I awoke this morning to a Tuesday on which I wouldn’t be working, so I would be able to devote myself to zoo tasks the entire time. The glass would be arriving at some stage, even though I wouldn’t be able to fit it until Mum and Dad returned home. Reuben called, giving me something to distract me. I answered the phone and placed it against my ear.
“Hello,” I greeted Reuben, then checked my watch. “I thought you’d be in the ungulate TAG at the moment.”
“Oh, we knocked off early today. We were discussing the pygmy hippo program, but Sam had a thing.”
“No, no, not at all. It’s his wife’s birthday. He’d organised to take her out for lunch.”
I sensed that Reuben hadn’t called me in order to talk about Sam’s wife’s birthday.
“Well, we’re getting everything ready, the glass is arriving--.”
“You know that you’ll need a truck, right?”
My heart started thumping as soon as Reuben’s words came over the phone. That wasn’t something which I’d thought about, even though it might have seemed obvious.
“Yeah, of course,” I replied, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Really, I had no idea where we’d find the money.
“Would you like me to give you some suggestions?”
“I’m a country girl, I know these things,” I assured, with bravado, “but yes, that would be great, thank you.”
“I’ll email you through my recommendations.”
I could faintly hear Reuben tapping at his computer.
“Look, there you go, Margie’s just become a grandmother.”
“Oh, that’s beautiful,” I replied.
I recalled her mentioning her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy. Well, her stepdaughter-in-law. I did vaguely know that Margie’s husband had been married before, and that the young man she knew as her son, had a different biological mother.
“Margie lost her first husband and he lost his first wife. I suppose you bond when that’s happened to you.”
While it wasn’t the same, I wondered if Reuben could find some other jilted soul, to love him too.
“Sam, Margie, Isobel, all zoo people, who all lost their loves.”
Taking a deep breath, I tried to escape the sense of loss.
“I never asked you what your daughter’s name is.”
“Her name is Caoimhe.”
He sighed over the phone.
“Anyway, I’ll let you go.”
“Thanks for the call, Reuben.”
As we hung up, I could hear the truck rumbling down the road. I recalled I was yet to take my medication, so I popped a pill. Walking out the front, I brought my phone with me.
“Good morning,” I called out from the front porch.
Two men jumped down from either side of the truck. They removed the panes of glass. I led them through into the nocturnal house, so that our precious materials would be sheltered from the weather.
“I’m Jumilah, nice to meet you.”
“Les,” one of them introduced himself, and we shook hands.
“And I believe my parents have already paid you.”
“Yes, in full.”
Les glanced around at the half-finished nocturnal house. I thought that I heard a car out on the road, but perhaps the noise was something else. Part of me yearned for Patrick, whom I recognised in Les’ young apprentice. Maybe Reg had more estranged children floating around the south of Tasmania? They placed down the glass panels, transparent and protected with tape.
“This seems like quite the place,” Les remarked. “You must be quite clever, that you know how you look after wild animals.”
“My mother grew up with animals, in Sumatra, in Indonesia, I suppose that it’s in the blood.”
“Are your grandparents still running the animal sanctuary?”
“Oh, my grandfather died.” I gestured around. “That’s how all this came to be. He was killed by poachers, trying to get at the animals. The sanctuary became a place which wasn’t safe for people or animals, unfortunately, but my grandmother, she’s doing her best. She’s trying to rebuild a safe place.”
“Wow,” Les responded. “So, are you going to be breeding animals?”
“Yes. We would love to. We’ll work as part of the breeding programs, regionally and internationally--.”
I knew that I must have sounded a bit like a corporate mouthpiece, but truth be told, I felt a little jittery. I’d have to get used to having strangers so close to home. I snapped a quick picture of the glass panes and sent it in the group chat to Mum and Dad, so they’d be assured that the materials had been safely received. I waved the truck goodbye as they drove away to their next assignment. Turning to head back into the house, I pondered getting in contact with Isobel, to check in with her.
I checked my watch. I’d be able to discuss that further with Mum and Dad in the evening. It wouldn’t be long until they’d be back. Therefore, I ducked off for a quick shower, to change into cleaner and more comfortable clothes. After that, I strolled back into the kitchen. I figured I may as well make a start on dinner. Mum and Dad returned home from work. When she walked through into the kitchen, she wrapped me into a tight hug, kissing me on the cheek. Dad fetched a bottle of red from the cupboard.
“What was that for?” I asked with a smile, once we’d parted.
“Nothing in particular, I just love you. It’s good to have you back.”
“Would you like a glass, Jumilah?” Dad offered.
“Yes, that would be lovely, thank you.”
He poured me another glass of wine, then walked them both through into the loungeroom and handed one over to me.
“Thanks Dad.” I smelled the wine, instantly intoxicating. “You know, I was speaking to Reuben today.”
“Oh yes,” Mum responded, “and what did he have to say?”
“Well, he reckons that we need a truck, especially if we’re going to be receiving more animals.”
Mum nodded her head.
“And what do you think about that?”
I rolled my lips, not wanting to say. It must have been easier with the Zoos Victoria budget. Yet, if we were going to do this properly, we needed to make sure that we were capable of providing for the animals.
“I do think that he’s got a point. What Reuben’s not thinking of is where we’re going to find the money.”
“We’ll find it if we need to find it.”
Dad headed off to bed. I waited until I heard the tap in the bathroom. For some reason or another, I felt like this needed to be a conversation I had just with Mum, first.
“That'll be me off to bed, too.”
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.