Eureka! The cure is here

Saturday July 02 2022

She was on her feet before she realised it, running with the petri dish in her hands, unafraid of destroying the precious evidence in her haste and sheer elation. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG


A yellow flower sat nestled at the base of a towering fig tree that was covered in soft damp moss, gnarled and twisted with age. Its colour was in striking contrast to the muted brown and green shades everywhere else in this dense lush forest where everything grew so close together the meshwork of leaves, vines and branches blocked out all light; so that the tones took on a duller, deeper hue.

But the yellow flower, conspicuous for its colouration, was also noticeable for the lone ray of sunlight that fought its way through the foliage in an almost defiant manner, to shine a seeming spotlight on the delicately half-open bud. Its petals glowed in the golden light, and in the dark forest, it was like a beacon in a desolate landscape, giving hope and drawing you towards it.

“Oh,” Harriet sighed as she knelt down carefully at the base of the fig tree, leaning her heavy backpack against its mossy trunk, “I can’t believe it,” she murmured to herself, her heart pounding from her discovery, her hands trembling as she intently plucked the lone yellow flower, roots and all, out from the moisture laden earth, covered in sweet smelling rotting leaves.


It was a rainy Monday, with a miserable fog and cold drizzle that left a lingering uncomfortable dampness on everything. Harriet felt like she hadn’t taken a breath all weekend long in her excitement and today, she felt as if the sun was out, warm, her mood so upbeat she shone from within.

As she settled down on her bench in the laboratory she worked in, turning her back to bleary eyed colleagues who clutched large steaming mugs of coffee despite the lab having a no food policy; and artfully extracted the small yellow flower from a tiny glass jar, plucked off one petal, lowered it reverently onto a petri dish waiting expectantly in front of her and proceeded with her experiment.


“Oh,” Harriet’s eyes were saucers, rimmed glossy with tears of joy, should she scream ‘Eureka!’ Wasn’t that what one did in these situations? It was two days later, 48 hours to the dot and she’d been itching to open the fridge and investigate her petri dish; hidden inconspicuously in the very back of the laboratory fridge, inconspicuous except for the prominent yellow petal in its sticky centre.

But she wasn’t going to ruin her experiment with impatience, and so, only when a tiny timer on her workbench went off, did she rush to the imposing fridge, dial in a security code and yank it open.

Withdrawing her petri dish from its icy depths, she inhaled deeply to steady her hands, walked slowly over to her bench and placed it down gently; without allowing herself to look at it for fear and excitement. Then she looked and looked again.

She switched on a skinny snaking lamp and shone the light directly on the round plate before her to ascertain what she was seeing.

A gooey green grey mass covered the entire surface of the petri dish and it was disgusting, but Harriet’s sudden intake of air had nothing to do with it and everything to do with her yellow flower petal and the distinctive wide clear smooth border around it, devoid of all mucky growth.

Characteristic silver moonlight formed ghostly squares on the laboratory floor as it shone through wide windows lining one side.

It was late at night, she’d been determined to have her results as soon as they were ready, and so she was one of a handful of senior scientists scattered around the massive pharmaceutical complex, and the only one in the research laboratory.

She let out a squeal which resounded in the sterile rectangular room with rows of fluorescent lights arranged precisely over rows of benches below. She was on her feet before she realised it, running with the petri dish in her hands, unafraid of destroying the precious evidence in her haste and sheer elation. It was a feeling she’d remember to old age.

She’d recount the tale to wide-eyed children seated at her feet, telling them how for a moment she’d known exactly how a bird feels when it swoops down from the sky, skimming the earth for a brief second then shooting up again.

“Bryce!” she was breathless, laughing as she slid the petri dish dexterously in front of her head of research sitting at his desk with a strong mug of coffee, a sheaf of papers before him.

“What in the…” he’d never seen Harriet in this state, giddy as a child.

“It’s a cure!” she cried, jabbing her finger at the petri dish so he would stop staring at her like she was mad, and she was, mad with joy, “Those are the resistant fungi and bacteria we’ve been studying! This flower kills them!”

“Which fungi…and bacteria?” Bryce’s mouth was dry but he kept his composure.

“All of them!” Harriet almost shrieked, but a sudden prickle of unease burst through her glee muting it, though only a little, “Imagine! Almost 28 diseases, gone!” she snapped her fingers to emphasise the ease of it.

“Yes,” Bryce was on his feet and his long strides took him quickly around his desk and over to his open door which he shut, locking it, “This can’t leave here, and neither can you.”

-Continues next week