It was that time of the year when the school decides to reward attendance with two weeks of exams. An optimist would say, “at least they gave us study leave” but not me, since any attempt at being positive typically gets squashed like a fruit fly.
We line up outside the hall with our see-through pencil cases and our label-less water bottles. My classmates frantically try to recite equations and facts without their physics revision notes at hand. I gaze out of the window and begin daydreaming. I recall something that our head teacher told us in assembly:
“If a person thinks they can’t do a thing, then they’re right.”
Hoping that this mentality would improve my results, I told myself:
“I can do this, I can do this…”
However, this positivity was quickly squashed, as the girl in front of me kept chanting “I’m gonna fail, I’m gonna fail…”
Our teacher shouts for us to be quiet. Once satisfied that nobody has their mobile phones or iPods in their pockets, she gradually leads us into the hall. Before I reach the hall, the girl who was chanting “I’m gonna fail” for five minutes turns around and whispers “Good luck” about ten times.
After sitting down at my ridiculously wobbly table, I await the invigilator’s command [1. Invigilator: A person who supervises students during an examination]. Everybody looks at the clock. The hands jerk towards our fate. I grasp my pen. The invigilator turns to us.
“It is now 9 o’clock, you may begin.”
A hundred pupils open their tests simultaneously, and the invigilators take their seats on the stage. They watch us in a state of boredom, like tired birds of prey.
Over half an hour into the exam, with my pen scuttling across the page, I feel good, alhamdulillah, like everything is going well. Almost too well. I read the next question twice and frown at the graph. I hear a little noise, a kind of mechanical rubbing. The girl sitting in the next row lifts her head for a second, and then looks back at her exam. I try to ignore the noise, but I hear it again. What was it? Without having to look up, I notice that a few more girls hear it too. Maybe it was somebody’s phone buzzing? I hear the noise again, louder this time. It sounds like it’s right next to my ear. Something is moving underneath my headscarf. I put two and two together.
There is a bee in my hijab.
Trying not to panic, I sit completely still. Clearly this was the wrong time to scream; I was in an exam! I calmly put my hand up to beckon the invigilator over. She sees me and makes her way off the stage. I look down at my test as she slowly waddles towards me. Even though it is just an insect, I am scared of this bee. A single wrong move would result in it stinging me. I have never before been stung by a bee, and I wasn’t ready for this to be a first. Finally, the invigilator reaches me.
“I think there’s a bee in my scarf,” I whisper. Her eyes bulge out in surprise. A few girls sitting in nearby rows turn to see what’s going on.
“Oh! Do you want to go to the back of the hall?”
That was too humiliating.
I had to get this bee out of my scarf. I reluctantly finger the material closest to where I had previously felt the crawling.
Accidentally, I touch the bee. It buzzes. My instinct is to cry “ouch” after feeling its furry body beneath my hijab. The invigilator gasps. I lift up the edge of my hijab, slightly shaking it. The bee flies up and out towards the ceiling. I sigh with relief.
“It’s gone. Sorry, I was just a bit scared.” I whisper to the invigilator.
I hate the fact that I feel like crying. “A bit scared” was an understatement. The invigilator just looks at me for a moment, before returning to her seat on the stage. I imagine her telling her colleagues about me. Some people in nearby rows glance at me in confusion. Embarrassed, I look down at my exam. I blink away the tears; try to concentrate. But I’m still shaken from what happened.
At the end of the exam, I avoid looking at the invigilator as we exit the hall, row by row. I tell my friends and we all laugh it off, but afterwards, I see the situation as something deeper. I realize Allah had sent me a test within a test. I knew about the exam well over a month before it came, but the bee in my hijab completely took me by surprise. When the invigilator looked at me, it seemed as though she was thinking, ‘why do you wear the headscarf if it just gives you problems?’
In reality, the hijab doesn’t give me problems. Some people just have problems with it.
The bee reminds me of those who see me as strange in a land where the majority of girls show their hair. They try stinging me with their words, try getting under my skin with their looks. They think they can say things to get me down, but I know that I’m not here to please people. I’m here to please Allah.
With all those pressures comes strength. And with strength comes steadfastness.
I still remember the bee as it flew out of my hijab; its legs climbing the air.
So to you is your way and to me is mine.