Truth

I woke up early, at least before Tallulah, feeling both anxious and energised. Melbourne Zoo would – hopefully – prove to be good neutral territory, for all of us. I’d not told Reuben we were coming. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him – rather that today isn’t about me. Today is all about meeting Jamie and his family in person. Tallulah and I strolled down to Bourke Street Mall from our apartment, pausing on the corner while a tram approached through the intersection.


“Can you find the timetable?” I asked. “We could probably just look it up on our phones.”


Tallulah and I happened upon the stop. We waited a moment for the tram to arrive, while giant yellow flags advertising the Harry Potter stage show fluttered above us in the gentle breeze. Maybe that would be an excursion for another trip. When the tram arrived, we hopped on. As we were still within the free tram zone, we didn’t have to tap on with our Myki cards – terms foreign to me, but which I was learning. Thankfully the tram trip wasn’t long. By the time we got out of the CBD, blue sky burst through. My phone tolled and I checked the message. I grunted at the request from work. Generally things have been better now that Frank’s out of the picture. Still, Kevin must be desperate.


“No, I can’t work, I’m in Melbourne,” I read out as I typed.


I pressed send and tried to feel lighter. Offering Tallulah a grin provided little to either of us. I couldn’t blame her. All Tallulah would be able to think about was meeting Jamie. We arrived at the Melbourne Zoo tram stop, alighting and making sure that we tapped off. At the zoo gate, Tallulah and I paid for our entry.


“You can view the map by scanning that code.”


I knew that I’d been to Melbourne Zoo before, when I was about three. Nonetheless, I scanned the QR code with my phone. Sure enough, the map popped up on the screen.


“Thank you.”


We passed through the gates and Tallulah made a beeline through the zoo. Just as Jamie had promised, he was standing by the carousel, a little girl hanging off him.


“Hello, I’m Tallulah.”


“I figured. I’m Jamie.”


“I figured.”


“This is Eliza, my daughter.”


“Hi, Eliza.”


“Where’s your mum?”


“She is in Tasmania, at our house.”


“Why does she want to get married to my dad?”


“Sweetie, Eliza, my mum doesn’t want to get married to your dad,” Tallulah explained with the patience of a saint.


With that matter settled, we were able to get on with bonding over zoo animals. The first path we took was towards the orang-utan sanctuary. The male was in the netted exhibit, with one of the females. I know they’re hybrids, while the young male is a purebred Sumatran bred at the zoo. This is the young male from whom Reuben would like to breed, if an unrelated female can be obtained.

We moved on through Trail of the Elephants.


“There are two pregnant elephants,” I mentioned to Natalie, Jamie’s wife, and Tallulah tried to hide her laugh.


“You’re the friend of Tallulah’s who is interested in the zoo, aren’t you?”


“I’m trying to start one, actually.”


“In Tasmania?”


“Yes. My grandparents ran a sanctuary in Sumatra.”


“That’s incredible.”


At Eliza’s instigation, we left the elephants. Next was an exhibit for Sumatran Tiger. The foliage overhead reminded me, at least a bit, of Kakek’s sanctuary. It’s quite spectacular viewing the tiger from across a bridge. I watched Tallulah, who watched Jamie and Eliza. The little girl was captivated by the tiger. So, we stayed at that exhibit until the tiger walked out of sight, so we did too. We entered the boardwalk for Treetop Monkeys and Apes, an older exhibit but one which has stood the test of time in terms of functionality and value for the zoo, if nothing else. At the first exhibit, I rocked onto the balls of my feet. The windows, ready for replacement, are better set up for children, or very tall people. The female white-cheeked gibbon, blonde and engaged, was at the glass. She held onto an overhead rope, hanging down at Eliza’s eye-level, a flower in her other hand.


“These two are a male and a female,” I noted. “You can tell that because they’re a sexually dimorphic species. That means males and females are different colours.”


The gibbon munched the flower. Eliza giggled.


“So, this is the female, here, because she’s blonde, and the males are black with the white cheeks.”


“Right,” Natalie remarked.


As if on cue, he emerged from the back of the exhibit. The male swung to the female’s side. She shared her hibiscus with him. Both gibbons retreated to the back of their exhibit to eat.


“Come on, sweetie, the gibbons have gone up the back, we can’t see them anymore.”


Eliza agreed to go on and complete the boardwalk. It surprised me a little that there were a few empty exhibits. I wondered what could have been housed there in the future. None of Kakek’s animals ended up in Melbourne. I could imagine a loris somewhere along this boardwalk – in fact, I think that one used to live there back in the day, last time they were held at Melbourne Zoo. At the end of the trail was a small enclosure. Initially I thought it was empty. All of a sudden, a ginger flash leapt across on the other side of the mesh. We stopped, captivated, by the golden lion tamarins. I think that there was a pair of them. After that, we were able to enter the African rainforest. At the first stop, a pygmy hippo was meandering around the exhibit on the left, but the one on the right was empty.


“You keep rocking back and forth on your feet,” Tallulah mentioned.


I would have questioned her, but I glanced down, and I knew that I was guilty as charged.


“The gorillas are next,” I told her. “Melbourne Zoo’s gorillas are iconic. That’s what’s next on the rainforest trail.”


Tallulah’s phone beeped and she fished it out of her bag. As we moved on down the path, her eyes were on the screen.


“Kyle?”


“Yes.”


We arrived at the gorilla exhibit, the family sitting around at the front. I’d heard so much about these animals from the primate TAG meeting – the silverback, the females, the adolescent males. Things will change in the future. The males are going to be moving to Werribee in a bachelor group and there will be a new silverback to breed with the females, but for now, everything is blissful. Jamie scooped Eliza up into his arms so that she could get a better look into the gorilla exhibit over the fence.


“Jumilah Fioray, what in the devil are you doing here?”


Spinning around, Reuben approached me with a grin and wrapped me into a hug.


“I’m here with my friend, Tallulah.” I looked towards Jamie, Natalie and Eliza and faltered for words. “This is her family.”


“Well, you look far too young to be parents, but good to meet you.” Reuben shook hands with Jamie and Natalie. “Reuben Hendricks, director of Melbourne Zoo. Well, soon-to-be director.”


“Reuben went to uni with my parents.”


“We are, in fact, going to be getting some new gorillas very, very soon,” Reuben explained.


“Why?”


“We’re getting a new silverback.”


“What’s that?” Eliza asked.


“It’s a daddy gorilla,” Reuben explained.


Eliza turned to Jamie.


“Like you?”


Tallulah laughed.


“Sort of,” Jamie answered.


All of a sudden, the wind picked up, which startled the gorilla family. They scramble away from the trees. Our party of five, which swelled to six with the addition of Reuben, moved along the path. Eliza dropped Jamie’s hand.


“Sweetie, are you alright?” Jamie checked.


“I want to walk with Tallulah.”


Eliza took her big sister’s hand instead.


“It’s nice that you’ve been able to see some of these animals for yourself, our magnificent gorillas,” Reuben mused.


“Yeah, it is.”


We stopped for lunch at the café in the old elephant house. Reuben joined us, even though he wasn’t exactly welcome.


“How about we sit at a different table?” I suggested.


Reuben agreed, albeit begrudgingly.


“Thanks for this. Tallulah’s meeting her biological father for the first time.”


“Right.”


Reuben seemed alarmed.


“I’m really sorry, I didn’t know.”


“It’s alright, I didn’t tell you.”


“Sorry to bother you, Eliza has a question,” Jamie mentioned as he approached Reuben.


“Where are the bears?”


“We don’t have any, I’m sorry.”


“Are you going to get some?” Eliza wanted to know.


“Yes, you know, I reckon we should.”


After lunch, we headed towards the giraffe exhibit, at Eliza’s request. Jamie scooped her up so that she could get a better look over the fence.


“Werribee have the bachelor herd on the savannah and we have the breeders here. Well, that’s supposed to be the plan.”


The wind rustled my hair. We left the giraffes and moved towards the Australian section. I noticed a crate waiting by one of the aviaries.


“Are you moving some birds around?”


“Yes, we’re bringing our cassowary out of Rainforest. She’s coming back into GFA.”


“Right, nice.”


We ambled through the zoo, behind Jamie, Natalie, Tallulah and Eliza.


“So, what’s next on your agenda?”


“Well, I’m not sure, to be honest.”


“The council is assessing your development application.”


“That’s correct.”


“Is there anything I can do to help?”


“I don’t think so, not really.” My mind churned over. “At this stage, we’re just wanting on the planning permission.”


Our final trail was the carnivore precinct. We paused outside the second Sumatran Tiger exhibit.


“Is this the same kind of tiger as the other tiger we saw before?”


“Yes, they’re all Sumatran Tigers here. They’re the program species.”


I felt my phone vibrate within my bag. I’d check it once we were back on the tram. After all, it couldn’t be Tallulah, because she was with me. I did need to get in touch with Mum and Dad, to assure them that we were safe, happy and having a good time in Melbourne. At the end of the loop, past the snow leopard and Tasmanian Devil exhibits, it was time for us to be on our way. I turned to Reuben.


“Thank you for a lovely afternoon.”


“My pleasure, anytime. See you later, Jumilah.”


“Bye.”


Reuben walked away.


“You’re right to come over for dinner tonight, aren’t you?” Jamie checked.


“Indeed, we are,” Tallulah confirmed with a grin.


We were just about to leave, through the rail gate. I glanced to the left, towards a shaded paddock. Originally, I thought there was nothing there. Then, I locked eyes with a meandering creature. I was drawn to the black and white and the trunk, leaving Tallulah and the others to get as close as I could. Gripping the railing around the fence, I watched the Malayan Tapir slip into the small body of water.


“You know she’s blind.”


My bubble burst with the presence of Reuben to my left. He folded his arms in front of his chest.


“She’s not looking straight at you.”


I smiled, although I might have been covering a hint of disappointment.


“Melita’s a lovely old girl, though. We are lucky to have her here, still, I do know that.”


I watched her bathe for a little while. Then, Tallulah ambled over.


“They’ve headed off, we’ve been invited for dinner tonight.”


After bidding a second farewell to Reuben, we departed the zoo. I felt tired on the way back into the city, even though I smiled at the last gasps of sunlight upon my cheeks. Somehow Tallulah was responsible enough to make sure we alighted at the right stop. We walked from the tram stop.


“It was a really good day today.”


With the keycard, Tallulah got us into the building.


“Yeah, it was great,” she agreed. “I’m glad we went. The zoo was a good meeting place.”


We walked up the stairs and back into our accommodation. For an hour or so, we had a lie-down, so that we could rest from the day, until it was time to leave for dinner. Neither of us bothered getting changed. The sky bloomed in fairy floss colours as Tallulah and I left the AirBnb to catch the tram. She had the instructions on how to get to Jamie and Natalie’s place.


“Apparently, it’s only a street back from the tram stop.” Tallulah stopped in her tracks. “We need to bring something.”


We made our way down to the nearby bottle shop and entered. The two of us, longing for sophistication, were drawn to the wine aisle. Tallulah and I scanned the dark bottles.


“I have no idea what I’m even looking at,” she admitted.


Thinking, I tilted my head to the side.


“That one.”


I pointed at a red wine.


“It’s not the most expensive, and not the least. That’s what I’ve been told is a good way to choose.”


We chose the wine and paid for it, showing our IDs when requested at the counter.


“Across from Tassie, ey?”


“Yes, for the weekend,” Tallulah confirmed.


Thankfully, we weren’t met with any wisecracks about having two heads. We departed the bottle shop and caught the tram. During our journey, the sun set, pastels replacing themselves with deeper, darker hues. Eventually, Tallulah and I stepped off the tram in Prahran. We followed her phone’s instructions until we reached the right address. I felt a little anxious as we approached the door and Tallulah knocked, even though I ought not have. Natalie opened the door, with Eliza by her side.


“Come on in,” she welcomed.


“Can we help with anything?”


“No, thank you, but you’re kind to offer.”


We walked through into an open kitchen and dining area, where Jamie was cooking.


“Hello, thank you for coming,” he greeted. “Would you like something to drink?”


At our request, Jamie poured glasses of red wine for both of us. As soon as I took a sip, I realised that I would need to drink it slowly.


“What was your favourite part of the zoo today?”


“I know that we only saw them late in the day, but the big cats were quite interesting,” Tallulah answered. “They seemed really gentle.”


She took a breath, a smile coming onto her face as she turned to Eliza.


“Look, I have something for you.”


Tallulah retrieved the bag from underneath the table. She handed over the gift to Eliza.


“What do you say?” Natalie asked.


“Thank you, Tallulah.”


Eliza pulled out the wand, then the Tasmanian Tigers beanie. She wrapped Tallulah into a hug.


“You can wear that beanie when you play cricket,” Jamie pointed out.


“Can I use this for batting?” Eliza asked, brandishing around her wand.


“Yeah, you could try, sweetie.”


Smelling like a dream, dinner was served.


“Thank you, this looks absolutely delicious,” Tallulah gushed.


“You’re most welcome,” Jamie replied with a smile. “It’s such an honour to have you here for dinner.”


He took a sip from his glass of red wine. We started to eat.


“Daddy said because you were coming, we could have chippies,” Eliza divulged, proudly stabbing a piece of baked potato with her fork.


“Well, you’re welcome, Eliza,” Tallulah assured.


I placed a baked potato of my own into my mouth. While nicely crispy with a dash of spice, it was a little too hot, so I discreetly took a sip of water.


“You’re studying veterinary science, aren’t you, Tallulah?” Natalie queried in between mouthfuls.


“Yes,” she confirmed. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s really great.”


“My mother, she lives in Battery Point. I told her about you. She’d love to meet you, if you’re comfortable with that.”


“That would be lovely, thank you.”


“Wonderful, I’ll send you her address and her phone number.”


Jamie sipped his wine, then shook his head.


“I just can’t believe that you’re here.”


He looked at Eliza.


“Eliza, darling, can you please go with Mummy upstairs and get your present for Tallulah?”


She nodded her head and hopped down from her chair. I watched a perturbed expression flash across Natalie’s face, but she didn’t skip a beat, following Eliza up the stairs.


“When I donated, I was twenty-one,” Jamie explained. “I’d turned twenty-two by the time I learned a healthy baby girl had been born.”


He looked Tallulah in the eye.


“And now, you’re an incredible young woman sitting right in front of me.”


Eliza burst down the stairs, with Natalie trailing after her.


“I drew you a picture,” she declared, handing over a piece of paper to Tallulah.


“Oh, thank you, how gorgeous.”


I studied Tallulah’s face, hoping like anything that she felt alright, that this was a case of her dreams coming true, meeting more of her family. She appeared delighted, yet dazed. Tallulah stroked her thumb over Eliza’s drawing, four figures in coloured pencil.


“That’s me and Mum and Dad and you,” she explained to Tallulah.


“Thank you. This is really, really special.”


“Will you put it on your fridge?”


Tallulah grinned.


“Yes,” she agreed. “I’ll put it on the fridge.”


We finished eating our dinner. I downed the rest of my glass of water, before Jamie started clearing the table. He took a while, and I wondered if that was the extent of our welcome, before he returned and resumed his seat, pouring Natalie more wine.


“So, how did you end up living in Melbourne?”


“I’m a Melbourne girl,” Natalie supplied. “I went to Hobart for work for a six-month contract, that’s when I met Jamie. Once we figured out this was the real deal, we decided to move back here.”


“And we’ve been here ever since,” Jamie noted, then clinked glasses with his wife.


“So, Jumilah, Natalie mentioned that you’re opening a zoo in Tasmania. How’s that going?”


“Well, at the moment, we’ve submitted our plans to the council and we’re awaiting development approval.”


“Oh, you poor things,” Jamie remarked.


“We heard about the baby elephant at Perth Zoo,” Natalie mentioned. “She was the one whose mother died, I think, the poor thing.”


“Yes, that happened,” I answered, feeling a little bit awkward, being by no means a zoo expert. “She’s going alright, I think, being hand-reared.”


A buzzer sounded from within the kitchen.


“How would you like some dessert?”


“That would be lovely,” Tallulah accepted.


Jamie got up from the table.


He walked off and into the kitchen, silencing the alarm.


“Jamie makes the pastry from scratch.” Natalie looked over her shoulder and took another sip of wine. “He’s a master.”


Jamie returned to the table, carrying dishes of delicious dessert for all of us to devour.


“Thank you.”


My apple pie just a little too hot to eat at the outset, even with ice cream, I adjusted my necklace before picking up the spoon for my first mouthful.


“Oh, this is fantastic,” Tallulah gushed.


“I’m pleased to have your Tasmanian seal of approval.”


Following dessert, Jamie collected the plates. Natalie turned to look at Eliza.


“My darling, it’s well past your bedtime,” she announced. “Say goodnight to Tallulah and Jumilah.”


Eliza bid both of us farewell, then walked upstairs. Natalie followed, in order to put her daughter to bed for the evening.


“Would you like a cup of coffee or tea?” Jamie offered.


“That would be lovely, thank you,” Tallulah accepted.


“Coming right up.”


Once Jamie was in the kitchen, I leaned forward.


“Are you going alright?” I checked.


“Yeah, I’m fine.” Tallulah gave a dazed smile. “This has actually been a really lovely night.”


Jamie returned to the table with coffees for all of us, just as Natalie ambled back down the stairs.


“Thank you for putting Eliza to bed.”


Jamie reached for Natalie’s hand and kissed it.


“You’re welcome,” she assured her husband.


I took a sip from my coffee.


“This is lovely, thank you. I love a good coffee, it’s the Italian in me.”


Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Natalie raise an eyebrow.


“My mum’s side of the family is from Sumatra.”


"But your father is Italian, I guess?"


“Yeah, that’s where the Fioray comes from. It was originally Fiore, with an E instead of an A Y, but my grandparents changed it.


Tallulah downed the rest of her drink.


“I think that we should head off now if that’s alright, it’s getting pretty late.”


She retrieved her phone from her bag to organise an Uber, while Jamie got up from the table.


“I’ll grab the car keys, I’ll be back.”


“Oh, you don’t have to drive us--.”


Jamie turned around to face Tallulah and me.


“Listen, it’s no trouble. Let me give you a lift.”


“Are you sure?”


“Yes, I’m sure.”


“Thank you.”


We bid farewell to Natalie. The three of us walked outside and got into Jamie’s car, parked in the driveway. Tallulah supplied him with the address of our AirBnb, which he brought up on the maps on his phone. We started heading back, with me sitting in the back seat, and the two of them in the front of the car.


“You know, I wanted to ask. You’ve mentioned your mother. Do you know anything about your father?”


Jamie paused at traffic lights.


“I’m very sorry, Tallulah. He passed away when I was eighteen.”


I noticed something shift in her expression. Jamie reached across and opened the glovebox, fetching a small square photograph.


“That’s him, when he would have been about my age now,” he elaborated, as the traffic lights changed and he gently accelerated away from the intersection.


“He would have loved you; he would have loved Eliza.”


I could see Tallulah’s face in the side mirror. Despite being my best friend, I couldn’t quite read her. The two of us would have to debrief as soon as we were alone. After not too long, we arrived back at our accommodation, Jamie pulling against the kerb in a five-minute parking zone. Therefore, we took off our seatbelts with haste, not wanting him to hold up the traffic.


“Thank you so much.”


We got out of the car and waved goodbye. Tallulah fetched the key to our building.


“Alright, what are you thinking?” I asked.


Tallulah unlocked the door, and waved Jamie goodbye, before he drove off. I followed her up to the apartment, then our bed.


“Can I ask you something?”


“Yeah, of course,” I permitted.


“How often do you think about your grandfather’s death?”


“It’s just kind of there.”


“Like, all the time?”


“Yeah,” I answered, my brow furrowed.


I instinctively found myself fiddling with Kakek’s little cross, hanging from the chain on my neck.


“How would you feel if they made an arrest?”


I glanced at Tallulah.


“To be perfectly honest, I have no idea,” I admitted, “but hopefully it would mean some sort of justice.”


I yawned, tired from our big day out at the zoo, then Jamie and Natalie’s for dinner.


“What time is our flight tomorrow afternoon?”


“Five o’clock,” Tallulah answered. “Then, Mum’s going to pick both of us up from the airport and drop you home, then we’ll go home.”


“Have you spoken to your mum?”


Tallulah removed her earrings.


“We’ve been texting a little bit.”


She set down the earrings atop the bedside chest of drawers, then snuggled into the bed, giving a little yawn. I gently brushed my fingers through Tallulah’s hair.


“Today, I met my biological father,” she stated, dazed.


Finally, Tallulah smiled.


“I have a sister and a father and a stepmother.”


She crinkled her blow.


“I’m not sure how I feel about that. A stepmother.”


“She’s nice, if a little dim when it comes to animal stuff.”


“Oh, she’s lovely. Most people don’t have your brain.”


“And most people don’t have yours.”


“We probably should get some sleep.”


“Yeah, we probably should.”


At some stage after that, we must have drifted off.


 

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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