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It's only cheating if they catch you

I’m walking into classroom for my final high-school exam when my friend Rodrigo stops me. 

“Dog, I really need your help with this one! Don’t let me down, ok??”

“Man, how many exams have I gotten you through? We’re good.”

“I know, I know, it’s just that if I have to repeat the year, all the guys will be gone! That would really suck.”

“I got you, dude, relax.”

So we take our seats - or we try to: 

As soon as the teacher sees us, she moves him to the first row. And tells me to sit all the way across the room. 

That’s when I notice another teacher sitting at the back of the class. 

It looks like they finally realised why all my friends’ test scores in Literature and English have improved so much. 

(I’ve never been good at sports, but there are other ways to be popular in high school.)

Rodrigo takes his seat and tries to look cool, but I can tell he’s crapping himself. 

The test starts. 

I go through it as fast as I can and get ready to do my thing: 

I carefully lift a tiny piece of paper from my pocket, with the numbers 1 to 35 already laid out. 

I write down the answers. I fold it as small as I can. 

I see Rodrigo glancing at me, and I nod. Now I need to get it to him. 

He’s far away, and I can’t trust the seven people between us to relay the paper. Way too risky, there’s always someone who doesn’t like cheating - or me. 

He’s in the middle of the room, so I can’t bounce it off the walls either. 

I start sharpening a pencil, but before I can hide the answers in the little plastic box where the shavings go, I hear someone asking to borrow a pencil sharpener. 

Then the teacher says, “If anyone else needs to borrow one, please ask me.” Damn. 

I check what the teachers are up to: one is still sitting at the back, and the other one keeps checking me out. 

All my usual tricks are out. I don’t know what to do. 

Rodrigo sees I’m stuck. It looks like he’s about to cry. 

He puts his hands together. Closes his eyes. His mouth starts moving. I think he’s actually praying.

I would not have guessed he knew how to. 

I’m already making up my excuses when, from the corner of my eye, I see movement.

The teacher at the back stands up, and starts walking around. 

Someone calls him over. 

The teacher at the front turns to see what that’s about - and before I can think about what I’m doing, I take my chance. 

In one swift movement, I throw the paper. 

I watch what happens next in slow motion. 

The paper flying in a perfect arc over the classroom. 

Barely missing the ceiling fan. 

Landing perfectly on Rodrigo’s desk. 

The teacher turning around. 

Rodrigo opening his eyes, and seeing the paper there. 

Looking stunned for a moment. Then grabbing it, looking up at the sky, and muttering “Thank you.”

Holding back a smile, I get all my stuff, stand up and hand in my exam.

As I walk out of that classroom for the last time, I wonder if I couldn’t have made the basketball team after all. 

Context is boring 

I could’ve started by telling you that I wasn’t a popular kid in school, that I wasn’t good in sports, that I was helping my friends cheat, then explaining all the ways we used to it. I could, but… yawn.

You would be reading that and thinking, “Ok, get on with it, get to the actual story.” Because those things are not the story; they are facts that happened in the past - but that is backstory. It’s not the good stuff. 

But context is important, so this is what you do: 

Drop it in little by little. 

Some will come in the dialogue (“How many exams have I gotten you through?”); some will come as I react to things that are happening (“they finally realised why…”) or by what I’m doing (like all the different ways to cheat). 

Is it perfect? Not always. 

Is it possible the audience might miss some nuance? Sure. 

But that’s a price worth paying - or your chances of keeping the audience engaged are smaller than me ever hitting another throw like that again 🤘


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