If I could only make it to the door, then the corridor would be sure to follow and, soon after the staircase and the street beyond. But once on the street I would be forced to pick a direction and this decision would bring with it a destination and oh so many other things besides that. And, once a destination has been decided, the whole affair becomes rather a foregone conclusion and the journey back becomes as inevitable as the journey there. So much so that it hardly seems worth the effort to go there at all, as what else would I be doing other than simply going through the motions until, eventually, my feet brought me right back to where I started? And, knowing all this, how can I possibly make it out of bed, let alone all the way to the door?
The quiz is really quite a simple affair, but there are some difficult questions regardless. The simple questions are hardly worth answering, for it is almost a certainty that everyone else will already know the answers too. Nonetheless, we all flounder and scramble to be the first to answer them and, despite our best efforts, it is almost always the same person who manages to get there first. With a flourish, they callously grab the pen, from the member of our group who has delegated himself as scribe, and begin to scrawl the answer. This makes all of the rest of us feel small and slightly stupid and, although we know the answer too, we can never be confident in the success of our efforts to demonstrate this knowledge to the rest of the party. We jointly lean in, watching the movements of the pen and nod with vigorous approval as it spells out the answer that is within all of our minds. At the same time, we eye each other suspiciously, wondering if some of these nods are mere pretences at knowledge.
The would be scribe, usually the owner of the pen, or, at least, the one who managed to to solicit the pen off of the host before the quiz began, takes back said pen off of the envied answerer and we all poise for the next question. This process repeats itself many times throughout the evening, but, in rare interludes, its recurrence is interrupted.
A more difficult question is asked and we all look from one to the other, searching for assurance that this is not, simply, just an easy question whose answer we alone are ignorant of. If the usual answerer quickly grabs the pen and begins to write without hesitation we are left almost completely unsure of whether the question was really difficult or not. We all pretend to double check their answer and nod as if we are offering our approval, but it is impossible to tell if everyone else is faking it too, or if it is us, alone, who are ignorant.
Occasionally, one of us will nod with extra vigour, as if to acknowledge, both that it was a hard question, and that, despite this, they really knew the answer. Even more seldom, someone will admit that they hadn’t a clue and the cheeks of those pretending will turn red to reveal their trickery. Ordinarily, however, we are all just left wondering.
Part of us would like to entertain the idea that the frequent answerer is just the smartest of the group, as that would allow us to believe that, even on the questions that we find easy, most of the group are pretending. However, despite the comfort that this would provide us with when we, too, are ignorant, we cannot do this, for secretly we entertain the notion that we are the cleverest person at the table and the frequent answerer is simply just swifter of hand, or less hard of ear, or slightly sharper, in his reaction, but lacking the same depth of knowledge as that which we, alone, possess. As such, every time that we are forced to nod along in pretence, averting our eyes from our associates rather than using them to scrutinise their every move, we become slightly more tense.
As the quiz progresses, this tenseness gradually increases. Perhaps a more difficult question is even answered by one of our associates other than the frequent answerer. This makes us feel all the more stupid as, although the difficulty of the question is more pre-evident, the fact remains that more and more of the colleagues, who we would like to dismiss as less intelligent than ourselves, have succeeded in answering a question, whereas we have not. We can attempt to soothe ourselves with the knowledge that even the frequent answerer did not know that answer, but there is no hiding the fact that we are only deluding ourselves here. The frequent answerer has nothing to prove and, even if he did, we wish to dismiss him too and are still a long way away from being able to even pretend to do that.
Now, we are forced to make a decision: do we sit back and tensely try to relax, dismissing either the quiz, or ourselves, as stupid or a joke? Or, do we press on and hope against hope that some difficult questions arise that are in our speciality areas, or, even better, in someone else’s, but, through some twist of fate, we are the only ones who know the answer? Sure, in the past we have taken the first option, leaning on drink or comedy as an excuse for our inadequacy, but today we cannot do that, we do not wish to do that, for what if our fortunes were to change, but we were too distracted to take advantage?
We press on, becoming tenser and tenser, growing increasingly more suspicious of each other’s nods, even considering the possibility that the frequent answerer is cheating in some way. Things begin to look hopeless, until, out of nowhere, the perfect question arises. We know that no one else will know the answer, but we still scramble desperately to make sure we are the first to give it. We do not even grab the pen, for to make to do so would be to admit our ignorance in so many of the proceeding questions. Instead, we shout the answer, with regrettable volume, across the table and across the bar and, in unison, all of our associates turn their heads towards us and scowl. ‘Shhhhh!’ They say, silently remembering how discrete they had been when it was their turn to answer. We shrink into our seats and try to laugh it off, but it is too late, even, to play the clown.