Last time we saw the Moin siblings busy with the typical activities of final exam season, such as visiting Inaya’s exam centre beforehand and arguing over rights to extra time on the family computer. Jasir, who has already been sorted into eighth grade class and hence exam-free, offers Leena his turn at the computer so that she can spend more time studying for her online college final exams. In exchange, he wants her to arrange to get him out of pre-Matric preparation classes at the academy and into group study with his friend Awais. Leena agrees.
The situation in the living room was tense. The cup of tea in front of Mama had cooled. Jasir was crumbling up his teatime biscuits without bothering to eat them. Finally, Mama spoke.
“Why do they keep these exams in the afternoon? Two exams in one day on top of that. Your Papa driving them there and back. It’s too much.”
Jasir started sprinkling his biscuit crumbs into his tea without answering.
“Leena with her exams, Inaya with her exams, it’s like nobody is at home these days.” Mama sighed.
“Is that my name now?” Jasir stopped playing with his food to look up at her. “Nobody?”
“Oh, you know what I mean.” Mama waved her hand in his direction as if to brush off his question.
Jasir raised his eyebrows but did not say anything. After a few more minutes of silence he moved to the computer, a wide smile breaking across his face.
“Yes, be happy that you get to use your sisters’ turns at the computer when they’re away taking exams.” Mama got up to take her cold tea into the kitchen to reheat.
“It’s a good thing to be happy about!” Jasir clicked at the game icon on his desktop impatiently, waiting for it to load. “Besides, when they’re done with exams, I will still be away at pre-Matric prep class, so they get it when I’m there, anyway.”
Mama let this pass without comment. When she returned to the living room, she saw Jasir’s teacup, which was filled with the biscuit crumbs combined with the leftover tea resulting in a big soggy mess. She ignored it, setting down her own teacup, continuing to look out the window towards the front gate.
“How many times are you going to reheat your tea without drinking it?” Jasir finally spoke up.
“That doesn’t matter,” Mama said. “You’re interrupting my prayers for your sisters’ exams. Don’t speak.”
Jasir looked at her curiously. “Do you pray for my exams, too?” he asked.
Mama flashed Jasir a look and gestured for him to leave the room. Jasir went to his room, keeping the door open so he could hear his sisters return.
Inaya stepped out of the exam centre and into the blinding light of the afternoon, shielding her eyes. She walked into a crowd of students standing around in groups talking their heads off. Looking around for someone she might know, she wandered over to the side and waited. The morning exam had been long and tiring, but after this lunch break she was due back for another exam in the afternoon. Although she wished she could just go home and sleep off the exhaustion from the all-nighter she had pulled revising names and dates for this exam, as soon as she found someone she knew from class, she went along to get something to eat.
“This place is too full,” her classmate said when they arrived at the nearest fast food place. “We’re never going to be able to get food in time to be back for the next one.”
“Let’s find somewhere else then,” Inaya said. She may not have been able to track down every important history date she needed to answer the exam questions, but she sure knew how to track down a fast food place. “There’s a pizza truck nearby, let’s go there.”
They stood munching slices of pizza and gulping down soft drinks until it was time to return to the exam centre. Walking along with a half-finished bottle of soft drink in hand, their small group got flashed the question, “Where did you get that?” by a passing student. Inaya pointed in the general direction of the pizza truck. “You better hurry up,” she said.
As they came closer to the exam centre, the number of students crowded closer and closer together until Inaya had to break away from her group and push forward toward the security check at the gate by herself. Passing through, she got horribly stuck in the memories of last year, taking her O Levels the first time, passing through the same process only to bring home four B’s, three C’s and a D. She snapped back to attention as she looked around to find her assigned seat. She closed her eyes and wished that this second time taking these exams would be her last. The exam paper came around and she took it in her hands, flicking straight past the instructions to the first page.
Her mind turned blank. She had to shake herself out of it and look past it to the next page, and then the next, and then the one after that. She found a question she could answer easily. She let out a long breath, realising that she had been holding it in suspense. Starting to write, she felt how stiffly she was holding herself, bent down over the page, scribbling the answer as fast as possible. No time to relax. She checked the clock - she was taking far too much time on this question. She kept flipping on and shooting off answers one after the other, whether they felt right or not, she wanted to get something down on the page. Sometimes she looked from one question to the other and felt that both were equally horrible. Then she looked at the other ones left to do and they looked even worse. The invigilator called out that there were fifteen minutes left. Inaya felt a stab of fear tear through her as she looked at the number of questions left. No, she wasn’t going to let this happen again, she couldn’t let it happen. Through a storm of tears and blind panic she wrote goodness knows what onto the pages and then let the paper slip out of her hands and into the invigilator’s. She was past caring at this point, but she hoped she had remembered to at least write her name on each answer booklet.
Leena stepped into the exam hall after going through a long line at security. It was a computer lab where the online students took their exams. Finding her seat, she stretched, said a short prayer and waited, thinking about nothing in particular yet everything at once. She could hear the other students settling into their seats. The invigilator gave instructions and then started the exam. Leena clicked her way through to the start of the exam. She closed her eyes for a few seconds to gather her thoughts, then opened them. As she read the questions, she started remembering which lecture was related to which class. She recalled researching and writing a paper about one of the topics. She decided to start with that one. As she typed out the answers and clicked through the multiple-choice questions, she started getting frustrated if one question took too long and ate up the time of the next question. She skipped several questions to leave for later in order to save time. The time she could afford to spend per question was limited and left her little room to breathe. Then she came to the most frustrating question of all for her. She could remember what the slide of the presentation looked like, she could remember what the table in the textbook looked like, she could even remember the colour of the highlighter she used for that topic in her notes - but she could not remember what the actual answer was! The clock ticking on the computer screen kept telling her how much time was left. Deciding to answer other questions first in the hope that her memory would work after going through other questions, in the end she had to write down her best guess and move on.
By the end of it, she felt like a wrung-out sponge. Making her way out of the exam centre and into the car where Papa and Inaya were waiting, Leena melted into the car seat.
“I don’t need to ask you how it went, right?” Papa asked. “You always do well.”
Leena managed to give a weak smile. “It’s over,” she said. She looked at Inaya, who was already half asleep from pure relief.
“My daughters!” Mama was brimming with enthusiasm and curiosity when they returned. “How was it? It was good? You’ll do well? It’s good, right?”
“Give them a minute,” Papa said. “They just came home.”
Leena and Inaya took this opportunity to escape to the bedroom, where they found Jasir casually waiting by the door.
“What?” Inaya was too tired to make a complete sentence.
“Too much studious stuff going on here,” was Jasir’s response. “Now you two can relax. That is, until the results come out.”
“I can say the same to you,” Leena said.
“What do you mean?” Jasir asked.
“You let me use your computer time during my finals as long as I got you out of going to the academy in summer holidays, right?” Leena said.
“What else do you think I’ve been waiting here for?” Jasir looked at her expectantly.
“Well, you’re out of going to the academy,” Leena said.
Jasir looked at her with suspicion. “What about getting me into group study with Awais like I said? Mama and Papa aren’t going to let me go free during the summer.”
“Yes, you get group study with Awais.” Leena smiled.
“There’s something behind that smile. You’ve done something.” Jasir’s face fell.
Leena shook her head. “I haven’t done anything. Mama and Papa did. When I told them that you wanted to study at home with your friend, they arranged a home tutor for you.”
This exam season is finally over, but the Moin siblings are not done yet. Catch them in the next episode of Hackschool Project.