QUIET PLEASE: EXAMINATION IN PROGRESS by Jacob Armstrong

I have passed the point of no return. The ‘quiet please: examination in progress’ sign lies far behind me, along the corridor, standing there in bright red, laminated splendour, blue-tacked to a rickety flipchart and exuding fear. It seems designed to strike a new terror into the hearts of frenzied GCSE candidates: the lurid crimson a primeval warning of danger and menacing bold type a cruel reminder of fate.

 

Fifty minutes from now, hordes of teenagers will emerge from the murky depths of Biology Unit 2 desperately trying to comfort themselves by harassing their friends to give them the answer to 4b, cradling their wrists, which are now throbbing cases of repetitive strain injury, and unsure of which bus to catch home. There the sign will stand, its sheen diminished by the flickering strip light which hangs haphazardly above it, defunct.

 

I stand at the front of a long stream of anxious students, the majority of whom are gnawing down their fingernails at amazing speed, ignorant of the fact that a substantial intake of keratin will do little to boost their mark. It’s times like this that make me wish that the Romans had put ‘A’ at the end of the alphabet or that some cosmic force had sent a new kid with the surname ‘Aardvark’ into my Biology set, and I wouldn’t have to be the first to venture into the hall, with the steely gazes of several solemn invigilators fixed upon me as I edge towards my place. Or, perhaps a little more plausibly, if all the exam papers were recalled due to a misplaced apostrophe on question 7 ii), which had gone unnoticed by armies of incompetent proof-readers, on the orders of the Grammar Police.

 

It seems as if the universe is against me as I stare out into the alien environment of the sports hall, the tables and chairs scattered across its silent expanse like chunks of freezing rock on the surface on an ice-planet. I am half expecting a NASA probe to crash land in the centre of the hall, sending piles of pristine exam papers whirring through the air in slightly-charred shreds.

 

In space, nobody can hear you scream.

 

Hang on a second, what on earth am I thinking?

Stop remembering outer space clichés and focus on Biology, Jacob!

 

Yes.

Biology.

Ok.

Here goes.

 

Biconcave disc shape maximises surface area of the red blood cells …

 

I need the toilet.

 

I need the toilet!

 

Yeah, cheers bladder. You thought you’d turn the knife of incredible irritation on me, just in my moment of greatest vulnerability.

 

Brutus.

 

I sincerely doubt, my dear Mr Bladder, that my pituitary gland has produced vast amounts of anti-diuretic hormone, causing my kidneys to remove more water than usual from my blood to deal with overzealous water-drinking, resulting in this unbelievably annoying sensation at this precise moment in time.

 

Actually, that was quite good.

 

I still need a wee though.

 

It’s too late, we’re going inside.

 

Lush.

Cushtie.

Flipping heck.

 

What’s my candidate number again?