by Tamsin Hopkins
The exam hall was dark and dusty as a barn and hotter than hell though it wasn’t even 9am. The clash candidates had to be delivered directly to their desk by a parent, where a member of staff was waiting to check them off against his list.
There were about a hundred of them and by this time in the exam process, we all could have done without the extra stress of keeping teenagers away from phones and the internet. Not easy. They had to be held in complete isolation from the outside world overnight and we had all signed endless undertakings vouching for the sanitary conditions we would maintain in our homes. In this way the school guaranteed to the outside world that the children would not come into contact with candidates who had already taken the paper they were about to sit. Nobody had any better ideas, so we all signed everything and were grateful we didn’t have to co-ordinate the mess ourselves.
Legend has it that a girl passed the phone to her brother one year, where his mortal enemy had been lying in wait on the other end to report the telephone contact, which he had recorded. Disciplinary action ensued, although who was banned from what was never quite clear.
Michael was completely frazzled. I knew he had peaked too soon at the mocks. Overconfident, he hadn’t done any work until the exams were right on him, and then he panicked. He stayed up too late, got up too early and couldn’t sleep properly in between. Well, we’ve all been there, I guess. He fell out with his girlfriend and didn’t have the energy to run off his frustration.
The clash day was right in the middle of the exams. After this we would be on the home straight, we just had to hold on for a bit longer and normality would return.
We were early. We always are. Michael is like me, can’t stand the stress of being late. On the way back to the car park, I nodded to a few of the mothers I know, escorting their sanitised children to the hall. Astonishingly, over by the pitches, I could see a group of mothers, all kissy-kissy and their sons standing around talking to each other. They tottered over to the hall building without making any attempt to separate the boys or to stop them talking. I couldn’t’ believe it. It makes a mockery of the idea that we can handle the security and show our children what integrity is. I’m amazed nobody saw them because they were making quite a racket.
I got to my car and turned the radio on, waiting for the news to come on while I sorted out my shopping list. I was feeling under the seat for a pen when I noticed a boy in the car on the opposite side of the car park. He was alone, and had his arm hanging out of the window. I recognised the type, but not the boy. I nearly choked on my coffee when I saw the hand. It came out of the bush in the planted border. It was just a hand on a skinny arm, but there was a piece of folded paper cupped inside it which was quickly passed into the dangling hand of the boy in the car.
I looked over my shoulder and around the car park. Where were the mothers? Attendants? There was nobody there. The boy in the car now reached over to the back seat and rummaged around, eventually returning to face the front with a large text book in his hands. He had a look at this for a few minute while I sat there stunned. I fished around in my bucket of a handbag looking for my phone, but I knew it wouldn’t take well at that distance. Anyway, it was just a boy in a car. He wasn’t talking to anyone.
‘Sorry sweetie, I was desperate.’
His mother returned and opened the car door for him to get out. He looked bigger when he was seated. Now he was only just taller than his mum. They walked in respectful silence towards the exam hall.