Every year a time like this in campus, we gathered around the noticeboard. This was always preceded by rumors of exam results being posted in the school portal which made us log in countless times, wondering whether our accounts had malfunctioned when we didn’t find anything.

While everyone else was busy thinking about Valentine’s Day, butterflies were filling up my stomach to the extent of taking my appetite away. Nothing made me as anxious as exam results. I knew that I had spent half of the time attending to social work and the consequences would be dire but I loved it! So I didn’t stop.

Most people would easily juggle extracurricular with books and still excel, but not me. I’m the kind that has to camp at the library to get desirable grades. I did the reading, but it wasn’t sufficient. And so every noticeboard gathering was nerve wrecking.

In every gathering, there was some pushing and shoving by the boys and their sweaty armpits forcing their way through. Most of them would scroll through the list with fingers on the board. Instead of checking their results and leaving, they would go through everyone else’s and other courses as well.

This was accompanied by announcements on which courses had the most fails and their opinions on the circumstance. They were the self-appointed noticeboard commentators.

Short people like me had to wait for their obstructing selves to leave, except for one person: a classmate turned close friend. This was not surprising. When at the dining one time, I watched her step on, pinch and push the boys who had not only sandwiched, but also threatened to displace her from the queue. So when results were posted, she would push back and check them for us.

“Kim umepata sup! Ya nani?” I heard her wonder once. I had failed a unit. Though in disbelief myself, I wondered what was so surprising about it. The seniors had already preached the normalcy of failure and had urged us to get ready for it. I later learned that people with faces like mine didn’t fail exams. It was confusing. I had thought that the opposite was true all along. Isn’t that why the phrase ‘beauty and brains’ exists?

Although her statement was almost a whisper, it felt like she had announced it to the world. Her saying it made it certain, as if it already wasn’t when in print. Knowing that I didn’t want any association with failure, I wondered why she had to utter it and hated her for it.

Being on the fail list was like a death sentence. I had never attained such low grades in my life. It made me feel like an imposter who should have been doing a certificate instead of a degree. It meant that I had to take a supplementary exam (sup) months after everyone had forgotten of the unit’s existence and discarded their books. No one wanted to be the one reading notes when others were on holiday.

On that day, I chose to stay indoors lest anyone I met saw ‘supplementary’ engraved on my forehead. What worried me more was my classmates: They knew that the failed unit was one of the easiest and yet there I was, getting an ‘E’. What a shame. This was in first year.

Staying indoors meant leaving the hostel for only two reasons: food and class. It also meant spending hours agonizing over what had gone wrong during the exam. After considering all factors, it made no sense that I had not managed 40% in the said unit. The more I thought about it, the deeper I sunk into self-pity. And so my hours indoors increased.

A few weeks after the incident, the same close friend urged me to follow the matter up with the Head of Department (HoD). Though in despair, I had already resolved to retake the exam. Besides, I was just a freshman who had gotten an ‘E’ in her first semester and wasn’t about to involve any one else in her business. Also, what if it was declared true? Imagine the walk of shame from the HoD’s office to the hostel! That was out of question.

In her persistence, my friend urged me to call instead. This seemed safer so I accepted. The call led to an appointment, making the dreaded shameful walk a real possibility. There was no backing down so I went ahead and met the HoD. On checking my grades, she wondered how I could have failed that unit and went ahead to look for the answer booklet in the department store.

A few minutes later, she confirmed that an error had been made when recording the marks and would forward the matter to the senate so as to reverse what had been posted.

I remember walking back to my room with a bounce in my step and a temptation to stop anyone in my way and declare that I wasn’t a failure! After that, I faced the noticeboard with confidence.

Looking back, I realize that worrying took so much from me. I wish I didn’t do it. I also realize now that my classmates barely cared. They were too self-absorbed to. I also wish that I had followed up on the matter sooner. Now that I am ‘out here’ working towards my vision, the experience reminds me to step up and make that call. Always. No matter the perceived outcome.