He dumped her via a terse, two-line email.
Which was surprising because for the two years they had been together he had fulfilled her requests for old-fashioned letters by writing them on unlined, creamy sheets until his hand cramped into a claw. He would email her throughout the day, obsessive bursts of news that shot from his laptop in Columbus all the way to hers in New Delhi, so she could know his movements like his shadow. “Stich my mornings to your evenings,” he once wrote and she savored the line, sweet like the segment of a perfect orange. He updated her about everything— when he stepped out of the apartment he shared with three roommates to go to class, when he stormed through a blizzard one January morning to buy groceries, when he sat down in his favorite café to grade papers for his Russian supervisor. He signed her up for “A Sonnet a Day” and the poems pinged on her screen like the beacon of a lighthouse, built just for her in dry, landlocked New Delhi. He barely earned enough from his TA salary to fund his own life, and yet just to hear her voice, he called, he called, he called.
She felt nourished by his words, not just the sonnets but even the Americanisms that were now part of his repertoire: have a good one, take it easy, catch you on the flip side. She loved his classical Sanskrit name and tossed it around her mouth like toffee. She imagined how it would be to say it the first time they met face to face, wishing once again their relationship had begun when he too had lived in the same city instead of their chance encounter in an online chatroom, its binary existence their own special geography.
But then came the end, and in his final email, he sounded contrite and confused yet there was that single confession. “We kissed,” he wrote about a classmate, and crumbled the words that had once held them together.
She tried to work her way out of the hurt. She deleted his 752 emails. She unsubscribed from the sonnets. She punned his classical name until it reduced to something as beastly as “sour rat.” She dated other men in the physical geography of New Delhi, meeting them near and far, hopeful the noisy chaos of the city would muffle their virtual romance. After all, they hadn’t kissed behind Qutub Minar, they hadn’t held hands inside Om Bookstore, they had never fought over ice cream at Nirula’s. Hell, they had never even met.
But it didn’t work. His online persona had been perfect, and she searched in vain for one gritty and tangible complaint to hold against him. One memory, she begged, just one.
Four years later, they were both in Seattle, pulled into this new city by different impulses. First they exchanged emails, then phone numbers, finally they decided to meet for dinner.
She dressed with care, a red blouse, black pants, a pair of garnet earrings. He picked her up, a bearded and pony-tailed man, older, more self-assured from the clean cut photographs he once used to be. He took her to his favorite Indian restaurant, then to a movie shot mostly in New Delhi. When the Red Fort appeared on screen, she swallowed back tears but glanced at him gratefully. In Seattle, where she had so far been homesick, she felt nourished again. In this city where the ocean lay within their grasp and the air stung with brine, they were finally two flesh and blood people instead of characters squinting at laptops, lost in their pixelated geography.
When he offered to drop her back to the hotel, she accepted readily. But he pulled over at a curb when they were still a few minutes away. He rolled down her window and jabbed at the rain-soaked air in front of her with his finger. “See that green sign? That’s your hotel. You can walk from here, can’t you? I don’t want to turn the car around.”
She nodded, thanked him for dinner and got out. She checked her watch. Half past midnight. She briskly picked up pace to cover the distance between the unfamiliar street and her hotel. She clutched her purse like a shield and heard her heart beat louder than the drunken shouts spilling out from the bars. She felt unsafe. She knew no better. No woman in her right mind walked by herself at this hour in New Delhi. Maybe he didn’t remember that about their former hometown. Maybe he didn’t care. But she knew she would sleep well tonight. She finally had the one memory she needed.
Sayantani Dasgupta teaches courses on South Asian literature and creative writing at the University of Idaho. Her essay titled “Oscillation” was the first runner-up for Phoebe’s 2014 Creative Nonfiction Contest judged by Cheryl Strayed and the essay “On Seeking Answers” received a 2010 Pushcart Prize Special Mention.