Something weird has been happening to me. Every time I press the button on the side of my phone to check the time, the numbers on the clock always read with some kind of uniformity. So maybe I would find myself awake at 3:33am, or I’d be getting home at 18:18, or I’d be getting off the toilet seat at 20:20 on my way down to the dining room for supper.
This has been going on for about three weeks now, and I swear it’s the most unsettling thing. Like, is this a sign of sorts? Is the time keeper of the galaxy trying to tell me something? Should I take a peek at my horoscope every time I see those numbers? There was a time I thought that maybe it was a countdown or some such thing, an impending doom waiting to be sprayed about my person (See that?).
I wondered, what happens when I happen to check the time and find that it’s 00:00? Would that be the day I choke on a pellet of rice and die?
It was 5:55am when I got out of bed this morning.
But I’m going to spare you all the details about how I woke up. I’m tired of rumbling on about my lack of sleep, as I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it. So I’m just going to get right into it: when I arrived in school.
My paper was set for 11:30, and I got there with about two hours to kill. So what I did was, I got myself a hot cuppa for the cold weather. And then I sat down to do a bit of studying. At first, as I was scrolling through pages of notes on my phone, I thought, “Well, this doesn’t look too difficult.” The CAT for this unit had gone swell, I had all the answers at the tip of my biro and I was done and out of class in under half hour. So as I was reading I had the feeling the material was still fresh in my mind, and that I didn’t need to kill myself over it. I mean, what could be so hard about a unit dubbed Christianity and Islam in Africa? The coffee did its bit to rid me of the cold as it trickled down my gut.
Later I decided that I had studied enough, and that it was time to make my way to the exam room.
It was 11:11am when I sat down.
As usual, I chose to sit at the back, by the window, where I could have all the attention taken away from me by the traffic snarl up outside. Sirens and horns spilled into the room. People filed into the room one by one until all the quiet had been replaced by the hubbub of group discussions and a jumpy girl who kept dragging chairs around. It was annoying as hell. Others were strapped in their chairs, doing some last minute brushing, brows knitted with anxiety. Late comers waltzed in with fluster on their faces when they realized all the spots were filled and as such they had to drag a desk from the next room.
And then the invigilator walked in. At this point my mind was so tired I just wanted to get on with it.
Now, about a week ago, when the classes were still going on our lecturer gave us a layout of what the exam would be like. She gave us the basic structure of the thing: the sections of the paper, marks for each question, most testable areas etc.
She said that section A would have short answer questions, questions that gave 1 or 2 marks. Questions that begin with the word ‘List’ and ‘Name’. And then section B would be the essay questions, she said. Each carrying 20 marks and you were required to exhaustively express yourself. It seemed simple enough.
But when the question paper landed at my table, I was shocked to see that it was a completely different format, and that there was a question in section A that carried a bloody 10 marks. Section B had 40 marks in total, three questions worth 20 marks each. You only picked two.
So there I was, feeling betrayed again by the system, my thoughts plunged like a bad carnival. There was really no denying it: I was fucked.
And I remember thinking, “Enough of this.” So I put down only what I could remember, handed my paper to the invigilator and bolted out the door. There was no point in me staying in my seat trying to recall stuff. Plus it’s mighty tasking to do an exam when you’ve only slept for four hours the entire week.
What I really needed was a drink.
Afterwards I sat at a table with a group of people who had come out of the same exam. One of them was also a back-bencher, we had shared sitting space from time to time. The other one was a tall slim dreadlocked fellow who, in the school grounds, has to cover his head with a hat. Another one carried the fattest bag you’ve ever seen and generally didn’t say much.
Anyway, the back bencher I’m telling you about goes by the name of Seth. Out of everyone there, I liked Seth the most because he had this relaxed air around him. He didn’t speak unless he was spoken to, and he has one of those faces that always seem to be taking note of something.
But the trouble with Seth is that I never hear a word he says. His voice springs from somewhere deep in his throat and you have to lean very close to his mouth. Otherwise I can never make out a word he says. At the table, everybody seemed to hear him just fine, and whenever he said something the others would laugh like a pack of hyenas.
The jokes flew right by me, and in the end I had said “Ati?” so many times that someone from the next table shouted, “Atis Alat Atieno,” before finally telling me to put a sock in it.
When I checked the time, it was 2:22pm.
It was time to go home and write this piece.
In town, as I made my way to the stage –and with my earphones plugged in- I suddenly realized I was terribly tired of my playlist. The music felt uncomfortably loud and I felt stuck in a limbo of looping tunes. Better to listen to the sounds of the city instead. So I took off my earphones and walked while listening to the hum of the town. The air smelled like urgency and politics. The traffic police were manning the junctions and the traffic lights went unused. There was a pretty girl everywhere you looked and a stew of people going about their business.
And there were colours. Many of them. There were red skirts and brown shoes and blue dustbins and green grass and grey buildings and turquoise tops. Street vendors were bundled like Mongolians and touts were shouting above smoky exhaust pipes and revving noise. On the ride home a hawker was selling his wares, “PK na tropcos, PK na tropcos, tropcos PK.”
I would have bought some tropcos, but what I really needed –especially after this week- is a stiff drink.