Black Door Pt. III: Adam
Welcome to Part III of my short serial ‘Black Door’. If you want to read the previous parts of this story, they’re here:
f it happens, Adam knows about it. That’s just the way it is. Some people are ‘the news of the world’, but Adam’s more the ‘news of tomorrow’. And that’s not just because he runs a hostel.
You know the hostel? Down in the Grass Market? The one that used to be a refuge?
Back in the day it was the ‘West Port Night Refuge and Home for Deserving Men, Women and Children’ (or, if that’s a bit of a mouthful, it was often called ‘The Port of Providence’ to those in need). It was run by the Daughters of Charity and first opened for salvation in 1718. You can still see that date on the swan’s-wing pediment over the front door.
A lot’s happened since then.
Today, above those slightly austere, stone numbers, there’s a hand-painted sign in green whorls and brown, peeling paint. It might once have been merry, crafty and welcoming. Now it’s merely comfortable. The borders are stylised knotwork, the letters Celtic. Ten years that sign’s been there; long enough in Edinburgh’s toothy winters to see to the end of words and the beginning of illegibility. But look, that’s a ‘W’, and that’s an ‘E’, and you get the rest: World’s End Hostel.
‘World’s End’ is the name of a pub not too far away, but Adam liked the name so much, he decided to ‘adopt it’ for the hostel, turning the name, he said, into a district.
At least, that’s his justification.
In actual fact, cards on the table, that particular borrowing was Rowan. She made the sign, when Art College was a reality and travel was still for pleasure. And when you look at it, there’s an amazing elegance to the slap-dashery of it; if the whole thing wasn’t quite so distressed.
Truth is, Adam probably should’ve chucked that sign out years ago. Said he would a hundred times. Still hasn’t. And there’s still paint everywhere.
So, once the hostel was a refuge.
Kind of still is. Now the hall, leading in through the tall, Georgian façade, is covered in posters for Polish theatre, and there’s a life-size wooden monkey at the door.
Yeah, I know, most people look twice.
At first glance, it’s a grotesquery of mid-colonial, plantation art, but it’s holding a sawn-off shotgun. The paint’s peeling, but that monkey does have a certain look in its eyes. That ain’t a bird-scaring banana in its paws.
To the left of the monkey, an art space. Although it’s small – more of a shop window from outside – it does host the occasional flamboyant revival of healing art, aura photography, and automatic writing from psychic dabblers. And then there are the special exhibitions of the downright weird (if those weren’t weird enough): paintings, or photographs, from all around the world, some out of time or place. Travellers bring them. It’s easy to miss it from the street, but the hand-labelled names are kind of funky: ‘Sasquatch at Dawn’?
Except, that is a photo of some guy in a monkey-suit drinking from a Canadian lake; could almost be a dog standing upright.
I love that photo.
To the right, a café.
Well, when I say café: more somebody’s living room. It’s strewn with battered-down furniture from the eighteen hundreds, parachuted and covered in Indian throws. Sit down and they’ll swallow you whole. Put your hand down the back of the frayed leather, and you’ll find a sediment of crumbs left by Arthur Conan Doyle or Dr. Joseph Bell, and a silvery seam of a sixpence. The smell of patchouli fills the air. Then there’s the time-polished tables from a brewery, cut out of barrel-tops; cups, hand-thrown and wobbly, glossy and matte – made out of snakes; a tea urn from a car plant that closed down years ago (more reliant than Reliant); and the moistest, densest, black-hole-chocolate-walnut cake you’ve ever had. Sticks to your teeth; crumbs up the wazoo. But, hey, some folk have travelled halfway round the globe for it.
Help yourself and put the money in the tin.
The café, ‘The Smaug’ – that’s what you get when a Tolkein aficionado misreads ‘The Snug’ (I know, hostel humour) – is always busy with travelling folk, and with others who stop by whenever they’re in Edinburgh. Stand out on the West Port and you could see them in there right now, though you’d have to peer through the crawling jungle of cheese plants and yucca that are steaming up the windows, tuning the light inside to the exact, forest-green of Venezuela.
Mood lighting, the way we like it.
If you’re more of the pin-stripe-mugger variety, and like your Mocha-Latte with hand-tweaked sheep’s cream on the side, and an al-dente pinafores biscuit, then you know ‘the type’ who frequent this place: they’re ‘crusties’, hippies, ‘travelling folk’, Indies, Emos, bikers, students, and honest-to-god ‘weirdos’.
And those are just the ones you know about.
But if you’re any one of that breathy brethren, then you got here by travelling in every conceivable meaning of the word, and I love you all.
And Adam was here to great each and every one of you, because he knew you were coming.
He’s the perfect host.
We don’t even have a brass bell.
He’s standing at the door right now, shirt sleeves rolled up, watching the rain pee down. Alas, we’re well past the warm, wet smell of virgin pavement from the first few drops. In fact, this being Scotland, we cut straight to the downpour and drainage of an incontinent horse. But if you stand just to the left of the splattering water from the broken down-pipe, there’s plenty of dry space in the portico, monkey-and-gun not withstanding.
Adam’s back on the rollies.
He quit yesterday.
I guess he knew he’d re-start again today. You can smell peaches – his specialist rolling tobacco frustling as he draws in with a tight whistle and blows out, thin-lipped.
Got a black mood rolling, despite the eclectic crowd.
Humidity is five hundred percent in the Smaug – you can feel it boiling down the hall – and there’s a load of American writers, comedians and musicians in there. It’s Festival time, which transforms ‘The End’ into its own punked-out, carnival-venue of crazy. Glee, shouting, banging floors, music unplugged, folk jumping down five steps at a time. You can hardly get in over bikes and rucksacks in the hallway – downed traveller’s tools, for those with that eclectic heart-bone in their bodies. Right now, the World’s End is so rammed, you need a gorilla on a broom-handle to push ‘em back in.
Long live health and safety.
But that’s not it. Adam loves all those high spirits, even if he does sometimes wish those travelling boots were on the other foot.
And that’s the third time he’s looked at his watch in as many minutes; a watch that’s not on his wrist. He doesn’t even need a watch.
Why doubt himself now?
I guess he’s looking for a shit-kicking, punch-in-the-face argument. In other words, he’s looking out for another body through the misty downpour; a ‘certain someone’ who’s not here yet.
Man, he looks depressed. It’s hardly ten am and he’s already done one terrible thing – and one beautiful thing – today, all at the same time, and he’s made a deal with something that wasn’t there, just because he knew he did.
And he’s got a funeral to sort out.
Ever stop to wonder that foresight can kinda kick-in-the-teeth of free will?
If you know in advance?
But what do I know about it? I’m just a gun-toting monkey with walnut for brains.