"As well as this, China's growing naval power throughout the coming century may help to cement various territorial claims on islands..."
Shit, shit, shit. I'm out of space. I'm only fifty minutes into this exam and already I've spunked away all of my space for writing, what am I going to do now? I look around the sports hall, the lines of desks stretching out for eternity around me in all directions. Just don't panic, it's not the end of the world. It's not like this exam is the difference between getting a degree and not. Except maybe it is. All those nights of playing gin-based drinking games set to Question Time and coming in late for lectures have caught up with me. Even the ones I did come in for, the focus was more on the cute librarian type sitting in the front row. Never even approached him, alas. Regardless, I actually have to do well in this exam. No more endless dicking around for me, no sir. Well. I may have a drink or two when I'm back at the house. To celebrate. Or more likely, commiserate. It's nearly the last day of term and I'm in an exam for a subject I don't know or care about.
I don't even know what I'm meant to be writing anyway, my theory is if I put enough fancy, polysyllabic words in, the exam markers will be sure to think that this essay is a work of stunning genius rather than something cooked up in desperation by a perennial procrastinator with a love of thesauruses. My revision essentially consisted of hurriedly glancing through the course textbook (why do they always want you to buy the textbook? The only use mine came in was when I accidentally squashed that spider with it) five minutes before the exam. God I must have looked such an idiot. All the calm and collected sorts with their angora scarves and turtle-neck sweaters sipping lattes outside the exam hall, discussing with their dreadful friends what their plans are for the summer, and then there's me. Wearing a pair of oversize jeans some guy left in my bedroom, a stained pullover that had until this morning been acting as a pillow, and madly flipping through an otherwise pristine textbook with arachnid entrails on the cover. I should have tried harder, I know I should have. But is it really my fault this course has been so unforgivably boring? Politics and International Relations? That's not a degree, that's a category on a quiz-show. Well yes, you did want to do English didn't you, but you didn't quite get the grades did you? Ha, thanks for reminding me brain, I did rather fuck up the ol' A-Levels didn't I? I could almost taste Mum's disappointment in me. "Well, there's always the back-up option darling, not that I thought we were going to need it...."
Snap out of it, this self-pity wankery is only just going to make things worse. What did that invigilator guy say at the start? Oh yeah! "Put your hand up if you require more paper." Simple as, couldn't be easier. I told you there was no need to worry. Except those invigilators are on the other side of the hall, suppose they don't see me? How could I get their attention? Maybe I should feign an asthma attack and collapse on the floor. No, too much. A coughing fit?
I glance at the clock dustily ticking away on the other side of the room. Shit. Already wasted five minutes worrying as it is. My heart's beating like a war drum, constantly getting faster and faster.
Swallow your embarrassment you damn fool, and raise your hand then! I raise my hand tentatively into the air, a dim distress beacon in the middle of an turbulent sea. Damn! that nice looking old man is busy with that gormless twat Simon from the study group on the other side of the room. He's probably forgotten how to breathe or something and he's getting the invigilator to remind him how. I don't want to have that other one deal with me, the lady, she hates me. I know I shouldn't have asked for a pencil from her at the start. I didn't mean to forget any form of writing implement, it was more the fault of the hangover now that you think about it.
I try and replay the scene mentally.
"This isn't normal you know, we're not meant to supply stationery to students, it's most unprofessional of you not to have brought something" she sneers at me, all the while looking at me as though I'd dropped my trousers and taken a shit in front of her, instead of ask for help.
"Well, yes but I honestly didn't mean to for-" I start.
The old biddy puckers her arse like mouth. "Hmmmm. I shall look in the supply cupboard. Wait here." She momentarily returns, clutching a blunt pencil in her claw like hand.
"Consider yourself lucky young lady, that was the last one. Now don't let me catch you coming unequipped to an exam again!" and she gives a terrible dry wheezing sound like a church organ being cleaned. It takes me a moment to recognise this as her approximation of laughter.
I shake myself awake. I've been daydreaming. I flick my eyes, paranoid, to the clock again. A minute has passed and they still haven't come to me! My arm's beginning to ache as the blood drains from it. Maybe I should be more obvious? I clear my throat. Nothing.
Maybe I should do it slightly louder this time? - I've just ended up getting the rugby-shirted meatsack in front of me to spin round in his seat and shoot me a filthy look. Great.
Oh god no, I've think I've finally drawn her attention, that old bat's coming this way! Just relax, act natural, you haven't done anything wrong, you just need more paper.
"Whats the matter? I thought I gave you a pencil earlier?"
"Oh, it's not that, I just need some more exam paper, I've ran out of room."
She takes the exam paper from the desk and inspects it with a pair of deep, muddy eyes that are too large for her face. She sniffs. "Give me a moment." She's off, her heels clacking away on the polished parquet floor. Thank god for that. See? There was absolutely nothing to worry about at all was there? Easy as pie, in and out, etcetera, etcetera.
Now, we're going to get our paper, we're going to ace this test, and we're going to go back to the house and try and not collapse into a amorphous blob of nervousness. At least not just yet. Simple enough brain? I thought so. Maybe I can finally let all of this tension and worry go now it's nearly all over.
A familiar clacking noise comes back into earshot now. I've managed to settle myself down, my heart is now beating to the tune of a slow, steady drumbeat. I casually inspect my impeccable fingernails (something I've always been proud of, that) and await the Miss Haversham of the exam hall to make her return.
"There you go." she intones, handing me a new sheaf of papers.
"Than-" I start, but she's already neatly turned on her heels and is clacking off down the aisle.
Triumphantly, I shift back up in my seat. I take a deep, calming breath and glance momentarily at the clock. Twenty minutes left. I know I can do this. Pencil poised, I launch back into the flow of things-
"As well as this China's growing naval power throughout the coming century may help to cement various territorial claims on islands in the Pacifi-"
The pencil lead snaps. Shit.