Paris inspiration: Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare and Company

Picture taken by me, April 2014.

I recently came back from a trip to London and Paris. I loved both cities but Paris I adore even more. Right by the Notre Dame is a bookstore/library called Shakespeare and Company. It’s a famous place for people interested in anything related to literature and though I expected less, I was not disappointed.

Inside S&C

As you can see the shop with a small library on the second floor has this wonderful old school atmosphere. With stone walls, low timber ceiling, dusty chandeliers, and books packed in every corner the cramped quarters allow the perfect retreat for book lovers. On the 2nd floor there is also a desk with a typewriter…writers would come to have a quiet place to be inspired, with views of the river near the cathedral.  There is also a resident cat! That sealed the deal for me.

Lately, I had thought about a library/literature/book project that I could get involved in to help promote reading and literacy in Pakistan. Currently, I volunteer at Educate Haiti Now! A nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to quality education for Haitian children. Since I am also interested in writing it seemed like a logical step to do something to promote literacy/reading/writing in Pakistan. Shakespeare and Company, all the way in Paris, may have given me just the inspiration I needed.

Excerpt from my book

The Trial

It was early afternoon before the trial could begin. Just assembling everyone to be questioned was a feat in its own: the king of England, and other royals, top business and officials from around the world, politicians; people from different walks of life. Everything would be made public: The citizens of the world had demanded that for once they too would witness the proceedings of the royals, the top officials of the world, the elite. Everyone was weary and worn; it would be taxing enough for the events of the years prior to be unrolled in every minute detail. Everyone wanted this trial to be over as quickly as possible. However, out of everyone present, when one eighteen year old girl, an eighteen year old from Earth, was escorted into the courtroom, everyone’s attention turned to her.

The girl from Earth, her name was Mina, was the first to be seated at the podium for questioning. She had dark hair and fair skin. She sat down without looking at the audience: maybe to avoid the few that supported her or the majority that hated her. “Who is representing you?” the judge asked the girl. “I’m representing myself…sir.” She raised her eyes finally and they met the eyes of a young man the same age as her. His name was Adam. He smiled reassuringly. “Sir”, an attendant announced to the Judge, “many key witnesses are missing from the trial that were named by Mina.” “Do you,” the Judge turned to ask Mina, “know where they could be?” “Carl is missing, but he should be found soon. The two males, Ahmed and William,” Her eyes flickered back to Adam, “I will explain where they are—” A lawyer from the prosecution jumped up. “Lying from the start! There are eyewitness reports that the boys Ahmed and William have passed away, one of which for over two years now!” The audience cringed on hearing the word “dead”: death was a taboo topic in this world. The attendant handed a document to the judge. The judge glanced over it quickly. “Well, Mina? It is true they have already been laid to rest.” “They are not dead, not in the true sense of the word. I will explain what I meant: their story is Key to my testimony.” The judge laid the document down. “Then do begin your testimony.” Mina nodded and stood up placing her hands on the podium.  She raised her head to the audience, and spoke loud and direct: “For the charges laid against me, including my sister and others associated with me, of murder, terrorism, sabotage, kidnapping and the like, I declare myself, and my comrades…innocent.” The audience went into an uproar. The judge hammered his mallet. “Order in the court!” It took a while for the commotion to die down. Once it was quiet Mina began her defense.

“When I look back at how it all happened—the mess that I’m in now, it was all a set up. Me and my sister…we were duped of the highest order. To begin with, our adoptive parents were strict, stingy, and controlling; And as for school: we were just a number on a seat. Follow the rules and you’re fine. Don’t follow the rules and suffer the consequences. Then four years ago, out of the blue, an opportunity came: an opportunity to escape to another world, another reality, a parallel world– this world. Given our circumstances, think how two fourteen year old girls would feel at an opportunity to come to this world? But this escape came at a price: a woman greedy for power, upon witnessing a prophecy, fancies herself the charge of the destinies of two young girls, opens a portal from this world to Earth in the hopes that we would pave the way for her husband to someday take the throne of England.” Mina paused to give the audience a moment to digest the information. “This woman told us we could fly, I could have a palace, my sister could find true love, we could have practically anything we wanted, which was true, curiosity got the better of us, and we stepped into the world, just like she wanted.” Everyone was silent. Mina raised her voice. “Who is this woman, you’re asking yourselves? You know who it is! The current queen of England: Lady Maryann.” Everyone turned to face the queen: Lady Maryann sat far above next to the king; her face hidden by the veil in her fascinator. “Everything turned out the way she wanted, the way she had wished. She manipulated me and my sister, used us for her own ends.” Mina lowered her voice. “But she…wasn’t the only one: my sister and I became the rope in a tug of war between the royals and their sworn enemy, Mr. Beria CEO of That Corp.” All eyes darted to Mr. Beria then back to Mina. So far so good, Mina thought. Though the audience seemed surprised they appeared drawn into her story. “I was just a pawn in their game. Or so they thought.” Mina sat back down and clasped her hands together. She shouldn’t show too much excitement. “I actually ended up meeting Mr. Beria, when I landed a job at That Corp. It was shortly after meeting him that I realized that something had changed inside of me.” The next part, Mina knew, would be a hard swallow. “Mr. Beria had decided that I would be a guinea pig in an experiment, an experiment, that would give me special powers, and with my newfound ‘gifts,’ he hoped to manipulate me to do his bidding in his efforts to deter the resurgence in power of the royals. I didn’t know what had happened to me, and did nothing… until I met Kayla Roth.”  One of the lawyers stood up suddenly and interrupted Mina: “You see! She was working with the spy, that traitor Kayla Roth! How can Mina’s word be trusted?!” A commotion of voices exploded at once. BANG. “Order!” The judge retorted. Swift silence. Everyone’s eyes searched for Kayla, but Mina gave them no time to look, she continued on: “Whatever you think of Kayla, whatever you know, the accusations made against her years ago, were at a time of great suspicion and turmoil for the royals. Just like now, this period in history is a time where we are coming to an end of something and a possible new beginning. This might scare the old order, but there are those trying to snatch power in the confusion. Kayla got caught up in the atmosphere of the time and suffered greatly.” Mina turned away from the audience. “So many people have suffered…but I still believe in the justice system. No matter how long it takes, the truth will come out.” She turned back to face the audience. “It was actually Kayla who convinced me to look deeper into the corporation to find out the truth, if Beria was responsible for the changes in me. It was either that or believe that I had lost my mind. So I had to, I had to see if the corporation had done something to me. But in searching for some answers I discovered something else: a weapon so evil created from the darkest depths of human despair with the power to make its master a one man army. It was made with the intent to scare the royals into doing Mr. Beria’s bidding.” Mina scanned the room. The lawyers were sitting on edge readying their attack. “So you must wonder, then,” Mina thought ending with a cliffhanger was the best tactic, the best way to maintain the control of the audience’s attention. She felt a wave of exhaustion; she needed to keep the pace up. “Why I really stole the weapon? Not the false story that Beria has been feeding the media for years! What really happened?” The lawyers all at once exploded with questions and accusations: “She admitted she stole the weapon!” “She lies! Beria did not experiment on her!” “Mina went insane because of her association with Kayla and her evil powers, not because of Beria!” “That arrogant girl thinks the Queen needed her and her sister to take the throne?!” The shouting and accusations grew louder and louder. Mina carried on speaking: “In order for all of you to understand my story, why I did what I did, why I took the weapon, I have to take you all back to the beginning. I have to tell you all the players involved…and I will show you the depths of my memories.” The uproar continued until the court echoed with a loud bang from the judge’s mallet. And so the barrage would be postponed, Mina had the seat and she began her tale. She looked at Adam and her sister sitting in the audience and shared a smile with them: a smile that said, “So far so good.”