… When the cuff pressure is reduced and becomes equal to the systolic pressure, then the brachial artery opens up slightly and there is an intermittent blood flow in it due to which a soft tapping sound just begins to be heard in the stethoscope. And finally, when the cuff pressure is reduced further and it becomes equal to diastolic pressure, then the brachial artery opens up fully, the blood flow in it is fully restored and hence the tapping sound just disappears.
I scribble the final ‘s’ in my answer and drop my pen a little too loudly, and my hand flexes and contorts to relieve a great deal of tension that has been building for… fifty three minutes. Which means I have sixty seven - hang on, sixty six left. I take a deep breath, as instructed by the exam advisor brought into the final lecture of term four weeks ago. Ironically, he was a stout, pitiful-looking man with a face that was always lubricated with sweat, glazing huge red pom-poms that replaced his cheeks, and he always looked like he was struggling for air. In fact, one girl behind my failed to subdue her giggling. She just wasn’t trying hard enough.
I glance up at the clock again - it reads 11.54 - then at the front row of headless bodies, then back at the clock, as if waiting for the long hand to finally hover over the bold line thirty degrees anti-clockwise to the gothic numerals XII. 11.55 comes within twenty seconds or so. My head falls back down and locks into a position that ignores that pangs that shoot through the muscles in my neck.
Q7. List the muscles and tendons in the human body required to stand from a seated position. (4 marks)
Easy. My answer is so concise it sounds suspiciously rehearsed. My pen moves to write:
Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Tibialis Anterior and the Core.
I scan the next question.
Q8. Use these muscles to stand. (2 marks)
I stare blankly for probably about forty seconds. At first, my initial response is to describe in detail the process in which muscles and tendons collaborate to allow the body to stand up. The question is at the bottom of the page. I turn overleaf, juggling my pen between my free hand, ready to complete the three or four dotted lines I expect to see.
But there are none. Question 9 is at the top of the next page.
I ponder with an audible grunt. I exhale. I begin to chew my pen, which I understand is a nervous habit, but I do it anyway. My heart rate is speeding up, so I do my breathing exercises, mentally counseling myself. Re-read the question. You’ll have just missed something. So I do. But it still reads ‘Use these muscles to stand.’ I half read this aloud, and my mouth produces sounds that usually come from a deaf person attempting speech. A couple of other candidates clear their throats in unison. The hall echoes. My eyes flicker across to the boy sat to my right; he is still writing rapidly, and from the looks of it, he is a couple of questions behind me. I start to assess my options. In any other circumstance, I would simply wait to observe whether my neighbour appears as perplexed by the nature of Question 8 as I do, but fate would have it that, for the first time since my first year summer exams, I’m actually doing quite well, and I happen to be sat next to someone who is clearly not as well-prepared as me.
I’m wasting time. It’s 11.59 already, and experience tells me that the latter pages of the exam will require the most investment. So I raise my hand for an invigilator, tapping my pen against the side of the desk in a rhythm that poorly mimics Hendrix’s ‘Bold As Love’, probably due to having it on repeat during the second week of independent study.
The invigilators are not in the hall. I reassess my observation, my head turning slowly, owl-like, surveying the vast hollowness of the sports hall, filled with the clicking of ball-points, and the coughing and sneezing and general non-verbal whining emitted from the students who haven’t had the courtesy to shake off their hay fever before exam day. When did they leave? It could have been anytime over the last hour; my focus on the paper was so intensive that, admittedly, I had isolated myself almost completely from my surroundings. The soft mew of a hinge would have failed to disturbed me. As would footsteps transforming from harsh, echoing clacks to cushioned whispers on the carpet that awaited outside the main doors. I could have been completely unaware of a small group of middle-aged temps abandoning the silent congregation.
However, I am struggling to recall them ever being there in the first place. Real faces are replaced with photocopies of old people I knew when I was younger in my mind, of jumbled stereotypically dull features, and bad clothes, and smells. I find it difficult to recall even an announcement of the rules of the examinations - I had been preoccupied with the memorization of a definition that, I had been almost guaranteed, would be inquired upon in the paper (it had, question 3, imploring for the definition of a cyst).
It is at this moment, this moment of intensive inward surveillance, that a chair a few metres behind my scrapes agains the floor, with a lifeless groan.
An asian man is now standing at his desk.
As I’m staring, I notice a couple of other students also gazing up in confusion, confusion slowly transforming into anxiety, anxiety into comprehension, comprehension into dawning revelation. Their faces express this in grotesque contortions and stretches, forming silent exclamations with lips like worms writhing on their faces, their eyes like marbles shimmering completely static in their sockets.
The asian man himself is glancing about the room, awkwardly. He is shaking visibly. He matches my gaze for a split second, then blinks it away, looking down at his paper, picking it up, fidgeting. He moves his head slightly as if to highlight to his audience that he is, indeed, re-reading the question. He shrugs.
Now some of the candidates still writing stop mid-flow to witness the phenomenon. They seem somewhat irate about the ordeal; there is audible tutting echoing around the hall. The asian man ignores this, scratches his chin, looks around.
Then he starts walking to the front.
I sit watching, bewildered. A couple more chairs scrape against the patterned floor of the hall, both further behind me. I turn again to see a girl, looking a little too young to sit this exam, and one of my housemates, Christopher, who seems to be containing an excited grin, standing among the multi-coloured mass. I snort dismissively.
I turn back to the asian man, who is now at the front of the hall. He is standing at a table that I haven’t noticed before, looking up at something to his right, then back down at his paper, which he is carrying with a trembling hand. When he looks up to his right a second time, I follow his gaze.
There is a very small blinking light in the top right corner of the hall. It is a camera.
With abrupt haste, I swipe my hand across my page to turn overleaf, and read Question 9 semi-aloud:
Q9. Walk to the front of the examination hall. (2 marks)
I clench my jaw. The asian man is already onto Question 10. He’s beating me. I do my breathing exercises again, until the long-haired man in front of me pushes back his chair, and stands up, in unison with the camera as it blinks a green light at him.
Of course. The camera is now marking our exams.
Slowly, I stand to my feet. It takes me around ten seconds to make my way to a fully erect posture, as my eyes are fixed warily on the camera. A tiny green light flickers finally. I smile.
Christopher is nearly at the front of the hall, striding ostentatiously, that stupid grin still built like a bridge of teeth from each hollow cheek. He has left the tentative, young-looking girl behind, who seems now to be close to tears with nerves, frantically searching the room with her eyes for any authorial presence that isn’t automated. The long-haired man in front of me, I can tell, is waiting to see how the asian man is doing. I don’t bother - I have wasted enough time as it is. The clock now reads 12.04, meaning that I only have fifty-six minutes left for a potentially tough and time-consuming final essay question. I need to speed up.
Deciding that Questions 8 and 9 were the easiest four marks I have ever achieved in an exam (except for the opening section of my GCSE Biology paper), I walk swiftly to the front of the hall, catching a contenting green flash in the corner of my eye, and arrive at the table that has somehow infiltrated the hall prior to my acknowledgement of its presence.
The table is barren. Christopher and I stand staring at it, glancing at each other. He tries to gesticulate with subtlety that he doesn’t understand the next question, but I choose to ignore him. Instead, I go back to my desk to pick up my paper, mentally cursing myself for having not done so in the first place, and read Question 10.
Q10. Dr Baines places a rifle on a table. The rifle is loaded with two shells.
Retrieve the rifle with any force necessary. (6 marks)
I find myself clearing my throat, looking up at the camera. I return to the front of the hall, back to the table, where Christopher is still making a performance out of his struggle to interpret Question 10. I crouch to check underneath the table, in case said rifle has fallen through a gap where the table hasn’t quite touched the wall, but I find nothing.
I stand up, re-read the question, and begin to consider that this may, in fact, be a hypothetical question. Perhaps the rifle is in fact a formula. Perhaps this is a unique reiteration of the clichéd ‘find X’ equation. But what equation could I use? There is also no instruction to return to my desk.
I turn around to go back and sit down nevertheless, but as I do so, I spot the asian man. He is no longer at the front of the hall. He is slowly walking down the third aisle of seats, his head twitching from side to side, as if he was looking for something, his arms in front of him cradling-
The rifle. He has the rifle.
I move to follow him, checking my question again. Any force necessary. The asian man seems tense, his movements robotic and incredibly well-controlled, though he is shaking even more extremely than before. I sense his eyes scanning each desk he passes, nervous glances that are met with horrified gasps and frozen bodies as each candidate spots his weapon.
I’m gliding behind him as silently as possible, and I can feel Christopher debating whether to follow me, but when I fire a glance behind, I see that he is still stuck to the table, anchored by what looks like fear. I turn back, and examine the asian man’s sudden diversion into the fourth aisle. He is squeezing through a small gap in front of the desk of a heavily bearded, and now distinctly flustered ginger man, who shuffles backwards with his desk in a terrified attempt at a sycophantic peace-offering.
I evade an encounter with a Hindi girl, making her way to the front without - somehow - regarding the hunter creeping through the thick undergrowth of desks and chairs. Her eyes are fixed on her paper, her eyebrows are dancing.
The clock reads 12.07. I have moved into the fourth aisle a few desks behind the asian man’s diversion, spotting a slightly wider gap in front of a skinny girl with smoker’s breath and wispy hair. She barely looks up from her desk as I pass; in fact, I am fairly sure that she has fallen asleep.
The asian man comes to a stop about five or six desks away from the back of the hall, staring down at a desk to his right, where a black man - skin dark enough to brag Nigerian descent - is staring sheepishly back up at him. I use his brief halt to make my move.
I get within a metre or so of him when I negotiate my plan of action with myself. Do I ask for the rifle? Will I need to take it with physical force from the offset, utilising my brief window of advantage? I opt for the latter.
As the asian man makes to cock the rifle, I wrap an arm around his neck, with the other gripping firmly onto the barrel of the gun. Immediately, I am met with a surprisingly agile retaliation - he elbows me in the solar plexus, and tries to head-butt me, but I spasmodically duck, allowing him to fall backwards onto me. I sweep his feet and he stumbles. I pull hard on the gun and kick him in the chest, and he falls onto the hard floor, and I hear his head collide with the ground, and he yelps, but instinctively kicks my knee, which half-buckles, and I drop the rifle and trip backwards, landing on my foot but he is already back up with his hair all bloody and he looks angry, and I feel angry too so I wait for him to run and I try to dodge but I don’t quite evade his attack and he brings me down to the floor with him, but now I’m in range of the rifle, and as he makes to punch me in the face I knee him in the diaphragm and he goes silent, clawing for air for a second or two before he splutters loudly and falls backwards, and by now the rifle is in my hands, and I have hit him in the face with it, hard. He hits the floor unconscious, with a broken nose and a fractured skull. Some of his blood is on my shirt and I try to wipe it off, but it just stains deeper.
I cock the rifle, and walk - limping because of the shooting pain in my knee whenever pressure is applied - back to the table at the front of the hall, where my paper is. I swallow some blood, and look up at the camera, which ticks my answer with a bright green flash. Another six marks.
I look at Question 11, and my heart stops.