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April 1, 2001
The Coup, Part II
It looked like everybody else had heard the message loud and clear. Even truckers, normally a nuisance on any Turkish road no matter how remote, had vanished. Perhaps they had pulled into towns when they heard the news on their radio, and were then detained by military authorities. I pictured rows of semis stuck in podunk places for days with produce spoiling inside. Finally the townspeople would revolt, no doubt. What chiefly interested me as a kid, of course, was how gross it could possibly smell.
We started using the left lane for handling curves where there was enough visibility to make sure nobody was coming from the other direction. We could drive faster that way. Once in a while we would see roadblocks in the distance, but they were set up to control entry and exit into towns, so if you were on the main road you were free and clear.
We struck out when we reached Akşehir (Aksehir, pronounced Akshehir), though. This particular town had no bypass, which meant you had to drive through it. We were stopped within sight of the first buildings by a group of soldiers commanded by a young officer. My father tried to give him the same spiel.
But the officer stated calmly and formally that "all persons traveling cross country need permits from a regional commander," and told us to report to the gendarme HQ at the center of town. We drove in and parked across from the building. My father sighed. "I'll go in talk to the guy," he said. "Is there a bag that looks like a medical briefcase in the trunk, I wonder?" He rummaged and dug up some decaying black mass that looked like it was left over from his years with the infamous field service, circa 1964. Or maybe it was my mother's, since they'd been there at the same time. He grabbed the stethoscope (always one in the car) and the bag, and sauntered off, with that perturbed but resigned look on his face that I'd gotten used to seeing when I or someone else did something that disappointed him.
My mother and I stayed in the car, but looked around, surveying the alien territory. This was the supposed hometown and burial place of the famed folk hero and absurdist Nasreddin Hodja so it seemed appropriate a Brechtian hassle would present itself in this little town of all places. Nasreddin's tomb had to be near; I'd read how it was open, exposed on all four sides yet had a lock on its gate. The famed statue with him riding his donkey backwards was probably not very far either, but we didn't want to risk going off on an exploratory mission and miss my father getting back.
When he did, he was looking only slightly more dejected, so I guess he'd been expecting the outcome.
"What did the man say?" my mother asked.
"He wanted to know what kind of authority would he be if everyone could just drive on through town based on any flimsy excuse. Yesterday he was just a cog in the machine and today he's the king of the castle and he'll milk it for as long as he can," my father grumbled. "He's doing shots, he's waiting for a belly dancer or a manicurist or something."
"So what are we supposed to do?"
"We're supposed to go to a hotel and wait for news of a change in 'administrative policy.'"
"For how long?"
"Who knows? What if it's a year, huh? You all feel like settling here?" He grinned, managing to look no less bummed while doing so. "Fucking nonsense, we're leaving."
"You think that's really smart?" my mother asked.
"I don't know what else we can do. Let's just drive around a bit. If we get stopped we can tell them we're looking for the headquarters or something. Maybe the post office. We need to send a telegram home telling them we can't make it, right? Or maybe there's a little hospital. I'm looking for the medical director to see if there's someone who can intervene to help out two fellow doctors. We'll think of something. Let's just go."
This town was smaller than the first, so it didn't take us long to size our options. The main road led out just like it led in, a straight line, and the other end was controlled by a second unit. The only way one could continue north was by going around the checkpoint, which was actually closer to town than the other one. A neighborhood that started south of the roadblock extended beyond it like an arm reaching over and above a head, but then there was no connector linking its north end to the main road.
We parked underneath a tree and got out. We could see the road up ahead, maybe a quarter kilometer away. So close, yet unreachable. Then my father said, "I bet it hasn't rained around here for a while. The field looks pretty hard to me."
"You're not driving across the field," my mother said, with the voice of a woman who'd observed this kind of behavior too many times and was still not used to the daredevil exhibiting it.
"Why not? It's no worse than some of the other roads we hit out east years ago. With cars in much worse condition. Besides, the Renault is a very high car."
My mother sighed. The last time my father had praised this car in the face of less-than-ideal conditions had been when we were living in Ankara, and he'd claimed the Renault would go down our icy hill just fine -- even though everybody else was crashing and the bottom of the hill already looked like a junkyard -- because "it had Michelin tires." I think you can all guess what ended up happening.
We chose a point where there was a remnant of an old road that trailed off and disintegrated into dirt, and set off, gingerly. We were going as slowly as we could -- puncture the oil pan and it would be all over -- but the car jerked violently as we pushed on, and my feet felt like things scraping the bottom would tear through any moment. I pulled them up and kind of perched on the back seat like a chicken. My father's eyes were firmly on the road ahead, the big prize, but my mother and I had our heads turned in the direction of the road block, now a blot in the distance.
I thought to myself, it would just be the stupidest, ugliest thing to die out here. I was, perhaps, the "insurance" in the car, the soldiers wouldn't open fire if they knew it was a family, but you know, mistakes do happen, and mistakes did start happening in the following weeks around the country, the kind that still happens in the West Bank once in a while -- a car rushing a pregnant woman to a hospital gets sprayed with gunfire for failing to stop, that sort of thing.
I couldn't know any of that, which tempered my anxiety as I sat in the lurching car. I was fairly confident the soldiers wouldn't fire even if they did see us. I was more concerned about being taken in, maybe even slapped by a guy with a big mustache or something, but I guess my father had more reason to worry about being the target of that. Of course, it had been his idea to play tractor, so...
The side of the road finally rose out of the field and we bounded up and out. This Herbie shit was getting kind of old.
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