The Cheat

***Mohamed Kimathi***

Are there students who don’t mind exams? If there are, I am yet to meet one. Could it be that admitting to liking exams is like confessing to a bad, shameful habit? I don’t know. A picture comes to mind of a student admitting to liking exams, then cringing in embarrassment, like one caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

Students generally put off reading for exams. Sometimes this putting off is done till the very night before the exam, and the student, grasping at straws, will attempt to pull an all-nighter. The student will very probably be sitting by his desk, his notes open, his eyes moving down the page, but his mind will be registering nothing. He is fully awake yet fully asleep: he can hear and see and smell and use all his senses; but his mental faculties are blunted by exhaustion and dread. At around one o’clock, in the middle of the night, the student will throw in the towel and tell himself, reassuringly, that he will wake up very early and read some more, and that all is well. To be sure, he sets his alarm to wake him up at four, his paper starting at eight in the morning. Not knowing how he closed his books, or how he took himself to bed, or how he pulled his blankets over him, indeed, how he fell asleep, he will wake up at six in the morning. Rather, he will be jolted awake, breathless and sweating from some crazy dream about not being able to answer not even a single question. It will be too late to continue reading. He will probably call his classmates, find out how they are getting on, and will they maybe let him sit with them during the paper? Of course they are not prepared too, but he will refuse to accept that, believing their behavior to be like that of rats deserting a sinking ship.

So our student will do what needs to be done. He will rip a paper from his notebook and get to work writing what the lecturer promised to test. A minute later, he will realize that the lecturer promised to test practically everything. He will not give up still. The race is to the swift, and only the fit shall survive. Careful to make his letters small, almost to the point of illegibility, he will persevere at his task, expertly picking only the most crucial points and leaving out the rest, like a person at a self-service queue, refusing to serve himself the plain soup at the beginning of the table, eyeing the roast chicken at the end. He will be too absorbed in his work to notice the time, and when he looks up, it will be fifteen to eight. He will tell himself it is no good to be too prepared, and getting his stuff together, he will bolt out of his room towards the exam room.

Arriving out of breath, he will carefully pick a good spot, conducive for his chicanery. Every student (at least every student who plans on cheating) has his or her spot. Some prefer the back of the room, others the front, and others the middle, where they are surrounded and protected by other students. Our student prefers to be under the window, where he can defenestrate his material, should anything go wrong. Sadly, he was caught last time, while at that position, and for him, lightning does strike the same place twice. He will consider sitting at the front, right under the invigilator’s nose, but he will realize immediately that that is taking a very bold risk, and he is not accustomed to living life on the edge. The middle? No, he might get too comfortable. Better theback where he will be able to see all about him.

Very well. The papers being handed out, and the invigilator having placed himself at the front of the class, the curtain rises. Our student will put together all his past knowledge: probability, vectors, laws of motion, criminal science and astronomy, so as to determine whether to get his material out of its nook and “sneak a peek,” or play it safe and wait a little more. Alas, today is not his day. The invigilator is all attention, his eyes darting all about the room, like a mother-hen protecting her chicks. No matter, he (the student) did not go to all this trouble for nothing, and come low tide or high water, he must use his material. He throws the invigilator one long look, as of a cat sizing up a coiled snake, till the invigilator shies off and looks away. He takes advantage of the moment and expertly gets his material out of his pocket, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. All the while he has been keeping his eyes on the invigilator but he has to take them away now, and attempt to read his illegal material. He wrote it too small, however, and he has to focus on it, if he is to tell the letters apart. All his attention therefore shifts to the paper. The next thing he knows is the invigilator, who apparently defied the laws of motion and probability, is right next to him, all smiles, as if he had finally apprehended a master cheat. The curtain falls.

Our student is promised that he will not get away with his evil actions, but he is let to finish the paper, of course after his illegal paper is confiscated. It would be better if he were chased out of the room, for if he could answer a few questions before, he can answer none now. Woe is him! He leaves the exam room exasperated, the veins showing on his forehead, and his eyes red, as if he were, by your leave, stoned off his ass.

While waiting for the results of the exam, his hair turns white and a few lines form on his face. He even walks with a slight stoop, as if he has the entire weight of the world on his shoulders. He is on edge the whole time, and the slightest sounds make him start. When the results finally come out, he is torn between rushing to the noticeboard and know his fate already, or taking his time, because he feels he already knows what is in store for him. Bah! To hell. He half runs, half walks to the noticeboard, and on getting there, finds out he has pased. He feels like a rogue sinner, who, on judgement day, finds out he is going to heaven after all. Our student will now promise to mend his ways; he will never steal again or do anyone wrong. Yet he will be unprepared for his next exam, and the cycle will repeat itself all over again.


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