By Karina Cotran


I shift on the wooden chair in Tim Hortons, yawn widely, and struggle to stay awake on a Friday morning in the Davis building at UTM. I stretch my arms above my head and look around at students bustling in the atrium. The lineup at the counter is already several metres long.

I sigh and run my hands through my hair again. I wince as my fingers tug at a stubborn knot of hair in the back of my head. I try but I can’t untangle it. I huff and pull out a hair band and tie my hair into a messy bun on the top of my head.

My open psychology textbook and a stack of papers with my notes lay scattered on the table. A diagram of the brain extensively labelled taunts me. I glare at it on the page. I hate that brain. It’s all I’ve looked at the past four hours.

I’ve been up since four in the morning cramming for my physiological psychology midterm exam at three this afternoon. Three cups of coffee, a bag of chips and two bagels later and I still don’t know what I’m doing.

Time for another coffee.

A group of footballers, who always sit at a nearby round table, roars with laughter. Students studying at other tables look up from their books and glare at the boys.

I push back the chair and the legs scrape against the tiles. I cringe and shoot a look of apology to the stressed-looking girl who looks up startled.

I yawn again and just remember to cover my mouth.

I need coffee. 

 “Do you mind watching my stuff for a minute?” I ask the stressed-out girl.

She looks up and nods jerkily and stares back down at her books before I can mumble a thank you. I grab my wallet from my bag and head over to the line. I groan. The lineup looks even longer now.

Over the past two hours I’ve noticed the noise level has increased. It’s gone from small, whispered conversations to a ceaseless, deafening roar. I cough. I can barely hear myself. Maybe if I shut off my hearing aid off I’d have easier time of studying, I think to myself.

I slowly inch to the front of the line.

My foot taps to a random beat in my head. I see a guy muttering to himself, his black hair sticking on ends, as he squints at his papers, his long nose almost touching them. I smile in sympathy. Looks like I’m not the only one frazzled by midterms.


I jump and look behind me. A large metal cart lies lopsided on the floor. A red-faced janitor scrambles to pick it up. I feel sorry for the man. A couple of students abandon their textbooks to help the janitor pick up the cart.

I turn back to face the front. A couple by the microwave catches my eye. They stand across from each other, holding hands but in defensive stances. The short girl flips back her hair, puts a hand on her hip, and glares up at her boyfriend.

“What do you mean you can’t go out for dinner tonight?” I read her lips.

“I have an exam tomorrow!” Their joined hands rise in the air as the boyfriend begins to talk. “I need to study!”

 “But the exam is not until six,” she responds. “You can just wake up early tomorrow and study until then!”

The girl lets her hand slips out of his grasp, and then crosses her arms and pouts.

The boyfriend sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “Fine,” he says.

“Really?” Her eyes widen.

“Yeah, I’ll just wake up early tomorrow.” He shrugs. “What’s the harm?”

“Yay!” she squeals and leans up and pecks him on the lips.

I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look behind me and a man gestures to the front. The red-headed cashier calls “next!” and she glares at me. I hurry to the counter and mumble a sheepish “sorry.”

“Well, can I get you anything?” she says and her arches her eyebrows.

“Small coffee with two milks, please!” I say. My eyes catch the glazed doughnuts. “Oh, and a chocolate glazed doughnut, too!” I add as she begins to walk away. She steps back and looks annoyed.

“Please?” I say and smile. I struggle not to laugh.

 She leaves and returns with my doughnut and coffee.

“Thank you!” I smile again.

“Next!” she yells.

An hour and a half later, I straighten my back in my chair and swig down the last of the cold coffee. I set my cup down on the picture of the brain that I have finally memorized. I stare at the diagram of synapses. Why am I taking this course again? Oh yeah—it’s required for my psychology degree. Stupid. I frown and look up at the skylights. The afternoon sun shines through the window. To be outside right now would be a dream.

I rest my face in my hands and look around Davis building again. The area looks emptier now that half their occupants are in the gym writing their exams. Yet somehow the noise level stays at that loud volume. I shoot a peek to the round table. The footballers are still there.

Go figure.

Two people who look like professors stand and chat by the Subway. The guy with the slicked back comb over gesticulates to a younger, mousy brown haired lady in a yellow blazer.

I squint at their lips.    

“I don’t understand why it’s so hard for them to understand,” Comb Over says.

 “Honestly, you can’t blame them,” Yellow Blazer responds. “They’re so stressed with everything piled on them.”

“But seriously, it’s an essay on a piece of literature.” Comb Over sticks a single finger up in the air. “One piece of literature, not two, not three, one!”

“These things happen!” Yellow Blazer laughs. “They’re first-year students, cut them some slack.”

They both walk away towards the stairs leading to the bookstore.

I look at my phone—2:27 p.m. Why can’t this midterm be done with already? I rub my tired eyes.

I pick up my empty coffee cup and the scrunched-up doughnut wrapper and head to the trash can by Second Cup. I dump my garbage in the overflowing bin and walk past a table of boys huddled around a laptop. I catch the eye of the cute brown-eyed boy. I smile and head back to my table. I can feel my cheeks turn red. I sit back in the chair, cross one leg over the other and shuffle my papers around. I feel someone’s gaze on me.

I look over to the table of boys and see the bulky guy across from the cute boy dart his eyes away from me and lean forward. I shift forward in my chair and I see his lips move.

 “Yo, she’s cute!” he says to the cute boy. “Look at that ass!”

I burst out laughing. The sound carries over to the table. The boys turn in their chairs and stare at me. My eyes widen and I bite my lip.  In one smooth movement I cram my papers into my binder and slam the textbook shut and stand up. I hear the chair hit the floor with a loud clatter.

I close my eyes in mortification and avoid eye contact with the table of boys. I stoop down, pick the chair back up and stride past the table to the stairs leading down to the gym.

I don’t look back.