A Pair of Presence

Tidiani Shitou, Deux amies au téléphone (1979)
Tidiani Shitou, Deux amies au téléphone (1979)


When I saw twin sisters for the first time in New York, I couldn’t take my eyes away. They had short, dark hair, and wore black shirts; one wore a jean, the  other a skirt. What I noticed immediately after their style of clothing were the tattoos on their chest. I couldn’t tell how far down it went, if it covered more than their collarbones and the edge of their necks, if it left its trail on protuberant flesh. One tattoo, the one I saw clearly, resembled a giant mothy creature, crowned.

A regal bug? Was she—were they—royalty? What monarchical dreams attended their sleep?

(On the Caucasian skin, tattoos are of special quality: the black ink appears mixed in silver. The tone of any color imposed on such skin acquires an extra variation. It is not fully black. The skin is a muddier hue of white,  the black is grey.)

And when, fifteen minutes later, I was alone, walking, I noticed the fly of my trouser was open. (Earlier, looking at their skin, I thought my trousers were of the same shade.) What embarrassed me about my fly wasn’t the knowledge of how long it remained open, but the realization that, perhaps, they returned my stare because they noticed the absurd composition of my trousers.

In mid-May my friend told me a story about twin sisters.

The sisters attended middle school with her, different classes. She never spoke to them, but admired the way they cut their hair, uniformly, a pair.

While in college at Barnard, several years later, she saw one of the twins, walking alone. Hours later she saw the other twin, also walking alone. Their hairstyles were now dissimilar.

Sometime in May she saw both girls again, co-passengers of a moving train. In all this time she hadn’t spoken to the girls, only seeing them in periphery, and recognizing who they were. Yet all three girls had, as a matter of fact, and of metaphor, grown up together, sharing an entwined existence in their chance encounters. It has become clear what you say about intimate strangers, my friend said.

The selfsame star is preserved.

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