I recall the day with the same clarity I remember other significant events in my life. My wedding day, the birth of my child, the death of my father.
We crossed into Turkey early that morning. The traffic was heavy driving into Istanbul and a poisonous brown cloud hung over the metropolis of 7 million.
We, the travelers in the back of the Bedford truck, were hung over this morning and any conversation was forced and brief.
Drinking alcohol on the truck was now banned due to an unfortunate incident the evening before when Englishmen, Robert and George, tried to pitch Aussie Tim off the back of the truck. I doubt there was intentional malevolence, just a shortness of patience and lack of better judgment due to the excessive ouzo consumed that evening. And that afternoon…and perhaps in the morning.
Our guide expressed his concern about this behaviour in a monologue of expletives. “We’re in a Muslim country, you wankers!” he shouted. “That sort of bloody behaviour could land me, the person in charge, in jail cell full of thugs and fucking sodomites!” Nobody needed reminding about the treatment of foreign prisoners in the movie “Midnight Express.”
I was lost in my thoughts of this new society. Hypnotized by the barren landscape dotted with squalid, little shacks. I hardly noticed the blue, armoured van slowly cruising up the left side of our truck. The rusty vehicle had wobbly wheels and darkened, barred windows. The van’s roof had a small hatch that was popped open, I presumed, for ventilation.
A dark, hairy fist suddenly protruded from the opening. A shiny, steel handcuff was fastened to the thin wrist and a chain hanging from it fell into the depths of the vehicle. The fingers of the hand slowly splayed out, attempting to catch some of the cooler exterior air.
The fist suddenly flashed a ‘Vee’ for victory sign. The gesture, perhaps a final display of defiance, lasted only a few seconds. A leather-gloved hand grabbed the chain, near the manacle, and yanked it into the depths of the vehicle.
Often, when the day is endless and I’m trapped in a long, boring meeting I will remember that day. It was a small victory in the man’s life, but the grand gesture has stuck with me for years.