Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Joshua Hoehne

“Solve these three questions,” the teacher’s voice boomed across the classroom. “You’re allowed to discuss. First to answer wins something.”

The teacher stepped down from the wooden pedestal in front of the blackboard and strode over to the first bench. He dropped the chalk piece on the table and chafed his hands, looking around at the class. Jerking my head back to my notebook, I began copying the questions. It’s the golden rule of Classroom Ethics; never make eye contact with the teacher.

I read the first question once. Then twice. I read the question many times until I’d lost count. 

“Did you get it?” I whispered to my best friend Betsy who sat to my left. 

“I don’t know which formula to use,” she whispered back. “Do you?”

I shook my head, twisting my lips into a frown. I read over the question again. The more I tried to decipher them, the more my brain seemed to shut off. I looked over at the grimy white wall to my right to prevent my mind from being tainted further with the numbers and symbols. Someone had written VANDALISM IS A CRIME in black ink and underlined it several times. Further below those words was an image of Iron-Man’s mask in black and blue ink. I brought my pencil closer to its face and–

“He’s looking at you,” hissed Betsy, kicking my leg.

I made a show of rubbing the wall and looking at the graffiti with disgust and shook my head, pretending to return to solving the sums.

Though I didn’t look around, I could make out the concentration with which everyone was solving those three sums. There were whispers from all around the classroom, but never too loud. No one wanted to risk being heard by their competitors. I pondered what the ultimate prize would be. I remembered overhearing one of the seniors mentioning that excellent students were given a position in a special batch with many holidays and lots of gifts.

Flipping open my textbook with resolution, I scanned for any similar sums. I slapped my forehead at how silly I had been, spotting a formula I could use. Analysing both the formula and the question, I deemed it the perfect fit. I nudged Betsy and thrust my notebook towards her. She perked her head up, looking as though she’d won the lottery.

I made the derivations and substituted the values as Betsy scribbled the numbers and signs onto her paper with her blue ballpen clutched loosely between her fingers. She did the complex multiplication and divisions. Once she finished, I compared the values and drew the graph. Betsy kept looking around the class, whispering encouraging words: no one else’s finished yet, someone got it wrong, we’re almost there

We finished.

In the seats a few rows and columns away from us sat a group of boys and I saw them all perk up with excitement. We both finished. It was now a matter of who announced the achievement first. Realising this, I thrust my hand in the air, trying to ignore the stinging pain that shot up my fingers as I slapped the edges of my table.

“Sir!” I shouted, the intention to draw attention to us but fueled by the pain.

As if on cue, the bell rang.

“Sir! We’re done!” shouted one of the boys from the other group.

“Alright!” announced the teacher, stepping onto the wooden pedestal. “Good to see you all solving. Some have solved. You can pack and leave.”

With that he stepped back down and gathered his notebooks and walked towards the door. Betsy and I stood still. So did the entire class. Our teacher forgot the prize he promised the winner.

“Sir,” called out Betsy as he just reached the jambs of the door ajar. “What about the prize for whoever solved it first?”

“Did I mention one?” the teacher asked, making a show of thinking about it. It was almost believable. “I don’t remember.”

The entire class jumped at the opportunity to remind him. I could identify him saying something but couldn’t hear among the cacophony he had prompted. Betsy and I looked at each other and back at the front of the class where a few students had cornered the teacher, their voices getting louder.

“Enough!” shouted the teacher. Silence ensued.

The students scampered into their seats while the boys who had solved the questions stood in front of him, withdrawing a few steps back to respect his outburst.

“Is this how you treat a teacher?” he thundered. “I never mentioned any prize. You people must’ve heard it. I’m going home and you better do that too!”

With that he stomped out of the classroom leaving the students bewildered. I wouldn’t have thought about solving a maths question, one tagged difficult by the teacher himself. But I tried that day and we both solved it. All in hopes of winning some silly gift that the teacher now pretended not to remember. Or maybe he hadn’t mentioned one as he claimed to. However, 30 students couldn’t have misheard the same detail. I looked over at Betsy who sighed with a pensive smile on her face.

“Let’s go have some momos,” she said.