I came to the exam hall premises on the day of my final paper, a deaf-mute. You know how it works, you know that state when you have crammed so much that you fear that you will forget everything by muttering as little as ‘good morning’; and you just can’t wait to enter the exam hall and pour your head out? You familiar with it? This was the state I was this morning. When I got to the venue of the exam, I stayed a thousand yards from my course mates. I didn’t want their green greetings today, this cunning group. While I was cursing ASUU during the strike, they were busy studying; now they come for the exam well-read and nourished with ideas, come to intimidate me. I was too wise for them. I didn’t say ‘hi’ to any of them. I had ‘sense’.
After waiting for what appeared to be one long year, which in fact was mere fifteen minutes, the invigilators arrived and began to check the students into the insatiable belly of the exam hall. While we were trooping in like Chinese prisoners on a work camp, Tina’s eyes caught mine and she winked at me. I ignored her. Tina was one of my ‘too-close-for-comfort’ friends. But if I winked back, or nodded, or smiled at her, I would forget all I had crammed. So, I ignored her. Simple.
All the questions were cheap but I didn’t want to commit the blunder of the paper before in which I answered six questions instead of three, so I made sure to answer just three questions. I started with number one. A really cheap question. It was on the novel The Great Gatsby, on something about satire, American Dream and all those boredom lecturers set as questions. The lecturer tried to make it hard, but it couldn’t stand my high-tech cram-work. I didn’t answer the question, I ate it up in twenty-five minutes, with clinical finesse. As I had over two and half an hour to go, I decided to cross-check my answer closely. I was on this when I heard my name.
‘Who is Kingsley Okechukwu?’
My heart missed a beat. I looked up to see two giant fellows standing on either side of the invigilator. My heart jumped into my mouth. Who were these men and what did they want with poor me?
‘WHO IS KINGSLEY OKECHUKWU!?’
I shot automatically to my feet as though propelled by an electric switch.
The gorilla who spoke came and stood before me, his swarthy face ugly with brutality. I thought he would hit me. ‘You are Kingsley Okechukwu?’ he demanded.
The whole hall stood still. The fall of a bird feather would have crashed on the floor.
I almost spat into the gorilla’s face. I nodded.
‘Follow us! You are needed at the security office!’
It was at this stage that my heart sank. ‘I—I—I haven’t f-fi-nished my p-paper…’ I began but no one paid attention to me. So like a blind lamb held around the neck with a leash, I followed them; with wobbly legs, I dragged after them.
I began to turn in my heart what I might have done wrong. I racked and racked my brain but to no avail. I had been really washed up by this exam, and my behaviour was highly avoidable. I mean, I hardly talked to people these days. In fact, I never looked at anybody! How then would I have broken any law when I didn’t even see people? Or did I break the law in my dream? Or where they arresting me for man’s inhumanity to books? Did I manhandle my books, is excessive reading now illegal? Questions, questions, questions. No answers.
I was on my one thousandth rhetorical question when we entered the cobweb-infested ‘reception’ hall of the security office. I say reception for want of better adjectives; it is no real ‘reception’; when you get into this stuffy room, the security men (and women) won’t give you ‘reception’, they abuse you thoroughly. I sat in a bed-bugs infested cushion that went back Abacha days. The men who arrested men walked into the inner office, into the deeper hole.
My course mates wouldn’t wait for me! They were writing their paper without care. Oh God, what temptation! I tasted salt water around my mouth but I refused to believe the salt came from my eye. The devil is a lie; he couldn’t get me, not on my last paper!
After what seemed like two minutes (as I wished time crawled) which in fact was nearly two hours, after I had soaked my hankie with two litres of tears (I didn’t believe came from my eyes), a thin, broken security woman came into the reception—‘reception’, I mean.
‘What have I done wrong?’ I implored.
‘Where were you last night?’ the woman fired
‘I was in my room reading.’
She laughed a patronising laugh, then shook her corn head with righteous pity. ‘Reading indeed.’
‘I have an exam going on,’ I cried.
‘Forget the exam, you will be expelled.’
‘WHAT!’ I didn’t hear well. My heart was now melting on the floor.
Expelled? Me? Why? What have I done?
‘We are actually waiting for the police to take you over to their headquarters in Kaduna. The case is too big for us to handle…’
What on earth was the woman saying?
‘Surrender your ID card,’ the woman ordered.
The nightmare was gathering storm; with shaky hand I handed over my ID card, like a coup plotter would hand over his gun before the lethal arrest.
The woman frowned at the plastic of my identity card. ‘What is your name?’ she asked, stupid.
‘Oh my God,’ she swore. ‘There has been a mistake. We don’t want you! I sent those idiots to go arrest Kennedy Ugochukwu form French department! Not Kingsley Okechukwu!’
My eyes hit the clock over the silly woman’s mountain head. Fifteen minutes to the end of my exam! I fired to my feet.
‘… We are sorry for the inconvenience, Mr Okechukwu…’
But I wasn’t listening. I was running out of the evil compound, mad, running towards my faculty, crazy. I was crying with anger and hatred and frustration; I was shouting, ‘Examiner, please wait for me… please wait for me!… Wait for me!’
I was so blinded with rage I didn’t see the lorry speeding towards me!