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Exam Stress

Tap, tatap, tap, tatap, tatap, tap… I am strangely enjoying the sound of my pen tapping on the table. It’s a good rhythm and it helps me think.

I look at my neighbour on the left and I’m guessing that he’s not so thrilled about my tapping: he’s looking at me with an annoyed frown on his face, ready to throw some insult at me, if only he could actually talk to me. So I stop.

I look at the empty space on the sheet of paper that’s in front of me. My thoughts are just as blank as the paper. Well, they’re as blank as the sheet of paper was before I started my tapping,… I could see small dots of blue ink had splashed in a few random places when my pen had leaked. Without realising it, I had been tapping with the tip of my ballpoint. So I just smile to myself and think that at least my exam papers will not be totally empty when I come to give it back to the examiner in a  couple hours’ time.

I decide to put my pen down for now. I might as well, since all I’ve achieved to do with it so far is make one of my neighbours cross and a mess on my fresh, crisp and white piece of paper.

I look around, hoping that I might find even the smallest amount of inspiration hidden somewhere in the room.  There are around 30 tables arranged in five neat rows in this big hall. Some have remained empty, though the majority of them are occupied. Most of the other exam sitters have their head down and are writing continuously without a break. I find myself envying them, and at the same time I wish I had better eyesight, so I could read what they had written.  It would most certainly give me a starting point, or at least I like to think so; though I would probably feel that I was cheating, and cheating’s never been part of my philosophy.

All of a sudden, I feel as though I am being watched, like two big eyeballs resting heavily on my shoulders. The freaky silence is broken by a chair scrapping on the floor of the echoey room.   With the rapid realisation that I had been staring at my angry left neighbour, perhaps a bit too intensely for the examiner’s taste, I notice that he has taken a keen interest in my person, and is now walking silently towards me. As if to pretend I hadn’t taken my eyes of my exam papers and I had not stopped working on it from the start, I turn my head back quickly, rest my forehead in my left hand, pick my pen back up and read the question printed on my exam papers. I daren’t look up again to see where the examiner is, but I can sense that he’s not too far from me, perhaps only a meter or so away. Again, I read the question; the question that I find so difficult to answer; the question for which i just haven’t got an answer: “What is your favourite soup and why?” Everyone else in the room seem to have found something to write, so I am guessing everyone else has a favourite soup that they can write about, perhaps describe the recipe of it or even link it to a memorable event in their life; but not me.

Now I know the examiner has reached me and is stood right next to me, pauses for a moment and carries on walking. It feels like my heart has stopped beating for a minute when he was stood there; his arms crossed and close enough to read what was on my sheet. And a long minute this had been!

Where was I? The soup! The question could have been about my favourite film, my favourite holiday place or even my favourite potato dish, if they really insisted it had to be about food… So why soup? Don’t get me wrong, I like soup, soup is good for your health, soup usually tastes great (until you start putting celery in it), but who has a favourite soup? Besides the other people in this room, that is. I, for one, have not got a favourite soup, and I’ve never thought I needed to have a favourite soup; until now! A quick glance at the clock hung on the wall above the deserted stage, and I figure that it is probably too late for me to decide which soup could be my personal soup of the day every day. 

Panic is about to take over my brain already in turmoil. The fear of failure is lurking just around the corner as I am still lost for words and for soup… My brain might as well be the main ingredient for my soup, as it feels as if it has been passed through the shiny stainless steel blades of a mouli, and blended to a liquid but thick and smooth mush. Perhaps a pinch of salt, pepper and a little chilli powder might spice it up a little. I have come to the conclusion that if I had a favourite soup, it would be the most unusual soup, the one that no one has ever thought of before. An explosion of flavours; a carnival of colours and textures, with chunky bits bumping into crunchy bits, and floating in a bowl of  velvety liquid.

“What is your favourite soup and why?” I read the question once more, just to confirm to myself that I have nothing to say about this subject. As my eyes reach the question mark, the trail of blue ink that follows catches my eyes. My brain soup was working wonders and I had not just been thinking about it, but I had been writing about it, almost subconsciously. I really can’t recall tracing any of the words that lay before me, but I feel happy that I am finally getting somewhere with the uninspiring question. 

So, like the others, I can now get my head down, and “Ouch! That hurts!” I shout, rubbing my forehead sore and growing a bump. I open my eyes, and, despite the intense pain I feel on my head, I let escape a sigh of relief, as I come to realise that this had all been a dream,… I look at my alarm clock on my bedside cabinet. Another two hours before I need to get up and get ready to go and sit my exam… and let’s hope that the question will not be about a soup!

(Written Sept 2011, Sandrine Bramley a.k.a. Frog in the craft)

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