Last month, the Moin family planned to deal with Inaya’s addiction to past papers by taking them out of her sight, hoping that would take them out of her mind. Then Inaya discovers that her past papers have not only disappeared from the house but have been sold off by her brother’s friend who had been keeping them. Her siblings Leena and Jasir can only wait for Inaya’s reaction while their parents come up with a solution.
“I thought you told your friend to take care of them,” Leena said to Jasir, who was bent over the keyboard, staring at the computer.
“I did,” Jasir said, clicking rapidly to dismiss his friend Awais’s instant messages from the screen.
Leena glared at Jasir before saying, “Did you tell him what you meant? ‘Take care’ as in keep safe, or ‘take care’ as in dispose of them?”
Jasir paused mid-click and looked up at Leena, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Aren’t both of them essentially the same thing?”
Leena clapped a hand to her forehead. “Jasir!” she said.
While Leena and Jasir were busy talking, Inaya had wandered over to the living room sofa where she sat staring into the distance. Mama came into the room with her handbag over her arm, jangling the car keys in her hand. When she saw Inaya slumped down in her seat in a black mood, she said, “Come on, dear, I told you to get the address from Jasir so we can take you to look at those past paper collections one last time. You’re going to see them again in a bit. What’s the address?”
Inaya frowned and didn’t reply.
“Jasir!” Mama went over to the computer table. “Address?”
Jasir looked from Mama to Leena and back to Mama before quickly logging off on the computer in one swift motion and running off in the direction of his room. Mama turned to Leena. “What is wrong with that boy?” she asked.
“They’re gone.” Inaya’s voice was low; they could hardly hear her.
“What’s that?” Mama asked.
“I spent ages arranging them by subject, colour coding them, writing important points in the margins, matching them to answer keys.” Inaya sighed. “Now they’re going to be turned into paper cups for street food. My brilliantly themed sheets of past papers, destined for greatness, shall be reduced to the commonest duty for tree pulp. There will be no difference between my coordinated notes and some random rough paper, unless my past paper note sheets will prove to be better at absorbing oil from fried food.”
“Inaya, unless you start making sense sooner rather than later, you’re just wasting everyone’s time here,” Mama said, tapping the car keys with one finger.
Leena decided to step in. “Mama,” she said, “Awais sold Inaya’s past papers to the raddi wala (scrap dealer). We can’t get them back now, not even for one last look.”
Mama didn’t respond for a few moments, then she set her handbag and car keys down and sat down next to Inaya, putting one arm around her.
“I will find a way to make this up to you,” Mama said, giving Inaya’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “You focus on finalising your exam preparation right now. I’ll go talk to your Papa.”
Inaya remained sitting where she was even as Mama got up and left and Leena took her place. She looked at the mobile phone in Leena’s hand.
“What are those?” She pointed at the photo on the screen.
Leena smiled. “Just photos of class notes. We’ve been sharing them in our student group chat to help each other out.”
Inaya stared at Leena for half a minute without saying anything. “You have a student group chat in online college?”
Leena smiled even wider. “Just think about what you just said. Doesn’t it make even more sense for people studying online to have group chat?”
Inaya frowned. “I don’t have a class group chat anymore. My class graduated from O Levels and moved on and now that I’m repeating a year, I’m not in the group chat for the class taking O Levels exams this year.”
Leena tapped a finger on her mobile phone and looked thoughtful. “There wasn’t any group chat for tuition centre, right?”
“We weren’t allowed to make one for tuition centre class,” Inaya said.
“So, you were making your own notes and figuring it all out yourself without being connected to any classmates,” Leena said, being careful to avoid mentioning past papers even though she knew Inaya knew what she was referring to when she was talking about note-making.
“Yes,” Inaya said. “Now I don’t even have that.” She suddenly sat up straighter and clapped her hands to her mouth. “You have final exams coming up!”
Leena nodded. “In one week, I will be taking the exams that count for most of my grade this semester.”
“Let’s make sure we all keep it calm and quiet around here,” Inaya said. “It’s final exam season for all of us.”
The calm and quiet didn’t last long. Some time later, in the middle of a study session where Inaya and Leena sat in the same room, studying separately, the peace was broken by Jasir entering the room at full speed and full volume.
“No!” He shouted. “They can’t do this to me!”
Leena kept following the line in the textbook she was reading and didn’t look up. Inaya finished the sentence she was writing, capped her pen and tried to look interested. “What happened now?” she said.
“There’s no reason for you to look so undisturbed about it, as you will soon see,” Jasir said. “Do you know what Mama and Papa have done to you and me, Inaya?”
“If I knew, and it’s as terrible as you’re making it out to be, I wouldn’t be sitting here quietly,” Inaya said.
“They signed us up for practice camp!” Jasir was shaking. “Before my summer holidays even started, they signed us up to study.”
“Practice camp?” Inaya looked confused. “Mama already mentioned some crash course to me that I wasn’t interested in. I don’t need to go sit in a room crammed full of people to hear the course being reviewed in ten days.”
“There’s something else you can do in ten days that isn’t a crash course,” Jasir said. “It’s a camp where they test you on every subject so you can practice taking exams.”
“Then what on earth were my mock exams for?” Inaya looked even more confused.
“There was some refer one student, get one student half off deal at that academy,” Jasir went on. “Now you’re going to practice camp, so you keep your exam preparation fresh before you actually go to take your exams, and I! I haven’t even completed a full year of classes yet and they want me to take ninth board exams preparation classes already. I’m supposed to enjoy summer holidays now, not keep studying after the school term is over.”
Leena finally closed her textbook and looked closely at Jasir. “You’re disappointed at being the half off student, aren’t you?”
Jasir covered his face with his hands and collapsed onto Inaya’s bed, sending stationery and papers flying everywhere. “It’s not fair! I’m not worth half of Inaya.”
Inaya giggled. “You know they aren’t valuing you but it’s actually the academy that’s being paid less, right?”
“I cost even more than it takes to teach a regular student because I am double the trouble.” Jasir sat up and moved a textbook out of his way so he could stretch his legs. “I demand a fair price.”
“If academies and schools started charging Papa extra for the effort it takes to teach someone like you, Papa would become bankrupt,” Inaya said. “No offence,” she added.
“None taken,” Jasir said. “Speaking of value, I got the money from Awais that he got for selling your past papers. I thought it was only right to give it to you to spend because they belonged to you in the first place. Since I’m the one who thought of getting the money from him, I reserve the right to set the condition that it must be spent on food for the three of us.”
Inaya took a few moments to answer. “I can’t imagine that those past paper books would fetch enough to buy anything decent—after all, they were sold as scrap paper. How much money did you get?”
“Fifty rupees.” Jasir tried not to laugh.
Inaya stared blankly at him before shaking herself and replying, “Oh, well. It’s all right.”
“Let’s get some candy?” Leena asked.
“Candy is fine,” Inaya said. “No street food. Nothing wrapped in scrap paper. Please. It would kill me to get something back wrapped in my past papers.”
“I don’t think the cycle of scrap paper going from the scrap dealer to the street food vendors would be that fast or that widespread that there would be any chance of us getting food wrapped in our own sold-off note papers,” Leena said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jasir said. “Who looks at the paper the food is wrapped in? The food is what matters.”
“You have a point there,” Leena said. “Now, it’s your job to go get the candy, but let’s be fair. You can’t bring all toffees or all chewing gums because you know we all like different kinds. Let’s all put down the candies we want and then we can close the chapter on these past papers once and for all.”
When the candy was bought and divided, with a generous contribution to the family candy dish at the tea table, the three siblings sat around crunching and chewing companionably. The door opened and Papa appeared on the threshold. “I don’t want to interrupt this feast, but I just wanted to know which of you want to go with me on a drive.”
“Where are you driving to?” Jasir asked.
“We’re going to go see Inaya’s exam centre beforehand, where she’s going to take her exams soon,” Papa said.
What other highs and lows will the exam season bring? More importantly, when will this exam season finally end? We’ll find out next month in Hackschool Project.