Confidence has never grown naturally for John.
Years of education, countless hours of studying, missed parties, girls unkissed, opportunities untaken… All for this moment.
And he can’t even answer the first question.
John knows the answer, he knows it better than anyone. That’s not the issue.
The answer had been given to him whilst in the right place at the wrong time.
He never asked for the opportunity. It came to him without his permission.
Yesterday, he had a paper due before the end of the day and being the procrastinator that he is, he handed it in three hours later.
There was no answer as he knocked on the door.
He pushed the door open, stepping into a poorly lit and empty classroom.
Certain places in the world are meant for a larger audience.
A weight of judgement suffocated him, the heavy lack of presence somehow indicating he was being watched. His belly felt like rubber as a sudden gut instinct told him he had no right to be there. As if he was walking in another man’s shoes, this was not meant to be, this was not his path.
He proceeded to the front desk, almost leaping forward, his body portraying his reluctance to being there. He placed his homework above a pile of everybody else’s on the worn-out mahogany desk barely visible through the amount of scattered paperwork, pens and coffee stains. Showing him once again, that being last will mean his paper will be first to be seen, and never knowing how this makes him feel.
Ready to dash towards the exit, his eye caught his future.
He immediately recognised Mr Robinson’s handwriting. The man who had helped and encouraged him these past years, the man who listened, paid attention, who actually saw him as an individual and not just another student. One of the very few people John respects.
Tomorrow’s exam paper was placed perfectly like a holy grail waiting to be appreciated.
A red-inked handwritten answer followed every printed question. Next to it was an A5 notebook covered with additional notes on what the teacher himself would like to see from his students. Their point of view, the way sentences should be constructed, and a personal interest in each subject. It was a gold mine.
Without realising he had done so, his phone was in his hand scrolling for the camera.
It’s amazing how irrational your mind can be in a rational situation.
He heard a voice in the room behind him, igniting his need to run. Without conscious thought, he photographed each page and ran.
Seeing the implications and future consequences of one’s actions was never John’s strong suit.
John is now sitting in a room filled with students every two feet from each other. The sounds of panicking heartbeats and graphite scratching against paper conflict with the silence of the room.
The exam’s hour started ten minutes ago and John has done nothing but stare at the first page.
If I pass this by cheating, what does that make me? A fraud and a cheat obviously.
Maybe I should have considered this before now.
Well, passing on my own knowledge and wit is no longer an option. I made sure of that.
What else can I do? Fail? The last year would have been for nothing. What will everyone think of me? Mum and dad won’t be too happy, unsurprisingly disappointed I’m sure.
This will determine everything. My diploma isn’t just a piece of paper to be left in my desk drawer only to be seen once every five years when my CV needs updating, it’s the ticket to the rest of my professional life.
He hears the monotonous sound of the ticking clock on the wall.
What do I actually want? Maybe if I had asked myself that before now I wouldn’t be in this mess.
What do I want to spend a third of my daily life doing? What do I want to put effort into? What am I willing to stress about for the next 50 years? What kind of people do I want to be surrounded by every day? How much debt am I going to be paying off? Working or middle class? Miserable and rich or happy and poor?
How the hell are we supposed to know what we want to do?
I haven’t done anything significant enough to know where to go or what to do!
I’m legally an adult, but I wouldn’t call myself a man.
A few weeks here-and-there of work experience hasn’t exactly given me the motivation and desire they were hoping for. I would say if I’ve learnt anything it’s that I’m too smart to be working in any type of manual labour job and too disinterested in obtaining depression to work in an office.
Do I want to be like Uncle Jeremy working a middle-class job with a title most people are too bored to understand before he even finishes naming it? All to pay off a mortgage on a house I’ll no longer want after five years, all to please the wife who hasn’t uttered a kind word or compliment since the wedding night?
Or rather, I could be like cousin Mia and travel the world without a penny in my pocket, working odd jobs for untrustworthy people, constantly avoiding my personal issues that stay at home…
One-third of accredited time has passed and John’s exam is still devoid of response.
I’ve tried to get answers, I know I have.
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that every proper adult is just as clueless as us young adults.
It goes from “you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up” to “you have to get a real job” way too fast.
I swear most adults have a subliminal desire to crush our hopes out of envy and jealousy for what they once were.
It’s always some patronising useless bullshit like, “Oh, you’re still a kid. You don’t know what it’s like to be an adult. You wait until you’re my age, full of debt, bad back and a marriage going down the gutter. Then you will know what real adulthood is like.”
As if that’s supposed to help me in any way.
We are told it is what it takes to be happy. The more you work, the more you own, and the better off you will be.
The blindingly obvious issue is the people who tell you these things are the most unhappy ones. They’re the husbands who can’t fall asleep without those 3 or 4 drinks repressing their daily issues. The wives who fear the overwhelming sadness hidden inside them. The grandparents who haven’t shown the slightest bit of intimacy to each other in the past twenty years due to being as uncomfortable with each other as they are with themselves.
The difficult part is finding the right path for yourself, which has to be done while walking down the one you’ve been put on.
Some people find it. Some people have always been on it. The majority hit a dead end.
John looks around at his fellow classmates, rubbing the back of his neck and fidgeting with his unused pen. He swiftly makes the mistake of looking forward and making eye contact with Mr Robinson.
John’s entire body seems to curl up, trying to hide while being deceived by his rosy cheeks. His subconscious mind decides to suppress the feeling of nausea with anger instead.
Who decides all of this anyway? Who makes the final decisions on how I should be educated?
Maybe if years of education had taught me how to deal with such pressure and make better decisions, I would not be in this mess.
So, what have I actually learnt from these years of formal education?
By which I mean morals, ethics and desires. Not the important life lessons, like how to do a keg stand or make a bong out of an apple or get rejected by girls or what it’s like to depend on fucking anxiety meds.
Maybe teach us how to behave in society, how to control our emotions, how to cook a meal, how to drive, how to pay for insurance, how to organise our finances… instead of teaching years of history lessons that will in no way help our future, or being taught a foreign language for over 10 years that I’ll completely forget after a month or two, or the ridiculously complicated math problems that 99% of people will never use.
I mean, sure, it’s important to learn these things, but considering that most thirty-year-olds can’t do simple maths without a calculator, can’t form a grammatically correct sentence in a second language and can’t remember who Winston Churchill was, maybe we should revisit our teaching strategy.
So maybe if we got to focus on the basics a little longer before learning Pythagoras’ theorem we wouldn’t all be so helpless. It’s no wonder we don’t understand fucking taxes.
John fails to ignore the sound of the ticking clock.
Why did I even do it in the first place?
Oh! Sure I’ll get into that, shall I? My self-doubt? My need to please? My fear of letting everyone down? My severe indecisiveness?
I knew it was wrong, I knew it from the moment I walked into that room. Maybe it was dad’s voice in my head saying his famous quote, “always take an opportunity son.”
I didn’t even realise I was doing it. I couldn’t comprehend what I had found and before I knew it, my phone was in my hand.
Oh please, it wasn’t just a split decision. I mean sure taking the pictures was, but staying up all night memorising every word to every page certainly wasn’t.
I saw an easy solution and I took it. Typical John not having the confidence in myself to believe I can achieve anything on my own.
What’s the point of an easy way out if it riddles you with guilt and shame?
“It has been one hour, time is up. Please put down your pens,” says Mr Robinson.
John stares blankly at the page. Not a single dab of ink had touched the white surface.
Every student stood up with loud sighs, muttering exhausted complaints and worries. John didn’t move, unwilling to accept the situation at hand. He stayed sat down at his desk not being able to look up from the empty assignment with a somewhat overwhelming ironic feeling of disappointment and pride holding him to his seat.
Mr Robinson notices him once more. He casually walks towards him.
John looks up seeing the room empty besides himself and his favourite teacher.
“Yes sir?” he replies not knowing what else he could possibly say.
“Your paper John, it’s blank.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
“Can you tell me why?”
“You couldn’t do it, could you?”
“I’m proud of you John.”
“I just couldn’t… I’m sorry what?”
“You couldn’t do it because you didn’t want to pass by cheating, am I correct?”
“Uhm, well yeah, but how did you…?”
He raises his index finger to interrupt him.
“I saw you last night. Well, I saw a flash of light and someone running out the door and considering your homework appeared on my desk and now your exam is blank, I can put two and two together.”
“Sir, I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking I just…”
He stops him again.
“Temptation is a powerful thing my young man, a moment of weakness does not define who we are. You could have taken the easy way out, but your values were too strong. One might say it merits a second chance”