By failing to prepare...

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Yes, but how am I to forgive Kay in English 2, who has shown up late to almost every class and who, 30 minutes into the end-of-course test, is still not here?

I get up, leaving the other students writing their essays in the classroom, to go and print out a term paper emailed to me by my most challenging and challenged student - not Kay, but Jay.

On my way to the office, thinking much of my generosity in refraining from scolding Jay for not having brought me a printed copy, I wonder at the student standing perplexed in front of the door to the English department. All the English 2 exams are taking place right now. He is obviously lost and doesn't know where his assigned room is.

Are we to forgive him, too?

I'm too annoyed to stop and suggest that he check the online schedule, because I'm anticipating that after I ask, "Do you know the name of your professor?", I'll have to follow up with, "No? Then do you remember which day and time your exam is?"

And as I proceed to my office in full frog-faced disgust, a pang of conscience pricks me.

I am taken back to my junior year of college, exam week. That day, as I strode confidently into a classroom for a "Bible as literature" exam, I didn't recognise a soul, not even the professor. Every single one of those idiots was in the wrong room.

It took only a second for the realisation to sink in. Oh, Lord! The Balkan history final!

I was only a few minutes late. I recognised everyone, even the professor who, instead of scolding me for my tardiness, reassured me: "Calm, calm - you have very much time." Yes, but I hadn't revised.

As I sat down, sweating, at the front of the classroom (not in one of my comfortable spots near the window; they were taken), I was furious at everything: the schedules, the concept of final exams, the fact that all my classmates had known the correct place and time.

I print out Jay's essay and pass by the departmental office, where one of my colleagues is patiently helping the bewildered student. I return to my classroom, where I expect to find Kay, tardy but repentant. "I'm sorry, Professor," she will say. "The bus was latemy car broke downthe dog ate my homework."

But she still isn't here. As the students fidget over their exam papers, I begin marking Jay's essay.

When Kay finally comes through the door, sighing, gesturing her apologies, her handbag swaying on her bare arm, her earrings gleaming, her lipstick glossy, her eyes bright and outlined in kohl, she says: "Don't worry, I got time."

I hand her the instructions and the exam booklet: "Let's see."

She smiles at Dean and Aza; Dean lifts his feet off the chair she wants and Aza takes her backpack off the desk. "Thank you," Kay whispers. Then I notice her tiptoeing to my desk. "Psst! You got a pen I can borrow?"

I bite my tongue and hand one to her.

"Thank you!"

Bob Blaisdell teaches English at Kingsborough Community College, New York City

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