“I can’t breathe, Hasnat!”
“No, seriously! I can’t breathe.”
“You are a pathetic drama queen, you know that?”
Hasnat titters. “Maybe. I don’t know. But I feel like my lungs are coming out, man.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t breathe.”
“Come on! Don’t be so rude. You know what I’m going through here.”
I reach over and wrap my arm around his shoulders. “Alright. There there, don’t start crying now.”
Hasnat jabs me in the ribs.
“Ouch! That hurt.”
“What? I just jabbed you. It’s supposed to hurt.”
I slap his back. He giggles.
“I wish mom and dad were here,” Hasnat says.
“They can’t miss office for this, can they?”
“Yeah. I know. It’s actually better they’re not here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you know, they would’ve been disappointed.”
“Don’t say that.”
“I’m not like you, Habib. You got ninety-five percent marks. You topped in the whole district. You made them proud.”
“And who says you can’t?”
“I don’t know. I’m not consistent like you. Always getting As. Always a topper.”
“Stop it. Don’t compare yourself with me. Or anyone. You are unique. You are you. Besides, not everyone has to be a topper in class tests, right? This is the final exam. The big game. Anything can happen here.”
“Exactly. Anything can happen.”
“No, I meant… Come on, you’re being a depressed a-hole!”
“Wow. When did you stop saying asshole?”
“I don’t know. Just now, I guess.”
Hasnat takes a deep breath. “How much longer?”
“The clock’s up there, bro. Right in front. You can look yourself.”
“I know. I’m not looking at the clock now.”
“Because that makes me nervous. Just tell me.”
I smile and look at the clock. “Twelve twenty-two.”
“Gosh! Eight more minutes. That means four hundred and eighty seconds.”
“Man! You’re really nervous. Just chill, okay? Chill!”
“What chill? How am I supposed to chill now?”
“Alright, alright. Forget I said that. We’ll just wait.”
We keep silent for seconds.
Hasnat points at the laptop. “Is that the right website?”
“Look here.” I point at the leftmost corner of the screen. “See this logo? The map on the red circle? The four stars? That’s the logo of our government.” I point at the top of the screen. “Can you read what this says? Ministry of Education. Intermediate and Secondary Education Boards Banglad—”
“Okay, that’s enough. I got it. This is the right website.”
“You know what? You need to stop thinking so much. Just clear your mind. Forget everything.”
“Don’t look down. Look at me.”
“What day is it?”
“Twenty-first of May. The result day.”
“No! Don’t go there. I’m trying to… Sorry, it’s my fault I asked you the date. Never mind. Hmm. Tell me…”
“What? Say something.”
“Uh-huh. Got it. What color is my eyes?”
Hasan bursts into laughter.
“What was that about? Hey!”
Hasan leans back, clutching his belly with both hands, guffawing. Then he says, “You took that line from Need for Speed, didn’t you?”
“Don’t lie to me. I remember that scene. A helicopter was carrying the car. Julia was scared, so Toby told her to look into his eyes and—”
“And then Toby said, “What color are they?” I remember that too. But I wasn’t thinking about the movie, man!”
“Yes, you were!”
“Oh, God! Alright, you win.”
“Yay!” Hasnat punches the air and goes “Wooooooo!” like a seven-year-old.
“Look at you! Where’s the tension now, huh?”
“Yeah. I feel lighter. Thanks, old brother.”
“You’re most welcome. And what’s with the old brother title? I’m just thirteen months older than you.”
“Okay. How about li’l brother?”
I reach over and try to punch him. He grabs a pillow and blocks my way. I punch into the pillow, again and again. Then we’re sprawled on the bed together, side by side, laughing, tears in our eyes.
“How did you feel when you got it?” Hasan asks.
“The result. When you saw you got marks like ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven in all the subjects. How was that feeling?”
I look up at the ceiling. “I don’t know. Speechless, I guess. Pride was there. Definitely. I felt like the proudest person on earth. Especially when I looked at mom and dad and saw them so happy, it was satisfying, man!”
“Yeah. I remember all of it. It was a weekend, wasn’t it? Mom and dad didn’t go to work.”
“Yeah, they were home. I was lucky.”
I turn and look at him. He’s looking to his right now, out the window. Probably at the buildings outside, or nothing; just staring into space.
Sympathy surges through me.
“I gotta tell you something. This might feel harsh, but it’s important.”
“No matter what happens, just know I’m not giving up on you. Nether will mom and dad. We won’t be disappointed. Because we believe in you, okay?”
He nods, vaguely this time.
We hug, me caressing his hair, him holding on to my back.
When we part, Hasnat says, “I need to pee.”
“You heard me.”
I stifle a grin. “Go quickly. It’s time, man!”
Hasnat sprints for the toilet. He returns within a minute.
“Okay, it’s time, right?” He looks confident.
“Let’s do it.”
He types the year, his roll number, his registration number, selects all the images with Statues for Google reCAPTCHA, and looks at me. I nod reassuringly. He takes a deep breath, then clicks Submit.
The new page takes only seconds to appear.
“OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! Look! Ninety-seven, ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-five, ninety-five, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-seven, ninety-nine, ninety-seven. And an average of ninety-six point two percent. I did it! I did it! I DID IT!”
Hasnat jumps into my arms. I tell him, “Congratulations.”
I don’t tell him that, when he was in the bathroom, I had filled all the blanks and submitted the entry, because I knew all his numbers by heart. I don’t tell him his marks made my skin crawl. I don’t tell him the feeling that surged through me then wasn’t sympathy; it was something else.