The local news in Istanbul referred to the incident as ‘Traffocalypse’. One foggy morning in October, at the crossroad near the Trump tower in Mecidieykoy, all the buses were suddenly abandoned by their drivers. Just like that – they got up and walked out, leaving behind their buses crammed with morning commuters.
It all started with one driver: after being stuck in the traffic jam for over fifteen minutes, he slammed the door open and - without giving an explanation to the perplexed passengers, without even a backwards glance - walked away. The bus occupants looked on, baffled, as he strode his way determinedly through the unmoving traffic, disappearing in the maze of vehicles.
“At first I thought he was leaving the bus to buy a simit from the vendor on the sidewalk, as he always does when we're stuck in the godless traffic jam”, commented Zeynep, one of the passengers, “so we were all shocked to see him leave like that, never to come back.”
Another passenger, Yigit claims that he suspected something was wrong even before the driver's dramatic behavior. “I saw him holding this really intense eye-contract with another bus driver. I thought it was odd, because usually in these situations they roll down the windows and chat, but this time they were just staring at each other weirdly, in a sort of meaningful way. I could see something passing between them. And then they just got out of the buses and walked away together.”
The two drivers were joined by others. One by one, they wordlessly abandoned their posts and joined the growing parade of the deserters. It was reported that even one taxi driver jumped out of his car and - yelling something unintelligibly - tried to join them. He, however, was stopped by the driver of 49Y, who punched him down to the ground.
The passengers' reactions were mixed: unsurprisingly, many were angry upon showing up late at work as the result of the incident. The outrage, in fact extended beyond the passengers. The most noteworthy example is Amer, who missed his flight because his taxi was stranded behind two abandoned buses, trapping his vehicle. Interestingly, in an astonishing twist of events, the plane he was supposed to take - crashed, killing all aboard. However, Amer is far from being relieved, as he now suffers from crippling anxiety. Unable to leave his house, he says he is awaiting a form of gruesome death, having cheated his inevitable demise by missing the flight “I've seen all the Final Destination movies”, he explains.
However the drivers' action did not elicit only negative reactions. A number of passengers applauded and cheered the drivers as they were leaving. “I mean, the bus was clearly never moving anyway, it made little difference for me whether the driver stayed or left”, said Mehmet, shrugging. “So when he left I was glad for him. Wherever he's gone, I hope he's happy”.
For another passenger – Ismet, the happening turned out to be profoundly life-changing: “Seeing the guy walk out like that, in the middle of the traffic was really moving. It made me reflect on my life and reconsider my own shitty job. And talk about dramatic exit! So inspiring.”
Shortly after Ismet quit his job by jumping out of his office window to land on a mattress-padded truck waiting outside, causing some of his co-workers to faint and the company to sue him for public misconduct. “Worth it”, was his only comment in the court.
The most baffling part of this story, however, is the unknown whereabouts of the drivers, whom all seem to have disappeared into thin air. Where all of them have fled remains a mystery. After walking away from the traffic, the last time the 12 of them were spotted was at the nearest train station. They seem to have vanished off the face of the earth after that.
“We have alerted the police in other cities,” said the police representative, “the drivers' families have all filed missing person reports. However, it is possible that they could have left the country altogether.”
To where? Why? The questions remain unanswered. The police have examined the possibility of the drivers link with terrorism. On the day of the incident, one of the driverless buses was hijacked by a terrorist group members who happened to be present at the scene. The bus is now rumored to be held hostage on the southern border. Initially, this gave rise to the possibility that the drivers could be complicit, but thorough background-checks quickly cleared them of suspicion. The bus company vouched that all the drivers were exemplary citizens and employees. “They were all great guys”, said Ahmet, the public relations representative of the company, “they always showed up at work on time, drove diligently. They never even asked for a raise, as far as we know never joined any protests. Sure, sometimes they complained about the traffic jams, but that can't be the reason for such a dramatic exit, can it? We're still looking into the matter.”
The drivers' family members confirmed that there had been nothing unusual about the men's behavior before the incident. “He loved his job”, said Elif, one of the driver's wife, “often talked about how you can never drive down the same road twice or something.”
Incidentally, in the last few days there have been reports of what seems to be a newly founded patriarchal settlement appearing in a rural seaside region in the west, on top of a cliffy mountain overlooking the sea. It is speculated that the settlement may consist of the deserter bus drivers that disappeared on the 19th of October.
The rumor, however, is unverifiable, since the place cannot be accessed by public transport and can only be reached by cliff- climbing mules through the narrow path to the top of the mountain. So far no journalists have yet expressed willingness to take on the task and the risk of contacting the unknown settlement. A group of cultural anthropologists are reported to be initiating an attempt to establish contact.
The settlement's economy seems to be relying on a small baked goods business – once every few days a couple of men descend the mountain to sell freshly baked simits to the local village located at the foot of the mountain. However, the men flat-out refuse to be photographed or to speak about themselves, which, in turn, fuels the growing discomfort among the locals.
“We're certainly very fond of their simits”, said Uras – a local villager, “they make them so good, you can tell they've huge experience. So they're not unwelcome here, but they're a weird bunch for sure – not talking much, riding around their mules. Sometimes they act completely savagely, like whenever they see a car or a vehicle in the village, they start hissing and flinging simits at them. Once I caught one of them sobbing as he was hugging his mule. He kept repeating that it could never replace his true love or his true calling - I'm not sure. Their speech is unintelligible, as usually they communicate through strange grunts and shrugs. Actually, we won't be seeing them for a while now, due to the heavy snowfall. The mountain path is jammed with snow, so those guys are stuck up there for who knows how long."
By Anna Rogava
Anna is an anthropologist from Tbilisi, Georgia and this is her debut in creative writing.