drop in the bucket.

Saad arrived thirty minutes before exam time. The halls were full of nervous, chaotic students chattering about possible solutions and methods. Saad, however, felt a silent calm. It wasn’t that he was confident, he was simply tired. He had been up all night long, in bed with the textbook and problem sets, and with coffee as his companion.

When the TA had given the go, Saad decided to pace himself through the exam. Easy questions first and hardest questions last, he thought. Half an hour into the exam, his stomach started to growl. Saad had skipped breakfast in the morning, or perhaps he had forgotten. He tightened his abdomen muscles hoping no one heard anything.

With an hour left to go, Saad started to doze off a little. He quickly shook it off, and continued with the exam. He started to feel that his nose had started to run, and before he could reach for a tissue paper, a drop from his nose fell splat on the exam paper. Except that this drop was red in colour. Saad realized that his nose had started to bleed. He brought his right hand up to his nose, as a cup to hold and collect the drops of blood. He raised his left hand to catch the TA’s attention, “My nose is bleeding.”

“Are you okay?” asked the TA, a little concerned and a little suspicious.

“I’ll be fine, it’s just blood,” Saad rushed towards the washrooms.

As drops of blood fell onto the sink, Saad rolled up a piece of paper towel, stuck it up his nostril, and washed the blood off his hand. He cleaned up the sink and looked at the ceiling for a few minutes, hoping to let the blood clot and hold. Once satisfied, he took extra pieces of paper towel with him back to the exam room, just in case.

“Are you okay?” asked the TA again.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Saad took his seat in the exam room.

There were a number of problems left to solve and Saad started to work his way into the exam. After a few moments he heard a sound, “Psssttt…”

Saad looked around and everyone seemed to be continuing as normal. The TA was seated at the front of the room, reading a magazine.

“Psssttt…,” Saad heard the sound again, realising that it was coming from the drop of blood, “You had a great chance to cheat there.”

“What?” replied Saad, in a whisper.

“When you went to the washroom, you had a great chance to cheat.”

“No, I mean… what is going on? How is this possible?”

“How is what possible?”

“This conversation, I am talking to a drop of blood.” Saad looked at the drop that had now embedded itself into the exam paper and turned a purple like colour.

“So what? Who told you blood can’t talk? You’re talking to me now, so this must be real.”

“This is insane!”

“Hah, I think you had better concentrate on your exam, Saad.”

“Not with all this talking, can you keep it down? The TA is already suspicious of brown people, I don’t want to get into any trouble.”

Saad continued on with some of the harder problems on the exam.

“I think you better double check that.”

“What? Double check what?”

“That problem you just finished, the third step is messed up.”

“Holy shit, you’re right! How did you know?”

“I’m literally a part of the paper. Oh, and you should know, the answer to question number 11 is the same as question number 3. Question 11 is the hardest.”

“Wait a minute, this is cheating!”

“How is it cheating?”

“You’re giving me the answers and correcting my mistakes.”

“But I was a part of you, I am your blood. How can this be cheating?”

“Because you’re telling me what to do before I think of it. Are you just my mind?”

“No, I am your blood.”

The TA fake coughed, putting an end to Saad’s whispers. The answer to question 11 was indeed the same as the answer to question 3.

“See, I told you so,” said the drop of blood.

“Yes, thank you, but there is something so wrong about this. I need you to go away.”

“You still have a few more questions to do.”

Saad went on to finish the exam with hints from the drop blood from time to time. The exam time ended and the TA started to collect all the papers.

“I hope I never have to see you again,” whispered Saad.

“Excuse me? If you’re taking thermodynamics next semester, you will see me,” said the TA, slightly disturbed.

On the way back home all the students were discussing their answers and planning for the next exam.

“How’d it go, Saad?” asked Helen.

“It was weird, but I think it went fine. I think,” replied Saad, “I’m too tired to think. I haven’t slept.”

Saad immediately fell asleep when he got home.

13 thoughts on “drop in the bucket.”

  1. this reminds me of Gabriel Marquez’s ‘the very old man with enormous wings.’ I kept expecting something meaningful to happen at the end, but nothing ever did. And maybe that’s the beauty of it – building some kind of anticipation only to have it dashed. It’s a good life lesson here. Not sure if that was what you were aiming for though 😛

  2. @anjum – oh but we have always been fictitious.

    @asmaa – i find this very interesting. so, if you will, please humour me.

    I kept expecting something meaningful to happen at the end, but nothing ever did.

    what would, as an example, have been meaningful?

    It’s a good life lesson here. Not sure if that was what you were aiming for though

    i’m definitely not aiming to disperse any life lessons. but in general, and unrelated to this, have been thinking about and along the lines of “shit happens”. and it’s very possible that is making it’s way into the post(s).

    i have no idea how it will end when i start.

  3. Well, that story by Gabriel Marquez features this old man who has wings (i.e. an angel) who just lands in this small town and rests there for months on end, in the same spot. People come from far and wide to see this ‘miracle’ angel, until one day the angel stands up and flaps his wings, and flies away. Then everything goes back to normal.

    See what I mean? You read the story, and you expect there to be some higher divine purpose for the arrival of the angel, but there just isn’t. It’s almost not a story, it’s almost just a statement of fact; this happened. Deal with it. Bye.

    Maybe at the end of this story, Saad could’ve found out that someone actually embedded some kind of microchip in him (lol, that would’ve been a terrible ending) or something like that. Like some definitive event. But there is none, life simply goes on as usual. I suppose we’re just accustomed to the “aha!” moment when we read stories.

    But then again, who’s to say what “meaningful” actually means?

    Also, are you sure you don’t have some mischievous didactic schemes up your sleeve, Adnan?

    Also, you should write a book. When you do, I will borrow it from the library.

  4. Hmmm… yes, meaning could mean a lot of things. i just read the story.

    if the author was trying to tell us something, or convey some meaning, why didn’t he just do so in plain words? hah, what’s with all the confusion? but it may be so that there was no particular purpose and i’m okay with this. because now you’re freer to use your imagination and make things up.

    you can attach themes to the story, like taking advantage of people’s religious beliefs and charging them to see the angel. or commercializing a religious event, eid/christmas. you can make anything up.

    or like people coming from far and wide to have this angel somehow solve their problems. this could mean that we look to someone else to solve our problems, that we like taking the easy way out of things?

    maybe it’s a commentary on how we treat the old? or on how we treat religious entities? or perhaps how we judge based on appearance? how if we don’t understand something, we cage it.

    maybe it’s trying to tell us that angels always find a way to fly?

    and so on and so on. you can make up all sorts of stuff.

    i find the microchip thing interesting, hah. not something i would have thought of though. a definitive ending, eh? maybe we always just want to make sense of things. but sometimes there is no why, sometimes things just are.

    no schemes up my sleeves, just my elbows.

    even if it’s about recursive algorithms you’ll borrow it? but if i did ever write something, it would be available online.

    but in all seriousness, books have a lot of words.

  5. If this were a story included in our English course books at school, we would have been required to answer ‘deep’ questions like:

    Saad refuses to cheat, but a drop of his blood does bring his attention to the opportunity for cheating – does this mean, it is in Saad’s blood to cheat? If yes, why does he manage to resist it? If no, why does the drop of blood suggest it? Discuss. 25 Marks.

    What is the significance of the answer to the toughest question being the same as the answer to another question early on? Do we learn to deal with life’s hardships early on? Discuss. 15 Marks.

    How does the writer underline the racial discrimination in the story? Explain. 10 Marks.

    Write a detailed note on the writer’s life, citing incidents he might have borrowed from to write this story. 50 Marks.

  6. @knicq – those are excellent questions. my only hope to pass would be the last question, and even then it would be graded according to the marker’s subjective perception of my life.

    i would fail this test.

  7. As would everyone else who tried to answer these questions objectively.

    The trick, quite often, was to attach the maximum number of extra sheets in your subjective and very lengthy answer. That and a lot of praying.

  8. As would everyone else who tried to answer these questions objectively.

    The trick, quite often, was to attach the maximum number of extra sheets in your subjective and very lengthy answer. That and a lot of praying.

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