It was midway between his medical entrance, his nerves were wrecking up and his fingers were frozen. It was the worst exam of his life. He could feel a panic attack approaching consuming his soul as a whole. He closed his eyes, the air conditioner was too cold in that room. The time was running out and yet fifteen whole questions were pending on that paper.
He had studied hard but not hard enough to get him to crack that exam. He could feel his eyes had started to water and his hands were trembling holding that pen. There was nothing he could understand. He had to cheat, he had to cheat by any chance. He had to pass. What face will he show to his widow mother that her only son is a failure.
There were a few chits placed inside his socks, He could feel their touch on his toes.. His shoes were worn out dust covered navy blue with a dash of red on the tip. He had decided to buy new ones if he cracked the exam with flying colours but at that moment he did not care about the shoes, the only thing he cared about was passing.
It was not the first time he was cheating. He had cheated before but that was in second grade when he had taken out his book from his bag and checked the spelling of an animal. He doesn't remember it now. But he never cheated after that time. He never had to and also he was too afraid.
He could smell the coffee in the invigilator’s hand. Maybe the smell would have energized him. But everything had failed. He knew he had written the answer of a similar kind of question on the chit. He was scared. If by any chance he was caught he was going to be disqualified from giving the exam for the next two years. It was a strange rule for him. But he had to. He had to take the risk.
Hesitantly with his half trembling and exhausted right hand he reached out to his ankle pretending to itch that area. It should be somewhere here!
And then he felt the touch of the crippled paper in his hands.
Then making a nonchalant face he grabbed the piece of the paper and clenched his fists tightly. It was easy. His heart was pounding, beating faster than ever. He took a long breath.
You can do it.
He looked at that small white paper in his hands. This should have something in it. He held the blue ball pen again in his hand and pretended to circle the given small slots of the answer and with his left hand hidden in the under desk he tried to open the folds of the paper.
One fold, two fold, and there he was going to open the third fold. Even one mark could fetch him a lot. As he tried to move his thumb something struck him. He felt suddenly someone had shot him in the chest. No he had not been seen by that busy invigilator sipping the coffee, he was struck by his own heart. Only ten minutes were left. He had to think fast. But he just could not open that fold. Something in him stirred.
No it was not the goodness to be honest, if it had been it would have kindled long back but it was a realisation. He was doing something which had years back hurt his own family, hurt his soul. He could not do anything. He wanted to cheat badly but he did not want to be the same reason that person was for him.
Seven minutes left.
He thought hard about that day.
Waiting in that stinking hall beside his crying mother, his teenage mind could process well what the situation was. That was the worst day of his life. He had seen people running away here and there, but the time had stopped for him. His life had turned upside down within a second. How he had wished nothing like that ever happened.
As he was waiting sitting on that chair, his heart frequently missing beats, his hand sweaty. Wearing his school uniform with the bag on his shoulders he was waiting a wait no one wanted to experience.
He could not think any further. He closed his eyes.
Five minutes left. He could hear students getting up and submitting his papers. His muscles had gotten stiff. He took that paper and stuffed it right under his socks again and marked whatever calculation he did and whatever he could guess.
He was not afraid about getting caught or failing but he was afraid about being someone worse than anyone. As he submitted his answer sheet his muscles relaxed. His hands had been stained with the ink and his mouth felt dry. He was certainly not happy but he was content.
He got out of the exam hall and sat on one of the benches.
The day again floated across his mind. That day how he was patiently waiting. Looking at the fear in his mother’s eyes how the anxiety had also gripped him. How he had prayed hard in his mind. But nothing saved. That man came, his eyes determined.
“Sorry he is no more.”
He had cried his heart out that day. He had pushed away all those sexist stereotypical remarks of boys don't cry and vent out his heart on his pillow, how he had had felt lost and blank only to get up one morning to realise that that man wearing the white coat was fraud, he was a cheat, he was not even a doctor.
His father could have saved. As he read the news he had thrown the newspaper away in the bin. There was no way he was going to show that to his mother
He stirred himself back into reality.
He did not say that the doctor had cheated in his entrance but he was sure he was also overcome by the fear of failing and that fear of failing had caused him to fail someone’s life, someone’s family. He again took a long breath. He was content, he was positive he had done the right thing.
At least he had respected the feelings of his mother and his deceased father.
Shortcuts are easy but to pay for them you have to go a long way. His father had always told this. So he decided not be the person he did not want to be, his parents did not want to be. He wanted to be the person who says “ I am sorry or good news” when he actually tried his best, when he was true and if failing for one year meant that; he was ready. He could face his mother and the shoes were still comfortable.