Monday morning, October the 28th, 2013. No, it didn’t begin like any other day, because it wasn’t just another day – it was the day of reckoning. It was d-day, judgement day, doomsday, eschaton, or whatever you choose to call it; the point is it was the day it almost went all-wrong for me. True story.
Let me give you a little bit of background. My name is Blessing Mabasa – yes, that’s my real name – and I’m a final-semester electrical engineering student at the Vaal University of Technology. My family background is, let’s just say less than ideal. My parents are both unemployed and I’m the only one, of three children, who the hopes and dreams of the Mabasa family depends upon. They have invested everything in me. Simply put, if I fail they’re screwed. My road to academic success hasn’t been without potholes, this is my fourth year doing a course that should only take two years; nobody’s fault but my own there. But the most critical thing here is that this was the last chance the HOD was affording me to complete my S4, failing which would result in academic exclusion. I should’ve finished last year actually but a large gorilla, in the form of Electrical Machines 3, has been standing in my way ever since. The whole semester I’ve been saying to myself that there’s no way I can fall at the last huddle like this, just no way. But as I’ve already alluded it almost happened, and I sit here today a very grateful man that it didn’t.
The semester began on a terrible note really. On the first day of class I had a run-in with the lecturer, Rev. Shittu, an old-fashioned and somewhat short-tempered guy. My mistake? Forgetting my books at home; something the good pastor took a sign of disrespect and lack of commitment. He came up to me that day and he said, “I promise you you’ll not pass machines this semester with that attitude.” Needless to say I never quite got back to his good side.
Admittedly, I messed up on the first test. I wasn’t prepared enough I guess and I ended up getting 36%. It’s worth noting that the reverend didn’t fail to rub it in when I went to collect my script. I thought I’d done better on the second test but a few mistakes reduced my mark to just 65%, but I wasn’t that unhappy with it, at least it had balanced-out my test one score. Okay, so before I tell you about the final test, let me explain a little bit about the way the final year marks are calculated.
In power engineering, four things contribute towards your year mark: three semester tests – all out of hundred percent – and a practical mark – also out of hundred. It is compulsory to pass the practical – a pass is 50% by the way – to qualify to write the exam. But unlike other departments, the department of power requires that even the theory average be above 50 percent. I’ve never had problems with practicals, which was the case even this semester as my practical mark was 66%.
With the combined score of my first two tests, 36+65, being 101, I needed to at least get 49% on my third and final test to get to the minimum 150, which would make my theory average to be 50%. I don’t remember ever studying as hard for any other test like I did for that test. I did everything, or so I thought. I was even anticipating a total. But Shittu had other Ideas. He gave us what is surely the most difficult test ever set for students by a sane teacher last Tuesday, October 22nd 2013. I mean it was ridiculous! Not to brag or anything, but I’m a former best student in my high school, I have four matric distinctions for Physical Science (92%), Mathematics (90%), Biology (87%) and Xitsonga (80%). I’m a metallurgical engineering drop-out at the University of Pretoria. I’ve written tests before without even studying, and I have never got less than 20% for anything in my life – not even homework! But I can assure that the test he gave us was so ridiculous that almost all the class, including me, was getting zero for it. I say was because by the mercy of God, Mr. Shittu realised the shear preposterousness of his antics immediately after the test, and in an unprecedented move pasted a notice for a re-write of the test the following day. I was convinced my life was over after that test, but reading that notice board threw a lifeline at me. Relief ran through my veins when I saw it, and I couldn’t believe something like that was possible. But that was only the beginning, more twists awaited me.
The re-write was considerable much easier, in fact it was so easy a couple of people got distinctions from it. After the near-disaster of the previous day, I went into that test only looking for 14 marks out of 30 which would give me the 49% which I need to qualify for the exam. Three questions, all 10 marks each, I felt pretty confident after writing, so much so that I was even expecting a PD. Then on Monday, 23 October, as I was sitting in front of my PC working on my latest ebook, my friend whatsapp’d me to say the results for test three were out. My heart rate was just a tad higher than normal as I made my way to V.U.T at about 13:00. Imagine my horror as I went through the pile of scripts and came up with mine telling me that I got 37%. I was devastated. I was lost for words and I didn’t know what to do. In the end there was only one thing I could do, go inside Shittu’s office and beg him for marks. Just three marks! Three marks that will put my score to 49%. I thought surely if I explain to him my situation and plead with him to have mercy on me he’ll have to understand, right? No.
“Do I look like I’m manufacturing marks?” was his response to me beseeching him to add just three marks to the 11 out of 30 I got. Those are words that I’ll probably never forget as long as I live. “I’m not manufacturing marks here,” he reiterated, with a very cold and dismissive expression on his face. I was gut-wrenched. I went home and lay on my bed mopping at how untimely and not-so-fancy my demise was. I didn’t even know how I was going to tell my mother, who spends half of her time hungry by fasting and praying for me, that I was coming home to sit-around for good. I felt like God had abandoned me.
At 16:00 that same day, after feeling sorry for myself all I could, I decided to go back to Shittu’s office and plead with me one last time, cry and get on my knees if I have to! I got there and asked him again, but with that same expressionless face he said, “I do not manufacture marks.” I went out of the office and that’s when it hit me. Probably the most daring attempt at deceit I’ve ever undertaken. I said to myself if this guy says he’s not manufacturing marks, how about I manufacture them for him. I went through my script again-and-again looking for a place where I could change the answer without looking like a fraud. And then finally, I got one. Question 3 (iii). It was worth two marks. I wasn’t going to get me to 49% but it would get me close enough for maybe the system to convert my year mark to fifty. It was the last kick of a dying horse. It was an all-or-nothing situation. There was a high risk I would get caught and only God knows what Shittu’s tamper would have driven him to do if that had happened, maybe I would’ve been suspended or whatever. But I didn’t care. I was losing anyway! I manipulated the answer until it appeared close to the correct one without erasing anything and being careful to write with the same pen and handwriting.
When I went back to his office for the last time, it was a few minutes to five-o’clock, and he was just about to leave his office and submit the marks to be entered into the system. He looked very exasperated when he saw me walk in, again. I said to him, “Sir, I think you might’ve made a mistake on question 3, sir, I got the answer but you marked it wrong.” I had no idea how he would respond. But the response wasn’t negative; he sat back down, took out his memorandum and opened it to question 3, roman-figure 3. After and elongated silence, marked by unblinking stares back-and-forth between my paper and his memo, he finally looked up at me and said, “Why did I mark it wrong?” I wasn’t scared anymore; I was prepared for whatever would come my way if I got caught. I retorted with a smile and said, “Maybe your glasses weren’t in the right place sir.” He stared blankly at me for a second, my smile faded, and he went back to the two papers that lay before him. A further few moments of staring back-and-forth between them followed, then, finally, he reached out for his marking pen and corrected my script. He added the two marks to my total and it gave me a score of 43%. He took out a calculator and added all my marks to enter them into his final mark-list. He said, “Your total is 48%, I’m going to push you to fifty but consider yourself very lucky.”
That was the day it all went horribly wrong for me, but a risky trick, executed in the most last ditch of ways, saved the day. Now I just need to make sure I pass the exam to make my mum happy, for once!
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