Author: Gareth Russell
Since Religion exams were not sat in alphabetical order but according to house, Cameron’s desk was across the aisle from Kerry’s, and as the papers were being handed out the two of them fell into conversation about how criminally gross the three boys in the bathroom were.
‘He sneezed right next to me,’ Cameron said. ‘It was so loud that it was like an elephant had taken a really bad line of cocaine.’
Kerry wrinkled her nose in distaste. ‘That is vile. Don’t tell me those kinds of stories. You know I can’t handle . . . nasal debris.’
Imogen, who was sitting directly in front of Kerry, suddenly lifted her head from the table where it had been lying for the last two minutes and turned round to Cameron. ‘Quick last-minute questions – totally off the top of my head. Who was the Roman Emperor when Jesus was born?’
‘Augustus,’ he answered.
‘Fab. And when He died?’
‘What gospel does the angel come to Mary in?’
‘Super. And who replaced Judas?’
‘Who replaced Judas? You know . . . when he died, kicked the bucket, said sayonara, etc.?’
‘Hello all,’ said a nasal voice behind them.
‘Hello, Geoffrey,’ murmured Kerry, who watched as he warily took the desk on the other side of her. ‘What if he sneezes again?’ she hissed at Cameron.
‘No one’s asking you to look in his tissue,’ he answered.
‘Good! Because I’d die. The sound is bad enough.’
‘Greetings, delinquents!’ boomed the voice of the same PE teacher who had covered their Physics exam a week earlier. ‘In front of you are the Religious Studies examinations. I assume you all know the rules of the school’s examinations by now. You may begin!’
As they turned over the first page, Cameron understood why Imogen’s head had been so close to the table for five minutes and why she had asked those ‘last minute’ questions. The first four questions in the exam were:
1. Who was the Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus’s birth (c. 4 bc)?
2. Who was the Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus’s crucifixion (c. ad 33)?
3. In which of the four Gospels is the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary recorded?
4. According to the Book of Acts, who replaced Judas Iscariot as an apostle after his death?
Imogen was busy scribbling furiously, before stuttering to a halt at question 5. Kerry had got off to a wobbly start after answering ‘Julius Caesar’ for question 1 and ‘All of them’ for question 3. About twenty minutes in, she was distracted from her incorrectness by the constant sniffing of Geoffrey at the next table. She was in the business of shooting him her best dirty look when, quite without warning, Geoffrey’s head shot back as he let fly the most energetic sneeze in human history. Before Kerry’s traumatized eyes, a straight projectile of snot shot from Geoffrey’s nostrils and on to his desk.
And there it stayed – connecting Geoffrey’s nose to the table.
For a split second, nothing happened. The aqueduct of snot remained and Kerry looked as if she was developing the first signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘Easy, Kerry,’ whispered Cameron. But it was too late. Like a woman possessed, Kerry rose from her seat and began to half scream, half cry. She hopped up and down on the spot, flailing her arms in front of her, as if desperately trying to claw away the sight she had just seen and her curls were bouncing along in crazed rhythm with their owner. Then she turned and ran out of the hall.
She was found two hours after the exam in Subway’s, on her third twelve-inch sub and refillable Sprite. She had cried so hard that her mascara was now down to her chin.
‘Hello, Kerry,’ said Meredith, as they edged towards her. ‘That’s a very big sandwich.’
‘You don’t know what it was like,’ she mumbled.
‘The sneeze or the sandwich?’ asked Imogen unhelpfully. ‘Because if it’s the sandwich, I actually got it on Saturday and if you get it with green peppers . . .’
‘The sneeze!’ hollered Kerry, banging her fist. ‘I saw it happen. O dear Jesus in Heaven . . . I’ve never seen anything like it. There was so much of it that I thought his brain was trying to escape! You know nasal debris is my greatest fear.’
‘I thought snakes were your greatest fear?’ said Cameron.
‘Greatest fear that I can actually talk about!’ she roared, before instantly changing her tone to a whine. ‘Pass the Doritos, please.’
Gareth is the author of several plays and his first novel, Popular, was originally published in 2011 and has been updated for republication in 2012. Since 2011, Popular has been adapted for the stage on several occasions.
Gareth divides his time between Belfast, London and Connecticut. His accent is therefore best described as polymorphous, shifting with the greatest of ease from Northern Irish to English to American. This pleases him greatly. His first ever word was "shoe" and if he had to have dinner with one person from history, it would be Anne Boleyn.