“We need to find small things which bring you joy.”
I was sitting on the steps, out the back of work. When I’d finished my shift, I’d missed a call from Tallulah.
“Listen, you’re at work, aren’t you?” Tallulah asked.
A truck reversed through the loading dock, beeping to announce its presence.
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “I’ve just finished my shift. I need to ride home, but it’s hot.”
Sitting out in the blazing sun wasn’t helping me at all, as I raised one hand to my forehead to shield my eyes from the glare.
“Would you like me to come and pick you up?” Tallulah offered. “We could chuck your bike into the back of my car, it’d be fine.”
“Oh, Tallulah, thank you, but I couldn’t ask that of you.”
“Course you could,” she assured me. “I don’t have anything on tonight, we could go down to the waterfront and have ice cream if you want.”
I could hear a sense of longing in Tallulah’s voice, and craved to be able to fully reciprocate the friendship she was desperately offering me.
“Alright, that would be lovely.”
“I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”
I sat on the back steps at work, phone in my hands. A smile was on my lips as the summer sun shone against my face, knowing that Tallulah would be on her way to take me out.
By the time that Tallulah and I arrived at the waterfront, the temperature had cooled. Perhaps it was just a breeze off the water. She parked in Salamanca, where the restaurants were filling up.
“Here, have some money for the parking,” I offered, pressing a ten-dollar note in her direction just before we got out of the car.
“Thank you, Jumilah, but it’s fine,” Tallulah assured. “This was my suggestion.”
I breathed in the scent of the trees and the water, determined to feel calm. We needed to get a ticket, although thankfully we found that the parking would be free. Tallulah locked the car behind us, then we ambled through the park, longish grass swooshing at our feet. As we emerged from the shade, the sun was going down behind us. I offered Tallulah a smile, grateful that she’d made this suggestion. We have been friends since school, and she knows what I need. I took a breath, slightly laboured, and swam in the waterfront setting around me. People wandered about – couples holding hands, children playing and enjoying the summer holidays with abandon. We headed in the direction of the ice cream shop on a boat docked at the pier, with a long queue to boot.
“Do you want to go here?” Tallulah asked.
I looked up ahead of the swathes of people.
“They have good ice cream at Mures, don’t they?”
There didn’t seem to be a line.
“If you don’t mind, let’s go there,” I suggested. “Then we can get our ice cream and then have a wander around.”
Tallulah nodded her head firmly, confident with the plan we’d hatched. By the time that we got there, there were a few people ahead of us, inside. Tallulah fetched her purse out of her bag.
“Do you want me just to go in?” she offered. “What flavours would you like?”
“It’s alright,” I insisted. “Let’s just go up there together, the queue isn’t really that long.”
Tallulah nodded again, accepting my willingness to be involved. We joined the short queue. As the people in front of us were served, we inched closer. It was just as we reached the front that I realised my phone was ringing.
“Sorry,” I apologised. “Can you order please, after all?”
Tallulah smiled effortlessly.
“Of course, I’ll pick something.”
I scurried away to answer. Dad was calling. I’d figured Mum would have told him.
“Hey, Dad,” I greeted. “Did Mum tell you, Tallulah suggested--.”
“Yes, she told me, I’m sorry for interrupting you. No need to come home, but Nanek is here.”
“Is she alright?” I blurted out.
My heart beat faster, concerned. If everything was fine, I didn’t know why she would have left the Cocos Keeling Islands. Nanek could have stayed with Adam to care for the animals during their quarantine, at least that was the plan. I didn’t know why Dad would ring me to tell me otherwise, particularly if he didn’t need me to come home.
“Yes, she’s fine,” Dad assured.
I didn’t feel particularly confident, but I nodded my head and trusted him. Tallulah wandered over, having bought the ice creams, not saying a word.
“Alright, well, we’re just having ice cream, and then Tallulah will bring me home.”
“We’ll save you some dinner.”
We ended the call and I slipped my phone back into my bag. This time I definitely felt compelled to give Tallulah money, now that she’d shouted me an ice cream as well, but she waved it away kindly.
“It’s honestly fine, Jumilah.”
I smiled, feeling guilty, and accepted my ice cream – double chocolate, and apple sorbet, two classic flavours I couldn’t argue with. Tallulah had selected one scoop of licorice, the other salted caramel and white chocolate, for herself. We headed out of the restaurant to wander around. My chest felt full, which could have been a precursor to crying. Instead, I ate the ice cream, rather delicious and free, a treat from my best friend. We paused near the other, more popular ice cream shop, the one that’s a boat, and Tallulah snapped a couple of photos. I grinned, and Tallulah beamed in return.
“Could you send me those, please?” I requested.
“Yeah, I will,” Tallulah agreed. “Was that your dad on the phone?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “Nanek’s arrived, I didn’t know she was coming here.”
To find somewhere to sit down, we returned to the grass.
“You’re so good to suggest this,” I told Tallulah, in between mouthfuls. “I just need to take some time to breathe and rest, for a little bit.”
“I’m not good,” Tallulah insisted, “but thank you.”
I didn’t argue. It wouldn’t have felt polite. Besides, I had ice cream which I needed to stuff my face with, and Tallulah had the same. I was most intrigued by the flavours which she’d chosen. Mures is the only place I know of which sells licorice ice cream.
“Are you working tomorrow?” Tallulah asked, half with a mouthful.
“Yeah. Got to make up for all the time that I was away.”
People continued to make their way around the waterfront. I envied their lack of care, the ease with which the breeze blew off the Derwent and ripped the long grass in front of us. This wasn’t something I told Tallulah, despite how kind she was being. I’m blessed to have a good friend.
“Jumilah, I don’t know what to say,” Tallulah admitted.
She sounded more despairing than she had all evening, and it caught me a little off guard. Tallulah always seemed so at ease, normally.
“Do you want to get home to your grandmother?”
I checked over my shoulder, the car nearby.
“Once you finish yours, then we can go, if that’s alright,” I requested. “I can eat in the car if I’m not done.”
Tallulah flashed a wicked grin.
“You know that I don’t keep my car clean enough to say no.”
I pulled a face, and I could tell she loved it. Tallulah laughed, and continued eating her ice cream with haste to oblige.
“Guilty as charged, I’m awful.”
“No, you’re not.”
Tallulah finished my ice cream.
“Are you right to go now?” she checked.
We returned to the car.
“Dad didn’t say why Nanek left the Cocos Islands,” I divulged, as I got back into the passenger seat.
We fastened our seatbelts, and I continued to eat.
“I know that you didn’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say. Honestly I know that it hasn’t really truly hit me, so I’m just waiting, I’m just waiting for it to all sink in.”
Tallulah reversed out of the parking spot and started to drive through the city.
“I love my grandparents, I loved my grandfather.”
“Of course you do,” Tallulah promised me. “Nobody’s saying otherwise.”
“I’m just used to Kakek and Nanek living far away. I am used to them having their animals. There’s a part of me which needs to constantly remember, which sounds stupid and it’s not like I can forget.”
“Are you having flashbacks?” Tallulah asked.
She seemed sheepish as she pulled up at the traffic lights near the Cenotaph, like she hadn’t meant to ask that out loud.
“Not really,” I answered.
But maybe I do.
Once Tallulah had dropped me home, I raced inside, eager to see Nanek. We rushed into each other’s arms, hugging closely before sitting down.
“Jumilah!” Nanek gushed, and she told me that she loved me, then that she had something for me.
I recognised the chain, as belonging to Kakek. Nanek told me that she wanted me to have it. The smooth metal shone underneath my fingers, catching the light overhead. My chest felt tighter, but a smile came onto my lips as a tear formed in my eye. It was that smile which I offered to Nanek, grateful to her and the refreshed relationship which we’d developed, as almost-adult granddaughter and grandmother. I thanked her, and she asked me if she could put it on for me. When I accepted I started to cry, shifting in my seat so that Nanek could loop the chain around my neck and fasten it below my hair. I reached to feel Kakek’s chain between my fingertips. He’d been wearing it when he died; he wore it all the time. I moved back around on the chair, so that I could face Nanek again, as Mum reached out to take my hand. Dad returned to the room, with my dinner. The ice cream had been delicious although not quite filling, and I was grateful for more food.
While I ate my dinner, Nanek told me that saving the animals was very important to Kakek. Still, she said, it would have pained him to think that they’d left Sumatra. The plan, to the extent there was one, was to keep the animals in as close to their natural habitat as possible. I thought of the quarantine enclosures on the Cocos Islands. The question blurted out of me, as to why Nanek had left, although I never meant for it to sound like an accusation.
“We need our family,” Mum chimed in.
Nanek affirmed the same sentiment, in Bahasa. I told Mum and Nanek that I agreed with them wholeheartedly, although I asked what would happen with the animals. She assured that Adam is taking good care of them, as he’s tasked to do as the on-site worker at the quarantine station. They will serve their quarantine. After that, who can say? Ideas were forming in my mind, thoughts of promise. I blurted out again, that I would go over to Sumatra, if Nanek took them home. She told me that she can’t know right now whether that will be possible. Tears welled in all of our eyes, and my dinner, though delicious, remained half-eaten. The police have been investigating the poachers, Kakek’s murderers, and there’s a sting on. If they’re caught, the animals might be safe to go back to the sanctuary, where the infrastructure is still intact. I affirmed to Nanek that that is her home, but she told me that Hobart is mine. Initially I bristled, then accepted her proposition. I settled back in my seat, feeling overheated.
“So what do we do from here?” I asked.
“Well, Ibu is going to stay with us for a little while,” Mum explained. “We’re going to have the chance to say goodbye to Bapak, then I’ll go back with her at least.”
Of course I wanted to go to, to make amends, but I didn’t know if that would be possible. Nanek recognised that everything is still up in the air, while there is still a threat of harm, to the animals and to our own safety. The animals don’t need to be quarantined, to go to Australia, if they are never going to Australia.
“Does Reuben know all of this?”
Mum nodded her head.
“We will need to speak with him.”
I feel uneasy that this remains an unsettled matter, although I need to wait patiently within the tension. There aren’t any other options. Mum stroked my hair and told me that I looked tired, and that it was alright for me to go to bed. I nodded my head, exhausted, even though that felt like defeat. Today was another long day. Nanek asked me how was work, and I told her that it was the same as ever, tiring but it pays. She asked me, out of the blue, if I’d go to Melbourne to work with animals. I enquired if Reuben had told her, or whether she’d overhead, and Nanek beamed. She echoed that he’s offered everyone a job at some stage of the game. This time, though, Nanek wanted to know if I planned on accepting. I told her that I couldn’t possibly know. Being away from my family would be hard. Mum seemed a little bit uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure if that was directed at Nanek, or my answers. I’m of the view that she’s of a different generation, and she was in different circumstances. On the other hand, I’m a spoiled Generation Z. I said that I would rather go to Sumatra, to work with animals with Nanek. She smiled, but the grin was short-lived. Mum ran her fingers tenderly through my hair. The answers was the one which I felt that I ought to give, the hopeful one. Mum and Nanek could see straight through my blind optimism, and I resented that.
“You’d better get to bed,” Mum urged. “Make sure you get some sleep.”
“Alright,” I agreed, standing up.
I told Nanek that I love her. Wandering through the house I decided that I needed to text Tallulah, to say thank you. That can wait until the morning, even though I’m tempted to lie in bed and doom-scroll until my eyes sting. I hope that Tallulah has gotten home safety to Tranmere and posted cute photos of ice creams on Instagram. In bed I say a prayer, although it doesn’t take me long until I, restlessly, must have fallen back 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.