Celebrating East African Writing!
Cynthia was a second year Law student. She sat on her bed flicking with her phone, not doing anything in particular, legs propped on a stool. Her TV set was booming a soft, lilting Rise by Gabriele. On her table was stacked a lot of law textbooks, question papers, unfinished drafts of term papers and exercise books. There was Evidence by Cross and Tapper, Equity and Trusts, Partnership Law and other textbooks. Her statutes lay higgledy-piggledy on the table. On the wall, snapped a handwritten slogan: Old Lawyers Never Die. Cynthia stood up, shuffled to the table and looked at her timetable, she had exactly one week to read for her End-of-semester exams.
Earlier in the day, her Evidence lecturer had warned that the stakes will be higher. What was his phrase? An exam for crème-de-la-crème. He wanted authorities and cases and reasoned answers, not regurgitated notes. Cynthia dreaded the supplementary exam. She already had two from last semester, one for Evidence and the other for Criminal Procedure. She twiddled with the course outlines, recommended reading lists and table of cases. Time was running out fast. This churned her stomach. Not even Gabriele could sooth it.
Cynthia was always fascinated with law since she was in High School. Her school had organized for a motivational speaker to help them get incentive to work hard. The speaker had driven in a Peugeot 504, and then the car had held Cynthia stupefied. If it was the car that exuded the financial clout of the speaker, you had to wait till he stepped out. There he was, resplendent in a dark three-piece suit, swinging his car-key, walking every inch a big shot lawyer.
He had talked about the importance of goals, hardwork and the campus life. He had painted a rosy picture of the life there—of the cozy lifestyle, of good meals, of well-spaced lectures. Cynthia yearned for the university. That was 10 years ago in Manufaa Yajayo Secondary School. Thus Cynthia read books like there was a Hangman above her neck. She made amends with her weaker subjects and bugged her teachers on topics she hadn’t understood.
Then she had received admission in the Faculty of Law and as she sat in the packed university hall during orientation she kept congratulating herself for her feat. Coming from Manufaa Yajayo, a school whose name elicited a lot of laughter from her classmates, she repeatedly told herself that her dreams were half-fulfilled. The Chancellor had welcomed them, the lecturers, DVC Administration and Academic, and the Dean, all of them shown. The Chaplain had urged them to develop ‘holistically’ and not to forget their ‘spiritual growth’. After wards, they had eaten at the Campus Cafeteria and for once Cynthia told herself that that was the place she was to be. Where in her village she ate wild vegetables and sorghum flour ugali, that day she had eaten a plateful of rice and deep-fried chicken. Oh the ironies of life!
But the honey-moon was soon over. For weeks she kept going to the wrong halls and wrong lecture rooms. She remembers that day when she entered a two-door hall by mistake. For a couple of minutes she had been fed on thermodynamics and wondered where in hell physics will return to haunt her in a law class. Realizing her folly, she had dashed out through a rear door, walked the pavement outside only to enter the front door and stand feet away from the same horn-rimmed lecturer. Cynthia had made a U-turn and left the hall in stitches.
If Cynthia was baffled by the university life, that would be an understatement. She kept being in the wrong places, gawping and missing lectures. It was after a fortnight that she ‘discovered’ where she belonged. By then the first topics had been taught and most of her colleagues were adjusting to the ‘culture shock’ of the university. She kept miss-spelling cases and legal jargons. She just wrote what her Manufaa Yajayo English teacher had pumped into her head. She was introduced to various legal systems, constitutional law and contracts and a medley of other units. Latin terms came popping up…mutatis mutandis…locus standi…ab initio…locus classicus. For some strange reasons, her lecturers rolled the terms as if she was coming from a legal family. Without a bat of an eyelid, they could ask: What was the ratio decidendi of Cassman Brown? For Cynthia, with a poor Math background, a ratio dealt with numbers. And what about this Cassman man? It was a tough life, the law class.
She had then enrolled in Moot Court, Kenya Model United Nations and the Law Club. Wet behind ears, Cynthia tried to scoop as many certificates as she could. No conference missed her presence right from Theology to Social Sciences. That was vintage Cynthia. But she always felt that her time was always in perpetual conspiracy with her: time was always scarce. She had also attended the Miss University beauty pageant and became a runner-up. Cynthia’s name had become the university household name.
But exams knew no household name. She had to read and pass the exams and this she had to do fast. Cynthia just squirmed on her bed flicking her phone. A soft rap on the door jolted her to her feet. She rose and went to answer it.
‘Ah Cynthia girl, you forgot about the Evidence discussion?’ her friend Liz spat. They had agreed to have the discussion after dinner. It was now past 8.
‘Good gracious! Forgot about it till now. Could we do it justice now?’
‘It’s ok. Evidence gives me the creeps. You saw the timetable?’
‘Yeah. I feel being on a Hangman’s noose, so much to do so little time’
‘You heard about Chris? He’s resolved he’s not sitting any paper’
Chris was a party animal. He always knew where a party was to be held, by whom, when and whether it would be a smash or not. He held the Campus event diary by heart. You could name any club in the city and he will tell you its location, its bartenders, its patrons and its DJ’s nickname and real names. In the university, Chris came to be regarded as GoogleEarth since like an Entertainment writer he knew the rendezvous spots like the palm of his hand.
‘Not my cup of tea. Better I flop than wait for specials. Got an idea why they call it special? There to fry you.’
They had discussed Hearsay, the justifications, the limitations, the cases supporting them and tried to analyze a problem question. But at the back of Cynthia’s mind was a nagging question: Was she really prepared for the ‘Crème-de-la-crème exam’? Was she really cut for it? Cynthia always had a penchant for English. She loved reading good novels by Grisham and Ludlum. She wrote articles regularly for Campus Clincher, the university magazine and was already making a collection of her poetry. Perhaps she could have made a fine Literature student? Perhaps she could have been reading a novel, enjoying it and yet reading for exam? But she wanted to stand in court, thumbing big files and winning big cases and driving in a posh car. She wanted to be addressed ‘counsel’ and called wakili in her village. She wanted to be that motivational speaker, every inch a big shot lawyer.
The Auditorium was filled with more than seventy soggy-eyed law students. Some flipped through their mwakenyas, looking up on the roof to test whether their minds could remember the last-minute facts and holdings of cases. Others made frantic efforts to confirm one or two forgotten issues. Yet others appeared to be resigned to fate, wistfully staring at the space. Cynthia sat in a front-row, trying to be as calm as she could be. The tense air in the exam room could be cut with a knife. GoogleEarth was there. Cynthia saw him and suppressed her sudden laughter. But her laughter was tinged with the exam phobia. It was 8:45. Exam was to start at exactly 9.
It was the metallic voice that startled the occupants of the Auditorium.
‘Wazalendo, the hour of reckoning has come. No reading will help at this time so put away all the mwakenyas and anything that may incriminate you. Please make sure you keep your mind-you will need it, very’.
The students laughed and stood to put away their law materials. After about five minutes, only an occasional sneeze and shuffling of feet could be heard.
That past week had been the toughest for Cynthia. Though not a library girl, she had frequented it like a research fellow immersed between shelves containing the Law reports and journals. She trawled the Blacks Law Dictionary as a forensic expert does to a fingerprint specimen, jotting down important notes on topics she dreaded. During discussions, she collected a wide array of views on an issue she was not clear about. She had photocopied examination past-papers and discussed them and conceptualized possible twists of questions and their possible answers. The promise was a crème-de-la-crème exam and there were no taking chances.
The normal instructions were said about the gravity of exam cheating and being found with ‘incriminating evidence of possible exam cheating’. Examination papers were distributed to the students, good luck wished and exam ordered to start. As usual, clicks, subdued grunts and uneasy shuffles were heard. Noses were blown and fingers snapped.
Cynthia sat in the Auditorium and glanced over the question paper. The compulsory question, as usual, was a page-long passage. She exclaimed, ‘I refuse to die’ to reassure herself. She read the remaining questions, four of them in total. The Auditorium abruptly burst into a paroxysm of laughter. Before the invigilators was GoogleEarth, paper in hand, face distraught. He was engaged in a heated argument with the invigilators and stepped out. He mumbled something to do with lecturers setting questions to frustrate future lawyers.
Examination booklets were written on and more requested for. It was a race against time. Periodic time reminders were given.
‘A half an hour left,’ the invigilator boomed. ‘Thirty minutes left!’
‘W-h-a-t!’ the Auditorium cursed in unison.
‘I said one thousand eight hundred seconds!’
It was not the ostensible huge chunk of time left but the serious tone of the voice that diffused the tense-filled room. An occasional do-it-fast-terrify-‘em handed over his examination booklet a half an hour earlier and threw the Auditorium in momentary panic.
Five minutes were left. Two queues were already formed. The dying minutes of the two-hour exam ticked away.
‘Stop, your time is over! Stop writing!’
The new semester came. Lecture time tables were collected and holiday experiences recounted. But the campus was stiff with apprehension over the past semester’s transcripts to be collected the following week. Though the usual reluctance and lay-off manner that is characteristic of the beginning of the semester showed, transcript collection due for the following week hung like a guillotine over every student’s head. Lecturers struggled to retain the concentration of divided minds.
Finally the day came.
Faculty of Law had been scheduled to start collecting their transcripts in the afternoon that day. Tentacles of fear wrapped the morning law class. Cynthia thought about the Evidence exam last semester. She had given it her best shot but time was not just enough. Will she have a supplementary exam again?
The queue dragged. Cynthia’s sweat-soaked palm clutched her College ID and the financial department confirmation slip. As she stood in the Registrar’s office before the glass wall, her feet turned jelly-like. The assistant took her ID and slip and pulled her transcript from the sheaf. Cynthia signed off beside her name, grabbed her transcript, folded it and wobbled out of the lounge.
Naturally, her eyes looked at the mean-score.
‘Not that bad’ she gasped. With a lot of trepidation, Cynthia looked at the printed sheet. ‘Yes. This was an antidote for that crème-de-la-crème exam!’ Liz stood before her, beaming with joy, transcript in hand.
©Lorot Salem 2010
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