In the pubertal environment of the all boys English High School of Istanbul, hormones raged. I suppose they do in every assortment of such boys. We didn’t quite know where to direct our rather hazy emerging sexuality. We fantasized about the few female teachers that were around, especially a cute little art teacher with whom any of us would have been happy to have a virgin experience. We talked incessantly about what little we knew at time about sex. We speculated.
There was one other act we engaged in, which, in retrospect would have been unusual for pubescent boys. Explaining this requires a visual understanding of the layout of the school. Unlike most American schools which are spread over considerable grounds, the EHS of Istanbul was a four story building in a densely populated corner of the city, with a very small yard around it. In some corners, the school nearly abutted neighboring apartment houses, and in certain classrooms the windows looked directly upon those of what you might call neighbors.
One such neighbor was a thirty something housewife, who frequently appeared in her window, overlooking the back of one of our classrooms in Ortaokul (middle grade). The year was somewhere around 1969. Decades later I still recall her face. She was not particularly good looking. A rather short woman with an elongated face and big nose. When she stood at her window, and this she frequently did, all we saw was of her was her face, neck and shoulders. We watched her between classes when we awaited teachers to arrive.
In those days, any woman was equally attractive as an object of sexual fantasy. Considering the dearth of females in our school, this neighbor, segregated as she was from us, at some point became an object of our attention. We made up all sorts of “horny housewife” stories about her, and imagined unimaginable things. Oblivious to our depraved adolescent attentions, she kept appearing a her window regularly, and gradually drove us into a frenzy. Eventually, some of the bolder boys in our class took matters into their own hands and acted out their fantasies. They waited for her at a back window of the class, and when she appeared, initiated a body language communication with her.
Their message was clear: “you and I”, they seemed to say, gesticulating with their arms and face, all that was visible through the window. “You and I, let’s ….”, and they had various gestures for their suggestions. I was not one of those who propositioned our neighbor. I was too nerdy, and I suppose too chicken to do something like that. But this did not stop me from observing my more courageous classmates with much amusement and admiration. I remember this woman well. She stood there at her window, stone faced, and observed an array of obscene propositions day in and day out. Through it all she never responded, but rather looked at our oversexed mates with cold eyes and a stone face. After what seemed like eternity, but was in reality a minute or two, she turned back and disappeared into her apartment. Oh, if only those boys could beam themselves into that apartment right at that moment, like in those Star Trek series that made it into black and white Turkish TV sets some years later, dubbed in Turkish. They would give anything to continue what for them was an emerging mating ritual in its roughest and most vulgar.
Looking back at this phenomenon as a middle aged man I wonder why this woman appeared by her window so frequently for so many months and took this abuse from a bunch of kids who could have been her own children. At times I felt embarrassed for her, for what we were doing to her, and how she was taking it, silent and immobile. I couldn’t help but imagine my own mother; another Istanbul housewife alone in her house during school hours. What if her window overlooked an all boys school? What if she was the recipient of the same treatment? The thought made me shudder. Fortunately our windows opened to the vast Kurtulus Square, with a distant view of the Golden Horn and the old Aqueduct of Valens at Unkapani. Thus the possibility did not exist. But this woman, our neighbor, was probably somebody’s mother. I preferred not to think about this much, and concentrate on being amused by the whole thing. .
After a few months the situation came to a surprise conclusion. It involved one of the more authoritarian Turkish teachers in the school whose name was Mehmet Ali Bey. I do not recall his real last name. “Bey”, which means “mister” in Turkish was good enough. He was a middle aged, paunchy history teacher with a pencil thin moustache, a serious air, and bitingly mocking sense of humor which could get under the skin of any student. He was one of those teachers who exuded a sense of authority and discipline by his every demeanor. We all found him intimidating and worthy of obedience.
On a memorable break between classes, when we were expecting some other teacher, math or English, Mehmet Ali Bey abruptly walked into our class in a somber mood and sat down at the teacher’s desk. Looking down into his hands at his lap, with an unusually serious disposition, his mocking self absent that day, he explained, in so many words that our back-window neighbor had complained to the school about our sordid propositions, and our rude body language. He demanded that this immediately stop. He did not issue any threats. He had no idea which kids in our class were responsible for the offense. In retrospect I realize that he recognized what we did to that woman as a collective act of pre-pubertal sexual expression. He did not aim to punish. He aimed to shame.
We never again gesticulated or propositioned our back window neighbor. We hardly ever looked in that direction. Our free floating, unguided sexual drive found various other outlets and we forgot about this Istanbul housewife who had the misfortune to live next door to an all boys grade school. Looking back after all these years I am still amazed that an appearance by an authoritative teacher which lasted no more than 10 minutes, and in which he did not directly mention our act, nor did he threaten us in any way, was sufficient to end the behavior. Those were innocent times after all.