Sign Your Name
By James Tressler
Ahmet was a civil servant in a municipal office in Üsküdar. His job was very simple: signing documents. All day long, from Monday to Friday, he fixed his signature to reports, licenses, certificates, memorandums, etc.
Naturally, Ahmet hated his job, but as a 45-year-old married man with three kids, he did not have the luxury of quitting. Plus, he had only a few more years and he could retire with a coveted green passport, which he and his wife planned to use for travel abroad after the kids had grown up.
But this oasis remained far in the distance. His present consisted of a daily, soul-sucking grind of signing, signing, signing, page after page after page. Generally a reserved, peace-loving sort, Ahmet had developed a nervous, irritable temper owing to years on the job. His arm, his wrists, even his shoulders, grew tense, then numb by mid-day. Fortunately, his bosses were usually out of sight, so he could afford to go out for short walks in the neighborhood.
Still, every day there was a quota – documents that had to be signed – every page, front and back! – so Ahmet had to keep up a certain pace.
“I want to be mechanized!” Ahmet frequently moaned, quoting a favorite Nazim Hikmet poem. “Mechanized! Yes! Why couldn’t I have been born a robot?”
Then suddenly, one warm afternoon this past June, Ahmet was visited by the heavens with a simple, efficient idea: Why not enlist help? If his signature was all that was needed of him, if destiny had called upon him merely to bestow posterity with these dull scratchings, why not pass them on to someone else?
This idea came during one of his late morning walks. It was an election season, and the different parties had set up kiosks along the busy boulevard that goes down to the iskele. All of the kiosks were blaring music, and some of the volunteers were even dancing, competing against one another for the attentions of the passing citizenry.
“Have you registered yet?” a short, fat dancing fellow cried as Ahmet passed. It seemed to Ahmet that the man was inviting him to dance, the sort of circling Black Sea dance one often sees at weddings.
“Abi, don’t listen to him!” This from a woman in the next kiosk. “Come and join our party!”
Ahmet was not used to such attention – usually the only thing people wanted from him was his signature. He hesitated. Well, it amounts to the same thing, he considered. Whether it’s this political party or that political party – all they really want is your name on that piece of paper. Allah, Allah! What do I look like, a walking pen? A strolling signature?
He continued on, and was hit up by more volunteers from the other parties, who also were blaring loud music from their kiosks and calling upon passersby.
It was at this precise moment that the idea flashed into his head.
Pulling aside one of the volunteers, he asked how much they were paid for their work. Nothing? Well, they were volunteers, after all.
“How about this – ” he began.
The volunteer was a pale, thin retired woman from one of the more liberal parties. He presented a short summary of his work at the belediye, de-emphasizing the tedious nature of the work, how the work was really simple, he just needed some part-time help.
“So you’re saying you want me to help you sign documents,” the woman asked, her eyes narrowing, half-comprehending.
“But isn’t that forgery? Couldn’t I go to jail for that?”
“Goodness, no!” Ahmet assurred. “I mean, it’s only forgery if you sign my name without my permission! But in this case, it would be under my guidance, my direction, if you will. So there would be no problem at all!”
The woman considered the proposal, but shook her head finally. No, it didn’t seem right, she said. She didn’t want to get into trouble.
Disappointed, but nonetheless surcharged by his inspiration, Ahmet continued on down the avenue, until he found a couple of gençler, young boys no more than eighteen. They enthusiastically responded, and followed their new employer back to the office to discuss the terms in more detail.
The next few weeks passed blissfully – they flew by. For the first time since he could remember, Ahmet looked forward to going to work. It had taken no time at all to teach the boys his signature, and since they were students their pay was more than reasonable for Ahmet. If his wife at home noticed a drop in his earnings, Ahmet could easily blame it on that damn “inflasyon,” which was perfectly believable. After all, it was one of the key issues in the coming election.
“This goddamn inflation!” he could erupt at the dinner table, a display for his wife’s sake. “Nowadays you can hardly even step out the door without dropping fifty lira for this, fifty lira for that!”
His wife, a conservative woman from a traditional family, simply nodded solemnly, said “Tsk! Tsk!” reproachfully and quietly supported her husband.
It was really beautiful. Finally, he had shaken off his shackles. With the boys in the office busy signing away (they were free all summer, until the school year began – he would have to think of something else then, but -- ) Ahmet was free to relax. He went on YouTube and watched music videos, informed himself with interesting historical documentaries, checked his status updates on Facebook. For years, he had self-pityingly envied his coworkers, whose duties had allowed them such luxuries. Now, like a “proper” bureacrat (he felt), he sat on his ass all day long doing absolutely nothing and it felt so good.
“And why not?” he asked himself. “I think I have earned it!”
Ahmet’s love affair with idyllic idleness, his beautiful scheme, went on all summer long. In mid-August, he took a holiday with his wife and kids to his hometown of Muğla, and spent a week swimming and relaxing on the beach. For the first time, he did not count the days, dreading going back to the office.
The boys had the week off too, but had promised to get back to work upon his return.
However, when Ahmet reported back, freshly tanned and sportif, he was called into his superior’s office. Ahmet greeted the boss, Fatih Bey, with that enthusiasm one has after a good holiday.
“Otur,” Fatih Bey said shortly, indicating a chair. “Have a seat.”
“How can I help you?” Ahmet asked, sensing something in the air.
“Can you explain this?” Fatih Bey asked. He presented a document. Ahmet scanned it, his heart racing for the first time. It appeared to be some kind of petition. Reading it more closely, he froze. It was a petition by something called the Turkish Youth Socialist Movement. It was protesting plans for a development Project near Taksim.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Ahmet stammered. “I don’t know what this is about!”
“Look closely,” his boss said. “Your signature is on it.”
My God, it was! How had it ended up there?
“And this one,” Fatih Bey handed over another petition, with an air of embarrassed authority.
It was by some LGBT group, calling upon the government to pass new legislation to protect transgender citizens. And still another! A petition calling upon the legalization of marijuana, and yet another denouncing the government’s treatment of minorities!
“Allah, Allah!” Ahmet cried aloud. “How is this possible? This is forgery! This is criminal!”
His superior eyed him closely, seemed to wait for Ahmet to offer a reasonable explanation. As a public official, the signing of any such petitions – regardless of the cause – was highly inappropriate.
“I tell you, sir,” Ahmet gasped. Was he having a heart attack? He could scarcely breathe. “I really don’t know how my name ended up on these documents! It’s unbelievable! Please, believe me –“
“Your secretary informs me that some gençler have been in your office recently,” Fatih Bey said. “Can you tell me what they were doing there?”
Ahmet was trapped. Secretly, his intuition knew exactly where these signatures had come from. The goddamned kids! He should have known! After all, where had he recruited them from but political kiosks! Why hadn’t this possibility ever occurred to him, that they might misappropriate his signature for their own dubious ends?
Well, he couldn’t confess, could he? To admit that he had paid these kids to forge his signature on official documents? He would be dismissed, and he could wave good-bye to his pension, to the coveted green passport, to those retirement trips abroad he and his wife had dreamed about for so long …
There was only one thing to do.
“Fatih Hocam,” Ahmet blurted out. “I think it was those kids! It has to be them! They used me! They told me they were studying government at school, and wanted to learn about my job as part of a school project. That’s it!”
Fatih Bey had known his subordinate for many years, and knew him to be a generally reserved fellow. He certainly wasn’t “the political type.” So he was inclined to be sympathetic. Besides, who wants a scandal, especially with the elections right around the corner?
“So you’re saying that these boys misled you,” Fatih Bey concurred, raising a fingertip to his brow.
“That’s the only thing I can think of,” Ahmet replied, his eyes wide with false conviction.
“Hm.” Fatih Bey seemed to study the situation from its different angles. There were no good alternatives. Fortunately, his contacts had reassurred him that these petitions, these groups, were fairly minor. There hadn’t even been any news coverage, except perhaps on a few blogs. Perhaps it could all be gently pushed under the rug.
“I don’t want to hear of those boys around the offices anymore,” Fatih Bey announced. “This office, may I remind you, is solely for the business of serving the public. Are we clear?”
“Yes, hocam. Very clear. Thank you!” Ahmet all but kissed his boss’s hand.
“And before you leave, we just need you to sign this statement.”
“What is it?” Ahmet scanned it. It was a statement, bearing his name and “official” account of the affair.
“Just sign your name, and today’s date.”
Sign your name, Ahmet thought. Just sign it and it will all be over. The matter would not be pursued any further. He could go back to his office (after instructing his secretary, of course, not to let the boys in anymore), he could go back to doing his job.
Isn’t that what he did best?
“Yes, just sign your name,” his superior repeated.
James Tressler is the author of several short story collections, including “Strait Fiction: 10 Bosphorous Tales” and “Inside Voices.”