"We're going to the pub. You wanna come?" They were leaning against the cistern. It sat in front of the main building of the College of Chareston like a raised oval. Enclosed in its two and a half foot wall was a plot of grass divided by a brick path in the middle. We often used the steps leading to the path to walk across, instead of around, to get to the doors beneath the archway and to our classes. It was a gathering place for students between classes or in the evenings prior to the evening meal across the street in the, then, new student union.
"I can't tonight," I said. "I have a quiz in the morning. I gotta study."
"Since when do you study?" That was a question I kept asking myself as well. This wasn't James Island High. I was having problems, especially with calculus.
In high school I'd never had problems with any math classes. They always came easy. That was evident in Senior math. Mrs. Smathers didn't think it was funny not one bit, when she stood to my right in the back of the class.
A student on the other side of the room asked her to help him with a math question on the test. She would normally have walked to the student's desk to see how she could help him or her understand without giving away the answer.
Not this time.
"I'm sorry but I cannot leave my post."
I looked up and she was staring sternly at me. I looked back down to my test. We were near the end of our senior year when she must have caught wind of what was happening at the back of her class. For me math came easy. When the tests were given I would normally finish them with time to spare. I would turn it over and lay my pencil down. Other people weren't quite as blessed as I was. During the first test of the year when I'd finished and placed my pencil into the groove of my desk top I heard a low pssst.
When I didn't acknowledge it I heard it again.
This time I turned to my friend in the desk to my right.
"What's the answer to number 2?" He whispered so low I'd never hear it these days.
I looked at him and mouthed the answer. He nodded returning to his test.
I looked up at Mrs. Smathers. She was reading at her desk completely unaware of the whispered exchange.
I looked to my right again. This time he held up four fingers. I looked at number four on my paper then mouthed the answer. He went back to working on the test. The bell rang. Students here and there began gathering books. Some still sat writing on their papers.
"Alright class. The bell has rung. Let's hand in those papers." Mrs. Smathers stood collecting the papers as students filed past her desk. The stragglers got up studying their's all the way to the front.
"Thank you, thank you," she said upon receipt of each test paper.
Beyond the door my buddy caught up.
"Thanks, man. I couldn't figure those out. I hate Senior math."
"Senior math? Crip," I said.
"Maybe for you but I'm having problems. Don't guess you can help me, can you?"
"I don't know. It just comes easy. I don't know why, but, yeah, I'll do what I can."
I wasn't a very good teacher. We did some homework together but my teaching ability was poor at best. Our solution was a bit unorthodox but..
The next test day was two weeks later. Mrs. S sat at her desk doing paperwork while we worked on the papers she had handed out. After about twenty minutes I lay my pencil down when I heard, "Pssst."
He held up five fingers. I mouthed the anwer. Then, "psst." Six fingers and an answer. This went on for ten minutes or so until he put his pencil down. All this occurred without being noticed by Mrs. S.
Outside the door I asked my friend, "Did you study at all?"
"Hell yeah I studied. I just don't get it. Maybe next time you should just hand me your paper." He said it in jest. I just looked at him.
With each new test our exchanges became bolder. Mrs. Smathers was surprised to see my buddy's grades improving. She seemed quite pleased with his progress.
Toward the end of the year and the end of Senior math I had just begun to hold my paper in my hand as I lay my head on my desk. It was in plain veiw hanging at the side of my desktop so that my friend could see the entire sheet. One of those times he simply took the paper to his desk and checked his work with mine. Then he handed it back. The girl in front of him saw the transaction. She held out her hand. I gave her my paper. From her my paper travelled in a circle back into my hands Mrs. S never noticed a thing but someone else must have. It was after this that the situation changed.
"I cannot leave my post," she said. This was her solution. She stood between my friend and me the entire period. When the bell rang she took my paper and my buddy's.
"What was that?" asked my buddy as we left the class.
"Someone must have ratted on us. She's never been that observant. The only explanation is someone told her what was going on in our corner."
"I think I did OK though," he said. "Maybe I got something out of all those tests because I think I may have done OK."
He was right. His grade was passing without using my paper. Mrs. S must have been satisfied that whoever ratted had been wrong. She never stood her post again, but she kept an eye on our area for the next test which was our final. We all kept our eyes in front for that one. We all passed the course too.
"If you change your mind, we'll be at the pub," said my college buddy. He brought me out of my reminiscing. If he had just been my Senior math buddy I wouldn't have this problem. He could repay the favor of those days in the back of the class. You see, calculus for him was crip. It came easy to him, dammit.