A Strand of Ice
A Novel Excerpt by Timothy Ogene
took a nap in readiness for the night. It was one of the shifts, and she needed
all the sleep she could get. I cooked lunch, white rice and chicken stew, and
ate in silence, intermittently turning to look at her. Thoughts of her in the
arms of other men inundated my head, almost paralyzing and eclipsing every
other thought that reared its head. I pictured her in her little black dress,
dazzling them with her brilliance, charming them with her knowledge of the
world. I imagined a satisfied old man, pulling out his wallet, counting and
peeling out crisp notes, while Phillis dressed up, touching up her make-up. She
never talked about the pay. I did not ask. It was part of our silent pact.
thoughts continued to pour in and out, questions without answers. I only
contended with the images they drew. But I kept turning, rephrasing and
re-asking them. They protuberated and gnarled, like the bark of a coniferous
move in with Phillis? I forced myself out of her shifts to a more answerable
question. But still, there wasn't an answer on the platter. I was attracted to
Phillis, but I wasn't sure if the attraction was mutual. Ours was the strange
relationship of two drifting souls consoling each other with our body and
warmth, an intangible sameness that pulled on both ends, almost different but
not. It appeared we were our own gatekeepers.
night I moved in with her, I wept like a child. My tears were witnessed by my
belongings: a suitcase, four boxes of books, two pairs of leather sandals, and
a few essentials. That night dinner was simple: fried yam and tomato sauce. I
ate with caution, at which she asked, with her fork heavenward, "What's
I answered, still eating slowly. I can't really say if I was shy, nervous, or
this your version of gentlemanliness? Please, eat," she said, the way you
would prod a kid to finish his vegetables. "This might be the last time I
beg you to eat,” she added. "Well, I'm sure you'll snap out of it after
few days later, like an okra stem, I staggered back to what I would call
normal. But at that dinner, I tried to be myself, to hold still and smile, to
fork and dip my fried yam in tomato sauce without shivering. The problem was
something bigger: I didn't even know if I knew myself.
dinner, I offered to do the dishes. She looked at me, gave a short but
instructive laugh, and said, "Hey poet, don't try to be a gentleman. Be
yourself. Don't try to impress me. There will be more dishes to be done.
Tonight, you are my guest. But it’s only for this night. So, relax and unpack
dishes, I unpacked and sat on the mattress, waiting, confused as the night that
would usher me into a new phase of knowing.
to the window, she smoked two sticks, quietly, squinting at the darkness. It
was a coal-dark night, with stars sagging like ripe mangoes in June. The candle
was halfway extinct, erect, unflickering; a sign that the wind was still, and
bed, but wasn't quite ready to sleep.
to get a few things out of the way," she announced. "I guess I should
have said them before you moved in, but I know you don't mind." I
listened. "First, there will be a lot of nudity in this room, as you may
have noticed. I am either scantily clad or naked here. It's just the way it is.
And I'm sure you, too, when you've returned to your comfortable self, would do
same. Second, as you already know, I smoke, and I'm fully aware of the
consequences." I still listened, my legs outstretched, and crossed.
"Third, don't try to impress me, please." The candle died. The
screened, curtain-less window brought us the twinkles of the night: stars and
later, we shook like adults are wired to shake, sweating and sighing and
gasping. She asked to recite me a poem she knew by heart, and Walcott's
"Love In The Valley" it was. I
held her tight as she ran through the words. Then, somewhere in that poem, I
wept like a punctured bag of water, and slept.
return to those tears, and dig to find their source. I would evade her
questions, and she wouldn't raise them again. Perhaps I was too embarrassed to
tell her the truth that I, too, didn't know why I wept. It could've been the
sex, or the poem, or both. Maybe they,
those tears, were also there as witnesses to my new chapter, a new phase that
was just there, unclear, unmapped. Or they had just appeared to mourn what I
was leaving behind, for I knew what I was escaping from, but the destination
was vague, unknown.
dots were duly knotted, several years later, I would learn that that state of
ambiguity was luck in work clothes; without those ambivalent gaps and unmapped
paths, I would have complacently coasted without curiously combing the streets
for books that would sire the literary fire in me. I would have flown, like
eneke the bird, without perching to bore holes in the Iroko-thick mist that was
night, young and unaware, I wept without knowing this truth. How was I to know?
These things don't come decoded, but appear as flashes on tablets, waiting for
the Daniel in us to decipher them for the confused Belshazzar on our
raised in Nigeria, Timothy Ogene currently lives in Wimberley, Texas. His works
have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Blue
Rock Review, Underground Voices, The Medulla Review, Mad Swirl, and several
other publications. He is completing his first novel and assembling a
collection of poems.