Fingers aching, she eased the pen’s grip from her hands and glanced at her artificial time keeping device; according to its manipulated dials, time was already up. The fifteen-minute advancement to her wristwatch was a sly manoeuvre by The Overbearing One to keep her ahead of the competition, to keep her in a perpetual state of chaos and achieve her ‘true potential.’ “Remember to re-check your answers at least twice. You can’t afford to make ‘silly mistakes’ in exams if you want to make it to a good university abroad like The Favourite One.” She resented that statement greatly, firstly, because of the implication that going ‘abroad’ for university was the epitome of achievement and secondly, because she had to do exactly what The Favourite One did.
Exhausted, she did not want to re-live the last two hours and forty-five minutes again but, instead opted for a more intuitive insurance policy – she looked around to check if The Rival was done. As she looked in his direction, their eyes met as they smiled briefly to one another then looked away, reminded of their feigned public animosity. The Others were still pen-deep into their answer sheets as the two of them had eased through the questions. The two purported foes had decided to set aside their differences to combine their treasure trove of notes, past question papers and possible teacher hints from post-class discussions. They agreed that their common goal: to ace their exams and ‘please’ their parents could be better attained if they formed a dynamic duo. They had to play the part of the Photo-Finish rivals in front of The Others on Report Card Day yet, somehow deep down, they were starting a budding, albeit, secretive friendship.
She waited to see if he was going to hand in his papers and leave the exam room but, he didn’t. Instead, he spent the time tidying his pencil case, erasing stray smudges from the question paper and beautifying his answer sheet with coloured markers. Thus, she decided to stay put and utilize the extra minutes for some much-needed solitude. The stolid exam hall gave her the chance to think ahead in the timeframe of her wristwatch. By 11.02, the examiners would have collected everyone’s answer sheets, even the stubborn ones that refused to stop writing and, in the next 30 seconds, the head invigilator would sound off a half-hearted ‘have a fun summer holiday’ wish. The wish would get drowned out by the students’ growing chatter as she would be bombarded by The Others, eager to check their answers with her. By 11.06, she would make her way to the school gates, dreading The Favourite One’s appearance. He was poised to have landed at the airport by then and, he might have decided to pick her up to kickstart his holiday in a spritely mood. He always enjoyed putting her down like everyone else.
At 11.07, she would be resigned to find The Favourite One indeed waving at her by the school gate and, as she would approach, he would sound off a derogatory comment about her appearance in an ill-fitted, unflattering uniform along with her out-of-vogue spectacles, shoes and hairstyle. She would grumble about being in school and not a fashion show – a comment that will go unnoticed. The next instant, he would try to get her to stay on longer in school to ‘chit chat with friends’ to which she would have to shamefully admit her deficiency in the department. He would then smile, labelling the dreaded N word to her – ‘nerd.’
Adorning his stylish wayfarers, he would walk away from her towards their car, The Overbearing One’s latest high-end purchase. They would be chauffeured off the vicinity of the school campus by 11.15, headed to a lunch celebration with The Overbearing One at her new corner office.
Administrating quite the coup to helm the pole position at the esteemed business, The Overbearing One had become The Insufferable One over the past couple of weeks. She had started to go off on tangents (every other sentence) outlining the inevitability of her promotion and the prestige attached to the feat. The Favourite One had the brains, looks and the ruthlessness required to emulate her, but the daughter only had the brains – it was not enough in the real-world context, according to The Insufferable One.The mother-son symbiosis bothered her greatly; it was not enough to face pillory from insensitive schoolchildren for her valedictorian status and nonconformist looks but she faced a different kind of chagrin at home. She was meek and people did not gravitate towards her like The Favourite One or The Overbearing One, thus, she was not destined for greatness (according to them).
As the invigilator sounded off the alarm at 11.00 am real-time, she tugged on her stiff school uniform collar, happy that she did not have to don the unflattering garment every day for the next three months. In a couple of minutes, she discovered that The Favourite One was indeed at the school gate and he had a rather humble look on his face, different from his usual smug expression. As she approached closer, he waved at her, seemingly delighted to see her. ‘There’s my little chip monger!’ He exclaimed and immediately she saw his kindness dissipate. He referred to her as a chip-monger because she was particularly fond of potato chips, carving a reputation for herself as the voracious girl who eats stray French Fries from every person’s plate at dinner parties (after devouring her own).
She noticed his lean physique – another paradigm she did not adhere to. In fact, the popular female Others were petite as well. As she stood gazing at his good looks and physique, she calculated that if she were to abstain from chips, she might be able to shed the extra pounds that would allow her to please both her unforgiving mother and brother but also solve her no-friend conundrum. She could devote her summer to doing so. She then smiled to herself with purpose as she followed The Favourite One to the car, determined not to order chips at the impending luncheon.
Sadia Sarwar is an upcoming author with plenty of opinions and rarefied tastes. Follow her on @sadiamhsarwar.