Friday, May 30, 2014

The Sapık Çetesi, or Playground Whispers

Yesterday, a heavily armed sapık çetesi came to my kid's schoolyard and kidnapped 5 kids.

It's no cause for alarm, I promise, even though in Turkish, "sapık çetesi" means "gang of perverts."

When I picked up LE yesterday, he announced that he wouldn't be coming to school today. "Why's that?" I wondered, assuming it was one of those surprise days off they like to spring on us and I immediately began planning what I'd do with the boy while I was cooped up in a classroom for 4 hours managing the grading of student exam essays. In two seconds I'd developed two viable plans when he said, "There was a çete (gang) at our school today so I'm not coming tomorrow."

"Is school closed?" I asked him, looking around for other signs of alarm.

"No," he said. "I'm just not coming."

So I pressed him further about this gang. There were five of them. They were perverts. They had bombs strapped to their arms and held the fuses in their mouths. They carried clubs in their hands and had axes on their backs. They went into the preschool and took five kids. LE wanted to call his dad as soon as we got home.

"Um, okay." I was being super cool. "So... how old was this gang?"

"I dunno," he said. "I didn't see them. But Muhammet Mustafa and Umut saw them. The service bus driver saw them too, so it was real. They were young. Old. Like 30 I guess?"

"Hmm. Were they wearing masks? Did your friends see their faces?"

No really. They're totally real. Some guys in the news keep telling us.
"No, they weren't wearing masks."

Ok. So they weren't wearing masks. My whole panic-theory of Syrian terrorists or fake MİT provocateurs coming to kidnap kids was deflated because I'm pretty sure if it had been Syrians or MİT agents, they would have been wearing masks.

"Are you sure the bombs and guns and axes and stuff were real?" I asked.

He stopped walking. "Mom," he said in this voice he's developed when he's preparing to prove I'm the dumbest person in the universe. "They were grownups. Why would they have toy weapons. God!" and he stalked off.

Duh, mom.

"So what happened. Did the police come?" Oh, sure they had. Lots of them. "And did they get the kidnapped kids back?" Maybe. Probably. Yes.

"And do you know what my teacher said? She said it was nothing. But you know what? She was lying just so the kids wouldn't get scared. She's a liar."

As soon as we got home, Baba was called. LE told him about the sapık çetesi. BE went way less batshit than I was expecting. "I think there were just some kids being obnoxious," I told him.

"Serseri çocuk," he said. "Serseri" is like hoods or thugs. Neighborhood toughs, if you will.

And we went back and forth about it for awhile, theorizing. We decided it was probably nothing. He tried to be more manful, saying he was going to call the karakol (I still have their number from when we got robbed), and the principal, and LE's friend Kaan's handsome dad. I told him I'd talk to Security Guard Kemal in the morning. Security Guard Kemal is a bit of a dipshit, but the kids like him. They call him Kemal Abi. He's like a Turkish security guard version of Groundskeeper Willie. "He won't tell you anything," said BE. I didn't think so either. Security Guard Kemal is extremely unsettled by me, which is why I've only talked to him twice and he didn't care for it either time.

LE went and hid under a very small table and cried. It took me awhile to find him. He was crying because he thought his dad would be mad because apparently the kids were sleuthing around the playground every recess looking for the sapık çetesi and asking Kemal Abi a lot of questions and Kemal Abi got mad.

They always look at you with their dead eyes.
And then MIL called in a dither. Christ, BE, why don't you think these things through? You told your mom, seriously? She was freaking out, wittering on about the poor security and the chaos at the gates when the morning kids are leaving and the afternoon kids are coming in and did they have cameras there? All of it of course came to me as a subtle indictment about how I do everything wrong, including choosing a school for my kid. I told her yes they have cameras even though I'm not sure if they do or if they do have them, whether the cameras actually work. I told her it was nothing, probably. Mostly I just wanted her to shut up so I could eat my dinner, which I was holding in a plate in my hand waiting for her to shut up. It had been a long fucking day for those of us who have jobs.

So this morning, I went to talk to Security Guard Kemal. I was standing right next to him saying "Excuse me, can I ask you something?" and he wouldn't turn his head. After several tries a bunch of kids had gathered in a circle around us and I kind of grabbed his shoulder and he had no choice but to deal with me.

"Uh, I just wanted to know what happened yesterday? My kid was talking about some weird thing..."

"It was nothing," he grumbled. "Nothing happened."

But thanks to LE's wise insight about his teacher lying to the kids so they wouldn't get scared, I played the man card. "I have to tell his dad what happened because his dad was wondering is all." The kids around us all went silent, looking up at us with their moon faces.

And you know what happened? It was this guy. He made the papers and everything.

He's just having a cola at the bus stop.
I'd seen him around a few days before and I admit he was kind of scary, though he wasn't actually doing anything. He reminded me of this guy.

But really the fellow was just mentally ill and fairly harmless. According to the article, the police got him cleaned up and gave him some clothes and sent him on his way.

So you see? It really was nothing.

But in one day, among all those kids, an oral tradition was formed. They filled in the blanks of the things they didn't quite get and they made the story way more exciting throughout the day even as they freaked themselves the hell out. It must have been delicious.

And it certainly is not the first time people have created a myth out of seeing a strange man.

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