The Ice People
by D.D. Renforth
The failed attempt to kill the immigrant Ankala Imfredo occurred in the midst of weeks of frigid air and snow, when Ankala’s organization was busy trying to find homes for the homeless in Toronto. The wind chill eventually reached forty below centigrade. Icicles hung from the wires above the streets; and the sides of buildings began to change color as the frost was entombing the structures. Stranded cars littered the streets. Fire engines and ambulances constantly responded to inadequate wiring, heating and plumbing. City workers, outside all day trying to keep up with too many problems, labored with stiff red faces, puffy yellow uniforms and high boots, their eyes barely visible behind the face protectors. The weather doomed them with the worst jobs that month. As if anyone needed the reminder, every ten minutes radio weather announcers were scaring residents with their chant that thirty-five below could freeze human flesh and “Stay home!” People were staying home. Who would want to leave their homes? The sidewalks were barren; the stores empty, and the skating rinks had only the ghosts of past skaters.
Beyond all of these unfortunate situations, the homeless were in far more dire circumstances. Not only Ankala’s group but city rescue workers and religious groups searched for those who could not go home, whose homes were on the streets, and too often they found a frozen man or woman. There were simply not enough places because more than the homeless were without heat. The churches, temples, mosques, community centers, and other institutional spaces were full from people not usually homeless, and the city could not open up two vacant armories due to liability problems. Even if the city did, many veteran street people would have refused to sleep next to strangers six inches apart in giant cavern-like rooms where the lights never went out and they feared to lose their few possessions and dogs. No, they would prefer the vents and entrances from subways. Even after the evening sweep, the spots near the subway vents quickly filled up again with other bundled up bodies sucking up the little streams of warmth through the large grates. Many of them had no mittens or head coverings, their faces and eyes showing the expression of panic and the stares of acceptance, especially when nearby was the entrance to THE PATH, the world’s largest underground shopping mall that ran beneath almost the entire downtown Toronto core. Down there during the day, in a space that could potentially hold thousands of homeless, where the air was warm and cozy, walked busy employed people who already had homes and wanted security and freedom from the beggars on the street.
In this time of terrible need for the homeless, Ankala put into action a plan he had constructed after years of frustration. When he first arrived as an immigrant and lived through his first winter, the disparity witnessed in THE PATH and the number of homeless on the cold winter nights shocked him. In his village in the old country, people always had at least a home, even if with a neighbor, even if other necessities, such as food, water and medical attention, were not as available or tainted. If they were without a home or food, his family and others tried to help them. In Toronto, these poor discarded folk had none of these necessities without begging and hoping. By the next winter, Ankala started an organization and activist group to try to resolve the problem. After a few years with little response from the government, he realized a more radical solution might be needed.
A large ice block encasing an upright man, his eyes open, with a nametag hung around his neck, was set down in front of old City Hall, greeting business people, casual walkers, shoppers, and most significantly, government workers on their way to work. The tag read: “Ankala Imfredo.”
The people who saw the frozen man knew nothing of Ankala, of course, but the government and the media soon uncovered whatever was available to know. The name itself was easy to track and, of course, the police knew him from the attempted murder.
The government learned that Ankala was, according to officials in his native country, a member of a militant anti-government group whose one motive was to overthrow the government and create a classless society without rulers or central government.
Ankala had planned to use the ice people to attract the media and his plan was successful. The media exposure allowed him to deliver, to the dismay of the city, a long diatribe on the suffering and death occurring every night on the streets from homelessness, and to talk about how he came to Canada, after a life as a farmer, after a horrific ordeal in which the new government had massacred all of the people in his village, how he himself was left for dead after losing an arm and an ear, and then became a refugee from this brutal regime. This story he had documented in the issues of an online newsletter he was publishing. The newsletter, he said, angered his old government because he was a member of a small group that opposed the brutality of the new government. So they had hired an assassin.
Officials in his old country denied his story. They said that he was a terrorist and insurgent. None of his story was true, except that he was a farmer. A neighboring tribe had destroyed his village, not the government.
Some officials wanted to deport him for lying on his papers. But if the government returned him to his native land, it might be seen as a failure of Canadian principles of freedom and their refugee program. The government had to choose: If he was a terrorist, and if he had brought terrorists, or if there were even assassins in the country that would do anything to eliminate him, perhaps they should deport him. They could easily question his refugee status and the tale of the village massacre, since the present regime in his old country claimed that Ankala fabricated the tale to escape the law for his treasonable activities and was continually printing lies in his newsletter.
Ankala, the regime said,
“…obviously did not come to Canada to praise a new form of government or fall in love with a new culture. He and his associates escaped after years of plotting to overthrow the government at home, even before the coup that installed Ankala’s enemies.”
His newsletter had also become an embarrassment to allies of Canada. Ankala, they said, was spreading lies on the Internet about the extent of foreign involvement both in helping the coup and the alleged genocide.
While the government was trying to digest these accusations plus the horror of the first of the ice people, two mornings later Ankala arranged to have displayed another fully dressed person in an ice block at the harbor, near the harbor police building. Around her neck was the same message: ‘Ankala Imfredo.’
As Ankala expected, the media and the general public initially assumed that someone had recently killed the people by imprisoning them in ice. Upon a more thorough examination of the bodies, authorities learned the truth: the ice people died naturally first and then someone froze them in the ice block. Though the media published their faces everywhere, no one came forth to identify the bodies.
The next week a passersby found a third person encased in ice beside the Toronto Star newspaper headquarters, not too far from the second person in ice. The third note was exactly the same as the others: “Ankala Imfredo.”
Ankala hoped that the difficulties raised by the ice people would become a problem for all levels of government and the police. The primary headaches were that no person or group had claimed responsibility for the attacks, and no one had any clear thoughts on why someone, some organization, would hate Ankala so much that they would encase dead bodies in ice and put his name on them, if that was the motive. Why the tag of “Ankala Imfredo” if Ankala was not somehow involved? If he was, how could he have managed it under the nose of the police? The officials pondered more how than why the ice people appeared.
Another week passed without incident in Toronto, but similar events Ankala had arranged in New York and London, though the bodies were not in ice but on park benches in Hyde Park and Central Park wrapped in plastic wrap, again with the tag, “Ankala Imfredo.”
American and British authorities conferred with Canadian officials on a plan of action. The crisis was baffling to them all. A Scotland Yard detective guessed that Ankala was somehow behind all of it, but he could not prove it. In New York and London, the corpses were similarly dead before they were displayed; and again no one came to identify them. All of the corpses were of people who died naturally. Their fingerprints brought no identification.
The snow continued without mercy in Toronto, the temperature remained colder than usual, and the wind blasted its way in defiance up and down the major streets. The icicles on some buildings reached several stories in length. Massive drifts had climbed up the downtown buildings or blocked the streets so that every night the city turned into a desolate area that the homeless had almost to themselves, creatively using the snow and ice to build shelters and wind shields.
At the end of January, as if to conclude a month of disaster with an exclamation point, the power failed in a large group of buildings in the downtown core and Ankala’s group brazenly took advantage of a strained police and government coping with the weather and the drain on the grid by briefly abducting the Mayor. The kidnappers had one demand: Solve the homeless problem. In twenty-four hours, they released the mayor. To Ankala the abduction of the mayor was only a threat of what his group could do, if they chose. He never intended to hold, ransom, or harm the mayor.
At the same time, the fourth person in a block of ice appeared in front of a mansion in Rosedale, a wealthy upscale neighborhood. “Ankala Imfredo” appeared again.
The government brought Ankala to a secret meeting and interrogated him about his connection to the ice people.
“They use your name,” they noted. “Even if you have no connection, you are connected, at least in the minds of these terrorists.”
“I know nothing about the ice people,” Ankala told the agents.
“If you are innocent, then you will not mind helping us stop the people who are doing this,” they said.
“No. I can’t,” Ankala said, “not unless concrete steps are taken to solve the homeless problem and quickly.
“It’s your choice,” the agents said. “Would you prefer to spend your time in jail or to work covertly with us to find the perpetrators of these ice people?”
“It would be dishonorable,” he replied, “if I didn’t offer something in return for the promise to end appearances of the ice people. And if I had no honor, I might as well be in jail.”
“Or,” they added, “we could ship you back to your old country.”
“As you wish,” Ankala replied, “I have no interest in betraying those who respect me. These people only want something done. They don’t intend to hurt anyone. After all, they released the mayor.”
There was an hour of stalemate while the officials conferred.
The agents surprised Ankala by complying with his terms and said that they would begin new policies and approaches to diminish the problem.
“In light of these assurances, will you help us?” they asked.
“No,” Ankala responded again, and then he added, “I have no interest in your plans or your words. I want action. I want steps being taken. I want money poured into helping the homeless. I want money taken from less urgent projects and placed in helping the homeless. Then, if you do this and I see action, I agree.”
It was a courageous but not a diplomatic answer. Ankala found it difficult to trust government. In his native land, he had seen government betray many promises; he had watched the government steal private property and farms and drag their owners in the middle of the night and shoot them; he had witnessed soldiers come and kill everyone in his village and destroy all of their homes and crops.
He also realized that Canada could rightly deport him for failure to reveal his anti-government activities on his application. But his refusal to accept their terms was not stubbornness. Years ago, when he first started his plan to help the homeless, Ankala understood his purpose. He had heard the politicians’ promises for years. If he gave his approval to a plan that might never happen, without concrete action, then all of the attempts to assist the homeless—the years of going door to door to find spaces, the ice people, and the abduction of the mayor—would have been wasted. He also knew that it would require many months of behind-the-scenes work at all levels of government before a solution would happen. He had to see action, not agree to promises.
There was another concern of the government. Though it was never mentioned in the interrogation, the thorn for officials was not only the ice people, but also Ankala’s newsletter. Ankala had no personal information on what was happening now in his native land, but his suspicions were too close to the truth. Other evidence had also appeared that substantiated his view of the massacre as well as his accusations that several nations were complicit in overthrowing the old government for economic gain. These suspicions were complicating Canada’s relationship both with other Western nations and with corporate investors anxious to support or invest in Ankala’s native land because of its strategic location and its resources. The newsletter had also brought an assassin to Canada. All of these facts were troublesome because the facts threatened those still in power.
In the next week, the government of Canada decided to deport Ankala Imfredo to his native country for lying on his immigration papers and in his interview. He had not told the authorities in his application that he was involved in anti-government activities in his native country. Great Britain—one of those countries that had an economic interest in silencing Ankala—also pressured Canada to deport him because they believed that, despite lack of any proof, Ankala was somehow connected to the ice people and the abduction. No one challenged these reasons because they were true. Ankala did conceal his anti-government activities and he was a threat to the existing government of his native country. He had also published the newsletter that derided the present government of his native land.
After the news of Ankala’s deportation, no ice people appeared, but hundreds of cardboard life-size figures of him did surface one morning in London, Toronto and New York in honor of him; and, as if to grant a small wish that had come too late, the weather suddenly became mild and no more homeless died from exposure.
As expected Ankala was tried, found guilty, and executed for traitorous activities. Before he was executed, he was allowed to drop to his knees, grab a handful of dirt, and bring it to his nose to smell. Then he raised the hand of soil up to the sun and gave thanks in his heart for the wonder of nature and his chance to experience its many joys when he was a farmer. As they executed him, his face had a smile from the expectation he would see in the afterlife those friends and family slaughtered long ago in his village.
After his death, in the customary end for traitors, the government left his corpse to rot in a death pit exposed to the sun to be picked away by wildlife.
No creature or sun had the opportunity. Ankala had left instructions to his fellow activists to bribe the guards and bury his body properly in the area of his home village.
They happily complied with his request, but they went further in his honor. In the following winter, the underground crowd on THE PATH could not miss a sealed clear case containing a life size wooden mahogany statue of a man without home or country, the homeless advocate, Ankala Imfredo.