The 13th of October 2020 started like any other October day in the North East of England, cold and gloomy. On a pre winter morning like this, it was drizzling in frequent intervals. Rain in this part of the world does not have that element of romance. It is rather a mechanical procedure operating systematically on a day to day basis. That day was no exception. The only thing special about that day was that it would determine my fate as well as my classmates’ for the next few months. The results of two of our ‘centralised’ exams of the BPTC were to be out that morning. (To put it to context, we worked so hard for those exams that our lives depended on it! Failing would mean spending another attempt out of the three to sit for it on November. We CANNOT afford that).
Centralised Exams, as they call it, are exams on the three subjects among the twelve that the Bar Standard Board holds itself. The remaining internal exams are taken by individual institutions. While traditionally students take the exams in person at the centres, this time it was held online. The pandemic greatly altered the usual route making our batch the first and probably the only ones to take bar exams online.
The three exams were held on August with the last exam ending on August 21st. Ever since that day, we were in our vacation mode full time. This meant not going anywhere near books for almost two months.
The last one week leading to this day, I was residing with few classmates at their accomodation with a view to enjoy while we still could, as the results could mean we might not get to enjoy at all before we go back. Moreover, I just wanted to avoid the horror of finding out my results all on my own. This has got to do mostly with the fear of failing. Hence, they left their space for me in order to face it together, whatever was in store for us.
We shared the same anticipation, a similar kind of anxiety but in addition to that only I waited for a different kind of result that day. It was my report for COVID since I took the test the day before. Two days before the test, I developed a cough although I blew it off to be a usual one. I was almost convinced that it was due to heavy sweating because of the radiator being switched on for the entire night before. It was only when my wife noticed the difference and pushed me that I decided to get myself tested.
So there I was, sitting patiently while my mind desperately tried to lighten up the situation in the most ridiculous ways. I giggled as I pictured a scene from the movie ‘The Dictator’ where the doctor tells the patient ‘Do you want to hear the Aladeen news, or the Aladeen news?’ Surprisingly our minds sometime creates its own defence mechanism.
The results came out. It was positive. And I’m talking about the exams. I passed both the subjects. So did a majority of my classmates. My results were so beyond my expectation that I had to check it repeatedly to reassure myself. I had a genuine concern that I might not pass one of the subjects as I felt I could’ve performed better. But as they say, surprises come when you least expect it. I was happy to be proven wrong.
The atmosphere was filled with festivity. My Facebook homepage jammed with people ecstatic about letting the world know how happy they were. It is justifiable in every sense. And why not? We deserved every bit of it. No more studying for the two subjects. It was a huge relief. Just one more step closer to our goal of becoming Barristers. It was quite an experience. We started calling our loved ones to share the excitement.
“What a day it is turning out to be”, I said to myself, having completely forgotten that more was yet to happen. Having spoken to all my loved ones I sat infront of the TV, unmindfully watching it while my mind is buzzing with the thought of the results. The feeling was all too good to be true. I thanked the Lord for such a gift with occasional unintended smiles.
My phone vibrates to the tone of an incoming text message. I look in horror as I see it is from the NHS. The text read and I quote it as it is:
‘Dear Aiman Khan, your coronavirus test result is positive. It means you had the virus when the test was done. Try not to worry.’
Words will fall short to describe how I felt that moment. It seemed like my whole world came crashing around me. The joy of my exams result was shortlived. Now i know why they call 13 an unlucky number.
All this time I was hearing stories of other people, not even loosely connected to me, having the virus. But the news of having it myself came as a blow. The very first thought that crossed my mind was what will happen to my daughter if it turns out fatal. As I thought about it, an involuntary stream of tears trickled down my cheeks. For the very first time I wasn’t concerned about myself only. I was introduced to a new kind of feeling, albeit, the hard way.
Witnessing all these, my friends comforted me but I was still in denial, not wanting to believe it was me who was the patient this time. It didn’t take long enough to gather myself back to senses as I saw all of them suddenly appearing in masks infront of me. One of them already started to spray disinfectant all over the place. That was when I realised it is time to go home. I remain in my house for self isolation.
That day I realised one thing. There are times when everything else becomes meaningless infront of life. The joy of the result went by in a flash the moment I learnt about the virus. It didn’t matter to me anymore. My mind did not hesitate to divert my attention to this. All that glam fell short. It all goes down to the very intrinsic element of life and that is to survive. This was one experience I would remember for a long time.
As a writer, I am always in search of appropriate words and phrases. There are times when I am either at loss of words or just not satisfied enough with one that would really convey the exact emotion. Sometimes my words of choice aren’t quite the way I want them to be. However as I write this, I couldn’t think of any other phrase that does so much justice to my write up as ‘bittersweet experience’. This phrase truly portrays the actual situation that I faced that day.