20 / done and dusted

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The sun had been out for a solid week as Ishaana, Melody and Pearl had all been hunched over their desks working towards their final exam of the year. The sky had been the purest blue as the beginning of May had become the middle and the sun had been a glowing orb in the sky, casting light and heat over the country, but none of them had had much of a chance to enjoy it. Pearl had hardly left her room at all, poring over her books and making page after page of notes that she meticulously copied out to commit the quotes to memory. Even Ishaana had worked harder than before, listening to lecture recordings and copying out her notes in an effort to remember the facts.

And all for a few hours' work. When the clock hit five past four on Wednesday afternoon, Ishaana could have sworn that she heard a collective sigh go round the examination hall. The university's old gym had been transformed with row after row of desks, three hundred in total to account for everyone enrolled on the same politics course as Ishaana, though she hardly recognised most of the people. There never seemed to be more than fifty people at the lectures she went to, five sixths of the students choosing to risk winging it.

It was done. She sat in the silent room, staring at the clock as the exam coordinators made their way around the room, collecting in the papers row by row, and she tapped her foot impatiently as she cursed the placement of her last name in the alphabet. J was too close to the middle, meaning that whether they were dismissed in alphabetical order or the reverse, it would be a while before she was able to leave. Her thumbnail absent-mindly scratched at the lettering on the side of her pen, rubbing off the gold colour, and she diverted her attention from the clock. It went impossibly slowly when she watched each second tick by, so she cast her eyes down to her hands, staring at her nails.

Time seemed to slow. Seconds became minutes; minutes dragged themselves on for ten times as long. The eleven minutes it took for the instructors to collect in all of the papers and dismiss each row up until Ishaana's felt more like an hour, and she grabbed her pens as soon as she was given the go-ahead to leave the exam room. Slinging her bag over her shoulder and digging out her phone, holding down the power button to bring it to life, she couldn't help but grin as she left.

No more exams. Not for another year, anyway, and those really would be the last. She couldn't envisage any future job she planned to have that would involve taking exams, especially not in huge rooms of three hundred virtual strangers. But her grin dipped south when she reached the doors and a sea of students carried her out into a downpour. All around her, people shrieked as they ducked for cover when the rain took them by surprise, wrestling with jackets and bags to create makeshift coats.

Ishaana slipped off to one side, huddling beneath the overhang, and stared out at the bleak weather as she waited for her phone's service to return to normal. Pearl and Melody would have finished by now too, perhaps even later when their own surnames were closer to the centre of the alphabet than her own, and she opened up their group chat with excitement coursing through her thumbs.

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