and snuggled in. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I must have fallen asleep.
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.