An Exam in Four Parts

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Part 1 – The Professor

The Professor tried to keep his features neutral, hiding his contempt for the students who were anxiously entering the exam room. Earlier this year the university had forced him to retire. The official reason for his retirement was that he retired for ‘family reasons’, so he could spend more time with his grandchildren. This came as somewhat of a surprise to people who knew him.

A cold rage burned in his chest as he thought of the younger, less experienced woman who had taken his job. The all staff email that announced her appointment said that she was a very good fit for the universities ‘strategic objectives’. He felt that he knew the truth, she was cheaper than he had been, and helped the university meet its ‘diversity goals’. In reality he was an under performing researcher, and a poor teacher, with a reputation for being a megalomaniacal tyrant. These ‘alternative facts’, as he called them, did not fit his world view.

Working as a casual exam invigilator rankled. It was a job so far below his station, it was almost laughable. He despised the other invigilators, and felt nothing but contempt for the students. The work gave him a cover story for being on campus, and gave him the freedom to put the last parts of his plan for revenge into place. Soon they would see that reducing him to little more than a residual human resource was a monumental mistake.


Photo by: Francesco Nigro.

Part 2 – The Socialite

The Socialite was a complete contrast to the Professor. She enjoyed her work as an exam invigilator, and smiled reassuringly at the students as they made their way to their allotted seats. She remembered fondly watching students grow as they progressed through their studies. She had known many students in her school by name. Some of them she had helped mentor through their studies until they finished with a PhD, and started teaching and mentoring themselves. She felt a deep connection to the university.

Following her own retirement a few years ago, she had worked casually for the university. The work gave her a little extra spending money, and gave her a chance to socialise with old colleagues and students. Earlier in the day she had lunch with some old friends, and caught up on the latest gossip. The hot gossip at lunch had been the Professor, and how he had left the university only a few steps in front of a scandal.

It surprised her, to see that he was now working as an invigilator. Watching him from across the room, she wondered why he was here and what he was up to. His stony visage said loud and clear that this was a time and place that was beneath him. Poor dears, she thought of the students, his scowling, grumbling, and huffing was no way to greet the students. In her experience a kind smile was what they needed.

She was one of the most experienced exam invigilators, and she had been chief invigilator for many exams over the past two weeks. Her schedule had been hectic, and as much as she enjoyed the work, she had to admit that she was very tired. After making sure that the exam started on time, she quietly walked a lap of the room, as was her habit. It was a way of reminding the students that she was watching. She noted with displeasure that the professor stayed in his corner at the front of the room, still as a statue.

Making her way across the back of the room, she saw an empty chair. On an impulse she decided to sit and rest her weary legs for just a moment. The chair was surprisingly comfortable and despite her best intentions, her eyes softly closed.


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Part 3 – The Student

This exam was the last of her degree, and the pressure to succeed was intense. As the first of her family to go university, she keenly felt the expectations of her family. They were extremely proud of her, and she didn’t want to disappoint them. She needed to get a high score in this exam, in order to keep her high GPA. The rumour was that she was in line to get a university medal when she graduated. She also needed a high GPA to secure her place in the postgraduate program.

To keep her feelings of anxiety and stress under control, she focussed on her breathing. Once the exam started her focus narrowed to the paper in front of her, and the knowledge that she had to put down on the page.

After getting through the multiple choice and short answer sections, she took a short break for a sip of water. Exams were one of the few places where pen and paper were still required, and writing longhand was the order of the day. As she stretched the cramps out of her hand, she became aware of the oppressive silence and the suffocating tension.

Overlaying the silence where other noises. The ticking of the clock, marking the amount of time remaining for the exam. The small scratching sounds of pen and pencil on paper, physical manifestations of the intense concentration of the students. The sounds of a student behind her fiercely using an eraser, a sure sigh of desperation.  Lastly the soft sound of sighing from her fellow students, and the gentle creaks of the chairs as they fidgeted uncomfortably, the sounds of their search for existentialism.

It made her briefly wonder why people became invigilators. The last thing she wanted to see at the end of her studies was the inside of another exam room. She had made sure that the postgraduate program didn’t have exams. Her strength lay in writing and analysis, and not in recalling specific facts.

Looking up through her fringe she saw the stern-faced man, with the big bushy beard at the front of the room. A brief flight of fancy, brought on by stress, made her nearly giggle out loud as she wondered if he also worked as a Mall Santa. No, she decided, he was too stern, grumpy and angry for that.

She wondered where the other invigilator was. The kind little old woman who reminded her of a little old granny. For the briefest of moments she thought that she heard soft snoring. Shaking her head to clear these distracting thoughts, she went back to her exam and the next essay question.


Photo by: deepcove.

Part 4 – The Janitor

Cleaning up after an exam was one of the easiest jobs for the janitor. An outside observer may feel sympathy, or even pity for him. Especially as being a janitor was not considered a desirable profession. Anyone with those feelings would be mistaken. This was exactly the profession wanted, as it gave him access to important raw materials for his other, more clandestine, alchemical enterprise.

When he swept up after an exam, he collected more than dust, discarded drink bottles, bits of eraser, and pencil shavings. He also collected shards of hopes and dreams, pieces of determination and perseverance, and fragments of other emotions like panic and anxiety. In his experience an exam room was one of the best sources of focussed youthful spirit.

After work he would take the shards, pieces, and fragments back to his laboratory. Where he would sort, filter and distil the feelings and emotions into very specialised potions, for his discerning patrons and their unusual needs. They paid highly for his wares, and his clients acknowledged that his potions were the best available.

Over the last few years he had needed to improve his filtering and distillation techniques. Impurities such as caffeine and the ‘natural’ ingredients in energy drinks were easy to filter out. Likewise the more mundane legal and not so legal illicit drugs. More recently, in his experience, many students were taking concentration enhancing drugs to get through their exams and studies. Drugs like adderall and other nootropics had proven harder to filter out. His persistence had paid off, and now his advanced distillation techniques were a secret. One he guarded jealously from his competition.

It was normal for him to collect shards, pieces and fragments of stress, anxiety, hope, despair and elation. Depending on how the students who sat the exam fared. The many shards of intense resentment and contempt that he collected at the front of the room had been a surprise. He would not normally collect emotional shards like that at an exam.

He was also puzzled by the soft fluffy balls of sleepiness, combined with the hard and pointed shards of surprise that he collected at the back of the room. He wondered, if someone had fallen asleep and then were rudely awakened.

Sealing his collection jar, he placed it carefully in his janitorial cart. It was time that he moved on to the group study rooms, where he hoped to find some quality fragments of passion and lust.


Photo of the test paper by: lecroitg.

My thanks to Micro SF/F stories for the micro story that sparked the fourth part.

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