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Taroona

I fastened the laces of my shoes, while getting ready for Mbeli to come and pick me up. Her birthday present waited beside me, then I collected it and bounced up when I heard the car. Mum and Dad at work, I locked the front door behind me.


“Happy Birthday. Thanks for driving me.”


“Thank you,” she responded. “It’s no worries at all.”


After about a forty-five minute drive, Mbeli parked and we stepped out into the fresh Taroona air. I shook my limbs to get the tension out of my body and prepare for the exercise of the tall staircases. Clouds floated across as we stood before the tower. Some of Mbeli’s other friends arrived, too.


“Sorry, sorry we’re late.” They burst from the car. “Happy birthday!”


A young woman with long black hair ran into Mbeli’s arms. Once they separated from their embrace, she ducked back into the car and fetched a gift.


“This is for you.”


“Thank you.”


Mbeli turned to the rest of us.


“Alright, we all need to meet each other.”


She gestured around the group not from Sorell Woolworths.


“Meet Suravi, Adelita and Hayley.”


Suravi waved, the three of them smiling.


“I know all of them from uni, they all study Comms too.”


“Nice to meet you,” I chimed in.


“Well, I reckon we should have the birthday cake, then we can get started on our adventure,” Adelita declared.


“Good idea.”


“Let’s move the cake out of the car.”


Suravi carried it over to a concrete retaining wall. She flicked the lighter, close to the wick, but it didn’t catch in the first instance. Suravi cupped her hand around the candle, so that it would finally light. I could feel my heart beating faster. Thankfully, Suravi was able to light the candles. We sang a hasty, but full-throated happy birthday to our dear Mbeli. She blew them out in one breath, then Suravi sliced up the cake. I enjoyed a piece, chocolate icing melting onto my fingers. Once I was finished, I splashed them clean with water, then dried my hands on my shorts.


“Thanks.”


“Alright, let’s get the show on the road.”


The sandstone tower stood before us. I snapped a photo on my phone as we approached, to send to my parents and post to Instagram. Suravi strode up the stairs, her long legs an asset. I took a deep breath and tried to soak in the view. There was plenty of work to do back home, with our inspection in less than a week. If we failed, then the dream would be over. All the work and money which we’d put in during the hard year since Kakek’s death would be for nothing. I tried not to think about it. A yacht motored along the Derwent, sails purple and white and the river deep blue, rippled with frothy silver. I sucked in the fresh air, marvelling at the view across Hobart. This town would always be my home. At the summit I had the chance to take a breath and rest my legs. With such a spectacular view, I understood why Mbeli had chosen this place to spend her birthday. Soon enough, it was time to return to the ground. At least from the summit, the trek was all downhill. We returned to the carpark. I fetched my drink bottle out of my bag and took a sip.


“Alright, what’s next?”


Unfortunately, some of the guests needed to work in the evening. I got back into the car, listening to tunes on the radio. Out of the blue, I found myself calling Patrick. A part of me didn’t expect that he would even answer.


“Oh, I was wanting to talk to you,” Patrick told me, when he did. “I was thinking I’d come around to yours this afternoon, if that’s alright.”


“Well, I’m on my way home, so I’ll see you soon.”


“Can’t wait.”


We ended the call as we approached Sorell. The music kicked back in and I found myself absorbed within the stories. Finally, we turned left at the roundabout. From there the rest of the journey wasn’t too far, with another left turn onto our road. I’d started to grow used to the extra structures I could view, rather than just staring into the next-door neighbours’ place. When Mbeli pulled into the driveway and dropped me off, Patrick was already waiting there for me.


“How was your day?” Mum wanted to know after I walked back in through the front door.


“Beautiful.”


I slipped off my shoes and left them by the door. Patrick and I strode through into the kitchen. We collected a drink. Soon enough, this would become an extension of the zoo. We wandered out the back. I let Patrick through back-of-house at the macaque exhibit. Given I hadn’t checked whether or not I could have him over, I didn’t want him to expose too much on my parents.


“And this is where we’ll let them out into the exhibit.”


I lifted the slide, then turned to Patrick. His frame was tense.


“What’s the matter?”


Patrick tried to relax against the concrete wall.


“It’s difficult, you know. I feel like I have so much pressure from my dad.”


“You saved his life.”


“Yeah, no, I didn’t mean it like that,” Patrick explained.


He sighed. I took a step closer.


“I’m afraid I’m going to end up like him, but the HSC is the first step out of that.”


We walked back outside, soaking in the smell of the jasmine. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t stay in flower. It wasn’t like Tasmania could rival Indonesian humidity. However, at least the leaves would hopefully add some cover to the macaque exhibit. I almost expected that I would see a monkey jumping out, but it wasn’t to be. We returned to the house. I could smell the delicious dinner cooking.


“You’re Catholic, aren’t you?”


“Yeah, we are,” I confirmed. “You’re kinda Catholic too, aren’t you?”


“Well, yeah, we’re Irish,” Patrick mentioned. “We’re kind of Irish in our background, I don’t really know.”


“It’s All Saints Day today.”


He nodded, even though I wasn’t sure if he understood. I tended to get All Saints and All Souls mixed up, so I didn’t try to explain.


“Can I help you with anything?” I offered to Mum.


“It’s alright.”


I offered her a smile, then returned to Patrick.


“I did used to play the piano, well, the keyboard, when I was at primary school. For a little while I even played at church.”


I leaned forward. Within my gut, I wanted to kiss him. Skin brushed against skin. We didn’t go there.


“I reckon Mum’s making dinner.”


My torso quivered. I swivelled around. Patrick followed me in step. He didn’t argue. I really wanted him to.


“Patrick.”


I spun around again.


“Did you want to kiss me just then?”


“Yeah, yeah, I did.”


I touched my fingertips to Patrick’s jaw. Taking a breath I waited for him to make the move. I could picture his furrowed brow, blurry with the lack of focus.


“Do you still want to kiss me now?”


We leaned in.


“Jumilah,” Dad called out.


I grimaced, the two of us having lost the moment. Perhaps I would live to regret it.


“Can you come and look at this?” he requested.


“Of course.”


We headed back inside the house. Patrick wandered into the kitchen to make himself useful and endear himself further to Mum, during the preparation of dinner. I sat down and reviewed the email we’d been sent. Someone would be sent out to review the property and ensure that the enclosures met the standards.


“That sounds reasonable to me.”


“It’s good to have the confirmation.”


Soon after, we sat down for dinner. The food was so delicious that the conversation briefly dimmed. When we did start talking again, my parents wanted to know about breeding from Georgia.


“It would be your decision, isn’t it, Jumilah?” Dad checked.


“Yes,” I confirmed, “although we need to take into account the interbirth interval.”


I sensed that Patrick might not have been taking all of this in, but hopefully I would have the opportunity to explain later. Dad prepared after-dinner coffee. I listened to the usual creaks of our house. It wasn’t something we could speak about in front of my family that we’d almost kissed. I sipped slowly at my coffee. Mum placed a tray of caramel slice onto the table. I polished off a piece, then I brushed crumbs off my lips.


“That was delicious,” I declared.


I found myself filled with excitement. Patrick eventually left and drove home. I thought that I ought to get in touch with Tallulah, to see how she was going. A part of me felt guilty that I’d been off gallivanting with friends. While it seemed unfair, Tallulah was genuinely keen to hear about my day. I felt a little queasy.


“Oh I was out today with my friends from work. It’s Mbeli’s birthday. We went to the Shot Tower in Taroona and climbed it. The views were beautiful.”


“I’m glad you were able to get a little bit of a break.”


“Yeah, thanks, my feet are killing me now, though.”


Shortly after I finished speaking with Tallulah, Nanek called. She spoke first with Mum, who filled her in on the upcoming inspection. So much felt like it was riding on this assessment, which would determine whether or not we were able to open the zoo and whether our work would have been in vain. Finally, I got the chance to speak to my grandmother. Nanek told me that she’d heard that I’d been out with friends for the day, and asked me how it was. I confirmed to her that I’d had a lovely day, even though my legs were tired out after having gone up and down all those stairs. The views, though, were worth it, looking out over Hobart and the beaches of the south-east shores.


 

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.


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