I was going to post this earlier but I didn’t get around to it, so here it is today instead!
Picture for a moment a grand hall, square and furnished with rows upon rows of simple tables. At each table there is a single chair. At the very front of the hall there’s a big board and a clock. People are streaming in like a flood in spring. It’s examination day.
The hall is a buzz of voices, the stress easily detected in the pitch. I’m struck by two notions. First, in spite of how everyone claims to know nothing useful the collective knowledge that has been gathered in this room over the years is pretty impressive. Hopefully some of that knowledge will come to my aid. Secondly, I’m also struck by the overwhelming amount of anxiety and stress that cling to the room like a bad odour. It’s almost difficult to breathe. So here today’s students are lodged between two giants that over time have siphoned energy off of the students unfortunate enough to get mixed up in their battle.
The woman with the droning voice and broken accent begins explaining the rules, no one is to leave their seat in the first hour, cellphones off and in the lockers by the wall, if extra paper is needed it can be collected at the front after the first hour has passed. I always get the feeling she hates this part of her job. Almost as if someone hit the mute button on a television the hall becomes quiet the moment she begins to speak.
It is time to quit whining and engage in a duel with knowledge. It is sink or swim now folks. I grab a pencil, fill out the details on the first page and read through the questions. Shit, I think to myself. I don’t want to drown. I feel sorry for myself for about half a minute before I snap out of it and just start writing down my answers. The hall is quiet save for the occasional cough here and there, or soda bottles opening alongside bags of candy that fail miserably at being discrete.
Two hours go by in a flash, minutes feeling like seconds. There’s still plenty of time to go before the deadline but the sensation of drowning is not exactly diminishing. Hand in the exam, gather my things. Leave. The moment I exit the building I inhale, I can breathe again. I’m also struck by the summer sun shining on full blast. I’m not too good with heat. Shirt comes off and I walk home.
It is at times like this I go running, purge the system. There’s a spot where I stop sometimes, to catch my breath a little before continuing my run around the river. I think you can guess why.