Clutching the registration slip venerably in my right hand, I walked into the hall. The venue itself was our school’s refectory hall. A few hours earlier, I sat here among other students taking a breakfast of moi moi and pap. Now in a few minutes, I was going to have before me another kind of breakfast. I wasn’t sure I had prepared well for this exam. My WAEC exam was still ongoing and I had little time to prepare for it specifically. As I waited for the answer booklets to be distributed, I read the instructions contained on the registration slip. “Mobile phones and/or similar electronic devices are not allowed into the exam hall.” A moment earlier while we were being screened into the hall, the invigilators warned us to keep away our calculators. I wasn’t sure what similarity existed between a mobile phone and a calculator, but I obeyed. It was just the way things were done and I didn’t want anyone to think this miserable jambite was trying to teach them their job. The year was 2008 and I was an SS3 student of Federal Science College, Ogoja.
I had no difficulty with English, being my best subject. There was a register on xenophobia and I had heard the name the first time while reporting on the xenophobic attacks that occurred in South Africa around that time as the Press Club President. I bent down and shaded my answers on the booklet, feverishly tracing the options on each line with my left index finger. The formula for solving this Physics question vanished from my memory and I was desperate. The longer I tried to remember it, the more agitated I became. Realizing how much time was wasting, I simply multiplied the figures and the result corresponded with an option on the question. Putting it down quickly, I thought I had played the JAMB a trick, but I realized after the exam that whatever you did – multiplication, addition or division – there was a corresponding option, and the one I had chosen was in fact, the wrong answer. Soon I was thinking hard on another question. I had come to it particularly because it sounded familiar. Now however, I wasn’t sure how to start. I seemed to have developed an acute brain fever that disorganized my memory. As I thought, my eyes stared at the stage where the cooks were arranging pots. I envied their peace of mind and almost wished I hadn’t come to school at all. I wanted to read Medicine. And I desperately wanted to go to the university. I didn’t want my classmates to go to the university and leave me behind. Being 17, I nursed the ambition of becoming a doctor at 24 and getting married before 30. All these depended on this exam moment. I thought so. May be I should’ve read all through the night like some of my classmates had done. They derived satisfaction intimidating others with how many hours they read. There was one who always had an open book in front of him all through the night. We soon found out that he just had a spectacular ability to sleep in the reading posture with his eyes somewhat open. His was a phariseeic kind of commitment.
“Get ready to stop,” the invigilator announced and I realized with frustration that I shouldn’t have roamed so wide in my thoughts. “Now what’s the formula for calculating the resultant forces in a pulley system?” I asked myself again. The lady sitting at the table in front of me became restless. I couldn’t remember seeing her put down anything in her answer booklet. Perhaps she was only an international examination observer. None of my business. Wasn’t her fault. I myself had nearly signaled the invigilator to confirm if the question paper given to me was really mine after reading the first five questions and finding none to answer. I didn’t hear the sound. I only perceived it and it smelt like mine. Something had obviously escaped my anus, but I didn’t care whether my bench-mate perceived it too. It wasn’t important, and who would not understand it wasn’t my fault?
“You may stop,” the invigilator announced and the hall at once became alive with activity. It was a polite way of saying “you must stop” because the candidate actually had no alternative. Suddenly, I remembered the answer to one of the questions I had left, but the invigilator had just snatched a booklet from someone two places from me. It was too late.
I was surprised when I had 252 in the results and even though I had to take the exam two more times before getting admission into the university, in the mean time, I had conquered the challenge.