'Please don’t tell my parents I did that,' said Catherine as they walked to baggage claim. 'It took so long to get them to let me pick you up myself. I had to promise to rake leaves.'

Sejal smiled, pleased to be worth bargaining for.

'I did not know you at first either,' she said, looking down at the photo in her hands. 'You look different than your picture.'

'Oh Jesus. Don’t look at that.' She snatched it from Sejal and ripped it in half. 'I thought I’d gotten all of these.'

Catherine threw the pieces of family to the floor, then stopped.

'Sorry,' she said.

She took two steps back, picked up the pieces, and presented them to Sejal.

'Sorry, that was yours.'

Sejal took the two halves and reconnected them in her hand.

'It is fine.'

'No, I’m acting stupid. You’re going to think I’m stupid.'

'I am not. I think you are…interesting. I think you have interesting clothes.'

Way to go, thought Sejal. Well said. She’s going to think I’m insulting her. But Sejal did find her clothes interesting. They looked like she felt. She thought with some embarrassment about the skirt and sweater outfit she was wearing now, as though she’d meant to audition for a spot in the Brown family portrait.

Catherine watched her face as they mounted the escalator. Sejal tried to look as earnest as possible, and after a moment Catherine smiled.

'Well, I like your…sweater,' she said. 'Really yellow.'

They held each other’s gaze for another moment, then laughed.

'Thank you, Catherine.'

'Ooh. Call me Cat. My parents won’t, but…I was hoping you would.'

'Of course.'

They found the baggage carousel that corresponded with Sejal’s flight and staked their claim to a small gap between other passengers. For reasons she didn’t entirely understand, Sejal did not look forward to seeing her luggage. She had already claimed and rechecked it twice, the last time being in New York’s JFK airport only a few hours ago, and each time she had seen her big pink bag it had seemed less like a thing that belonged to her, more like something that should have stayed in Kolkata with the mess she’d left behind. She considered grabbing another bag, one of the nondescript black ones that just now thumped onto the conveyor, and taking her chances with someone else’s affairs.

'India seems so cool,' said Cat.


'Sure. I guess, right? At least it’s not here. I don’t know why you wanted to come here.'

Sejal had not often thought of her home, or of India as a whole, as cool. She was dimly aware, however, of a white Westerner habit of wearing other cultures like T-shirts — the sticker bindis on club kids, sindoor in the hair of an unmarried pop star, Hindi characters inked carelessly on tight tank tops and pale flesh. She knew Americans liked to flash a little Indian or Japanese or African. They were always looking for a little pepper to put in their dish.

'India and I had a talk,' Sejal said finally, 'and we decided it would be best to see other people for a while.'

Cat stared for a moment, not laughing. Sejal had to smile to let her know that she could, too.

'You were joking,' said Cat.


'It didn’t sound like you were joking.'

'Perhaps it is my accent.'

This was the second time that day that Sejal had used what she’d considered to be a discreet and charming line about India and her needing some time apart, and in neither instance had it gone well. On the flight from JFK she’d been asked the same question by a University of Pennsylvania undergrad, and had given the same answer.

'What do you mean?' the coed had asked. 'Are you in trouble with your government or something?'

'No,' Sejal answered. 'I am sorry. I only mean that I had a…personal situation back home. It was a good time to try some studies abroad.'

'What was the problem?'

Sejal had pulled her arms closer to her sides and folded her hands.

'Nothing so terrible. Just a situation.'

'Yeah,' said the girl, 'but what was it?'

Sejal lowered her eyes to the seat pocket in front of her.

'C’mon,' the girl prodded, leaning close. 'You can tell me.'

Sejal sighed. 'I have the Google.'

'Oh. Oh,' said the girl, and she pulled back against her seat.

Sejal had been one of the first clinical cases. India was a bit of a hot spot, Kolkata in particular. So many software companies, so many new jobs making web protocol work better, faster. The old system had been pieced together by all kinds of different people in cubicles and basements all over the world, and it worked about as well as a steam-powered igloo. The last couple years had seen significant upgrades. There were suddenly so many sites and stats and blogs and vlogs that you could search your own name and find out what you had for breakfast that morning. You could download a widget that graphed your last five haircuts. Webcams were everywhere.

Some people couldn’t deal with all the new information. They couldn’t pull themselves away from their computers. But that had always been a problem. That was nothing new. The people who contracted a clinical case of the Google couldn’t pull themselves away from themselves. With everyone online, there was always somebody mentioning you in a blog post, and you were always in the background of someone’s video. The new search engines could show these things to you. They could show you to you. The internet knew what you looked like. The internet had your scent. And if these rumors and blurry visitations weren’t enough (and they weren’t), you could move out of your body and onto the web’s muddy crossroads for good, forever.

It was like a great democratic future where everyone had his own television show — the perfect realization of Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, one streaming minute at a time. Shows and shows about shows and shows showing people watching shows.

It got so she was on all the time. She had old friends and new friends and real friends and web friends with blogs and video blogs, and she checked them every day. Then it was a few times a day, just in case. Then she started a vlog of her own. Her parents were working long hours and had no idea how much time she was spending on it. They had no idea how much time she spent just watching her old posts, admiring the better things she’d said, obsessing over the little mistakes.

Gradually, it all became more real to Sejal than the real world. Gradually, online Sejal became actual Sejal.

She once saw a banner ad that read, 'If a tree falls in the internet and no one’s there to stream it, does it make a sound?' On some level Sejal understood that it was meant to be funny, but she didn’t sleep for three days.

Then one night, her mother came home from work and poked her head through the curtained door of Sejal’s room.

'Hello, princess,' she said.

Seconds passed before Sejal answered. Ten, twelve seconds. She sort of half turned to her mother and said 'Hey' before her head jerked back to the screen again.

'What are you looking at?' said Amma, entering the room. 'Sejal? What are—'

'Shh,' said Sejal.

Amma looked over her shoulder. It was Sejal’s own video blog, and it was live. Sejal stared back from the screen, and just now her mother’s mouth and chin entered the picture.

'You’re home from work,' Sejal said to the screen with a smile.

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