Written by Jennifer Azubuike
“Ladies and gentlemen please give a round of applause as I call on the winner of this year’s writers’ award to join me on stage. Mr John Mathews.”
The thundering sound of clapping erupted as John marched to the front. The hem of his prime suit flapped rhythmically to his movement as he climbed the shorts stairs in quick steps onto the stage. The presenter handed him a plaque and exchanged handshakes with him as he mouthed his ‘thankyous’ in the deafening sound of applause. Face beaming with excitement, he gave a quick glance at the object in his hand and saw his name engraved in gold on the diamond shaped glass plaque. The clapping continued and some folks even stood as they clapped. When the clapping died down, John stepped up to the microphone for a vote of thanks but when he opened his mouth, the words would not come out. He knew what he wanted to say. His mouth formed the words but the sound would just not come.
“John! John! Wake up.” A hand slapped him on the shoulder to rouse him from sleep.
John opened his eyes and shut them back in reflex to the light shining above his head. He wiped the saliva from the corner of his mouth and sat up. His right arm felt numb from laying on it. He looked in the direction of the person who woke him. It was Kenneth sitting in the next cubicle.
“What time is it?”
“It is 4am.”
“Yeah, you slept the entire time. I tried several times to wake you in vain, but when you started that mouth exercise, I just had to force you up because it was weird.”
“What mouth exercise?”
“The one you do as if you eat in your dream.” Kenneth opened his mouth and moved his jaw up and down in demonstration.
John immediately recalled his dream. The mouth exercise must have been from struggling to speak into the microphone. The dream has reoccurred too many times for John to count, each time slightly different, but it always involved him being declared a best writer. In real life, however, he is studying to be a medical doctor not a writer.
“Have you covered your handout?” Kenneth asked, interrupting his thoughts.
John sighed distressingly. “Yeah, I did in my dream.”
Kenneth chuckled. “Well, I hope you did because the exam is at 8 am this morning.”
“I will stay back here until 6 am. Hopefully, I can cover enough to help me take it.”
Kenneth rose and arranged his books into his book bag. “Okay, I am going back to the dorm to catch some snooze. Please ring me at 6 so I don’t oversleep. And” Kenneth turned and wagged his index finger at John. “Don’t sleep off again.”
John ignored his friend’s attempt at mockery and unwrapped one of the caffeine candies he had brought with him to the library the night before. He watched his friend walk away with confidence in his strides and felt a pang of envy. If Kenneth has studied all night while he slept, he will probably do excellently well. But he pushed the thoughts aside. He has to focus on reviewing the one hundred and fifteen pages of the book in front of him otherwise he won’t do well on this exam. And not doing well means he won’t make his father proud.
The next minute his thoughts drifted back to an incident that occured when he was only ten years old. His father’s car had been in an accident at the time and their family driver was severely wounded. He was pulled from the wreckage with a piece of metal visibly lodged in his thigh. The amount of blood loss they had witnessed made them believe he had no chance of surviving, but a doctor on scene of the accident quickly jumped into action; he applied pressure to some gaping wounds to cub blood loss and did other things that helped stabilize the man which resulted in saving his life in the end.
John’s dad, Mr Mathews, had been so impressed that he kept going back to see that doctor. He has always been a vocal advocate for good education, but since that accident 12 years ago his admiration took another form. A man in white coat with a stethoscope around his neck became an epitome of quality education to Mr Mathews. He spoke so much about the beauty of medical knowledge that he left unsubtle hints that one of his kids has to be a doctor. Unfortunately, His eldest daughter studied law. The second after her took to fashion and design. The last girl was not inclined to science either, so it was left to John.
When it was time to decide on a college, Mr Mathews had told John that he was free to choose any college he wanted but John could see beyond the facade his dad was putting up. He knew his real desire for him was to choose a medical school. Already, John was good at nearly everything; sports, science, debates, name it. But because he had passion for nothing in particular, his dad’s wishes set him on his current path.
“That exam was hard.” Kenneth said as he struggled to adjust the handle of his book bag while trying to keep up with John. “What was your answer to question 45? That was my most challenging question.”
John marched on without answering his friend’s question or commenting on the just concluded exam. Kenneth slipped his bag on and ran up to his friend. He pulled him by the arm to slow him down.
“Hey! What’s up with you?”
“Ken, I don’t remember my answer to question 45 and I am tired. I need to get some sleep before time for clinicals.”
“But you got more sleep than I did. If anyone should be complaining, it is me.”
John flashed an angry look at his friend who raised his arms in surrender and apologized. John walked away leaving Kenneth bewildered and wondering what he had done wrong.
Back at their shared dorm room, a three hundred square foot space. Two bunk beds are placed to the walls opposite each other. A wide closet is at one end, next to a window. For want of space, the students joined their desks in the middle of the room leaving a little walking space between the beds and their study desks. Alex was reading at one end of the desk when John walked in.
John hissed and dropped off his bag. “I don’t know.”
“I thought you both had a common paper to write this morning.”
“Yeah, I left him there afterwards.”
“Okay? And your exam?”
“It was fine!”
“What’s up with the long face anyway?”
John was uncertain whether to share his grievance. He was not sure what contribution Alex would make to the matter but knew he would only feel better if Alex condemned Kenneth for selfishness. He also knew that Kenneth could not be directly blamed for his poor exam performance, yet he felt a mixture of envy and anger for his supposed friend not looking out for him.
“Kenneth is a terrible person for a friend”
“What did he do?”
He hesitated to reply. When he would, he went into a pitiful tale of how Kenneth doesn’t look out for him anytime they prepared for an exam.
“You know, bottom line, that you’re responsible for yourself, right?”
“But I coached him when he struggled with Anatomy. I didn’t give it a rest until he passed that course.” His roommate watched him throw fist in the air as he spoke.
“Comm’n John, stop being childish.” Alex chided but quickly changed his tone when he noticed his words only infuriated John. “Okay I know you both are buddies and it is expected that he returns favors. I will talk to Ken about it. Okay?”
“Can I share my observations?”
John turned to Alex expectant. Maybe he has an ugly revelation about Kenneth that would be soothing.
“You have been particularly unhappy since resumption. Is something troubling you? I mean, is everything fine back home?”
John stared at him in disbelief for a moment and stuttered. “I…I am fine. My family is fine too. Thanks for your concern.”
Alex shrugged. “Okay then, I have been wanting to talk to you about something, but it can wait if you’re in such a bad mood.”
“We can talk. What is it?”
“My colleague is running for the Student Union President. We need someone to handle the press position. Would you be interested?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“Because I saw the poems you wrote on the cover of your textbook so I thought you might have some inclination to write. We really need any help we can get.”
“I barely have any time on my hand outside school work, so I don’t think so.”
That night, John stirred restlessly on his bed thinking over his conversation with Alex. He finally came to terms with the fact that he has been truly unhappy, even borderline depressed and his school work is taking a hit for it. His only happy times had been during the first semester of medical school. Since then, even things he does for pleasure do not bring him any happiness; no, not even soccer. If he even finds time for that anymore. But what could be sapping the joy of life from him?