Author: Helen De Cruz

Happy thirty-first birthday, Krish!

I miss you.

I often dream you’re still alive. There’s been a mistake. We merely broke up. I scold you for being away so long.

“Sorry Sudha, I’ve been busy,” you say, “How’s our City project going?”

“Spectacularly well,” I reply.

In that brief moment between dream and waking, I am unsure whether you are alive or dead. I stretch out my arm, across your empty and cold side of the bed.


Now, I’m finally in our Gleaming City.

The boats rock softly as I walk down the quay and see golden domes shimmer in the distance, white and cobalt blue houses, interspersed with apricot trees, while seagulls gather around fishing sloops.

The people are young, old, of all genders and races, but invariably they look joyful. Being here is not just to play a game—it’s an expression of hope.

I was skeptical when you designed the agent-based model. In spite of many simulation runs, our agents waged no wars, suffered few pestilences, little global warming. So, I asked you, “What’s your secret? Don’t the agents have free will? Are they angels?”

You sat behind your desk, hands folded behind your head, your saxophone next to your laptop. “Nope. They are like us. It’s all down to the plumbing.”

“What plumbing?” I asked.

“Underlying all civilizations lies a vast intricate network of concepts— property, inheritance, who counts as a person. Think of it as plumbing: we don’t notice it’s there until it starts to go wrong. To improve society, you need to start with plumbing. Our leaders should be Philosopher-plumbers.”

The Gleaming City was our crucial test, a massive multiplayer online game set in a city by the sea.

I hadn’t tried the final product until today, your birthday.


I walk down to the harbor and hear ethereal sound of a faraway soprano sax: Coltrane’s My Favorite Things. Your favorite piece. Is that you, Krish? How many times must you die in my imagination? Enthralled like a child hearing the pied piper’s tune, I follow the tune, navigating narrow winding streets.

There you are, leaning against a wall. You stop playing. “Hi Sudha, it’s been a while. Did you come to bring me a birthday present?”

I want to yell at you.

I want to hug you.

I don’t know what to say.

You look at me, expectantly. “I’ve been playing for hours on end every day so you’d be able to find me. Seriously. I can’t get out of breath, but I sure can get bored. Let’s take a little walk in our creation.”

We stroll about, not holding hands as I feel shy and you probably too. We marvel at our city, its gurgling fountains, its clever, goofy artworks, the gentle bustle of walkers and cyclists, the terraces where people sit and talk earnestly.

“The next step is to implement our model in the real world. This is only a proof of concept,” you say.

“I’m just a simple software engineer, I can’t just go about and tell people how to organize cities!” I object.

“It’s up to you now, Sudha. Remember, I’m dead. You will need to make our City a reality. The world is burning. The world needs this City.”

I say I can’t do it.

You say I must try.

I promise to try, my final promise to you, even if hope of success is remote.
I take off my VR headset and shake my head.

My dreaming that you’re alive is already a stretch. Then, to dream that I can change the world?