Tickets to the Land of Freedom
Sometimes I imagine how it would be to disappear from this planet, and I am not talking about a homicidal case; this is nothing to do with aliens or spaceships. I imagine myself to be just gone, simple like that: I will no longer exist in a millisecond. There would not be such a presence in the room able to recall my physical or spiritual identity. My role in society and my role in the family would be smoothly resewed, just like when I took out my wisdom tooth, the hole in my gum slowly healed. I was no longer feeling my missing tooth. I just forgot about the tooth as if it never existed in my mouth in the very first place. All my uncompleted tasks and duties would be homogeneously and imperceptibly distributed on the other millions of individuals' agendas and the traces I left behind would detach themselves from their three-dimensionality to take the shape of a unique train loaded with childhood memories and used matches which set off on a journey towards the black hole.
I plotted my case of mysterious disappearance while lying on my dormitory bed, playing with a red laser pen by pointing at the birds on the oak tree outside of my windows. It's summer outside. I kept the air conditioner on full power, eating mango flavored ice cream. At the same time, my head sank into a giant furry pillow. I couldn't imagine a more spoiled way of dealing with a dull school day.
The birds jumped independently from my red laser dot, perhaps disdainfully careless about my provocation for an interspecies game.
"Mrs Delphine has left!" My roommate Ned opened the dormitory door abruptly and said, breaking up my peaceful pastime, breathing heavily, he repeated: "Mrs-Delphine-has-left!"
My ice cream dropped on my white shirt, and distressed, I replied: "Mrs Delphine has what?" "Mrs Delph… Delphine… She is gone. She has… has left!" he said. "What do you mean she left?" I stood up from the bed and took a napkin to clean my shirt. "She didn't come to the class. She just disappeared!" He replied. "Have people tried to contact her at home? Or her husband?" I asked while I was rubbing the napkin against the yellow stain. "Yes! Her phone is off, and her husband said she left home this morning to come to school for the morning class." he continued: "We don't know where can she be, it's noon, and there is not a single trace of her, the entire class is worried! Also… why your room is so freaking cold? I am freezing in here…" Ned sneezed twice. "Did you just skip the class to catch a real cold in the room?" he wittily observed.
I told Ned to calm down and go back to the library to wait for the news. After all, an adult can't disappear like that. Mrs Delphine can take care of herself, and I will stop my summer-igloo-fantasy before she comes back. I gave him some pats on the shoulders. In return, he gave me an uncertain look and left. After I sent Ned away, I put a new shirt on, and I took my red laser pen, planning to be back to my little game with the birds. I went to open the windows to reset the temperature of the room. The heat hit my face unforgivingly. I was chewing my ice cream's wooden stick while pointing my laser pen straight at a bird's belly. "Look there!" I said, but the animal flew away.
"This is genius!" a voice said. I was taken aback and hid behind the curtains. "Who is there?!" I asked without putting my head out of the windows, but nobody answered. I carefully leaned on the windowsill and looked outside, but there was only the oak tree and the same birds. I looked left and right, and there was no one in the windows from the other dormitory. "I was just hit too hard by the heat and start to hear voices, perhaps," I thought, and once again, switched on my laser pen. "Yes, like this!" the voice is speaking again. I looked down, saw a woman with honey-blond hair, a low profile ponytail and a white coat. She was holding a notebook and a pencil, taking some high-speed notes.
"Mrs Delphine!?" I asked. "Mrs Delphine, I am so sorry I skipped the coding class today; I wasn't feeling very good, indeed… I am feeling kinda sick… "I was mumbling words when I suddenly realised everyone was looking for her because she was the one who had left. "Mrs Delphine…?" I saw she wasn't listening to me but just continued to take notes.
"Well… Mrs Delphine, if you are here, maybe I should let someone know that you didn't go missing? The class is very worried about…." "Shhhhsh!" Mrs Delphine put her index finger on her mouth and shushed me. I nodded my head and closed the invisible zip of my mouth. I silently watched her taking her notes for another 20 minutes on my windowsill, chewing the wood stick. What is Mrs Delphine doing in the backyard of the student's dormitory? Isn't she dying under the sun with that lab coat? Why didn't she go to the class this morning? I had so many questions rushing to my head while the birds jumped from branches to branches.
"I am done! Thank you so much for your help!" Mrs Delphine smiled at me from the bottom of the oak tree.
"You are welcome…! But I didn't do anything, Mrs Delphine!" I said.
"Oh, you helped me a lot! Listen, may I come up to have a glass of water? Is too hot in here!" Mrs Delphine talked to me while keeping her palm over her forehead to cover the sun from her eyes. Beads of sweat as big as rice left her neck in drops. "Of course, Mrs Delphine! My room is number 404!" I said, then I turned around and rushed to remove the signs of sloppiness from my room.
I opened the door to Mrs Delphine and offered her a Coke from Ned's fridge and a chair near my bed.
"A big eye", Mrs Delphine gulped down a large sip of Coke and continued, "I dreamt about a huge eye on the sky," she said. "A big eye… was that scary?" I asked her. "It was not just a big eye, and it was a huge eye hanging in the sky! No... no... more like a cloud…!" her eyes looked up as if she was trying to rebuild the image on the walls. I squeezed my eyes and couldn't see what she was seeing, so I nodded and decided to continue to listen. "It felt like it was constantly looking for something, you know? And I felt the need to hide myself from it as if we were playing the children's game, hide and seek. It was not scary, but I felt very exasperated. Whenever I hid, the eye would appear in front of my eyes as if it could read my mind unexplainably." She described the dream. "So you decided to hide from the class today…?" I asked, more confused. "No! Let me finish the story!" She said, and she pulled her chair closer to me. "It was not just that simple. I felt like this eye knew everything about me. That is why I couldn't trick the eye and find a safe place to hide because it knew where I was heading" Mrs Delphine took another sip of Coke and continued: "and then I realised that it's not about hiding from a physical place, but more about being trapped mentally."
I drew a breath and repeated: "Trapped mentally…."
"yes… I woke up this morning and had the urge to rebuild this imaginary seeker. So I simulated hide and seek in real life, to see if I can find some clue about it." she finally explained why she had left.
"I see…! And why you were standing in the backyard of the student's dormitory Mrs Delphine? Is that the hiding spot you were looking for?" I asked her. "No, I was wandering alone, thinking about how to materialise the eye. I felt the sun was hitting too hard, and I stopped under the oak tree to cool off, and that's when I saw the red laser dot coming from your windows and understood how to find a perfect spot to hide!" she said.
I often couldn't understand the logical connections between the facts. Indeed, I always felt I was not smart enough when I went to Mrs Delphine's class, so I started skipping the courses. With my brain getting muddled, I bit my lips and asked: "Wait…the red laser dot? What does that have to do with the eye, the dream, and hide and seek…."
Mrs Delphine smiled at me and opened her notebook, "Look, I got the idea of how to build a robotic seeker! Hear me out."
"Demonstration of fair game in hide and seek", she started to read from the notes, "Hide and seek is a game where anticipating perturbations and imbalances to come up with probable outcomes is nearly impossible to identify. The outcomes from both sides, the hiders and seekers, are challenging to predict, and several perturbations are present in each game because the game plays on non-neutral landscapes." "So you think the machine learning could aid the process of prediction and analysis?" I asked. "Yes, and I see you are not completely absent from my classes." Mrs Delphine observed. I pursed my lips into an embarrassed smile and crossed my fingers in a fist. "Anyways, to do so..." Mrs Delphine's attention went back to the notes, "...we need to take the qualities of the information-dependent game of hide and seek and alter those into databases for the machine learning.
For the seekers, the prediction comes from knowing what places look like and where the hiders are most likely to hide. When I saw your red laser dot, I immediately imagined a robotic seeker who uses a red laser dot to point out the calculated hiding spot!" She laughed. I finally understood the role of my laser pen in all this. At that moment, I was more intrigued by the solution to finding the perfect hiding spot. "To play a fair game, the hiders also need to go through the same process?" I asked. "In this case, a fair game for the hiders would be a meta-game: once the seeker can point out where the hider could hide through the database analysis process, the hider could just simply stand behind the seeker and avoid the red dot." Mrs Delphine explained.
"Oh…" I exclaimed. "How do you collect the database to teach the machine about different types of places? A place could be literally anything!" I asked. The smile on Mrs Delphine's face went away; she frowned and said: "You are right, the amount of work to do is immeasurable because a place could be anything. It could be a classroom, a garden, somewhere between the mountains, a computer's desk, inside of a phone system, a hamburger, a two-dimensional drawing, or just in the air." Mrs Delphine said, and she looked very concerned. "Well… Mrs Delphine, would you still start this almost impossible mission of database collecting?" I was interrogating my professor. "Yes, I would." She said. I suddenly noticed an extra hint of fatigue in the corners of her eyes. I somehow felt Mrs Delphine was going to work incessantly on how to hide from a game and avoid being found in her real life.
She closed her notebook, stood up from the chair and picked up her lab coat. She politely reminded me to come to the classes, do my homework, and walk out of my door. I watched Mrs Delphine slowly moving to the exit of the student's dormitory; her steps seemed to be light and heavy at the same time. Finally, she faded away from the door at the end of the corridor.
I was lying on my bed playing with a laser pen again, wondering if the birds perceived the red dot or were utterly oblivious to being watched. Would they escape from my red laser dot if they knew I was watching them?
I realised that time had passed when the warmest part of the noon chilled down. The daylights from the windows intensified its colour from bright yellow light to an apricot beam spilling on the bed.
When Ned was back from the classes, he immediately accused me of the unsanctioned consumption of his Coke. "I offered it to Mrs Delphine," I responded without turning my head from the windows. "Oh my God, where is she now?" he asked.
"Mrs Delphine has left." I said.