Ding! The clock strikes one. The artificially illuminated screen lights up. The only other light emanates from the Christmas tree lights, glowing quietly in the corner. Blinking off and on gently, knowing that no one is watching. A minute ago, it had to showcase its best self, preen its own leaves, just as the girl in front of it finds the best angle to flatter her face, the pout that makes her cheekbones look higher, the lighting that pronounces her perfectly arched eyebrows.
Now, though, that girl is done with the tree. She’s busy replying to all those comments that are actually meant for the tree. The notification shows a snap from a certain ‘Harambe’. The text makes her eyes shimmer with curiosity, just as the tinsel around the tree shimmered in the fading light. Was it one of those prank snaps from a very creative friend? Ten on ten for innovation, if that was the case. Delivered 20 s ago. Received now. A black screen. LOOK OUT. SPIRITS WILL SNAP YOU. The gorilla emoji. Now she was sure it was a derp snap.
Ignoring it, she goes back to scrolling through Instagram, incredibly aesthetic red and green pictures flashing before her at record speed. A double tap here, a quick heart or two there. Finally, she decides to leave behind the device that might just die without her constant attention. Blinking sleepily, she follows the rhythm of the tree lights till she sees them blink what she thought was one last time that night.
Ding! Another Snap. Even if she’s half-conscious, she can’t let that go unnoticed. The world might just stop turning if she does. So she gets again. One o’clock. She blinks and rubs her eyes, again. She must be sleepier than she thought she was. Last snap, she thinks. After that, she’ll send a good night snap to all, so they know why she didn’t reply, god forbid they might stop snapping her at all. It’s Harambe. Again. She sighs, wondering where this prankster was going with his plan. A purple square blinks up at her. This should be interesting.
Ghost of the Christmas Past, it says, in the bottom left corner, with the ghost and baby emoticon side by side. It was her, six Christmases ago. Sitting in the corner, right next to the Christmas tree. Her mother wrapping gifts, her father putting up the Christmas lights, her brother traipsing around the room, wrapped in tinsel. But she sits. Oblivious to everything around her. More interested in launching that little red bird to kill that grunting green pig. At least red and green were incorporated into her activity. But everything she tried so hard to capture in her Snaps today, came so naturally six years ago.
Now, her family is used to excluding her from these little naturally familiar scenes, because they know that she wants to show her friends that she’s baking Christmas cookies more than she actually wants to bake Christmas cookies. A picture or two of icing sugar, sprinkles or her in an apron will do just fine. She taps the screen. Three Christmases ago. The date sticker on the snap reads 24/12/2014. She was holed up in her room, besides that very same Christmas tree, staring fixedly at her computer screen.
Free tickets for the Taylor Swift concert on New Year’s Eve were going to drop any minute now. She had to get them. There was no question about it. It would look so cool on, you guessed it, her story. She taps the screen again, and immediately knows what happened. She didn’t get those tickets.
There were a hundred free tickets to give to the million that were trying. Were there even any odds that she might get them? The date sticker shows 24/12/2014. Again. This time, it’s the dining room.
Her family sits, Christmas music streaming softly in the background, a giant stuffed chicken at the middle of the table, and the inexplicable joy she can feel as though she might’ve been there to witness the scene she can now only wistfully look at. One more tap on the screen finds her staring at her recent chats. That was definitely, undoubtedly much more than a derp snap. A chat now. Harambe wanted to talk. Don’t let the internet community get to you, it read.
It got to me, and it feels good, but there is nothing in this virtual reality that can feel half as good as all that lost happiness and love. Sad emoji. Now she knows this can’t be right. She just has to sleep it off. Her mother kept warning her off all those harmful hallucinations that could happen from staring at a phone screen for too long. Maybe that was what this was. So, the tree lights lull her to sleep again.
Ding! Now, we all know the urgency of attending to a notification. So, she gets up. One o’clock. Again? It’s Harambe. This was getting a little freaky now. But she couldn’t leave that unopened. A purple square. Again. Her parents and her brother. 24/12/2017. 8:00. In what seems to be an old age home? Her eyebrows crinkled in confusion.
When she woke up on Christmas, around 10:30, in the recent years, they were always home and doing some monotonous preparation for Christmas lunch. She was oblivious to this caring, kind gesture they did for the community. And this time, she didn’t just which she was there to show her friends she visited an old age home.
She wished she was there to spread the joy of Christmas, the happiness of family to all those people who weren’t lucky enough to even be able to story it. Another chat now.
That child still haunts me, it reads. Selfishness, it calls itself. It thrives on likes and comments. Feeds off views. It grows, bigger and bigger every day. It permeates into your veins, controls your actions, cuts off your human compassion. Don’t let it grow. A deep sigh of reflection, in the dead of the night. A contemplative face, the cogs in her head whirring noiselessly, comprehending what to make of all these happenings. Again, she thinks, a night of sleep will help.
Ding! This time, she wakes up not because she can’t ignore a snap. She’s expecting another piece to the puzzle, another spirit she had been forewarned of. This time, it’s the urge to make sense of what Harambe is trying to say to her. It’s a picture, a red square. 24/12/21.
Her mother, father, and brother stand in front of the Christmas tree. Tap. Her mother, father, and brother sitting down to an even better-looking stuffed chicken. Tap. Her mother and father gazing on at her bother adoringly as he opens his Christmas gift. Tap. A girl, who looks very much like her, sitting alone in an apartment in a big city. Tap. Empty dorms, empty streets. Everyone’s gone home for holidays. Tap. The girl stares down at her phone, looking at a flawless Instagram profile, oozing class. Tap. She’s alone now.
On Christmas Day. Her parents didn’t think she’d want to come home for Christmas. Tap. A message from her mother, wishing her season’s greetings. Tap. Her mother hugging her brother Merry Christmas, pride shining in her eyes, like Bethlehem’s star guiding the three kings that fateful night. She closes her eyes for the fourth time that night, this time desperately hoping sleep will finally float her into oblivion.
Now, she knew. She knew that after all those filters she swiped through to find the perfect one, she was never going to find it by swiping. She was going to find it by feeling. By experiencing. Not by #no filter, but simply by no filter.
Ding! This time it wasn’t a notification. It was an alarm. 7:30 on Christmas day. She was headed to the old age home.