“I’m going to fail. I know it.”
Marka turned around, her hair swishing. “Stop saying that, Temith.” She commanded, irritated. “You’re one of the elite. There’s no way you’re going to fail.” Me, on the other hand… She thought nervously.
Temith seemed determined to be pessimistic. “Maybe I won’t fail. But I’m never going to get in the top scores. My parents will kill me if we drop a rating.”
Marka snapped. “For god’s sake, man! Stop complaining! Everyone knows you’re one of the best!” Marka’s voice dropped, full of bitterness and envy. “You’re going to get a bloody top score while the rest us work our asses off trying to scrape a pass!”
Temith was shocked by her outburst. She was normally so quiet and unassuming. But he also understood why she was so on edge. Although exam season was the worst time for everyone, Marka had even more reason to be terrified.
She came from the outer districts, the slums surrounding the great city. To the rest of the elite, she was regarded with a mixture of amazement, horror and disgust.
To get here, to the application exam for a scholarship into the elite acadamy, had taken a horrendous amount of effort on her part. To rise from the dung heap, to get as far as this… To fail this exam would be to lose everything, as she would be sent back where she’d come from and be forced to make a living cleaning elite houses, or looking after spoilt elite kids. To pass would be a new life, for herself and her family. She would be one of them, and no-one could tell her that she didn’t belong then. She would never again be beaten up because she was a slum girl. It was her chance to start again.
Silence fell as the great wooden doors opened and a lady shuffled out. Her presence was enough to make everyone fall silent in fear. They knew her name. She was the Head Invigilator, and rumour has it that she deducted marks from candidates that she didn’t like. She was large and solid, and her hair was like dry straw. Her voice was just as dull as her hair.
“Please file inside the examination hall. You must not speak!” She snapped at a little boy in the front row. His eyes grew as wide as dinner plates. For a moment Marka thought he would burst into tears, but he stood stoakly, his gaze unwavering. She silently sent the boy a salute. Your bravery will take you far.
Slowly, the great congregation began to filter into the great hall, filling up the rows of desks, looking for the one with their name on.
Marka saw Temith take his seat, far over by the right wall. She bit her lip, her stomach twisting, walking down a row, reading the names off the tables.
Jackle, Jebston, she read. I’m getting close. Jethro, Knighol, Kreaol. Then she spotted her full name written at the head of a desk; ‘Lederston, Marka’. She slid into the seat and then looked again at her desk, feeling a sick feeling in her stomach.
Someone had written on her desk, scrawled words across the wood. ‘Tomorrow you’ll be back in your shithole, slum girl’. Beside this another pen had written, ‘we won’t miss you’.
Marka wondered why things like this still affected her. Shouldn’t I be used to this by now? But every insult, very dirty look, still hurt as much as the first one had. Marka steeled herself. Pass this exam. That’s all you need to do. We’ll see who’s laughing when you’re one of the elite.


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