I saw a movie yesterday with Gwyneth Paltrow in it, ‘A View From The Top’. I’ve been a sucker for her ever since I saw her in ‘Sliding doors’, a another movie shot on location in England which had 2 different endings. Can’t go into that now.
So in “A view…’, she aspires to get off the domestic air route she’s a drudge on and to become an International Air Hostess. Her close and street-wise (but not very education-minded) friend switches exam papers and Gwyneth fails but her back-stabbing friend gets the New York-Paris Route. For a long while, Gwyneth suffers, but good conquers in the end and she gets her just deserts as does her back-stabbing friend. The movie also had Mike Myers (Austin Powers-International man of Mystery) and Mark Rufallo or so.
As the credits rolled, I wondered to myself how many people are trapped where they are today because someone ‘stole their destiny’ and then I remembered something that happened to me many years ago.
I was about 17, and was studying for my A-levels when the Nigerian Defence Academy (Our equivalent of Sandhurst) Exams came up. (I’d collected and submitted the forms earlier). So off I went to the exam venue and whom did I meet there but my first cousin? We’d always been great friends, shared the same surname, and he was just a year older than I, but was a couple of classes behind me then.
I’d entered Literature, Government and Economics as my test subjects in the forms I submitted. He’d entered Geography, Government and Economics.
We had soldiers as invigilators but the seating arrangement was free and so my cousin sat behind me. As the exams started , my cousin whispered to me, ‘I don’t know any Geography question’ (There were 50 objective questions on each subject). He continued (speaking Yoruba), ‘I’m going to take Literature, I won’t do Geography’. I whispered back fiercely, ‘but you have Geography on your forms, there’ll be a problem’. My cousin ignored this piece of common sense and promptly changed his subjects to match mine and copied me answer for answer. All 150 questions. I don’t recall objecting to him copying my answers.
A few months later, the results came out. He’d been picked for an interview but my name wasn’t on the list. My father and the rest of the family were baffled and disappointed, and not just because I’d failed an exam but more because my cousin was picked over me. I’d always been the one they’d told him to emulate (which showed how bad his case was).
I deduce several things happened (or didn‘t happen).
1) The Army Authorities did not realise he didn’t take all the subjects he’d filled in his forms.
2) We’d had the same score in each subject, done the same subjects, shared the same surname, came from the same local government and State etc (these things matter in the Nigerian Army)
3) They’d picked the first of the two names (his was first alphabetically)
When my cousin finally met with me, He just asked: “Wole, kilo sele?. Ko ye mi o” (What happened? I don‘t understand) and continued on his way.
I bore my pain for a long while but one day whispered what had occurred at the exam venue to my older brother, Jinta, who told everyone else and somehow or the other, what had happened got to my father.
In the meantime my cousin went for the interview in Kaduna, 906 kilometres from Lagos where we resided. He failed the interview. And had to hitchhike back to Lagos or something. Was I glad he didn’t make it? Yes.
I never sat next to known people in exam halls after that, and even then, would sit in the front row, breathing down the necks of the invigilators. Only the paranoid survive.
I idolized the army at that time. What if he’d become a student of the Defence Academy, and had then made his way to become an officer of the Nigerian Army? I’d look and think- “that was meant to be me”.
I learnt a heavy lesson that year about how easy it is for others to take what’s rightfully yours if you permit it and as I watched Ms. Paltrow yesterday, I thought to myself, “No one’s ever gonna steal my thunder again”.