The whole hall was real quiet, even the sound of a fallen pin could be heard. Students were made to sit with a row of unoccupied seats between them. Of course, the invigilator made sure their ID cards and Exam Cards were checked to ensure they were students before allowing them in. This is the least to be expected, this is Zanana University and exam malpractice is the last thing it will tolerate.
Ali, just like the rest of the students, awaited the distribution of the question papers. He wasn’t nervous – not a bit, he looked around confidently, and spotted Musa his friend seated to his extreme left with two people in between, his hands were clasped and he was looking meditatively at the ceiling. Ali knew that he was reciting all that he had crammed. Musa is the scarcest commodity when exams come, one could conveniently conclude that he lives in the library during those times and only visits his room for food and other such necessities.
The walls around the capital of Old Oyo Empire was as much as forty kilometers round and seven meters high, at the beginning of the nineteen century… a part of Ali’s brain started reciting. He shut it up immediately. Easy man, just a few more minutes and you’ll have all the time in the world to recite whatever you want. Another part of his brain consoled the former. At this time the question papers were being distributed and students were told to keep it facing downward until when told to turn it and write. Ali got his paper but kept himself busy by playing melodious tunes in his head to while away time. He was the bass guitar man – his favorite instrument, the man on the keyboard, the man handling the jazz band. He played all three and more, switching sometimes between one instrument and another. He was throwing a party for himself in his head!
‘You can now start’ the invigilator’s voice ended his party abruptly. The paper was objectives and fill-in the blanks. Ali skipped through the 30 questions in a few minutes. He heaved and looked around the hall, the hall was eerily quiet, he scratched his head and swallowed some saliva to wet his dry throat. He could barely attempt 5 questions. He summoned some courage and smiled. Just smile, smile it all off a part of his brain told him. It wasn’t that he didn’t study, he did study very well. For a moment he was not sure if he had read the right material, but then he remember that the lecturer gave just a 54 page material and nothing more. So you still remember the number of the pages of the handout abi? His brain scolded him and hissed. The nature of the questions can best be described as this: imagine you were given an old rusty bicycle and expected to produce a brand new car, or better still a lecturer may have taught you that there are two major roads that lead to Abuja and will end up asking you in the exam, the names of the companies that constructed the roads.
Behind Ali, someone hissed loud and long. Ali turned and looked at Musa; Musa’s look was not encouraging. Murmurings started springing up from different corners of the hall. Ali smiled.
‘What is amusing you? Why are you smiling? Yes you, I mean you. So you are pretending not to hear abi?’ Ali looked up in time to see a fuming invigilator approaching him.
‘Sir?’ he asked puzzled
‘I asked what was amusing you.’ The invigilator who was getting angrier shot back.
‘Nothing sir, my doctor told me to smile even when I don’t feel like, that it is good for my health.’ Ali replied honestly
‘And what does it do to your health?’
‘I’m not a medical student, but I remember him saying it takes 72 muscles to frown your face, but it takes only 14 to smile….’
‘Shut up, who cares how many muscles your face uses? You are trying to play smart right? You have just one minute to come up with a genuine reason why you were smiling.’ His face looked dangerous.
‘Sir, that was why I was smiling, I swear that was the only reason.’
‘Where is your ID card, are you sure you are a student?’
‘Yes sir, sorry sir. I wasn’t laughing at anyone sir’
‘Time for explanation is over, your ID card.’ The invigilator held out his hand. Ali reluctantly removed his ID card and handed it over to invigilator. ‘Now get out of my sight, I don’t want to see you anywhere close by. Security make sure he is nowhere near the hall’ then he intoned in a stony voice. ‘Now let me catch anyone smiling again. Then you’ll have to tell me if it is the native doctor of your village that asked you to smile.’
It was like a dream to Ali, he could not believe he was to miss the exam. He could not believe he was going to re-sit the paper. Come next session, he did not know what amount of work load await him. One thing he was certain was that ‘the higher you go the cooler it becomes’ theory works in the reverse here. Ali heard a deafening sound that startled him, he turned around and what he saw shocked him. For a moment, he could not recognize where he was. The security man whom a moment ago was returning to the exam hall was down and his clothes were stained with blood. He looked past the security man and saw smoke lifting off what was left of the wreckage. The ground was covered in blood and body parts. The exam hall was a mockery of what it was before. A bomb just blew to pieces what was once the exam hall! Ali knelt down, buried his face in his lap and wept for his friends and course mates. And then suddenly he burst into laughter, it rocked his whole body, he could not suppress it.
What is amusing you? Just what is amusing you? A part of his brain asked puzzled.
ENEJI MATTHEW SAMUEL.