SHORT STORY: Near fatal treasure hunt

Friday June 17 2022

She was terrifying and they scrambled to their feet, falling over themselves as Simba whacked them ceaselessly with her cane. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG


Mwana Simba was old, so old that there was no one alive, in any of the small villages dotted on tiny islands in an idyllic archipelago, to remember when she’d been born.

Legends surrounded her, not only because of her age, but also for the story of her birth. It was said she was born during a rainy day when the skies had poured a deluge of water that washed half the town away, including her own dear mother; but villagers had found a baby girl, Mwana Simba, her tiny fists clenched and wrapped around the spiderlike roots of a mangrove tree, gurgling happily.

No one could even recall such a day, not in these dry lands where the soil was sand and the sky never bereft of a blazing sun.

Mwana Simba wasn’t even her name; no one could remember that either. It was just a false moniker that’d stuck, ‘Lion Child’, partly because in her hey-day she was said to have been incredibly strong and more fearsome than most warriors.

Times had changed, subtly at first, then all at once, the way a cresting wave suddenly breaks to throw up a rush of white foam from its crystal clear depths as if by magic. One day the sleepy villages were as they had always been and the next, they were invaded by an influx of such change, it left the locals reeling.

People from the country’s inland flocked to the idyllic villages, revving roaring two-wheeled contraptions down narrow dirt lanes that criss-crossed the islands, threatening to unseat the locals lethargically trotting on donkeys on their way to draw water. And as the peace and tranquillity ebbed like the sea at low tide, their values too, died.


“She doesn’t work, yet she’s rich!” Jonah, a rough-looking boy with a lazy eye and a lopsided grin that exposed stained teeth sneered at his companion.

“Yeah, I saw her airing a sofa the other day,” his companion, Mica, dishevelled and bleary-eyed from too much fermented coconut drink replied sulkily, “A sofa! In a mud hut like that?”

“I heard she hides her money in an earthen pot, buried somewhere in her compound,” Jonah scratched his dandruff ridden head, causing disgusting flakes of skin to fall like confetti on his broad shoulders.

“I’ll dig up her whole yard if I need to!” Mica started, but a heavy hand on his shoulder stopped him violently.

“Tonight, when it’s dark,” Jonah’s tone was ominous, “These villagers think she’s special and we don’t want them after us.”

It was a brilliant night, the moon a large luminescent orb that cast a silver light bright enough to illuminate everything and cast clear, defined shadows. Simba wanted to crawl into bed and rest her weary bones, but her porridge still bubbled stubbornly over the red embers of a small fire, which she poked at incessantly and impatiently. Then, with a delicately carved wooden spoon, she scooped some of the steaming mixture, blew on it unsteadily and plopped it into her mouth, sighing contentedly.

Outside, creeping on tiptoe albeit clumsily, Jonah and Mica surveyed Simba’s yard under the bright moonlight.

Gleefully, Jonah pointed to a small mound by the edge of the yard and soon they were both elbow deep in the sandy soil, breathing heavily as they dug, unbothered now by the presence of the old woman in her hut just a few feet away.

In tandem, their right arms broke through the layers of sand into an airy chamber and both boys squealed in fright and surprise as an unknown creature sunk its fangs into them.

As they felt a sensation of fire flowing through their veins, they rapidly yanked their arms out, falling terrified to the ground.

Then, hopping up, they ran straight into each other in their panic, slamming their foreheads together with a sickening crack.

“Who’s there?” Simba hobbled out of her hut, unsure whether the squeals she’d heard were animal or man.

Her rheumy eyes still saw well, though not as sharply, but she was aided by the ethereal silver moonlight and with a speed and fierceness that was surprising for her age, rounded on the two intruders, her walking stick raised.

Jonah and Mica, dazed, with spasms of pain shooting up their arms and reverberating in their heads, looked up to see a slightly bent tall figure, her eyes wild, bloodshot like an animal’s courtesy of her smoky fire, her mouth bared to reveal missing teeth and porridge dribbling down her chin.

She was terrifying and they scrambled to their feet, falling over themselves as Simba whacked them ceaselessly with her cane, somehow, and they would ruminate over this in wonder after, managing to keep up with them as they fled.

“We’re the fastest runners,” Jonah puffed his chest at a group of boys then winced as he felt the sore lashes across his backside, adding quickly to save face, “And the strongest too.”

“Yeah, we are,” Mica opined, he couldn’t think of anything smart to say, he hadn’t slept in days with the painful welts across his backside.

Exchanging a quick look with Jonah, he sighed with relief remembering their secret pact, they’d never visit that old woman again. Maybe some legends were facts.