M was an overachiever in school. She earned straight “A’s” and everyone thought of her as a girl who was smarter than her age. She held her head high, studied each night, and came to be known as a graceful swan. It must be said that the word “cheat” was not in her vocabulary and M knew should would not even bother to do such a thing. She did notice other classmates copying from one another’s essays, or writing test answers on their shoes or forging notes to get extra time on a test but she was not offended. She’d never attempt such things.
But, this all changed when L appeared. L was like a phantom with cruel intentions. L was a transfer girl from another school who apparently excelled at everything. It had been at least for ten years that M has remained on top. She was always the cream of the crop, the crème de la crème, never any challengers. That mousy little new girl came out of nowhere, M thought. M tried her best to smile a smile that was not really a smile as L flitted about school, earning fantastic grades and popularity. M broiled like a steak in an oven with envy and her eyes spit fire whenever she encountered L. For M, L became an awful barrier who prevented M from ranking first in every subject as she had all of those years.
After weeks of tormenting herself and on a gloomy, cloudy day after school, M leaned her face on the frozen bus window that seemed so delicate that it could be cracked by a single tap. The rusty bus screeched and moaned on as it ran through the uproarious city. M scanned the bus distantly and her eyes fell on the phone that was held tight in her hand. She pressed on the home button.
“What can I help you with?” a mechanical voice asked. It was Siri, her buddy.
“How can I surpass L and bump her out of my number one ranking?” asked M eagerly.
“Get the grades, by hook or by crook.” Siri replied in a monotone, but M felt something surging in her heart. Even though M understood that what Siri implied was not virtuous, she still pondered whether integrity truly outweighed the desire to excel. For M, honesty was the most crucial rule she abided by, but it was no longer the case now, now that L interfered.
“Okay, I will get the grades by…crook, I suppose. M thought to herself. As she settled down to study that night, M decided then and there to cheat on her upcoming test. It was an overwhelming feeling of regaining her power. She did not feel icky about it, not in the least. Even though she’d be abandoning all she’d ever worked for, it would be worth it to remain on the top instead of her status being stripped by some twit.
M quickly and deliberately designed an ingenious but wicked plan that allowed her to remember each and every topic to be discussed on the next day’s huge exam for history. Instead of scribbling the answers on her hand, M wrote them on the side of her finger of her left hand so that there would be no visible evidence of the crime when she was asked to present their hands for inspection. HA HA, foolproof! She thought.
Emerging the next morning, and feeling very, very prepared, M made her way to the testing room, she glared at L sharp in the eye and even knocked her on the shoulder as she traipsed past. After M intentionally positioned herself in the small, lonely corner of the room so as to receive less attention, she secretly peeked at her left hand and smirked. Everything was under control, M was confident.
Ironically, even though M had never cheated before, she appeared to be incredibly skilled and tactical at it. M first ran her eyes down the room and warily detected the movement of the teacher, waiting for him to shift his focus to the opposite side of the room. Then, she sneakily lifted up her left hand and placed it on her forehead, pretending that she was “frustrated”. While all of M’s actions seemed natural, she slowly scrolled her eyes downward and read the answers from between her fingers. With no roaming eyes and extra cheat sheets to bring suspicion to her, M smelled the sweet scent of success like the odiferous smoke from an oven baking fresh bread. The sense of achievement and success welled up inside of M. She felt like floating on air as she pictured how L would react when she saw her name being replaced by “M”. M imagined L’s face turning pale and being twisted so tight that it looked like a cluster of wrinkled paper. M’s glorious moment had arrived. It was her “Golden Age”.
However, the test was more tedious than M had imagined and she was never a patient girl. During the last half hour, M lowered her guard as she casually placed her left hand on the table without holding her fingers tightly together, leaving the scribble between her fingers visible. Oh no! In moments, she heard footsteps coming in her direction. M was alerted and immediately stuffed her left hand into her pocket… but it was too late.
“Show me your hands.” The teacher demanded as he stared M straight in the eye sockets.
M held out her trembling hand as if it was a leaf shaking violently in the wind. The proctor spotted her finger and suddenly her moment of glory dimmed to a faint light of a lightbulb about to go out.
Receiving a zero was the price M paid for her temporary achievement. However, what shamed M the most was the creeping smile L threw at her from across the room. It was sardonic and awful. Rumors spread more rampantly than M ever thought they would. In the days to follow, people alienated M, the cheater. M was no longer the graceful swan that stood out from the crowed of other floating birds but rather a fraudulent, ugly duck that was kept at a distance.