The Ominous Ring

From afar, it is hard to distinguish between the girls and boys in the room, because they are all wearing crisp blue and white shirts. Their spines are pulled into tense primary curves as their necks lock their heads above their desks. Sharp pencil tips stab and drag themselves across blank white papers on the wooden desks. A clock snaps its hands maliciously, each tick fueling the growing pit of anxiety. A closer look at the room reveals the man in the front of the room who is facing these students. He is short in stature and his egg-shaped head sits surprisingly firmly on the sagging rings of his neck. The thin wisp of grey hair on his head sways ever so slightly each time he turns to glance at the clock. But he holds his hand clasped together in the same position under his round belly, as though he were holding it up against the pull of gravity with his interlocked fingers.

The man’s eyelids are now beginning to droop and his head is rocking back and forth gently as he breathes in and out. Time seems to have frozen like an ice block, except for the mechanical ticking of the clock and the nervous, hurried scribbling of pencils. Suddenly, this ice block cracks open with an eruption as a sharp, high-pitched ring boomerangs across the room and the entropy of the room reaches a new high.

Everyone is looking around in confusion as the ringing continues to blemish the sanctity of the room. The man now has his hands on his hips and he trudges along the room to locate the source of the ringing. His narrowed eyes scrutinize every corner of the room while his brain processes the fearful expressions on the faces of the students.

He knows he only needs to look for that one pair of eyes that will not meet his gaze. Ah, there is the boy, hands cupped around his cheeks, head turned toward the wall. The man walks up to him and bends down to look him squarely in the face. He notices the boy’s clammy forehead packed with beads of sweat that are slithering down his nose. Good, he must be scared. He must have realized the impact of just having broken the one rule he was asked never to break. This is an exam hall for God’s sake; he should never have had a cellphone in this exam hall in the first place.

The man takes a closer look at the boy’s face and then glances at his answer sheet to verify his identity. So this is the “star student,” then. An oddly satisfying smile creeps up the man’s mouth as he realizes he is in complete control of this boy’s fate. The boy turns towards the man slowly, just as the ringing stops. His lips are parted open as if he were to say something but there are no words. His shocked eyes meet the man’s glare and immediately the room is pierced by a low-sounding yet clear splurge of cold, biting words: “Hand me that cellphone. And see yourself out of this room and into the headmaster’s office. Now.”

This thunderclap of a mandate is absorbed by a quiet moment of silence. And then the stillness is ruptured by the sound of a feeble gulp and the hesitant creaking of a chair as the boy gets up to fulfill his fate.

 

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