THE EXAM, an excerpt from a short story

by Daniela Kuzmanova

This text was created during the online creative writing workshop Character + Setting lead by Josip Novakovic and organised by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation on 8-14 November 2021

Wednesday morning

It was a beautiful morning in the spring. The sun was shining brightly, the birds were chirping, and the treetops were green. Dr. Andrey Kehayov, Andrew – as his friends called him breathed in the fresh air while walking briskly to the medical school and smiling at the people he met on his way. There were small gardens in front of many of the houses in the neighborhood. The tulips and daffodils in them were blooming for the delight of the passers-by. Andrew walked briskly, reflecting on how wonderful life was. He had started working at Fresh Dental Clinic right after his graduation — the dream of every young dentist. He had been invited by Dr. Anderson himself who was the head of the clinic, and Frida's father. Dr. Anderson had hired both Andrew and Bobby – the best students in Frida's dental class. And now the three of them with Frida worked in adjoining offices and every day had lunch together. Ah, Frida! At the thought of the blonde and charming Frieda with the most enticing smile in the world, Andrew's heart jumped in his chest! He had liked her the minute he spotted her at the lectures among the many other dental students. But he had never dared to tell her about his feelings. Andrew secretly suspected that she liked him too because she used every opportunity for them to be together. She was showing interest in his opinion; she laughed at his jokes and tenderly glanced at him with her violet-blue eyes. The time has come – only to pass this exam today, and he will confess his love for her! He was sure that he would brilliantly perform the final part of the exam. Then his dream of becoming an orthodontist would come true. Monday morning, he had accurately taken the patient's imprint and the dental lab had already made the removable appliance corresponding to it. He would probably need to make a few minor adjustments to fit the plate to the patient. And then to explain to the exam board what orthodontic treatment he envisions. This part of the exam was the easiest – especially compared to the hard theory test the previous week. Too bad that Bobby failed on it! But c'est la vie. Several candidates applied for just one opened orthodontist position, and the best would win! And who was the best? Andrew.

Andrew took the stairs two at a time and quickly reached the facade of the massive medical school building. He carefully opened the heavy front door and waved to the porter standing at the front desk to the left of the staircase. The young man went up to the second floor. He walked down the long gloomy corridor and greeted the other four applicants already waiting in front of the exam hall. He glanced at his watch – two more minutes until the beginning of the exam.

At 10 am sharp, the door opened, and Professor Carter, the chairman of the examination board, invited the candidates into the hall. The patients were already seated in the dental chairs.

After disinfecting their hands and putting on protective clothing, the five young medics approached their patients. A nurse with a tray walked to each of them. Each took the numbered box with the teeth imprint of his patient and the corresponding gypsum model and plates made in the dental lab.

Andrew smiled at the patient standing in front of him. He was a boy of about 13 years old, with quite crooked teeth and a deep bite not corrected earlier because his family had no financial means to do so. Now his parents had brought him here because the patients of the dental students received free treatment.

Andrew took the plate out of the box, disinfected it, and carefully placed it on the patient's teeth. But no matter how hard he tried, it did not work out. If he adjusted the plate on one side, it climbed on the other. Andrew took out the appliance and began to examine it. The acrylic base seemed to be narrower than the patient's bite. Andrew ground some of the plastic. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not adjust the plate to the boy's teeth. Andrew put it in the model – it fit perfectly. He looked at the imprint he had made the previous day. Yes, it was this imprint, but somehow different. He was trying to figure out exactly what was the root of the problem. The imprint seemed shrunk, although there was no explanation for how it happened.

Sweat broke out on his forehead. He pulled out a towel to soak it up and felt the veins in his temples throb in a furious rhythm. Andrew had to concentrate; he had almost reached the final; he had to overcome this last obstacle. He made a second attempt, but the plates did not fit again.

"Well, Dr. Kehayov, as far as I can see, we have a problem here," he heard professor Carter's voice behind him.

"I'm sorry, Professor Carter, but I think something happened to this plate. It is not the same as I left it yesterday," Andrew desperately sighed.

"And what do you think happened to it, Dr. Kehayov, and where?" continued Professor Carter sarcastically. "In this examination hall or at the lab, and only to your plate? The rest are fine. Look at the other applicants – no one complains. It seems that your molding process was not correct from the very beginning. You are good at theory. However, you lack practical skills. You can use your time to work hard and apply again next year, Dr. Kehayov."

Andrew turned pale; his pupils dilated. He barely managed to remove the protective clothing he was working with, thanked the jury, and left the hall. Everything swam before his eyes; a storm raged in his soul. He spotted a bench at the end of the corridor, sat on it, and collapsed. He rested his elbows on his knees and covered his eyes with his palms. His head was echoing with a single question – what went wrong at the end?

To be continued

Daniela Kuzmanova lives in Sofia and works at the Program Content Department of Bulgarian National Television. She got a master’s degree in English from Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English (USA) in 2016. She enjoys writing children's books and plays as well as fiction and non-fiction short stories. In 2014, her haibun Independent Dog was one of the awarded works in the Third Genjuan International Haibun Contest in Japan and published in Genjuan Haibun Contest: Decorated Works 2012-2014. In 2017, her play Christmas Story with Wally and Polly was nominated in the Balkan Playwright Contest Children Drama.


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