SHORT STORY: Fight for survival in the plains

Friday October 01 2021
acacia tree

“…there,” she mumbled to herself, as her eyes fell on an acacia tree whose bare branches were at least thick enough to throw wide jagged lines of shade on the dusty ground. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN


The sun was nearing its peak and though Wahuria could barely muster the strength to raise her head, by the look of her shadow, she knew it was only going to get hotter and she needed to find a shade. Breathing deeply, unevenly in the heat, she scanned the horizon.

The vast plains seemed endless, stretching as far as one could see in all directions. Nothing but scrubland, low bushes dotted here and there amongst dead skeleton-like acacia and baobab trees, and remnants of tufts of grass that had been fossilised by the relentless sun. She sighed, what had she been expecting? It hadn’t rained in seven years, not a drop had fallen from the sky, what did she hope had survived?

‘’This is all for nothing.’’

The thought wafted into her mind so subtly, that as she sat there scanning the dead savannah, she didn’t notice the familiar tightness begin to creep up into her chest until it begun to suffocate her. She had to fight the despair, she had to fight it…

The deep blue of the sky, unblemished by a single cloud, looked like you could fall into it if you stared too long. She was dizzy the minute she looked up, she definitely needed to find shade. She wouldn’t last long out in this heat.

“…there,” she mumbled to herself, as her eyes fell on an acacia tree whose bare branches were at least thick enough to throw wide jagged lines of shade on the dusty ground.


As she begun to crawl toward it, a dark large shadow passed suddenly overhead, momentarily blocking out the harsh sunlight. She gasped, it was so unexpected. Her head whipped back and she stared up at a large hawk circling the empty sky. She’d not seen anything or anyone since she’d set off a month and a half ago, and frankly she wasn’t complaining.

Almost everything out here was dangerous; hungry, desperate, and pushed to the very limits of endurance. What did you get if you had one glass of water and 10 thirsty people?

Shading her eyes, she looked up and stared in confusion as the hawk swooped around and then in one sudden smooth motion, dove menacingly toward her. Wahuria ducked instinctively then looked back up at the bird. She was mesmerized by its motion, and relieved it was just a hawk, so she watched it for a few seconds. What was it doing?

Silhouetted against the blue sky, it circled and swooped and she found herself thinking how nice it must be to have the wind rushing against you as you flew, how cool it must be higher up, how wonderful it must be to be able to go much further and faster than anyone else. At that last thought, anxiety prickled her, raising the hairs on her arms a split second before the hawk gave a piercingly shrill cry and dived again.

Instinctively, she crouched down even lower. Then slowly, she raised herself slightly and scanned her surroundings. Nothing moved at all, just the hawk circling non-stop above her. Then, as she squinted against the glare, she saw a cloud of dust to the west where she’d been heading, rising as if being driven by a fierce wind…except there wasn’t the slightest breeze blowing. ‘‘Raiders.’’ The thought formed in her mind even as she begun to move. They’d probably not seen her yet, but now she understood the strange behaviour of the bird above her. It was their spotter, and it had spotted her.

Wahuria felt a cold sweat form immediately on her brow. The acacia tree wasn’t going to be of any help. The bushes, sparse for lack of leaves, wouldn’t hide her either. Angry with fear, she begun to crawl furiously on her belly towards a baobab tree a ways away from her. The dust cloud was steadily growing, but she still had some time.

First though, she needed to rid herself of their tracker or she’d never have a chance. Hesitating slightly as her hands shook and she fumbled, she regained herself, yanked her slingshot out of a leather and hide pouch slung across her back, selected a small hard rock by her shoulders, got up into a crouching position, aimed and let loose. She didn’t wait to see if she’d hit home, she was already scrambling through the dry underbrush, putting as much distance between herself and the fallen spotter. It wasn’t that she thought she was that good, she simply trusted she was. There wasn’t time to doubt oneself in moments of survival. She’d learnt that the hard way.

The baobab tree was stout, with pudgy branches that were too short to give any shade, but its roots were thick and broad with gaping spaces between them as they burrowed deep into the earth in search of water.

Wahuria nestled herself under a broad root just as the ground begun to vibrate ever so subtly as the raiders on their powerful horses approached. They had seen their bird stop and heard its cry, and they were determined and desperate to find out why. They dismounted as they came upon the dead bird spread eagle on a bush.

“Spread out and search!” a grave looking man marked with scars called out gruffly, “Whoever did this can’t be far!”