She walks in the room, in a bit of a rush like everybody else, but also trying to feign some kind of laid back appearance. She absentmindedly rubs her left palm against the side of her other hand. An ink stain from last minute revision has left its mark. She’s not even consciously aware that she’s embarrassed in case anyone realises that she has actually done some preparation. She finds a desk three-quarters of the way down the hall, on the opposite side to the door.
Two pens, a pencil, a protractor (for some reason still in her bag from the maths exam), an eraser (she didn’t like to call it a rubber because it reminded her of an embarrassing joke somebody had made about something she’d said back in middle school), some tissues and a sweater which she hung over the climbing bars that were next to her desk.
The girl in front of her had three teddy bears and a troll. For a fraction of a second she wished she had something to personalise her desk with. And then she remembered what she thought of people who did that.
She sat for a moment trying to decide if she was nervous. The boy next to her was opening his mouth wide enough until it clicked over and over again. He looked bored, was he feigning it?
The back of her neck prickled. The noise of slowly moving footsteps was coming towards her. A flop of paper landing on each desk. Face down it would be. Sitting there on the desk. Face down. The footsteps are at the desk behind her now. The kid behind is looking at her rather than their paper or the invigilator. She can feel the look, it’s making her fact hot. Her face feels suddenly very warm, like she’s being suntanned from the inside. It’s that damn kid looking at her. She’d be okay as long as they stopped. The footsteps arrive. Flop. So does the paper. All she can see are the words “This page has been intentionally left blank.” Her face goes cold and the top of her head feels like it is mid-way through a massage. Which rather than being relaxing is merely unsettling.
It had taken the invigilators ages to get to her table. She still has time. She looks up at the front of the gym. They’ve finished laying out all the papers already! Somebody is writing out the start and end times. There are forty seconds to go. 39. 38. 37. 36. 35. She tries desperately to remember her candidate number. 31. 30. 29. 28. 27. If that boy clicks his jaw one more time she’ll kill him. 20. 19. 18. 17. 16. 15. 14. 13. She adjusts the jumper on the bars. 7. 6. 5. 4. Oh God. “You may now turn over your papers”.