Thriller Three is a collection of three of Ray’s finest thriller novellas.
In This Town: a postcard of terror, Young Abubakir makes a return to his terrorism ravaged home town of Damakuli in Borno State, Northern Nigeria for the sole purpose of taking his newly widowed younger sister with him back to Lagos but he unwittingly walks into a terror plot by a cell made up of his old friends. He would need a miracle to untangle himself from it.
In Bloodline, Lazarus is among the last of a vanishing tribe of the Congo Basin and his blood was required for a desperate ritual by a cult. With a huge prize on his head, his half-brother lured him into the jungle where the ritual was to take place.
In The Other Room, Tolu is stuck on wheel chairs for years and there is a room in his apartment he had never entered since his accident. After he watched a certain world leader talk about an “Other Room”, Tolu began to wonder what if his wife has some fetish secret going on in this room. His curiosity kept him on edge till he finds the truth about what his wife really does inside the Other Room. He would know this truth and this truth would hold him captive for the rest of his life.
He stood with agility.
I joined him. He is about an inch and half taller. Eleven years ago I was taller by half an inch.
"I would get you something to eat then we get going."
"I want us on our way quickly. I will eat when we return."
"What about a wash?"
"I would like to skip that too for now. Unless of course you think I smell badly," I sniffed at my arm pit, "or do I look very dirty?"
He did not glance at me for more than a second before he began to put on his dirty, dust-covered leather sandals. "Nothing as bad as most people we will pass on the street. Step out and let us be gone."
I stepped out the door, ready to be gone. He shut his door, sank the keys into his pocket and ran his hands over his head vigorously. The sun was having a fierce day in the office; it tolerated no moisture in the air. There were a few smoky clouds plastered up there, but none anywhere near the sun’s corner of the pale blue sky.
Instead of the major road that led to the Mallam Zoigna motor park, he took me through a narrow but regularly plied path. Along that road, there used to be a small fish market before that deadly shoot-out three months ago that left seventeen market women dead. He did not explain why we had to take this path -which I reckoned to be a longer route. I could however see what his reason was. This narrow path was busier than that major road, the JTF soldiers were stationed there and from news I had heard about this town, it was wise to stay as far as doable away from them.
People say they have a poor human right awareness, it does not surprise me. They say they are trigger-happy, I should be wise. They say they are irresponsible drunks...stay away from a man with a bottle of local gin in one hand and a loaded rifle in the other.
Stay away from him, Abub!
We went deep into the windy path till tawny wooden shanties of rusty zinc roofs on the road sides were replaced by mud brick huts of varying sizes and shapes. We took a turn to the left, another turn to the right...then another to the left. All turns taken in the immediate road split we came to. Forty meters into the last road we turned into, we stopped in front of a hut. Fairly large, the roof was of bamboo and brown fronds woven quite ungainly.
"This is the house," Mukhtar said, "the house she lives."
I nodded slowly at the hut, and then started at the front door, left foot first. He stood there with hands clasped in front of his groin.
"Come let us go in," I said to him.
He shook his head, "You will be better received without my company."
Let him be, Abub. Let him be.
"Oh well, so you will stand outside here till I am ready to leave? I would spend quite a long..."
"I will not wait. I hope you can find your way back because there is somewhere I must be now."
I looked down his toes peeping from his sandals; they were carrying as much layers of dust as freshly harvested potatoes. I sighed after drawing in a long breath. I would have no argument with him. I had a slight confidence I could trace our route in reverse. Though nothing appeared close to what they used to be in 2002, I was confident in a way.
I patted his left shoulder, he patted mine too. And he turned away from me.
A long sheet of hide draped the length of the entrance door of the hut. The hide had white fur dented with small stripes and dots of chocolate brown. I had to hunch a tad for the door to allow me in.
Just as I stepped in, I heard a breaking chirp, "Who is that?" It must have said.
It came from an old lady at a corner about seven yards to my right. My gaze was instantly turned to that corner.
It took up to sixty seconds or more for my eyes to begin to adjust and pick out objects inside the hut. The inside smelled of tobacco and the air wasn't adequate. If I had asthma I would drop dead in less than three minutes.
"Barka dai," I greeted.
"Sannu," she responded with that same chirpy voice.
"In yini," I checked my wrist watch to be sure it was yet afternoon.
She asked who I was and what I wanted in her house.
"I am Abubakir, Ruqayatu's brother. I have come to see..."
A high pitch voice cried from behind a curtain. The brown silk cotton itself was flung off the door and a lady veiled in black silk burka dashed out. She still carried the shout in her throat as she rushed at me to throw her body all over me.
Then she began to sob, "Abub...Abub...oh Abub..."
I tenderly put my arms round her and seconds later began to pat the back of her hair softly. She did not let her sobs last. But we remained locked in that embrace for what could have been as long as King Cheops' reign over Egypt.
Though she covered all of herself safe her face with the burka, my hold in the embrace told me she was just too angular. Bread winning in the family had been all upon Mohmodu and since his death, with Ruqayatu still in mourning period, I bet there's not been any bread winning going on around there.
We soon settled into small stools. Ruqayatu sat only a foot to my right and the old woman four feet in front of us. She did not let go of my right hand all the time we were there.
After the somewhat lengthy customary exchange of greetings in the three-way, I began to say my mission.
"How have you been coping since the tragedy?" I asked, the question was in all sincerity and I hope the old lady saw it that way. Partly so because I cared to know and partly because I was seeking to establish grounds for taking my sister away.
The old woman sucked in her cheeks in a way that was more frightening than it was nauseating. "But for Allah," she shrugged her lean shoulders. Her collar bones sank to create a well below her neck. "Some good people give alms."
"May Allah bless them," I said.
She nodded sharply. Her lower jaw -which was nothing more than a pointy structure of bones under a thin spread of flesh-, was stabbing the air below.
Ruqa's gentle eyes never left my face all the time we talked. I took the grip of her hand and squeezed it. The bones of her spare fingers stabbing my palm in the process. After which I let her continue doing the holding.
"Mama," I said with a calm voice, "I'm thinking of taking Ruqayatu with me to the city."
She raised her head to set two black nuts inside her hollow eye sockets at me. Her thin lips twitched and twisted and she had to jerk her lower jaw lower. Under the whim of light that filtered in, her face's radiation was minimal but I could make out the shadows developed by the many contours on it. Like under her cheek bones for instance.
"You want to take her?" she said. It was hard to be sure if her tone was from surprise or from disgust.
"You can take her?"
"It is the least I can do to help her go through..."
"It would help her survive for the rest of her life."
"You agree it is a good idea?"
"Why not, my son? There is no better idea."
I gasped softly. Then I faced Ruqa, she did not look like she was about to raise the roof in jubilation. She stayed calmed and her eyes, still on me, now dimmed in thoughtfulness.
"You can come with me and we will live together."
She cocked her head slightly and I could only wish I could take it for a nod.
"Why are you not excited about it?" the old woman couldn't help but ask.
"If I am not around to resume work at the farm, how are you going to survive?"
"You have to go on, my daughter." She said.
"Listen to her, Ruqa." I said.
"I cannot afford to watch you suffer to feed this family. It will kill you slowly. Go on and let Allah watch over us. If it is his will for us to live longer, we will. If not, we will die fast. For you, my daughter, you have to see what life wants for you."
I couldn't be more grateful to the old woman. She had made all I feared would be a task collapse into a simple conversation.
Ruqayatu had nothing else to say.
“How is your son?” I asked, looking around.
“He is asleep inside,” Ruqayatu stood and led me inside the inner room she came from.
“He had a slight fever,” the old woman said.
I saw the little boy laid spread eagled on a mat. He had a piece of brown cloth cover him from neck to feet. He was an infant Mohmodu who was very fortunate not to have a face hill for a nose. He took my nose, lucky kid.
“Have you gotten him drugs?” I asked while I kneeled on a knee to feel his temperature.
“A neighbor helped us gather herbs,” Ruqa said.
I nodded, “It seemed to have worked.”
“They always do,” she nodded too.
"You should pack your things because we leave very early tomorrow. I already made arrangement with the driver of a merchant lorry to take us to Kano where we will take a train to Lagos."
"I will be set, Allah willing."
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