The Other Side of the Moon

Utopia













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I was in "Utopia" now - however, I was disenchanted, heart-broken and frightened as I stood at a street corner that November evening. It was snowing lightly and the gully next to me was dark. I wore a jacket and a woolen scarf and remained still with my hands crossed. It was a defensive position. I was apprehensive of my surroundings. I knew that they were chasing me.

For the last three months, bizarre things had been happening to me – unusual, spooky things. I knew that Paul was trying to drive me insane. He was attempting to scare me off, to force me to leave my premises and his town, so that no one would talk about his past actions. I would be forgotten and he would be forgiven with no questions asked. The only problem with the scheme was that I totally refused to leave.

Ten months ago, Mike had given me a ring. I was perplexed as of exactly why he had suddenly called me with extreme urgency three years after we had last spoken. After I had picked up the phone, he had asked me anxiously what was wrong. What was wrong? Very funny - I had never discussed what was wrong with Mike, and I had absolutely no idea why he was so persistent about talking to me about the details of my agony.

First he had sent me an email, which I disregarded. Then he had sent another mail, which I deleted without reading. After my non-responsive attitude toward the mails, he called me, and then he continued to call me again and again until I surrendered and answered the phone.

"What is wrong, Alice?"

"Why, what is wrong regarding what, Mike?"

Mike sounded pushy. "Are you okay? Who was it? Can’t you see these people are trying to take advantage of you."

I was a little confused now. Mike and I were separated with a few hundred miles. I used to know him when I was an undergraduate. We had gone to a few dinners together with his girlfriend but never had any long conversation with him - never became too intimate. However, he sounded very generous now, and also very officious.

"Alice, you need to get out of here. Get out of university housing."

"What? Why on earth?"

"They will attack your house next. Get out of there. Get a private apartment."

I was more confused now. How a private apartment would offer me security rather than a university room, I did not know.

 

Mike had then offered to drive to me from his town and help me relocate to where he lived. It was not safe for me to stay in my university anymore, he had declared. He had also offered to help me look for a job, as he had deduced and decided for me that I should also be leaving academia.

 

I had listened to him patiently, before I disconnected the line.

I was quite grown up to take control over my very own life.

 

Five months after our phone conversation, I was lottaried out of my graduate housing, and as a consequence, I was indeed forced to rent a private studio. Mike's messages were not quite echoing in my head when I had gone to visit the room - I had thought that he was either paranoid or perhaps he was pulling a bad joke.

 

My studio consisted of one not too large room and a tiny kitchen next to it. It had a not too great wooden floor and a leaking tap in the kitchen. However, I was satisfied - the place was within walking distance of my office.

I spent the first two days buying curtains for my room and shelving all my books. Getting ensconced in my new niche required some serious reorganization. After a week of grueling wrestling with cupboards, shelves and my bed, I hoped to put my abode in the background of my mind, and then concentrate in my work.

 

Unfortunately enough, lady luck did not quite see me through favorable eyes.

It was a June morning, I remembered.

I was standing unclad in the middle of my room holding two pairs of jeans that I was choosing between when the door knob of my studio turned and a man walked in brazenly as if it was his right to visit me whenever he wanted - because - I guess - he had figured out that although I am paying some rent, his employer had actually bought the house, and the property was still under his employer's name. Yes, he was not even the landlord; he was the housing manager.

I was too shocked to scream. It was not the first time the old man had done something that would have required quite some nerve had I been him.

True, that morning I had called him frantically and asked him to leave me a message about why all my windows had been drilled down (Mind you, in order for my windows to have been drilled down, somebody would have to be in my room when I was not in unless I was drugged to a point where I had no knowledge of what was happening around me).

"What the *** are you doing inside my house?" I said in the end after I had covered myself. He pretended not to hear, pushed me and walked straight into my kitchen.

"Your kitchen isn't clean!" he demanded, pushing me again as I stood awestricken about what he was thinking he was doing.

Later next morning I discovered a piece of paper under my door where he had demanded that I kept my private kitchen in a neat and tidy manner. I had a slipped disc and I was stuck inside my room for the last couple of days. I had some unwashed plates in my sink but I had absolutely no clue why it would have been any of this man's business.

The next day, I found another note under my door. This one claimed that this person was going to bring his friend, apparently a health inspector, to come and inspect my kitchen. Never had I any clue when exactly I had offered my kitchen as a public restaurant that was open to his inspections.

I made a call to the Fair Housing Council, who in turn told me that they only gave advice in non written formats and that I should change my lock.

I was getting a headache now. I had a conference presentation a week from then. I certainly did not have time to deal with this amazing personality.

My first instinct would have been to change my lock and to ignore him. However, the more I thought about the situation, the more worried I became. This man had entered into my room at least five or six times without my knowledge. Now that he was threatening me that he would bring people in, I had no idea what he was planning to discover "by chance." Maybe a packet of weed that he had hidden the last time he had walked in straight into my room?

I decided to leave my door open and slept for a week in my office. My officemate was nice enough to offer me place in his room, but I decided not to burden him.

No, this was not the dodgy part of Bronx; this amazing apartment was two minutes away from my preppy University. I guess the housing manager in the vicinity of the university was also very much in need to prove his blue blooded medieval attitude to us the poor graduate students, and although to me, it had appeared that he had probably lost his proportions, the Borough Police did not think so. They refused to take any action when the same person had broken into my room tearing apart my burglar’s alarm, which I had installed to keep him away when I went to visit my sister. Yes, he had broken into my room and had left yet another amusing note about how he had not liked the state of my kitchen, and the police thought, oh this is so funny. So why did he have to become to frantic about getting into my room again? I am guessing, that's probably because in the duration of my one week leave, the state inspectors were supposed to visit, and my windows were
still drilled!

Yes, after I had seen the police, and they had only politely requested him to leave me a note before he entered my room, my well-wishing housing manager started to leave a note in front of my door every day saying that he would visit me the next day.

"What was he planning to do," I wondered? "Drive me crazy and start screaming that I was mad? What exactly was his gain in it?"

I inspected the room more carefully, and discovered the disfuntional door chain accompanying the lock to which this man had a nice shiny key. What if I was asleep at night and he came in and raped me? I was a single female student, and really neither the police nor the university administration was to the very least helpful.

I gave him one months' notice saying that my privacy had been breached for too many times and the room did not meet the standards of safety. He told me he would like to talk to me, but I did not want it at all! Really, I had better things to do with my life than to hold chats of infinite length with my officious housing manager. After I had paid him one whole months rent and moved out, he sent me screaming emails demanding that I had not left the room clean (although technically, I had paid that month's rent and the room was mine). Yes, he had come in again, although I had paid rent for that month. I sent him a polite email that I would be cleaning the room before my leaving date and will also give him the key then.

Three months later, just before another one of my conferences I received a mail from this man again. He demanded that I pay him the next month's rent, and that I pay for a lock he had to break because he wanted to be in my room when I was technically the tenant (yes, the bathroom lock was temporarily jammed when I was spending my nights in my office), and that he would like me to pay for some unexplainable fee. He had also demanded the he would not be paying one cent of my fifteen hundred dollar security deposit.

Why this man started his amazing jokes just before my conferences was a mystery to me. Probably this was what magic or coincidence was, and my knowledge in those fields was strictly limited to say the least.

Now I knew that they wanted to prove that I was mad. They needed to prove that I was crazy. That was the only means by which they could salvage their name and honor. We were reaching the last steps of a zero sum game. There would be only one winner here, and the other party would be a loser. And they wanted to prove me "unbalanced."

We stared at the other's eyes. We were now both standing calmly, facing each other by the wall. We each knew that the other had a gun in his pocket; only he did not show it. We stood there and gave each other huge and effusive smiles. A girl was passing by. We wanted to look friendly.

Paul had tried to take advantage of me. He had the idea that I was stupid.

Yes, I am an introverted person; I like to be on my own. I like to read books and watch movies rather than party around. I had always been like that. Paul never understood that. He thought that I was weak. He had deduced that I was uprooted to this foreign land from my hometown after years of struggle and pain. And now as an immigrant, I was lost. He thought that I had no way back, and delighted in his understanding that now that I worked for him, I must be at his mercy.

Paul did not know me well. I never have had any personal discussions with him regarding my past. He must have extrapolated the message and my history from his interactions with a biased set of data points. However, he was confident. His confidence level must have been at the 99.9th percentile of the null hypothesis. He must have been proud, arrogant and certain when he had sent the police to my home. He had threatened me before that he would report me as a criminal if I did not listen to him.

It was a sunny June afternoon when the police had come to my house. I had asked Paul to send me mail about what his concern might have been. He had asked me to remove my results; he had instructed me to rewrite them with his niece. I had told him to send me email. It was summer break and I was away.

Paul had never sent the email. Instead he had sent the cops. I was at home and I was having lunch with my parents. The police had told me at the door that they had been informed of my abduction by a group of terrorists. "I am fine; kindly leave." I had replied to the man in the uniform, who had only retorted dryly that they had instructions to have me report to Paul at once. How I was a criminal and an abducted all at once, I did not know. There was something wrong with the logic. However, I did not quite have time to think right now. I wanted the police off my premises before my parents saw them. They were visiting me for only a month. I wanted to leave them out of the matter.

"I will tomorrow morning." I told the policemen as I led them out of the door.

During my summer break at home, I received mail from Paul at last. This time he was threatening that he would report me as a terrorist. I had not seen Paul in his office before I left for home during the summer. I had reported the police story to the ombuds officer who, later, had turned out to be holding only a dummy position, and then I had bought my plane ticket to home. I needed to sleep for a while.

Paul's letter expressed his feelings that he would chase me to the farthest part of this world if he needed to; he would use all his influence to see me disintegrate. "Your papers would never be accepted in a journal where I have a friend who is an editor," he had vowed.

I had told Paul to cool down, said I had been extremely sorry and hasty, and he was indeed the boss. Paul was happy now. He told me to work hard for no money during the summer if I ever wanted to return to work. I surrendered and I said 'sure.' What else could I do? I thought I was stuck with a lunatic.

Later, one unhappy morning, Paul's little niece hopped over to me in the excessive bliss of coauthoring a major scientific paper and prattled in a continuous stream of words about how she had felt sorry about my background. I was very confused, and a bit dazed. "When on earth did I ever discuss my background with this little girl?" In a more loquacious manner, Paul's niece kept muttering - it was Lisa who had been so nice to inform her of my past.

Paul's niece was in the office under a quota. "Women have the right to shine in all scientific fields" she had voiced slogans. I was not too sure though why it was my problem to rewrite my data with her to provide her with opportunity to sparkle brightly in the sky. I had never sponged her, or deprived her of her rights. I myself was a woman, and unfortunately enough, was only interested in my work.

"I am a woman and you are a woman," Paul's niece had gone on. ‘However, I am here from such a privileged background,’ she continued in the most garrulous manner, "I am Paul's niece and you are not. So it is my duty to ensure you safety, and also to give you the opportunity to establish yourself here." I was looking at her agape. I was really a bit confused. For heaven's sake, it was MY results that she was taking. Who was she offering me safety against? Herself? Her friends?

 

"So you cannot publish your results in a journal, they are garbage!" Paul had said bombastically after he had instructed me to send my results to a journal where his friend was the main editor. "You have to redo them, you see, and my niece here will help you. I am always very benevolent."

 

I had provided Paul's talkative niece with all the results I had after I had sent my paper to a journal outside Paul's little domain. Paul never knew that. Paul had decided that I was an ant who was trapped in a 1-d circle, his world, and that I would keep walking and walking around and find that his world is infinite.

 

Paul called a press conference after receiving my results; there he declared his niece a female idol. She was to be the inspiration to all us deprived women who had never been given the opportunity to establish themselves in this male dominated world.

Paul’s niece, now blessed and happy as ever, concentrated in publishing her posters and her press release statements. It was her pity for all the women in the world that coerced her into spending her precious time in these campaigns. She was indeed doing us a favor.

They were going to bomb my town they said in their press release. It is only in Utopia that women can shine, as Paul’s niece was shining. They wanted to transmit the message to the rest of the world. The rest of the uncivilized world needed to be reminded by force that their women should get a chance too. Shunning them was simply inhuman.

I sat at the conference, calm and composed, listening to Paul's speach while a couple of thousand miles away a press in another country inserted my paper in a journal. Paul's niece walked victoriously, with her head held up high and her hands in a condescending postion. She walked next to me, and I smiled. "She has come to her senses at last; she has come to know her place," I read her mind in her look.

 

After I returned home, I stood under the pouring water in the shower for one whole hour. Then I turned on my music and lay down. As the lilting tune filled the room, I felt myself devoid of any emotions. Paul must have seen the journal by now; someone must have told him. He would shoot me or stone me or slay me. I didnt really care. I was not going to live in this world to cater to his niece's whims.