December 8th. 10:45pm. The deadline looms in front of me and I squint at the computer screen. I scroll through pages of notes, edit badly written sentences and write new ones all at once. I slam the keys for a few minutes and dig through my twenty pages of notes. Word count wise, I’ve been done for five pages but research wise, I still have more than one thousand words before I complete the essay.
I lean back in my chair, groaning, sniffling and blindly reaching for a tissue. I cough, blow my nose, and wince as my throat aches and my head pounds. 10:48pm. I toss the tissue into the growing pile on my desk. Papers and course syllabi and granola bar wrappers and water bottles and empty bowls and the twisty stems of grapes and books and lip gloss litter the table.
Turning the music up louder, my fingers dance across the keyboard as I add footnotes as I go along. But as I add all these footnotes, I’m distantly aware of the fact that I still need to fill them in with the full citations.
Sharp pain shoots across my head and I wince and cough violently, as tears bubble over. My eyelashes stick together. Sleep would be wonderful right now. My bed sits only a few feet away. The sheets would be so warm and comfortable and I would snuggle under the covers and my head would finally stop aching and I would rest and forget about this essay and all the other assignments and tests and exams and just dream. No! I have to focus.
I straighten up my hunched back, begin typing again, and skim notes. 10:59pm.
“Beta, do you think you’ll be done soon?” Mama asks, as she walks by my room.
“Yes!” I say, not taking my eyes off the screen or my hands off the keyboard.
“Here I brought you a snack,” she says. “Grapes.”
I wave her away and reach for the tissue box again. “Okay, okay. Just leave them there.”
I can see Mama’s narrowed eyes from the side of my eyes, but I ignore her. She moves over some junk on my desk and sets the bowl down.
“Don’t work too late- you took your medicine right?” 11:07
“Yes, yes!” I shuffle through some of the papers on my desk, trying to find a date.
After adding the date, I’ve finally reached the conclusion. But will I finish in time? I glance at all the texts, the journals, the websites and the links I’ve used in the paper. I still have to organize them.
Argh! I massage my throbbing head and sniffle as I do so. My friend Rida had said…No, no point asking someone for help. Plus it’s so late.
She had told me in the beginning of the year that if I needed help, I could ask her for it.
My hand stretches to the phone, but then I stop myself.
I’ve never asked anyone for help on schoolwork before. Mama has asked me sometimes, when I’ve been close to tears. But she doesn’t know Chicago’s Manuel or any other citation methods. But Rida would know. She just graduated, with a History Major. She knows Chicago.
But won’t it be so embarrassing? I put the phone down, continue to edit the essay and ignore my runny nose. 11:17.
What should I sacrifice? My pride or handing the assignment late?
I pick up the phone and dial the numbers with one hand, while scrolling and fixing spelling mistakes with the other.
“Hi, what’s up?” comes Rida’s voice on the end of the line.
“Yes Rida! Listen, I know it’s late and I’m really sorry for calling you now, but can I ask you for a favour? I need help with my Works Cited.” My voice grows smaller.
“Of course, Ikhlas! Why don’t we go on msn, so you can send me the stuff and then I’ll organize, kay?” Rida says.
“Oh my gosh, thank you so much!” I turn off the phone and sign into msn. 11:20.
I send her the links, while also rewriting sentences in which I have no idea what I’ve written.
Ping. Ping. Ping. Emails pop into my inbox with completed citations.
11:30. I’ve finished editing so I start to help Rida with the citations. I silently curse the Chicago Manuel Style for having one format for footnotes and one for Works Cited. Who cares where the comma goes?
There are lots of sources so I scramble with Rida to find the correct dates and page numbers. The hill of tissues has become a mountain, but I keep blowing and I keep tossing.
11:45. I add the citations into the footnotes, using the blessed Find and Replace tool on Word while Rida keeps sending me emails.
Mid-cough, I realise that I have two sources with the same author. I’ve accidentally inserted the footnotes with the wrong sources, by using the cursed Find and Replace option.
“All right, Ikhlas. That’s all of them,” Rida says on msn. “Are you done?”
Through watery eyes, I type, “Yes, almost. But the authors got mixed up, I have to fix those.”
All the footnotes have gotten messed up in my haste so I try to fix them. My trembling fingers hit the R key instead of the E.
11:58. Rida’s conversation box pings with messages, but I don’t click on it. As quickly as possible, I take a swig of water and I wipe my nose at the same time.
Now I just have to alphabetize the citations in the Works Cited.
11:59. Oh God, what letter comes after K? I’m considering asking Rida when I remember- H! H is the next letter- thank goodness- and then the next entry would be…
I stare at the numbers, ignoring the snot running down my nose. Late. My essay is late. I’m going to get a late penalty. I sit there, waiting for the floor to crumble underneath me. But there’s nothing, except silence. Oh, and pings from Rida.
12:01. I open the conversation window. “I’m still not done yet,” I type through my blurry vision.
“But almost, right?” she instantly replies.
I nod, feeling tears course down my cheeks. I wipe away at my nose and bark out a cough. I want to vomit and sob at the same time, but it has nothing to do with my flu. Okay, maybe it does. But my headache increases hundredfold as I continue to scramble through the citations, trying to remember my abc’s.
12:07. With the citations done, I realise that I still have the title, the headers and the page numbers to fill in.
Pushing away tears and snot, I trudge through the final touches. 12:08. 12:09. 12:10. 12:11.12:12.12:13.12:14
Eyes closing, at 12:20, I open the Blackboard page, log on with my ID, find the fourth year course and then reach the Assignment folder.
I find the file and save it. My fingers hover over the comment section. Should I write something to explain my late paper?
No. My stomach heaves and I decide I deserve to get a late penalty. I even deserve to fail for being late. It’s never happened before
So I leave the comment section blank, say a silent prayer, click save and submit and slump back into my chair.
“I just submitted it, thanks Rida,” I type slowly into the box. I insert a smiley into the conversation box.
And then, without turning off my computer, I collapse into my bed, ragged tissue in hand.
Two weeks later, I log onto Blackboard, my mouse hovering over the ‘My Grades’ section. It probably won’t be up.
I click on it and tap my fingers as the page loads. What’s the worst it could be? Never mind, what’s the worst that I could live with? 80? 78?
The page loads and my eyes scan the screen, resting on the title ‘Final Paper’. Slowly, I turn them to the grade.