As I hurried down the corridor, Tom, an undergraduate student from the class in which I serve as the teaching assistant, smiled at my gloved hands.
"So, ready for the competition today?" I asked in passing by.
"Oh yeah, its heating up. Everyone is putting their projects together. But I guess ours is going to be the best," replied Tom, nodding his head in quick succession.
The competition ran for the class duration and everyone's project was judged carefully with an unsaid prejudice. Professor X, as usual oblivious of human emotion, was busy judging too, not just the projects but also the capability of young students. And they were only young humans, to me, who were all equal in the end. I tried my best to be the best host, and kept the excitement up by constant cheering and encouragement as per the proceedings.
Then the results were announced, and of course not everyone can get the first rank. Students in teams ranking the last weren't particularly happy. Tom and his friend, as a team, ranked last in the competition.
"So the winners! The winners come here! Take pictures for the winners Tanja! A picture of the judges with the winners! The winners! One picture of the entire team of winners! Let's take a group photo with winners at the front!" These were some of the sentences that Professor X uttered after the results were announced. Every time she mentioned winner, a hot nail pierced my heart. I wonder how would the teams that didn't win must have felt.
"It's not about winning, we all learned something today. We all learned why things work and why they don't and I hope you learned that from this course. And don't worry about the final scores, they will be scaled down by a magnitude of 10, so there won't be a great difference between the scores of various teams, okay? Have fun, good job!"
But by the time I announced this, the most depressed team was already leaving the room, with their project.
"Hey wait, leave your projects on the table! We want to show other sections what you guys did! Everyone, leave their projects here for two weeks! Especially the winners, the winners' projects must stay with me! The projects must stay on the table, please listen everyone!" Professor X continued to ramble amidst the leaving, half depressed crowd.
Tom and his friend, muttered something under their breath, and approached towards the exit door. I rushed past the crowd of students to meet the lost team. Just before they could leave, I asked them to stop, and I put a hand on Tom's shoulder,
"I know your name. You are Tom and you, you are Jim, right? I'm the one who's going to do the final grading, so I'll take care of you, okay? Don't worry, I will take care of you."
"Thanks, Tanya, thanks a lot...umm, do you want me to put my project back on the table? I can put it there now."