“Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!” Screamed the preacher into a portable speaker. I wake up and check the time. It’s 4:30am. It’s too early. When the second preacher passes, I’ll wake up. Who needs alarm clocks, when we have living and breathing religious clocks moving from street to street wielding loud speakers and robbing people of their sleep.
There’s no light. NEPA did not remember us today. I lie back on the bed. Let me just shut my eyes for five minutes before I get to the exam hall and sleep off instead of concentrating, I tell myself. Tension had wrapped its suffocating arms round my neck and has refused to let go. My JAMB exam is by 7am and I’ve not had enough sleep.
Barely have I stretched out well to enjoy my sleep when my mother yells from the doorway “Blessing! It’s 8 o’clock and you are still sleeping!Are you not going for your exams again?”Fear wakes me up faster than any over zealous preacher. I look at the time and it’s 6:30am. Ah ahn! Just now, that I closed my eyes? And my mom had to make it worse by saying it’s 8 o’clock.“Hei! I am finished ooo! God please help your daughter, I cry as I rush to the bathroom”.
“So you remember God now that you have exam ehn? Just make sure you sweep the sitting-room. I’ll do the remaining chores for you”“Thank you ma!”While preparing, I realize the monthly menace – menstruation – has come to visit. This is bad. I do not like going for anything important when it comes because I get uncomfortable and irritable. I prepare making sure to wear a black skirt, in case anything happens. There’s no time to eat or take drugs so I know I’m in trouble today. The pain that is waiting for me is doing press up outside my centre.
I grab my calculator and JAMB slip and rush to my mom for transport fare. She raises her brows and I remember I have not swept the sitting-room. I grumble a little to see if she’ll change her mind but dash quickly to take a broom when her expression changes. Ejo o! I don’t need any slippers or garri turner to descend on my body this morning. As I sweep haphazardly across the room, my mom yells from the next room.“Bend down very well osiso. Are you not a woman? Is that how you will behave in your husband’s house?”
“We won’t use this kind of short broom” I reply under my breath. I finish quickly, collect transport fare and rush out with her prayers for success echoing behind me. “You will pass in Jesus name!” “Amen!” I affirm. I hurry down the street greeting the neighbors I am familiar with and receiving the same reply.“Ehen. Go come o!”
I get to Egbeda bus stop and board a danfo going to Iyana Ipaja. “Enter with your change o,” warned the conductor as I sit down. I look round at some relaxed faces in the bus. Can they not feel the exam fever in the air? Why is everyone behaving like today is a normal day? I then sight my fellow apprehensive calculator carriers and I am reassured. Yes, I’m not the only nervous JAMBITE here. I get to the bus stop, alight and cross to the other side. There is hold up. Hold up is to Lagos as butter is to bread. I like crossing the road when there is holdup. It’s easier. Not like crossing the express, you look left and right, again and again to make sure that it’s clear to cross then race to the other side. No forming.
I rush to the centre and when I get there, the gates are locked and I see a lot of students hanging around clutching calculators like lifelines and chatting animatedly to cover their nervousness, some students too anxious to talk. Maybe they do not want what they have read to fly away. Can you imagine and I was rushing like a mad person. I didn’t even eat. I realize I said this aloud when a girl beside me replied. “Your own is even better, I have ulcer and I’ve not eaten since yesterday afternoon”. I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Some people have a way of mentioning a bigger problem when you mention one of yours like it’s a problem competition, as if there’s a prize for the most impressive problem.“I’m Dorcas ” she continues.
I introduce myself and tell her I need to find a seat and she offers to accompany me. We walk down the street but there are no places to sit. Cement blocks, chairs in front of shops, broken fences, steps, anything you can think of – all occupied. Now that I’ve gotten to the centre, cramps remind me of its presence by wrapping its steel muscles around my midriff with glee. I need to sit but I’m afraid to, even if I find a seat, because it would be mortifying to sit for a while and stand up to see red fluid on the chair I just vacated. “So did you carry?” Dorcas asks me. “No, I don’t have that kind of mind.”
“Really? At an exam centre ehn, you see different kinds of people loaded with mgbo trying to look as normal as possible to avoid detection” She takes my JAMB slip from me and points at my passport. “who is this chimpanzee here” “It looks like you o” I retort. I look at the picture on my JAMB slip and I smile. My forehead is protruded and my nose, depressed. I try to console myself. If we look less like monkeys in our passports, they would somehow cease to be passports. We stay outside till 10:00 AM. If I had known I would have eaten and taken drugs. Next time ehn… wait there’ll be no next time in Jesus name. See what these people have caused, they want me to curse myself.
By 10:30 am the gates of the school are opened and we rush there anxiously only to be sent back by ferocious looking army officers. Ah ahn, for ordinary exam? Na wa o. Soon invigilators carrying fat files march into the school flanked by security. We are called in batch by batch and clearance begins. The hot sun makes me dizzy and I lose Dorcas in the struggle to get in. After being cleared, I look for the appointed classroom and find my seat number marked with chalk on a wooden chair. It is 12 o’clock already. The exam begins by 1:30 PM and I try to push the pain aside and concentrate. Any question I don’t know I leave and come back later to face it. If I still don’t know it, it is subjected to random selection since it’s MCQ, what we call “objective”.
Mgbo carriers are caught and sent out. One particular wail makes students look up and I see a boy begging on his knees after his paper is collected. His phone is taken from him and smashed. Then his exam sheet is crumpled. He continues to beg. I manage to finish, rest my head on the desk and slip into restless sleep. When I come to, people are leaving the hall in groups chatting and laughing, the atmosphere light and free. I search for Dorcas outside and see her buying gala and lacasera from a kiosk. We walk to the bus stop to take a bus back to Egbeda.
On the way, I realize that the pain is gone. I tell Dorcas and she says, “they are doing you from the village o”. I roll my eyes at her. We get to Egbeda, alight and exchange numbers. When I get to my street, I walk fast and keep my face straight to avoid questions. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I get home and I am presented with a steaming plate of jollof rice which I accept gratefully. When everything seems terrible, jollof rice is always there for you. The exam has been written. Waiting begins. I don’t usually listen to news but I start to pay attention.
Then I get tired of the suspense after a while. I’ll still take it next year anyway so what’s the point. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the results are out. My heart pounding erratically, I rush quickly to get my scratch card in a cybercafé. Will I take this exam again? The attendant is too slow and I tell him to hurry. He says it’s network issue. Maybe they are really following me from the village after all.I peer anxiously at the computer screen to wait for the silly network. Then I see it.I got 230. My body alive with excitement,I call Dorcas.
“Guess what? I have Jammed JAMB”.
– The writer of this entry requested to remain somewhat anonymous
This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.
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