Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Cerna Pole Kid, by Yiğit Tokgöz

The dog walking of a foreigner who has anxiety towards authorities turns into an action-packed adventure in Brno after meeting a kid with a box in a public garden.

When a day doesn’t spare me some time to go to Lužánky for daily late afternoon party of unleashed dogs, I take my dog Shadow out three times, instead of two. Not that she can’t hold her pee for longer than eight hours, but seeing her looking into my eyes in boredom reminds me of my childhood, when I had to figure out how the clock works to have a better understanding of when we’ll go to park, and she doesn’t even have that chance to know how long she has to wait for my so called very important works, or even worse, for my pleasure. On that late spring day, when the sun finally consented to hit the little park nearby, Schreber´s Garden, I decided to give my girl a run and took the football out after having my lunch cereal. Besides, I thought it would be a nice change for me; unlike my past days in Istanbul, this was pretty much all the action I could get in an ordinary Brno day of mine, eventually.
After a few rounds of catches full of sneaky peeks around to see if the police is around to fine me for letting a creature of this world free without a mouth-chain, I noticed an eight, maybe nine years old kid with a closed cardboard box in hand walking towards us. It had to be the school time for the kid, but here he was all alone, walking clumsily but in confidence, as if he has just got unjustly fired from his post at the elementary school. “Can I?” he asked in Czech, pointing at Shadow cheerfully. Though I should be the one who welcomes people very well, she takes the lead while I try to prepare myself for some Czech listening exercise. When the time has arrived to reveal that I am a foreigner as the kid decides to go further with the small talk, I asked him if he speaks English. “Of course,” he answered in confidence, pointing out his box, as if the box is the answer standalone. Without waiting for my answer in English, he kicked the ball Shadow brought back with his obviously carefully chosen, brand new little businessman shoes. While waiting for Shadow to catch the ball and make her walk of pride alongside other people in the park before bringing it back, he seemed very enthusiastic to have a conversation with me but his English failed him after saying “You…” He swiftly crouched down and opened his box and took a thin shriveled book out of it and laid it on lawn. “Today, English,” he said, joyfully turning the page he needs to check for further conversation. “Where are you from?”
Perhaps ten years ago, or even five, I would not notice that my facial expression changes when I am answering this very basic question. Now, somehow, I did, as I always do almost everyday in this very park, but he did not have any information or opinion that would give his face an unintentional, conjuncture wisely unavoidable little reaction that is similar in strength yet very different in its way to the change on my face. More importantly, it did not follow a daily-politically correct cover up excitement on what he touristically knows about where I am from or a bit of memory he had when he was visiting there. He had no single idea. Instead, he pulled out a sheet on which there is a very basic Europe map and wanted me to show where I live. I put my finger on Czech Republic, “I live here now, ted’ bydlím tady, but I am from…” I showed the empty space on the right side of the map. “Cool!” he said and kicked the ball Shadow had just brought back. “Do you…” He checked another page in the book. “Do you like football?” “Yes, ano, mám rád fotbal!” I said, unsure of the grammar. He pulled out an archaic cellphone and pointed out its corner, trying to tell me something. “It’s… It’s…” Seeing him unable to find the right word, I suddenly felt a huge sympathy for him. Having experienced very well how frustrating it is, he became my best friend for a moment. “Do you... have?” In the back of my mind, I was assuming that he had some unexpected situation at school and he was sent home early, so I thought perhaps he needs to call his parents and I pulled out my phone as well, offering him to use it if necessary. He was obviously trying to tell me that he doesn’t need to use it, but couldn’t stop himself to check what kind of phone I have. A forty-something man who was enjoying the coy sun by taking a walk in the park noticed us and slowed down, checking on what we were doing. His stare pulled me out of the moment, realizing that I could be putting myself in danger here, talking to a kid alone. I decided to try and avoid the kid by focusing on Shadow, but he had no intention to leave us and asked me about video games. I don’t know if he got it right, but somehow, trying to find cues in his book, I told him about my brother who is a little older than him and lives in Istanbul, plays the same video game he does, Minecraft, and that maybe they were playing in the same network at some point. Seeing that the man who was watching over us left, I was relaxed. “Do you also like playing outside?” was the question I tried to ask him, finding visual cues in the park and pointing out the ball. He joyfully nod and hold my hand, dragging me and Shadow to the court on the other side of the park. He put his box aside and wanted me to tie Shadow to fences, so that we could play a one-on-one.
For a kid who most probably watches Kometa more than Zbrojovka, his feet weren’t that bad on the ball. I let him boss the court, up until I wasn’t so sure about coming back as my much older body was getting tired. And Shadow wasn’t really helping either, getting excited over every shot attempt and bending the fences. Just when I took another, quite a merciless shot, Shadow couldn’t resist the urge and broke the chain of her leash, which flew up and hit me on the head.
Unleashed Shadow was chasing the ball and the talented Černá Pole kid was running after them. Just then I noticed a chubby policeman in luminous green approaching us. Playing on children’s ground alongside a dog without a muzzle, I was already preparing myself to try and speak in Czech to him and explain the situation. Though, just when I started to get anxious as the policeman was now looking straight at me, the kid came back running with Shadow, quickly grabbed his box and started to run away to the bushes and yelled at me to run as well. I had no idea why I did that, but after a moment of hesitation, I followed him to bushes, knowing that Shadow would come after me. I certainly had a reason to run, more because of the anxiety I had developed towards authorities, than to pay a modest fine for setting the dog free without a muzzle. The kid hid behind the bushes, excited as if playing hide and seek with the policeman, while I was trying to understand his reasoning to do this and put Shadow on her leash. The officer looked much more serious now, deftly checking his gun and walking straight to us. “What are we doing?” I asked the kid and attempted to leave the bushes to resign myself. The kid grabbed my arm, surprisingly in panic, trying to tell me not to do it. The officer, before approaching closer, took a pause and yelled at us something in Czech. His tone made me realize that now I was in kind of a serious trouble and perhaps the kid had committed a crime or at least a misconduct before arriving the park. He almost begged me to go with him, pulled me and started to run away down the street, using Shadow’s childish excitement to his advantage. Hoping that the officer would decide to walk away from the situation, by thinking it doesn’t worth to chase a kid, a dog and a young man just for a little muzzle misconduct, I followed the kid, smiling and pretending like I didn’t realize the policeman and just playing a game with my nephew and dog. Yet he wasn’t as lazy as I hoped regardless of his Krušovice belly, as he started to chase us, yelling and possibly even threatening us to pull his gun. The only thing that prevented him to do so, was that I was running away with a little kid and a cute dog, I suppose. With the policeman behind us, we had no chance to stop and breathe until way down to Cejl, but other than trying to avoid cars and protect Shadow, my mind kept going to what the kid possibly had in the box, that made him take and carry it all the way down here, even though we were in the middle of a thrilling if not yet hazardous hunt. If he just had skipped the school and afraid to be catched by the police, why take a box full of coursebooks? If there is something much more serious going on, what could an eight years old kid possibly do? Let all these alone; why an old looking cheap box, instead of a schoolbag?
I have to admit, whether intentional or not, it was a clever move to run towards Cejl for an eight years old, since there is always a crowd in front of buildings whenever weather is at least slightly nice. We could easily obliterate our trace on some side street where some Gypsy guys hang inbetween a fusty betting office and a dirty pub. But we weren’t lucky; Cejl was never as lousy as locals warn you and the amount of police cars on this area is no less than in front of Brno police headquarters. Just when we both realized that the officer is way behind us, we finally had a chance to take a breather, even though Shadow didn’t need that, trying to jump on me in joy of sprinting together. “Hey, kid, what now?” I asked, out of breath. “Co ted’ děláme?” He looked around like the boss of our operation and so he was. Fully aware of the little time he has to wait and think of English words to explain me the situation, “Honem,” he said and dragged me into a small grocery store, where two Vietnamese women were organizing the cereal shelf. Still in denial, I smiled at the women and said “Dobrý den,” while the kid was trying to tell me something. As the relatively older lady got furious and told me to take the dog out and Shadow jumped on her to relax the woman with her gentle tongue and not so gentle claws, we heard a police siren just in front of the store.
We had nowhere else to keep running away and enough was enough, I had to end this nonsense. I took the kid’s box out of his hands and opened it in a heat. “Why a box? Proč… box? What do you have here?” The kid wasn’t the boss anymore; he had no idea what to do, trying to somehow hide himself next to cosmetic products. I got rid of all the books in the box and found eight, maybe nine smart phones, all used and personalized. “You stole these?” I asked the kid, but he didn’t seemed like hearing me as the owners of the shop were yelling and dropping rice packages while trying to get rid of Shadow. Just when I took one of the phones, a quite large Samsung Galaxy in my hand, a big police officer came into the store. He noticed the black substance I hold in my hand as I was trying to show it to the officer to explain the situation. Inbetween bewildered looks of Vietnamese women, he panicked and immediately drew his gun, a Glock 22, and pulled the trigger.
I had been on holiday with my parents in the south when the 1999 earthquake hit Marmara and brought down my childhood house in ruins. I had been beaten by police and  detained during protests against the government in 2013 over the demolition of the last little park left in central Istanbul and spent a night in jail. I had been forced to join the military and lost a piece of my ear there, because of a misfire by an army friend. And now, after all, I got seriously shot in one of the safest cities of the continent, no matter where you draw the borders of Europe on the map. Even so that, as you are reading this, you find it hard to believe.
Well, you might as well be right. When I regained consiousness thanks to joyful licks of Shadow on the court, the Černá Pole kid’s dark tall mother was just standing over me. Apparently the kid had told her that I am a foreigner, perhaps had even called her over the park on his cellphone, as she straight away spoke to me in English with a sharp and clear accent, unsurprisingly asking me how I feel. “Jirka told me that you passed out after the leash hit your head. The iron part, I guess.” I looked around to pull myself together, apologizingly thanked her and stood up. “We were playing football. I guess he left school early,” I said. “I know. They called me to let me know that he was sick, but apparently it was a little white lie.” As she was smiling and caressing the kid’s hair, the box he picked up caught my eye. “Maybe it’s weird to ask this, but why does he carry the books in a box?” She blushed a bit, straightening the cover of the cardboard box. “A little fire in the kitchen made my husband panic and grab the schoolbag to put it down. He even melted the corner of his phone a bit, which was in the bag.” She pointed out the kid’s phone. “I see. So the box--” “Plastic bags aren’t strong enough for these ridiculously heavy books, so I had to give him this box until we buy a new bag.” Not expecting any answer, she caressed Shadow and hold her son’s hand. “Anyway, I hope you feel okay now. Thanks for playing with him,” she said, before leaving the park with the Černá Pole kid. “He certainly misses some action.”


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