THE EXAM EVE
Stressed out, but determined to get the last thirty-two paged of the Analytical chemistry, CHM 413 handout into his ailing brain, Tunde got up for the first time in the last four hours to make himself a cup of coffee. Not that he is a coffee person, but anything to stay up long enough to get through with this befuddling load of gibberish Dr. Mike has put together to make an embarrassment of the word ‘handout’.
Coffee-Milk-Sugar… Oh no! The drawer revealed an empty jar, one that was supposed to contain sugar, except that it didn’t; oblivious of Tunde’s predicament. ‘Now I have to go outside to buy sugar, can life get worse?’ he mumbles to himself, while the sugar jar just sat there in the drawer not making an attempt to apologize for its emptiness –after all, Tunde’s memory is to blame. He puts on the same T-shirt and shorts that has become his uniform all weekend, a symbol of dedication to CHM 413.
After locking his door and putting his room key in his pocket, it occurred to him that his three other pockets were empty, ‘my wallet’ he screeched as it dawned on his now chemistry riveted memory. He unlocked his more fashionable than secure door (not that it was fashionable in that sense though), now more careful to not rip it off its hinges and walked across to his reading table to pick up his wallet which he had placed carefully this on the corner next to his phone. In his genius, he had set the phone to the ‘Do-Not-Disturb mode’. He took both wallet and phone, then left, remembering to switch the lights off this time.
He hurriedly walked out of the deserted Governors’ Hall, meant for the final year students all of whom have broken champagne bottles to celebrate the end of their last exams, all but the chemistry students. Even the chemistry students are either in the library, classrooms or for the stingy ones; in the bush reading for tomorrow’s exam. Then Tunde out of curiosity plus a little push from the devil himself pressed the power button on his phone to check the time on his phone and it was 11:32pm.
Since the devil wasn’t really done with him that night, it came to him, the realization that since he was on his way to get sugar, he might as well just check the department’s group for updates on any special arrangements (a big mistake, but how would he have known). Exactly thirty-two seconds after pressing the data connection button on his phone screen (and turning of the Do-Not-Disturb feature) his phone had an epileptic seizure, one that dazed him. Since, just like humans an epileptic phone won’t respond to commands, he had to wait another two minutes before opening the notification area that revealed the nine hundred and eighty-six messages on his WhatsApp class group, ignoring the best wishes message from his little sister and the prayer message from his mother on the family WhatsApp group.
The first message, since the last one on Saturday from the class rep on Saturday announcing the change in the exam venue was from Helium –the not-so-befitting nickname for a thirty-two-year-old man whose biggest preparation for any exam was finding the ‘most strategic’ position in the exam hall (very few still remember his actual name, a few I’m privileged to not be a part of). The message read;
‘I got a steer about tomorrow’s paper, anyone interested should message me privately… No clowning’
Most of the remaining nine hundred and eighty-five messages were either asking him how he managed to get it, praising him for his smartness or apprising the members of the class on the need for secrecy regarding this matter. A few messages came asking for prepared answers for the questions in the ‘exhibit’ Helium had given. Tunde checked again, the time the first message came and it was 10:45pm, less than an hour ago, and then the devil whispered again.
Tunde ran (that’s quite a big deal for someone with a BMI of almost thirty-two, but it didn’t matter) to the store behind C-block got sugar of fifty Naira, not patient enough for the storekeeper to go get change for hundred Naira from his neighbor and offered to come collect it tomorrow. Another run across ‘Jungle block’, and he was back in his room. If you’re wondering why the halls are named as such, it means you care a little too much about irrelevances and you’d probably need therapy later in life.
Back in his room, Tunde sat down looking right at Helium’s contact and wondering how to start, especially since he has hardly ever spoken to Helium, but the adrenaline in his system won’t let that matter. After about eight minutes of typing, erasing, editing, and refining his message, he settled for;
‘Baba, na Tunde be this, I beg you fit roger me that stuff, E be like say me sef go need change levels o. I appreciate.’
After an excruciatingly eternal five minutes, Helium replied;
‘Nothing do you’
Then followed it with eight pictures, one for each page of the question paper as it was typed and clearly indicated for the 2018/2019 academic session, Date: Monday, 16th September 23, 2019 Start Time: 9 a.m. –Heck, it was actually tomorrow’s paper.
There was no going back, this is hope for Tunde to make an A in this agonizing four-units course, a chance for him to graduate with second class upper after all. So he made himself a cup of coffee and settled down to write down the answers –more like write his name in the history of CHM 413 exams. It was easy for him because he had read well and is familiar with more than eighty percent of the questions asked. He wrote down the answers, as it was in the handout, augmenting it with his jottings from both the lecture, textbooks and some internet sources. When he finished writing it was already 3 a.m., three cups of coffee and a head banging like a talking drum. This however didn’t stop him, he took another hour and half reading through and memorizing what he had written to finally sleep by 4:30 a.m.
By 7 a.m., Tunde had finished saying his morning prayers, he took his bath and then sat down to revise the previous night’s work of ne plus ultra, such that by 8:40 a.m. he was a professor of chemistry –only the part in the leaked question paper though. He was in the hall exactly five minutes to nine, bearing in mind that the invigilators are a little lackadaisical towards time and he got that right, the exam officer and the course lecturer Dr. Mike arrived the hall about quarter past nine. At the sight of them, everyone took their sits and kept quiet. As one would expect, Helium who had the largest crowd around him was the last to settle down, and the exam officer Dr. Albert spoke;
‘Good morning student, I’m sorry we’re late again, as we have a million times promise before, it won’t happen again. Special consideration to the fact that this is your last exam with us’. There was a roar in the class, which lasted a little longer than it should as quite a number of people took advantage to share one or two ideas on what to expect from the exam. When quiescence was finally achieved again, Dr. Mike started to share the answer booklet marked:
COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, ABUJA
FACULTY OF PHYSICAL SCIENCES
While everyone busied themselves with filling the cover page with their matric numbers and other requirements, Dr. Albert ensured that everyone has gotten one; ‘Who hasn’t gotten an answer booklet?’ his question was met with graveyard silence, so he proceeded to share the question papers which was safely secured in a carefully sealed brown envelop. Its concealment was brandished for all to see –pseudo-concealment going by everything that transpired last night- and we all nodded, both in affirmation or in mockery.
This time, Dr. Mike took half of the booklets to share amongst the students, him starting from the back of the hall and Dr. Albert from the front. Another eight minutes and they both finished, Dr. Mike first because of Dr. Albert’s extra simpatico not characteristic of our university lecturers. Tunde (and most likely every other student) looked at the question paper, confirming to their own pleasure the fruitfulness of their hard work.
Suddenly, with a degree of swiftness no one though was possible for someone of Dr. Mike’s body mass, he walked up to the brown envelop on the podium in which the question papers came and checked as if looking for something inside –and he was. He said in a loud voice;
‘EO sir, the envelop is empty o! Are you sure no one got two question papers?’
‘A hundred percent, or students, did anyone collect two question papers?’ Dr. Albert asked the class, and this time an even more dead silence was the response and then it dawned on him, and us all; that someone was wrong. He continued ‘Class rep, how many are you in the class?’ Our class rep who was now a little fretful, simply for knowing what was going on, managed to reply in a shrill voice ‘plus the carry-over student, we’re ninety-eight’
‘Exactly, because I printed ninety-nine papers; one for each student and a single extra, in line with the faculty’s new rule. Now it seems there is only ninety-eight, hence one is missing’. In the mist of all the farrago, Dr. Mike who is now sweating sat down on an empty seat, perhaps to avoid a fainting attack. Dr. Albert who seemed more equipped to handle matters like this continued his mini-investigation; ‘Okay everyone, please look at the serial number on your question paper, I’ll call the last three numbers and if it matches your question paper, please respond, is that clear?’ We all murmured in affirmation, skeptically though;
And he continued as such until he got to ‘077’. ‘0-7-7’ he shouted again much louder than he did before but there was no answer still and it became clearer what was happening. The hall went into another frenzy, and it took an extremely furious Dr. Mike to restore normalcy, allowing Dr. Albert to continue his roll call until the number 099. At this point, Dr. Albert went out to make a phone call leaving us at the mercy of an austere looking Dr. Mike, whose presence was more than enough to keep us quiet. After about fifteen eternal minutes, Dr. Albert returned to announce;
“Quite an unfortunate turnout of events, isn’t it? Well, don’t worry, we will get to the bottom of it, but for the meantime, this exam is obviously compromised; in other words, there has been a leak and as I have just concluded with the dean over the phone, it has been cancelled or rather rescheduled for Wednesday, 25th September, 2019. We’re sorry for the inconveniences, see you all on Wednesday”
With that he left. Everyone, including Tunde understood that Dr. Albert in his kind way was just being diplomatic by not accusing the members of the class for malpractice. As soon as he left, the entire class was tipped over the edge into tipsy-turviness, more than half of the class gathered around Helium and the others were blabbering angrily. Some others left the hall immediately, Tunde was among those, the only thing he’d allow access into his already battered mind was sleep or something remotely similar.
Tunde woke up around 2 p.m., he has had four hours of a sound and dreamless sleep and either due to habit or curiosity, he took his phone and in a swift move used the fingerprint unlock option. There it was on his notification area; one thousand, one hundred and thirty-two unread message, and three missed calls from his mother. He opened WhatsApp, held down the ‘THE REAGENTS OF 2019’ group until multiple options appeared and he muted the group for one year, with the notification box unchecked.
Next stop what his Photo gallery application, where the eight photos grouped under ‘yesterday’ were waiting –pieces of evidence- to be destroyed; just before deleting he opened one and there it was, paper 301972-077. It doesn’t matter anymore, the damage is done, so he deleted them, went further to the trash to delete them again, just in case; he can’t afford loose ends.
He called his mom to inform her that the exam was postponed, feigning ignorance as to why the ‘sadist of an examiner’ won’t let her son finish on time to come home to her, how she misses him. That was as much as the part of the day that had purpose, as Tunde has no friends, girlfriends or any occupation except the now cancelled exam. Oh! How dare he forget, his fifty-naira change.
The exam held on Wednesday as planned, Dr. Albert finally kept his career long promise of being on time and the exam was uneventful. It was relatively easier than the previously planned one if both were assessed on a level ground, but considering the circumstances surrounding the cancelled paper, there is not such place as a level ground.
At the end Tunde had a B, just him and the class rep attained that feat, every other member of the class had a C; everyone including Helium whose name actually turned out to be Aliyu Michael (a name that answers one question and raises another three). And yes, Tunde did graduate with a second class upper, but thanks to the angel in the form of the Environmental chemistry lecturer, who gave an A more generously than is considered normal for the average dark-skinned lecturer.
Oh! And if you’re wondering if the faculty ever unraveled what happened to question paper -077, they never did; even the students didn’t because Helium never volunteered the information to anyone, even his closest associates. Or maybe he did and they kept the secret so well –no one will ever know.