There was a part of me glad to be getting up early for work this morning. It served as an opportunity to take my mind off yesterday. Going back to work, I’m Jumilah. I’m just another checkout chick. Patrick’s the only one who knows about what really happened to my grandfather. Even then, he doesn’t know the whole story, only the parts which I’ve been willing to let him into. I like to think of Patrick as a friend. That’s what was on my mind as I rode my bike the fifteen minutes to the shops. Patrick and I are friends. There’s nothing more going on, or otherwise I would have realised that. There also can’t be anything going on between Patrick and Sloane after all, because she’s pregnant, and if he’s the father of the baby, he would have mentioned that fact already. I arrived my bike and left it at the rack. When I slipped in through the back door, the staffroom was awash with red decorations.
“Happy New Year,” Lucy wished me.
“Thank you,” I replied. “Happy New Year to you too. Did you get up to much with your family last night?”
“Oh, did we ever,” Lucy assured with a grin.
She opened the staff fridge, which she was packing with containers.
“Do your family celebrate?”
We have had other things on our mind, not that Lucy would know that.
“Your grandparents are Indo, aren’t they?”
“Mum’s parents are. Dad’s parents are from Italy. That’s why my grandfather, Dad’s Dad, pronounces Jumilah like a bad stereotype from a Dolmio ad.”
I waved my hands around for effect. Sitting at the table drinking her coffee, Maryam snorted a laugh.
“Well, if you didn’t bring any lunch, there are plenty of leftovers in the fridge. It shows prosperity, it’s a good sign.”
“That’s very kind of you. Thank you, Lucy.”
“My pleasure,” I replied, then headed for the door to start my shift on the checkout.
“Oh, there’s going to be a fire drill this morning,” Maryam noted.
“Aren’t we not supposed to know about when there’s going to be a fire drill?”
“Well, yeah, but there’s going to be a fire drill this morning.”
“Right,” I replied, then slipped out the door.
It clicked shut behind me. I was already looking forward to lunch from Lucy. I walked through the supermarket, taking a shortcut through the confectionary aisle. Reaching checkout seven, I removed the sign and turned on the light, so that the customers would start flocking. Patrick was at the checkout next to me, with a long line of customers already, despite us only have been open for a short period of time.
“Good morning,” Patrick greeted me, in between customers.
“Morning,” I replied with a smile.
I started serving people, making small talk. In my head I fell into the process, filling in the gaps of mundane conversation. The woman buying toddler nappies for a boy and a girl is probably the mother of twins. Of course, she could be a babysitter. She could only have one child, but not care for gender, or be too tired to care about pink or blue.
“You still haven’t come to a gig yet, Jumilah,” Patrick reminded me.
“There’s just been a bit happening. When’s your next one? I’ll try to come.”
“Well, the gigs have been great so far.”
A customer approached his register, which brought the conversation to a brief pause. Patrick, in his usual friendly fashion, served the customer, who didn’t take long.
“So, as I was saying,” he resumed telling me almost straight away, “we’ve had a few good gigs so far, but the next step is for Bushmint Lovechild to go on the road.”
I tried to keep my expression even – supporting Patrick’s dreams enough, but not acting like he’s the next Holy Holy.
“What, like explore some more venues?”
Across the supermarket, I noticed Sloane approaching the deli counter, mahogany hair pulled back so that she could tuck it under a hair net. I gather there’s no problem with her working there while pregnant. It’s not like she’s going to be sampling the products. I found myself staring out into the distance.
“No, we’re talking across Tasmania.”
Patrick was leaning forward over the counter, knuckles almost white. He would have seemed demonic if I couldn’t tell he was so excited.
“Bushmint Lovechild is going to Launnie, baby!”
“That would be great, Patrick,” I replied with a smile, as I noticed a customer approaching.
She started to load her groceries up onto the conveyor belt, then paused to hand over her reusable bags.
“Thanks. How has your day been?”
I hated asking the question. It’s what we’re supposed to do.
“Oh, it’s been a day.”
I nodded my head like I understood.
I scanned and bagged the groceries. She moved the bags back into her trolley, almost as slowly as humanly possible. I can always tell the difference between those who have worked at a supermarket before, and those who haven’t and have no idea. Finally, the customer paid by credit card. When she was on her way, Patrick’s checkout was also unoccupied.
“So, would you come on the road with us?”
He looked me in the eye, seeming hopeful. I swallowed. Before I had the chance to answer, the fire alarm blared. Maryam was right.
“Do we really have to evacuate?” Patrick asked.
“Yes,” Kevin confirmed. “We all need to evacuate. Keep calm, carry on.”
I made sure the till was secured, then helped the customers evacuate from the shopping centre, into the carpark. People hovered around the entrance to the mall. I didn’t blame them, not wanting to head out into the heat of the carpark. We stayed there for a moment, all standing around awkward to prove a point. Even the bakery had been evacuated. I felt sorry for Caleb, who worked in Bakery, so when Kevin gave the all-clear, we helped him lug the trays of bread back into the supermarket.
“Do you mind if we buy a loaf, love?” a woman asked me, holding out her note.
“Look, I’m sorry, we’ve got to check it out.”
I went back to the checkout, with the customer and the loaf of bread she wanted to buy. Once the transaction was complete, she smiled gratefully and got on her way. My feet sore, I was ready to sit down. I worked on the checkout for a little bit longer until I was due for my lunch break, when Maryam replaced me.
“You called it with the fire drill,” I commented.
“I know everything,” Maryam remarked with a laugh, then I hurried back towards the staffroom.
Thankfully, Lucy was also taking her break, and she plied me with dumplings and stories from her family’s celebrations until I was laughing so hard I cried, and was ready to have a food coma. Unfortunately, we instead needed to get back to work.
“Thank you, that was great,” I gushed.
“Well, I’m celebrating for the next fifteen days.”
“That sounds lovely.”
I left the staffroom. Patrick went to have his lunch break.
“You still haven’t answered me about the tour,” he reminded, padding backwards.
Patrick will be going back to school next week. I had heard that things are different around this place in the school holidays, but I previously hadn’t known for myself. When school does go back, this time it will be my time to take the day shifts while the others are still at school. It will be a change, to be with a slightly different crew. Patrick returned from lunch, eventually. I wasn’t keeping track of the time, because it had been quite busy. Finally, we both got a spare moment.
“When are you going to Launceston?”
“On the weekend. Got to get the tour in before school goes back, but you know.”
“Maybe we’ll become world-famous rockstars and we wouldn’t even have to worry about school.”
I tried my best not to laugh.
“And I’ll be breeding elephants.”
My face fell. I sighed. Patrick swallowed hard. I didn’t realise that he held dreams in music. Maybe he just wanted to run away. I can’t pretend that I don’t know the feeling. Building a world in which you’re in charge is one way to escape.
“I’ll see, I’ll check with my parents and I’ll get back to you.”
After the shift, I’d agreed to meet Tallulah for a milkshake at the café down the road from work. We needed to debrief about me talking to the police, and soak up the moments before she starts uni, as orientation commences next week. As I walked through the mall, my chest felt tight, my surroundings too hot. I paused, when perpendicular to the entrance. Afternoon sunlight was shining in through the automatic doors, causing the tiles to gleam. I took a breath, then charged through. If I didn’t, then I was never going to make it. On the way, I spotted a fluttering leaflet, near the doors. I wandered over to it, attracted by its proposition. The local wildlife society is looking for more carers, for orphaned animals. I snapped a photo to record the details and the phone number to ring, then cut through the carpark to meet Tallulah on the other side of the road. We said hello, finding a table outside and ordering milkshakes which quickly arrived.
“How was it yesterday?”
“The police called and I told them everything that I remembered about what happened.”
I took a sip from my milkshake.
“There’s just a part of me which wishes that I could tell them more, that I could tell them what actually happened, who did it, but I don’t know.”
“You can’t do more than you did.”
“I know,” I assured, then sipped from my milkshake. “Patrick from work, his band is going to Launceston on the weekend.”
“That’s exciting,” Tallulah replied.
I didn’t mention that he’d invited me. I’m still figuring out how I feel about Patrick, and I don’t need to burden Tallulah with that. We’re best friends, but I already feel like she knows too much, because she knows the full story about Kakek, whereas nobody at work does. Only Patrick is aware that he’s dead. He doesn’t know anything else, at least as far as I’m aware. After Tallulah needed to head off, I rode home from work. We don’t know how long it will take for the rezoning to go through, if we’ll be successful at all. I couldn’t keep it off my mind, because it’s the next step. We can’t use our property as an animal sanctuary unless the rezoning application is successful, or unless we take a very different path to that end. I returned home and left my bike outside. Going inside, I placed my bag on the kitchen table. Mum cooked a delicious dinner of pesto and penne, which I couldn’t wait to eat. I still wanted to eat again, despite having stuffed my face at lunch. When Mum asked about my day, I told her about Lucy’s feast, as well as the fire drill and meeting up with Tallulah for a milkshake afterwards.
“I would like to become a wildlife carer,” I told Mum, then reached for my phone. “There was this flyer outside work, I took a photo of it.”
Bringing the photo up on my phone, I showed it to Mum.
“I think it would be a good experience. Plus, they always need more.”
“I’m more than happy for you to apply for that,” Mum agreed. “No matter what, I think it would be a good idea.”
“The only thing is that I’m not sure how it would work with our work. There are plenty of times when nobody is home around here.”
“Don’t worry,” Mum assured. “That’s something we’ll figure out. I’m sure that you wouldn’t be the first person in that position, they’ll have some advice.”
Maybe she’s right, maybe this isn’t something that’s possible. There seems to be now, which is well defined, and the future, which is also clear. Dad returned home from work. We sat down at the kitchen table for dinner, then Dad agreed that he would clear away the bowls and clean up the kitchen, so that Mum could go and have a bath. Phone in hand, I stepped out onto the back porch.
“Happy New Year,” Sam greeted me.
“Thank you, Happy New Year to you too. Work was all decked out for it when I was there today, we had leftovers for lunch from Lucy, one of my colleagues.”
“You’re living the dream.”
“Oh, hardly, it’s just the local Woollies.”
“Have you got time to chat now?”
“I just wanted to check how you found the meeting yesterday.”
“It was really interesting, thanks for having me.”
“Well, that was Reuben’s doing. He wanted you to come along, we agreed, because generally we’re quite agreeable people, really.”
“You seemed agreeable. Well, except for Reuben.”
“Do you think that he was rude?”
“Oh, no, not really. I don’t know. Maybe. He asked a lot of questions during the presentation.”
“Reuben and Angelique have that sort of relationship in general, but we want to make sure that people feel like they are able to ask questions. Did you feel you could, Jumilah?”
“Well, I could have asked plenty of questions. You all know more than me.”
“Well, I think that was why Reuben asked you along. I’m sure that he wants to help you learn, as we all do.”
I hated myself for asking the question.
“As long as you’re keen to learn.”
“Well, you’re welcome back next week if you’re available. I’m presenting about tuberculosis in chimpanzees.”
“I’ll have to come to hear how that particular story ends.”
“Well, I’ll give you a spoiler, it’s not cheery.”
“Oh, well, that’s a shame.”
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.