I’m the princess who slept a hundred years.
I spent a good part of my life in a glass coffin, at the top of an ancient tower, in a forest outgrown with murderous ivy, infested by evil spirits.
I’m the Burmese snake drowned in rice wine for the sake of the odd souvenirs, waking up from an alcohol infused sleep to a world outside my jungle, only to find that I can still bite.
Today, I open my eyes to more than lessons and cake and unncessary paperwork, gossip and playgrounds and seeing the same faces in the same places day after day after day. I learn that bad behaviour is neither my fault nor my responsibility. In fact, in the real world, the person sitting in the dock gets the sentence. Try telling a judge otherwise.
I’ve chosen to work every day this week, even if it’s almost Christmas. I knew that not a single day would be like the other…and I was hungry for adventure.
If the essence of romance is uncertainty, this is also the essence of love.
And I LOVE my job. Because it is uncertain.
Let’s start with the beginning.
At first, there was Lincoln.
It’s Monday morning, and I’m in the back of a cab, trying to ignore the sensation of vertigo in my stomach as the car advances slowly up a steep hill. I’m in Lincoln, a place I didn’t know existed until last week, when I looked it up to see what the fuss was all about and because, well, I was going to work there.
The town has personality. It’s the first thing I notice. The narrow cobbled streets, intricate brickwork and ancient cathedrals remind me of my father’s native town in Transylvania, only Lincoln is immersed in the typical English fog and looks like the prefect place for a Poirot mystery.
“This is it,” the elderly cab driver announces, and as I scramble out, careful not to slide downhill on the mossy paving stones, it occurs to me that perhaps I’m a little insane. I’m two hundred miles from home, in a place I’ve never been to; I have no idea if and where I’m staying the night, or how reliable the trains back to London are (as it turns out, not so reliable). And the best thing is, I love it. It’s freedom and power and I breathe the strong damp air not without a certain exhilaration.
I try to keep a cool head as I look down at the picturesque town, the pointy rooftops sprinkled along the valley like extravagant mushrooms, but the truth is, I’m not very good with heights.
The taxi is about to commence the treacherous descend when I knock gently on the side window and ask the driver: “Excuse me, where exactly are we?”
“This is the Crown Court right there,” he tells me, pointing out the ghostly shape of a building through the dissipating fog.
No, it issn’t a building.
It’s a castle.
A proper castle. I count at least five towers emerging form the fog, giddy with curiosity as I walk down the wide path to the main entrance.
I’ve gotten used to the theatrical atmosphere at courts, but I still chuckle inwardly every time I see the cloaks and wigs, balancing mountains of files and making the offenders mute with admiration. It’s like walking into my own mind, a place of fantasy, something that existed all the time beneath the surface, unnoticed. On the wall a Victorian clock watches over everybody like the hand of God, its arms pointing accusingly to each of the Roman letters that, as crazy as it sounds, not everyone can read.
A lot of the life at court is a waiting game. Waiting for the offenders to arrive, whether they are in custody or not; waiting for the judge, for the lawyers, the list is endless.
It’s eleven a.m. and I’m sitting in an interview room with one of the barristers. I watch him nervously. He’s intimidating in his pristine shirt with a fabulous white collar, and his fingers leaf expertly through a book entitled Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice. I opened it while he went to the coffee machine to get us coffees – sugary and disgusting, on my Top Worst list, and found that it was full of complicated sentencing guidelines and that it had half my weight.
A. strokes his beard as he tells me about his marvellous life as a commercial lawyer. In his view, commercial lawyers, dealing with fine matters such as litigation, are the true gods of the Law. What they do is magic: pick one word and spin it into something it’s not. See the flaw that no other eye can see. Be a wizard, but how can you without having been born one?
Something must have happened for him to part with commercial law. He talks of it as if it is a long lost mistress.
“You either have the intellect for it, or you don’t,” he tells me. “And your intuition. That’s the first thing about being a lawyer.”
I get it. It’s hunting with your eyes closed. I observe A. with increasing curiosity. He’s different from who he was half an hour ago, even a minute ago. Shifting to different shapes, appearing where you least expect him to be. Maybe he is a wizard after all.
Earlier on, he told me how he traveled to Eastern Europe and found it mostly dark and edgy, especially Latvia. “You just can’t walk down the street without being attacked,” he told me. “And were you attacked?” I asked.
He tells me stories: how he entered a maximum security prison holding up his trousers, trying to keep the laceless shoes on his feet, with only a few sheets of paper and a pencil, all numbered and measured by the security guard.
Gesticulating abundantly, A. explains that there is a fine line between a good lawyer and a monkey. I refrain from asking in which category he includes himself, or if he isn’t insinuating that a monkey can go through bar school. The man is bonkers, but we have something in common – the ‘you either love me or hate me’ thing.
There’s no doubt about it: you really love him or you REALLY hate him, but he is so weird that I have to like him – I’ve realised it because the wicked smile is on my lips. He is one of those characters in a novel that you can’t quite put your finger on, see through and opaque at once. I know my muse is awake because the compulsion to write becomes unbearable, and the sentences begin to gather in my mind like storm clouds.
“Still, you have to be pretty clever to study Law,” I comment. After all, I looked it up. I wanted to go to Law school myself, back when I was eighteen and read the Criminal Code back to front to find out if I could sue someone. I could, and I did – the guy went to jail for a year, and I don’t know how I haven’t thought of this before. Of course, it must be exactly where my passion for justice in general and criminal law in particular started.
The only people A. respects in the criminal justice system are the judges.
“They’re really smart,” he tells me, as he beckons me to follow him up and down snaking corridors to the cells.
In the cells A. is a different person. He is taking notes in deep blue ink, pressing the pen so hard on the paper that you can read the statement on the page underneath. I don’t have the time to think about the mysteries behind his erratic caligraphy, because we are expected in court, where A. camouflages himself in the familiar furniture arrangement like a leopard ready to spring.
I have lunch in an old fashioned pub with the other interpreters. The soup of the day is apple and parsnip. Once again, the waitress is Romanian, and she tells me point blank not to have it. No Romanian in their right mind would have apple and parsnip soup, not even in the week before Christmas when we’re all supposed to fast. So I have a beef baguette instead, savouring every bite and every moment.
Back at court, when the day has ended, A. asks for my card. His confusion as he takes in the creepy clown picture – the same as on my book cover – pleases me.
Walking back into the fog, I can’t help thinking that Lincoln looks like an elf city, especially at Christmas; almost too pretty to be true.