A growing sensation of pins and needles demanded that she stretch her legs, but there was just no room. In desperation, Connie got up and walked down the narrow aisle to the restroom. Her flight yesterday from L.A. to Honolulu had given her an idea of what to expect today, and it was not comfort.
Returning to her seat, she smiled to herself. What’s a little discomfort if it means I’m going to be able to fulfill my life-long dream? After all the work I’ve done…
“I see you’re not sleeping either.”
Connie turned to the friendly looking woman seated next to her. “Well, I tried, but it’s just not happening.”
“Helen.” Offering her hand, she continued, “I’m returning home, but you have an American accent. What’s taking you all the way to Australia?”
“Oh, I’m not just going to Australia, I’m going all the way to Tasmania.” Belatedly, Connie accepted the offered hand, then introduced herself.
“Tasmania, hmm? That’s a fascinating place.”
Connie couldn’t contain her enthusiasm any longer. “My grampa came from there. His stories about the extraordinary wildlife fueled my childhood interest in animals. When I got to college, I studied Biology, and earned my Master’s in Mammalogy. Now, after some practical experience at the San Diego Zoo, I’ve been invited to take part in a new research project.”
“Let me guess. You’ll be studying the habitat of the Duck-billed Platypus, or maybe the mating habits of the Tasmanian Devil.”
The impatient look she saw on Helen’s face puzzled her. As if to defend herself, Connie continued. “The platypus and the devil are intriguing, but Australia has a wide variety of fascinating species. My passion is a lesser known marsupial-the Eastern Barred Bandicoot. Their numbers dropped dramatically during the drought of ‘92 and the population never really came back after that. Do you know they are all but extinct on mainland Australia? They are prodigious breeders, but developers are taking over the native grasslands and grassy meadows, diminishing their natural habitat. They’re beneficial to the farmer in controlling natural pests such as grubs and fungi, but they themselves are targeted by predators. Fortunately, Tasmania is a refuge for the little guys and … Oh, excuse me. I get a little carried away sometimes. Of course all this means little to you.”
Smiling, Helen studied Connie closely before quietly stating “Such zeal is inspiring. I’m sure you’ll be an asset to the program.” Then, with an inviting smile, she said, “Now, we have over 4000 miles to go tonight. Tell me more. What other interests do you have?”
Connie’s tension eased, and the two women shared relaxed conversation interspersed with snatches of sleep as the motors of the jet droned on. Upon landing the next day, they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.
A quick ride on the shuttle took her to the docks, where a transport awaited. Retrieving her luggage, Connie struggled to hoist her heavy suitcases aboard. The cumbersome task finally completed, she collapsed into the closest empty seat.
“Helen! Have I made a mistake? I thought this was the boat that’s heading for Tasmania.”
“Of course it is. How else am I supposed to get home?”
“You live on Tasmania? But you never said…”
“No, I didn’t, did I? I guess we never got around to that. Well, we’ll have lots of time for talking. After all, we’ll be living within walking distance at the preserve.”
Connie's mouth dropped open. “At the preserve? But I was told I would be the only woman at the site, with the exception of the director…”
“That’s correct. So I suppose we women will have to stick together.”
Connie closed her mouth, then mumbled, “That means you’re Dr. Clarke…”
Helen lowered her head for a moment, then smiled and explained. “I suppose I should apologize. When I realized you were my new team member, I felt it was a perfect opportunity to find out who you really are. I have to tell you, I’m quite pleased. Until now, the best candidates have always been looking for positions in the platypus or devil programs, and that is where most of the money is funneled. It is refreshing to see someone coming aboard who really cares about our program.”
A grateful smile tugged at Connie’s face. “Thank you, Dr. Clarke. That means a lot to me.” With a growing sense of anticipation, a welcome thought occurred to her. The future certainly promises to be interesting.
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