Excerpt of the Day: Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is perhaps one of the most beautiful fantasy novels I’ve ever read. It contains sharp observations of the human mind and heart in a manner expected of a literary novel, however it’s an adventure containing librarians, scholars, magic, dreamers and strange enemies.

strange the dreamer

It is an incredibly unique Young Adult Fantasy novel, which incorporates original concepts in a breathtakingly fresh manner, the story weaved with such true emotion and wit that it seems real, allowing the reader to fall into the lush world Taylor has created . The quality of writing is amongst the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The thoughts, desires and experiences of the protagonist, Lazlo Strange, are enough to touch any heart and fill it with wonder, joy and, yes, the longing to dream just a little more fearlessly.

Lazlo Strange is a war orphan and junior librarian. He has been obsessed with the mythic city of Weep since he was five years old, but it would take someone much bolder to make his way across half the world in search of it. But then a stunning opportunity presents itself and he gets the chance to travel to Weep with a band of legendary warriors passing through his hometown, and he seizes the chance to make his dream come true. Everything that unfolds from that moment on in a pure adventure, full of unexpected turns, wonders and magic.

lazlo

 An excerpt from page 14-15. 

“Some manuscript were expected at the Great Library of Zosma, and Lazlo was charged to deliver them.

He never came back.

The Great Library was no mere place to keep books. It was a walled city for poets and astronomers and every shade of thinker in between. It encompassed not only the vast archives, but the university, too, together with laboratories and glasshouses, medical theatres and music rooms, and even a celestial observatory. All this occupied what had been the royal palace before the current queen’s grandfather built a finer one straddling the Eder and gifted this one to the Scholars’ Guild. It ranged across the top of Zosimos Ridge, which knifed up from Zosma City like a shark’s fin, and was visible from miles away.

Lazlo was in a state of awe from the moment he passed through the gates. His mouth actually fell open when he saw the Pavillion of Thought. That was the grandiose name for the ballroom that now housed the library’s philosophy texts. Shelves rose forty feet under an astonishing painted ceiling, and the spines of books glowed in jewel-toned leather, their gold leaf shining in the glavelight like animal eyes. The glaves themselves were perfect polished spheres, hanging by the hundreds and emitting a purer white light than he’d ever seen from the rough, ruddy stones that lit the abbey. Men in gray robes rode upon wheeled ladders, seeming to float through the air, scrolls flapping behind them like wings as they rolled from shelf to shelf.

It was impossible that he should leave this place. He was like a traveler in an enchanted wood. Every step deeper bewitched him further, and deeper he did go, from room to room as though guided by instinct, down secret stairs to a sublevel where dust lay thick on books undisturbed for years. He disturbed them. It seemed to him that he awoke them, and they awoke him.”

We Deserve to Know what’s really Happening in Aid Projects: the Fight for Greater Transparency in Aid

Transparency will make aid much more effective  

If we wish to see the effective, accountable use of aid throughout the world, we need to push for greater transparency.

We are living in an age of astonishing global inequality. Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world are living in extreme poverty while the number of billionaires has never been higher. There is a lot of work being done by NGOs, charities and governmental organisations to deliver aid and funds to those in need. However, many aid organisations have been accused of misusing or misplacing funds in the past and this highlights the severe importance of increasing the transparency of where funds are being invested. This is just one of the many reasons we must push for greater regulations and practices promoting open data standards for global aid.

poverty

Greater transparency will enable us to achieve higher levels of aid effectiveness and create a culture of accountability. The World Bank’s Sanctions and Suspension Office, which keeps track of cases related to aid, found extensive evidence of fraud and corruption. In fact, in between 2007 and 2012, investigations unveiled that fraud or corruption existed in 157 contracts worth $245 million. Of course, we must note the hidden figure of crime in such statistics and acknowledge the corruption that remains undiscovered. The Center for Global Development state that if we spend more time tracing the usage and dissemination of aid funding, we will be able to tackle corruption effectively. Thus, if we wish to see effective, accountable use of aid throughout the world, we need to push for greater transparency.

Women are suffering and we need aid transparency to ensure the right work is being done in the right places

Women’s economic empowerment is essential to decreasing poverty globally, and aid organisations must be transparent and held accountable for their funding in such areas.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty globally. They are much more likely than men to be deprived of education, food, sanitary equipment, paid work and healthcare. According to Oxford International, women are affected by poverty more deeply than men in the form of unpaid care work, lack of decent work, lower wages and longer workdays. Gender inequality in the economy costs women in the developing world approximately $9 trillion every year. If aid was delivered to girls and women effectively, actively providing them with education, healthcare and enabling their employment in safe environments, entire communities, families and economies could be uplifted. For this reason, the United Nations has listed gender equality as an important Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) if we wish to create a more equal, peaceful and prosperous world.

poverty image

Abundant evidence suggests that countries with higher levels of gender equality tend to have much lower levels of poverty and stronger economies. For instance, in Latin America, the increase of women coming into paid employment from 2000-2010 led to a 30% decrease in poverty. Thus, women’s economic empowerment is essential to decreasing poverty globally, and aid organisations must be transparent and held accountable for their funding in such areas. In order to enact effective change through aid, we must have a solid evidence-base on how much is being spent on gender-related aid projects and what areas the funding is being allocated to. Furthermore, there must also be follow-up reports, statistics and data which highlight the effectiveness of varying gender equality projects. This will empower aid organisations with the knowledge of where greater funding in required, what techniques are ineffective and what aspects of aid have proven to be highly useful.

The work that is being done to create greater aid transparency

Publish What You Fund found there was little information on aid that could be used for effective decision-making, leading onto the risk of donors duplicating efforts in some areas and leaving others under-funded.

aid image

In October 2011, a non-profit organisation, Publish What You Fund, created the Pilot Aid Transparency Index in order to implement the systematic assessment of aid transparency. Publish What You Fund found there was little information on aid that could be used for effective decision-making, leading onto the risk of donors duplicating efforts in some areas and leaving others under-funded. Furthermore, this lack of information also meant that donors weren’t being held accountable and civil society was largely uninformed of what resources were coming into their country, even though they have the right to have access to such information.

In 2016, after five years of the creation of the Aid Transparency Index, Publish What You Fund found that there was a 25% increase in the transparency standard of aid. Furthermore, by June 2020, the Aid Transparency Index showed significant improvement in aid donors’ transparency in comparison to 2018. This tells us that the efforts to make aid more transparent are moving in the right direction and the work of organisations such as Publish What You Fund is integral in this movement.

The global fight to tackle gender inequality is intimately linked to the fight for aid transparency, and we must push for greater transparency if we wish to have access to accurate information on aid figures, statistics, reports and effectiveness. Whether we are ordinary citizens, aid organisations or governmental institutions, we have the right to see, trace and understand the effectiveness of the aid that is being disseminated by aid organisations globally.

 

A Poem: Ageing Aches

oldhnads

forgiveness is no longer a choice.
it is a given,
for there is no other way left
to live.
so close to the end of the
longest walk.
all you have left to give
is goodness and hope,
and all the memories that crawl from
the folds of your aching skin and
latch onto those who once held
such firm hands
are like sunlight caressing the
curves of a tree that
withstood endless seasons and tides,
that has yet so much life to give,
and yet has nothing to give at all

Excerpt of the day

Screenshot 2020-04-17 at 15.33.17

We can all talk. The challenge? Getting people to listen.

Your ability to influence others, build your career, and achieve your personal goals is dependent on how effectively you communicate and engage with people.

And here’s both a harsh and sad fact. Some people have values and views many would find offensive. But they get heard. They get noticed. Not simply because of what they believe, but because of how well they communicate their message. Criminals and politicians can manipulate minds because they’ve developed the skills of knowing how to persuade others. Yes, other factors and skills do come into play, but if they’re unable to communicate effectively their influence is weakened. Their voice is less likely to be heard.

Think about the ways you communicate your messages to others. Could your approach ever be described as boring or bland? Do you say things the way you’ve always said them? If not, great; but if you do, then perhaps it’s time to freshen up your style… see how you can make your message more sticky and memorable. First, repetition – be prepared to repeat your message in different ways. Second, use less-familiar language – language that gets people’s attention and causes them to want to know more.

How to Speak so People really Listen – Paul McGee (Pp1. 5. 7. 24)

 

 

Excerpt of the day

Screenshot 2020-04-15 at 17.34.23

“The first step is so define what success looks like for you…

Serial achievers all have their own definitions of success, with the common feature that they want to test themselves and deliver the very best – that’s where their personal fulfilment comes from.

What do we mean by success?

First of all, what we are talking about here is your idea of success, not what other people believe or expect of you. Their definition will always be based on their own measure, which may be very different to yours, so let’s put them on one side for now.

The symbols of success vary from one person to another and from one time to another. Getting the degree you want or running the marathon in the allotted time are goals that give you something to reach for. They are also tangible measures that others can see and respect, which is always gratifying.

The intangibles of success are more subtle. They span your life to this point and include your hopes and fears for the future. When it comes down to having a successful life or not, then the essence remains the same for all of us.

The Psychology of Success – Judith Leary-Joyce (Pp13-14)

A poem: Burning skin

fire 1

perhaps the reason
our skin burns so bright
when it meets
is that it craved a touch
not of this body
but of something that would seep
lower and deeper
until the core that was always
so lonely and detached
from everything would finally have
a chance to reveal itself to someone
whose flame sways the same

The Heartless Game – Chapter 3 (romance novel)

blogpicy

CHAPTER THREE

I took a deep breath, and got straight into it.

“I’m sorry to barge in like this but it’s important.”

He walked around his desk, leaned against it and crossed his arms. I couldn’t help but notice the bulge of muscle that strained his sleeves.

“You have five seconds,” he said with threatening softness.

“I got fired.”

He shrugged carelessly, making me want to punch him. Just because he didn’t have to worry about bills ever again, it didn’t mean the rest of the world was in the same position.

I was embarrassed of the facts I was about to disclose, but I had to be honest. “I don’t have much in the way of savings. I’ll be behind on rent if I don’t find a job now. Soon I’ll be homeless.”

A pleased smirk played at his lips. “How is it possible that the daughter of the wealthy Mr Khan is struggling for money?”

I raised my chin a fraction, proudly. “It’s been six years I haven’t taken a single penny from my family.”

He looked at me expectantly, as though waiting for me to reveal more. His intimidating gaze was the type to make people squirm and give up all the information he wanted. But it didn’t work on me. He wasn’t getting any other personal details out of me.

“The way you reacted cost me more than my job. I’m being harassed online; people are saying awful things about me that I don’t deserve. This new reputation isn’t allowing me to find work.”

“The way I reacted was as a result of you showing up so unexpectedly.”

“That was my place of work.”

“And I’d never have attended if I had known.”

“How would you have known? It’s not as though we kept in touch!”

His eyes narrowed dangerously. “Don’t raise your voice at me in my own office.”

I let out an exasperated breath. If I wanted his help, I had to remain patient, even in the face of his rudeness.

“I’m sorry,” I said simply, and he seemed pleased to hear my voice become much smaller.

He was a controlling, dominating bastard. His wealth had gotten to his head, caused him to grow accustomed to everyone in the world treating him like he was something special.

“Your anger towards me isn’t justified. I shouldn’t be punished for another’s mistakes.”

“You’re the damn daughter of the man who fired my mother, who called her a liar. Clearly it’s true what they say, the world has its own way of delivering justice.”

I flinched. After a moment, I opened my mouth to respond but he cut in before that.

“Get out of my office now. Or I’ll throw you out myself.”

The thought of those hands on my body… despite his hatred and incivility, despite everything, the mere thought of that had my heart soaring.

His dark, infuriated gaze had me taking a step closer instead of bolting. This was my last resort; if he didn’t fix this for me, didn’t get me my old job back, I’d be completely lost.

“Look, we both know I wouldn’t be here if I had any other option.”

“There’s nothing I can do for you,” Aryan said, looking towards the door suggestively.

I grit my teeth and walked away. But the moment I touched the door handle, I could no longer hold in all my pent up anger.

“You’re an awful prick. And you’re much more like my father than I am: filthy rich, arrogant, entitled, and careless of ruining people’s lives.”

He stalked towards me with a swiftness that left me frozen. Even I couldn’t believe I’d just spoken to him in such a way. I’d said all the wrong things, unforgivable things. Why had I let my anger get the best of me? I should’ve just left.

He stopped mere inches from me. I couldn’t draw breath.

“What the hell did you just say?” he snarled.

His hazel eyes fixated on me.

I couldn’t speak, could barely even think. My mouth grew dry. I licked my lips in an attempt to pluck up the confidence to say something, to apologise.

His gaze lowered to my mouth. And I sensed something shift between us. The sizzle of electricity. As though if he were to touch me now, my skin would burn. One look at him and I knew he felt it too. This feeling was too potent, too undeniable.

I was impossibly still, afraid that even the slightest breath would fragment this moment. It was all up to him. I’d let him decide what would happen between us now. Ever so slowly, he inched forward.

 

The Heartless Game – Chapter 2 (romance novel)

blogpicy

CHAPTER TWO

Three weeks passed. Eleven job interviews.

No responses.

I simply didn’t have enough qualifications, and every other interviewee – well, they were mostly fresh journalist graduates and thus more educated and… vivacious. They had an excitement for life that had left me years ago.

Maybe if the incident hadn’t happened, hadn’t been plastered into each and every gossip magazine – Aryan Parker cuts partying short after being disrespected by an Opulence PA – there would have been a chance of employers seeing something positive about me online. My LinkedIn account emphasised my experience and responsibilities as a means of making up for my lack of a higher education. Instead of focusing on my A Levels and university applications, I’d been busy shopping, visiting salons and bitching among London’s upper class society.

Oh how things had changed… I never would have imagined my future turning out like this. Never before had I desired so much to go back in time and use my youth more wisely.

It was a wonder I’d even been permitted to sit the interviews. Especially since the news surrounding Aryan and me had escalated out of control. The journalists at the party had been too far away to hear our conversation, they’d simply witnessed it, and each speculating article I read seemed crazier than the last: I threw champagne at Aryan Parker, I’d gotten drunk and tried to grope him, I’d attempted to steal his wallet.

The undeniable truth was that I wasn’t going to get a job anywhere. Not for a while, at least until this incident became old news. But I had bills to pay, a simple middle-class life to afford, groceries to buy for god’s sake!

I spent most of my time moping around my flat, feeling more insignificant and worthless each day. I looked at my reflection in my bedroom mirror now.

Jobless. Depressed. Fed up of life.

And you could see each of these things on my face: the tangled mess of my black hair, the dryness of my brown skin, the pinched expression contorting my small round features.

A sudden spike of ferocity shot its way up my spine. Aryan’s rage was completely unjust. My father’s mistakes weren’t mine. He couldn’t punish me for something I hadn’t done, hadn’t even known about.

Without bothering to brush my hair or change my clothes, I grabbed my coat and bag, pulled on some boots and left. Within minutes, I was on the tube that would take me straight into the heart of London, to where Newsdom Head Offices were based, mere minutes’ walk from River Thames.

“Hello ma’am, how can we help?” the beautiful blonde receptionist asked as I entered the stunning building, which was all glass walls, sharp structure and glistening chandeliers.

I was acutely aware of how ragged my appearance was in comparison to her neat, perfectly poised one.

“I need to see Mr Parker,” I said nervously.

This whole thing suddenly felt like an awful idea.

She laughed softly. “I’m sorry ma’am, but you can’t just walk in here and expect to see the boss. You have to go through a process: book an appointment through our website. We get in touch if Mr Parker approves.”

It was so easy to forget how powerful he was now; a part of my mind still remembered him as the hot, shirtless teen who worked as a gardener in my back yard in the summers, who occasionally got me and my friends drinks, causing us to giggle like crazy the moment he left. I still remembered how giddy his presence always made me feel, but even then he was always distant and aloof. As much as I stared at him, he never looked back, staying ever respectful and distant from his employer’s daughter. If Aryan had to approve the meeting requests that came his way, I would never get to see him.

I didn’t quite know how to respond. Eventually, I blurted, “It’s really important. If you could just phone him-”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” she cut in briskly, “but, as I said, you can’t see the boss. And it would be most inappropriate for me to disturb him with this. He’s a very busy man.”

I glanced around. An elevator in the distance was about to go up. Before I knew what I was doing, I ran for it.

Just as the doors closed, I heard the woman shout, “Security.”

My heart thundered. I’d never done anything like this before. My hands became clammy as I imagined being hurled out of this building by a beefy security guard.

There was one other person in the lift but I was too embarrassed to look at him. He knew perfectly well that I was the one that security had been alerted against – with my cargo pants and khaki parker, it was perfectly clear just how out of place I was.

Newsdom was the most formal social media app around; everything that was uploaded onto the platform was scrutinised for authenticity and suitability. Everyone in the building was clad in suits and dresses, their faces perfectly symmetrical, their expressions excuding intelligence and determination.

“Where to?” the man asked, his fingers near the lift buttons and his voice clearly amused. At least he wasn’t afraid of me, hadn’t assumed that I was a criminal of some sort.

“Where’s Aryan Parker’s office?” I asked, completely breathless.

“Eighteenth floor. I’m going there too,” he replied.

That was when I turned to face him, and let out a disbelieving laugh. The man was in his pajamas. When I looked at his bright blue eyes, I instantly recognised him. Nick Stevens had helped Aryan set up his app, providing him money, skill and, most importantly, belief in his dreams. They were close, more brothers than best friends, often photographed at social events together. Of course Nick would wear whatever he wanted in the offices, he owned a large portion of Newsdom.

“Why do you want to see him?”

Because he got me fired, completely unjustly. Because he’s trying to ruin my life and doesn’t even know it. And it should at least be on his conscience if he chooses not to own up to his mistake.

But of course I didn’t say any of these things. Instead, I stuttered like an idiot, because it suddenly seemed that only an idiot would dare to confront a man as powerful and hateful as Aryan Parker.

“You can keep it to yourself if it’s a secret,” Nick grinned, giving me a wink.

His eyes gave me a subtle once over, and a crease of confusion formed between his brows, as though he was used to seeing girls do anything to get closer to Aryan Parker but that none of them looked as unkempt and basic as me because they were usually supermodels. I cringed at the thought of him assuming I was a lovesick woman Aryan had shared a one night stand with, someone who’d become so obsessed with the man she was breaking into his bloody place of work!

Even if Nick Stevens did think of me in this way, I somehow knew he’d still respect me. That he wouldn’t judge or ridicule me. He possessed a kind, warm aura. He was handsome in a pretty-boy way but didn’t seem to know it. He seemed understanding. Non-judgmental. Fun. The complete opposite of Aryan in every way.

Regardless of the fact that Nick was a billionaire, and one of the brightest technological minds in the world, I could imagine being myself around him.

I gave him a soft smile, thankful that he wasn’t being nosy. As close as Aryan was to Nick, there was a possibility he’d never told him about the past he shared with Samia Khan, with the whole Khan family.

When he got off the lift, I followed.

“Ladies first,” he said, gesturing to the blurred glass walls that were Aryan Parker’s office – his name was plastered outside it on a golden plaque, right above the words CEO.

“Are you sure?” I asked tentatively.

He nodded and took a seat in the waiting area, giving a kind smile to Aryan’s personal receptionist.

My blood thrummed in my ears as I walked towards the office. The waiting area was on its right side, and the floor-length glass windows revealed a stunning skyline of midday London.

This was what he saw everyday. The lucky bastard. I felt a surge of hatred for him. Life had been good to him. He had everything now. Why couldn’t he just let the past go?

My hatred for him strengthened my resolve. I was ready to confront him. I knocked twice and then opened the door without waiting for a response.

He was leaning over his desk, ruffling through a stack of papers. The entire desk seemed to be filled with paper. He was a messy man. And, as the receptionist had stated, certainly very busy.

He didn’t bother acknowledging that anyone had entered. Grabbing some papers, he began to read through them, adjusting the glasses atop his nose. I had a feeling that even if I’d spoken, he would’ve simply ignored me as background noise. He was a man who made others wait… he interacted with others if and when he wanted, not the other way around.

This building, his wealth and status and intelligence, it wasn’t luck or coincidence. He was a hardworking person. I couldn’t help but find it inspirational.

Gradually, leisurely, his eyes drifted to me.

His spine shot up and his expression darkened. He whipped his glasses off. His eyes roamed over my messy clothes and hair, eventually settling on my bare face. Then he snarled with an intensity that made me quiver.

“What the hell are you doing in my office?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heartless Game – Chapter 1 (romance novel)

blogpicy

CHAPTER ONE 

“I can’t believe this is happening,” I whispered, barely able to keep my hands from shaking.

I watched as people from the party gravitated towards him, as he grinned, shook hands and made courteous small talk, subtly flirting with all the beautiful women.

Aryan Parker.

“No one informed me he’d be coming tonight,” I hissed, grabbing my colleague’s arm.

“Ouch,” Hanna cried, and I abruptly let go. “You were on holiday. I guess we forgot to email you the itinerary for upcoming events. How was Scotland anyway?”

The green valleys, jagged cliffs, sparkling rivers – it was the kind of holiday to be taken with your family or a partner, a romantic partner. But I had neither and so I’d gone alone, and in the end spent most of my time wandering aimlessly, feeling empty and lost. I had been eager to get back to London, to lose myself in my job as Personal Assistant once again. But now, I would do anything to be away from this place, from him.

“Hello?” Hanna said impatiently. “Earth to Samia. How was the holiday?”

The terrible liar that I was, I didn’t want to answer that. I decided to ignore her question altogether.

“Why was he invited?”

Hanna guffawed. “Erm, well, only because he’s the youngest billionaire in England, maybe even the world. You do know that right?”

“Of course I know that,” I snapped, feeling my dinner shift uncomfortably in my stomach. It was important for me to eat before such evening work events, otherwise I usually found myself on my feet for hours, utterly famished. But today I regretted it; I’d be lucky if I didn’t puke everywhere.

Hanna grimaced at my tone. “Why the hell are you acting so strange? It’s an honour to have him with us. This is huge for our magazine.”

Again, I ignored her. Opting instead to look at Aryan Parker, just as every other woman in the hall seemed to be doing, some more coy and subtle than others. It was easy to tell exactly why he attracted such attention. He was tall, maybe an inch or two over six feet. His muscular frame was visible even through the sleek black suit he wore; it was all too easy to imagine him putting in work at the gym… and plenty of other places. His jet-black hair was cropped short, just as his beard. And his hazel eyes danced with charm and the promise of pleasure.

“You know he’s never seen with the same woman twice? I stalk the crap out of him on Daily Mail.”

Of course I knew that too. I would never admit it to anyone, but I stalked the crap out of him too. I knew everything there was to know about the man. And it wasn’t only because he’d launched Newsdom, the giant social media app that allowed people from all over the world to report local news events, giving those a voice who hadn’t previously been heard. It was because of everything that had happened before he’d become impossibly rich and famous, when he was a nobody and I was the daughter of a wealthy man. It was because of our dark, twisted history. For years he’d always been there, lingering in the back of my mind.

“I can’t be here,” I muttered, already backing towards the door. He couldn’t see me. It would ruin the evening if he did. And Hanna was right, this event was important for our magazine: Opulence had become big in recent years, but it still struggled to get interviews and photoshoots with the biggest players in the entertainment industry. But then again, who didn’t? It was difficult to get one’s hands on celebrities. I couldn’t ruin this for us. “I’m leaving. Just tell the boss something came up.”

“Stop being so dramatic, Samia,” Hanna chided, stretching a hand to pull me back towards her. “Mr Parker certainly has a way of making the ladies feel jittery.” She paused to giggle. “But I mean no offense when I say that he won’t be fixating on you tonight, not with all the hot journalists and supermodels around him.”

And then it all happened at once.

I backed straight into a waiter. His tray of champagne glasses crashed to the floor. A hush spread throughout the hall. Everyone’s eyes turned to me. I looked at no one but him. Hoping, praying, he wouldn’t look in my direction too.

No such luck…

Recognition instantly dawned in his eyes. My heart skipped two beats. And I suddenly knew for certain, I’d also been lingering somewhere in his mind, but in an infinitely darker way.

I wanted to rip my eyes away from his but simply couldn’t do it; his dark gaze had gripped me. As I picked myself off the floor, brushed my cocktail dress down, fingers wet with champagne, he stalked – no prowled – towards me. The prowl of a predator. And everyone watched. No one could save me from him. If Aryan Parker had proved one thing from his career, it was that he always got what he wanted and never took no for an answer. Neither poverty nor racism nor lack of opportunities had been able to hold the man back.

My blood thundered in my ears, my throat grew dry. And then there he was, standing before me. His hazel eyes were filled with fire, his lips pinched as though he was barely keeping in all the curses he wanted to hurl at me. And somehow, despite all his rage, I couldn’t help but imagine those lips doing something entirely different to me…

My stomach somersaulted, and I blinked rapidly to shut away those thoughts.

“What are you doing here?”

His voice was deep, husky… masculine.

“I-I erm… I-”

“She works for the magazine,” Hanna chipped in for me, her voice uncharacteristically excited. She clearly had no idea how bad this was, that this was far from a dashing billionaire showing interest in me, it was in fact the complete opposite of that.

“I never would have come here if I knew,” he murmured.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Hanna’s face fall. And knew mine would be looking ten times worse. A tense silence followed, and I wished I could vanish.

“I apologise for the mishap. My workers are usually more apt,” my boss, Keith, laughed. He placed a hand on Aryan’s shoulder but he stepped away and Keith flinched, retracting his hand.

Keith shot me an enraged look before turning to Aryan with an apologetic smile. “I hope you’re not too disappointed by this small incident. It will be rectified straight away. And the rest of the evening with be perfectly smooth.”

“I don’t give a damn about spilled champagne,” he said, letting his own glass fall to the floor as well. “I care about having to breathe the same air as Samia Khan.”

And with that, he stormed for the exit.

“What the hell did you do?” Keith barked, getting up closer to my face than ever before. He didn’t want the partying onlookers to hear our conversation, but oh was he mad. This would’ve been a shout-down if we weren’t at a public event. “Mr Parker is one of the most influential men in the world. What if he badmouths Opulence now? How dare you ruin this event for me? For the magazine?”

“I-I’m so sorry. I-I didn’t mean-”

“You’re fired.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Get out of here. This scene is over.”

I wanted to respond, to plead to keep this job: it was tiring and demanding but I was good at it. And honestly, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. But a lump had formed in my throat. Everyone still stared at me. The humiliation. The injustice. The unfairness of everything in my life.

I wanted to cry and beg and explain myself. To everyone.

But I had grown up watching my father shout endlessly at my mother, and her being reduced to a broken, sobbing mess each time. I hated that: her patheticness and weakness. I promised I’d never be like that. And so I didn’t cry. I never cried.

I also didn’t plead or explain or curse. I simply left.

And the entire tube journey home, all the way to my studio flat in East London, I thought of Aryan’s dark, hate-filled gaze.

The roles were reserved now.

He was handsome. Well-dressed. Rich. Beyond secure.

And I was a Personal Assistant, stuck in a dead-end job. And I didn’t even have that anymore. In only one moment, nothing in my life was secure.

Now, it wasn’t only that I had no one. I had nothing.

A poem: Grace Fervour

blog image for poem

My limbs are piled on top of
one another.
But it is not messy or unclean, it’s
the mysterious, alluring tangle of the
roots
of an old, robust tree.
This is the only place I know now,
where there is no
shame.
And the stretching of my redbud arms as
the sun caresses me, to prosperity,
is not pride; desire; greed, but
prayer and
grace fervour.

Anam Iqbal