I watched him breathe.
His pupils were dilated and his cheeks flushed. His hands were gripping the table so hard that his knuckles were white. His lips were parted and his teeth shone in the half dawn.
His eyes were fixed on the candle between us.
His concentration was evident in every line of his form, his very being– fragile and weakened– grasping onto the idea of life.
The candle was the only thing that kept him sane. The only thing that kept his mind from falling apart, like a skyscraper in a hurricane or a boat at sea with the waves crashing against the groaning hull.
With each mental assault his pupils widened and his cheeks grew redder until sweat dripped freely down his face.
His shoulders began to quiver. I could feel the fear, the self-doubt, vibrating in the air around us.
In that instant I knew that he could take no more. The fact surprised me. He had seemed such a promising boy– so ready for the test before him. But it’s always the promising ones that take the test before they’re ready.
I have never taken the test. Yet I have experienced it more times than I can count. Each of my pupils gets to a different place. The strength of their minds always surprises me. The weakness of mine scares me.
It is at this point that a question always comes to me: Am I the only one who is too scared to take the test? If that is true, then I have been justly punished for it– I have to watch as each promising young soul fails.
His fingers slid off the table as he flinched. The candle flame flickered and nearly went out. He had reached the end of his mental capacity.
I wanted to yell to him– to tell him that he was so close to succeeding, but I couldn’t.
I had to watch in silence as the next surge of doubt hit him.
It was all over in a moment. His eyes flicked up from the candle to meet mine, a silent plea evident in them.
Then he was gone.
He had failed.