Fiction: Poor Thief

May 17, 2016 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION


Nixon Mateulah



Five thieves walk into the big busy material shop; the shop is full, noisy and customers are bustling to make their orders as the shop is about to close down for business in the next thirty minutes.

Zapanja, one of the gang of thieves (The Magnificent Five) is walking behind his friends, his heart pounding hard against his ribcage, beads of sweat forming on his forehead and nose. He has never stolen before, ever since he touched down in this world, twenty years ago in his home village, Chadedza, in the southern tip of Zimbabwe.

He follows his friends reluctantly. His friends do not know that he is nervous and timid.

‘Hurry up!’ whispers the Leader to Zapanja. He shuffles forward pretending to admire the fabrics. The other three thieves have manoeuvred to different directions and surreptitiously found a suitable place for their friend, Zapanja to hide. It is his turn to sleep in the shop and steal a substantial amount of money. His friends would go home and return back in the morning to release him from his hiding as the shop opens for business. The Leader, the burly, muscular built man, whose head rests on a thick short neck; spreads out his eyes to all corners of the shop and looks at his watch. It is fifteen minutes left before the shop closes down for business.

The shop is regarded as the biggest fabric shop in and around Gauteng Province. It is situated at the corner of Andries and Albert Streets in Pretoria CBD. The thieves have been studying the interior make-up of the shop for the past twelve months and managed to befriend David, the driver, who divulged everything to them – days that the cash transfer vehicle comes to fetch money and where the safe is located. The Rand Cash Transfer vehicle comes on Tuesdays and Saturdays to fetch the money.

‘Dear customers! The shop will be closed in the next five minutes!’ blares the speakers. It is Friday, the shop is full to capacity and it is very difficult for one security guard to watch every customer closely. Meanwhile, Zapanja has already hidden in the corner among the rolls of denim. The Leader and others are walking in separate aisles towards the exit door. The Leader pays for the three metre cotton fabric that he buys to squash off any suspicion of foul play from the security guard. They successfully walk out of the shop.

Ten minutes later, the shop is finally closed.

An hour later, Zapanja switches on his phone. He sits still and fancies that there might be a sleep-in watchman as is always the case with other shops. He produces his torch from his blazer and tries to see if it still works. He drives the beam of light at the huge roll of denim that stands few metres away that has made him nuts as he thought it was a human being watching over him. His heart sinks down with gratitude as he discovers that it is a roll of denim, and switches off the torch. A few minutes later his phone vibrates in his pocket. He fishes it out and presses the yes button timidly.

‘Are you alright,’ the Leader asks.

‘I am okay.’

‘Okay, relax; we will call you later to tell you to start working. Is that okay?’


The phone goes off and he stuffs it in his pocket waiting for the Leader’s call to tell him to start working. He tries to sleep but he cannot get sleep. His muddled conscience takes sleep away from him. And soon he falls into retrospection.


Zapanja is walking down the Andries Street in Sunnyside coming from his job hunting spree. The sun is blistering hot; he sits down under the jacaranda tree by the road side. He pushes a flat square slab enough for his buttocks and sits down leaning against the tree. He unbuttons his upper three buttons of his shirt and takes out the free community newspaper and fans himself with it to dispel the heat.

Ten minutes later, a black Golf 5 pulls up a metre away. The driver winds down his window and calls at him. The black Golf’s windows are tinted and he cannot see the occupants inside. He is trembling like a leaf against a strong wind. He thinks they are the Home Affairs officers who are notoriously hunting down illegal immigrants. He gets up trembling and wishes the ground would open and swallow him up. Again the driver calls at him.

‘Should I run away?’ he thinks bitterly. The driver reverses the car and stops just at a moment he wants to run.

‘Don’t be afraid, we are not the inhuman Home Affairs. Zapanja’s heart sinks in its place and breathes a sigh of relief as he approaches the car. There are two guys at the back and one passenger in front. They are all dressed in expensive designer clothes, gold chains dangling on their necks and gold rings on their fingers.

‘Jump in,’ says the driver.

They take him to their flat in Laudium.

After eating, the four guys introduce themselves to Zapanja. They are all in their twenties, looking snazzy in their designer clothes. They divulge everything to Zapanja and promise him heaven. Zapanja listens to the terms and conditions of his inclusion to the Magnificent Five Gang, which previously had four members.

‘All I need is money to help my mother and brothers at home,’ says Zapanja.

‘Is that all!’ wonders the Leader.

‘I did walk all the way from Zimbabwe.’

‘Don’t worry,’ says the Leader vehemently.


His phone vibrates in his pocket, thwarting off his reverie unceremoniously.


‘You can start work now,’ orders the Leader.

Zapanja slithers like a snake, his heart beating like a drum and crawls into the office. An idea flushes in his mind; he remembers what the Leader had told him earlier. He sees a neat square carpet underneath the chair; he moves the chair away and removes the carpet. There is another small carpet the size of a doormat. He takes it off, drives his beam of light on the place he has removed the carpet. There is a square metal box fitted in a square hole flat with the floor. He feels the box and turns open with his master key, the lid succumbs to his effort.

‘Wow!’ he stammers with joy. The box is full of money in bunches. He sits down and rolls up his trousers. He rolls down his knee-length pair of stockings and stuffs bunches of money round his legs and binds them with rubber bands. Some of the money he stuffs in his blazer pocket.

After everything, Zapanja returns to his hiding place feeling ecstatic. He checks his phone and it reads 1:30 AM. Unable to control his impassioned heart he keeps on fingering his legs and pockets to establish if indeed the money is still there.

His phone vibrates in his pocket.

‘Have you finished working?’ asks the leader.

‘Successfully finished, I have bunches of money all over me!’

‘You can now sleep peacefully,’ says the Leader.

‘Don’t forget to release me tomorrow morning,’

‘Ha! Ha! Ha! Don’t worry!’



It is morning, Saturday, the accomplices arrives at the shop before the owners arrives. The streets are already busy with endless traffic and early customers arrive at the shop. They stand a few metres away from the shop but their eyes surreptitiously watch the entrance.

The shop opens at the dot of 8 in the morning but it is now a quarter past. The accomplice waits with ecstatic hearts at the prospect of pocketing another round of money. It is now 8:30 AM, the customers are still sitting in their cars waiting apprehensively and their eyes always turning to the car making its way into the parking area.

The Leader excuses himself from the group and walks a few paces to the main entrance door. He notices a small notice under the usual notice of trading hours.

‘F**k!’ he screams. Another passenger who has been watching him closely gets out of his car. A middle-aged white man, tall, with a crown bald, accosts him.

‘What’s the matter?’ asks the white man. Then he sees the notice that reads:

This shop will remain closed

for three weeks. Any

Inconvenience caused is greatly regretted.

‘They are not going to open!’ screams the white man.

There is a commotion as customers bustle from their cars and make their way to the shop to read the notice. In fact, the notice had been placed last night. The grandfather of the owners of the shop had died in a train crash in India. The accomplice gathers themselves together and shares their worries over their friend’s plight, who is trapped inside without food and is an asthma invalid. The Leader excuses himself and walks to a nearby tree and phones Zapanja.

‘So what am I going to do!’ cries Zapanja, ‘my phone’s battery is dying.’

‘Don’t worry, we’ll release you.’


By this time, many customers have left the place.


It is night now, the Magnificent Five, now four, drives to the shop to see if there is a security guard outside. They find the security guard on duty, walking to and from within the radius of the shop. Walking a distance away, they stealthily watch him as they go round the corner and stop by the street light. There is a heated discussion; the Leader decides to attempt the security guard with a lump sum of money to let them break in and rescue their trapped friend. They walk back to the security guard who suspiciously watches them as they approach him. The Leader accosts him politely.

‘Could you do us a favour? asks the Leader.

‘What favour?’

‘Our friend was yesterday mistakenly locked up in the shop,’ says the Leader.

‘What!’ cries the guard, rolling his bloodshot eyes.

The Leader then phones Zapanja to ask him count the money; it takes a while as they wait for Zapanja to name the figure.

‘It is about eight hundred thousand rands.’ The accomplices put their heads together and discuss how much they should bribe the security guard. They agree on three hundred thousand rands.

The Leader chuckling, accosts the guard, ‘how about we give you three hundred thousand rands?’

‘Are you sure there is someone inside,’ asks the security guard as he walks to the entrance door of the shop and peep inside.

‘Sure, sure!’ says the Leader firmly.

‘Where is the money?’

A silence follows for a moment as the accomplices confer on the money.

‘We’ll pay when finally the guy is out,’ says the Leader.

‘That is not a deal!’

Silence reigns again for a considerable time.

‘Are you sure your friend is inside?’


‘Where is the money?’

Another silence follows.

A few minutes later, one blubbers: ‘the guy inside got the money.’

‘You are idiots! Go away! Before I call…10111!’

They quickly run to their car parked a few metres away.

The security guard sinks down onto his hard chair and calls at them.

‘Bring the money! Then we can talk!’


Two weeks later, upon opening the shop, Ameer, one of the co-owners of the shop, finds a dead man leaning against the door, bunches of money strewn about him. He collects the money and feels the deceased pockets in case he has other money. He orders the day security guard to take the body outside, and calls the police.


Before long, the Magnificent, now Four, arrives at the time the body is being carried into an ambulance. They stand a distance away from the scene, grief-stricken at the loss of a brave brother; untrained thief…their hands clasped behind their heads. Their eyes bulged out in horror like an over bereaved mother witnessing her only child being lowered into the grave.









Nixon Mateulah

Nixon Mateulah was born in Lilongwe, Malawi. He moved to South Africa in 1996. His short stories have appeared in Storymoja, Jungle Jim Magazine and many of his poems have appeared in Munyori, Aerodrome, Kalahari Review, Stanzas Magazine under the pen name, Chichichapatile Mangochi. His debut novel, A Test of Time will be out sometime this year. His play, The Beggars Forum was longlisted for 2013 SCrIBE Scriptwriting Competition and is currently working on his second novel, The Death of the Sun, hopefully to be completed by end of this year.


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