The agency had not found me any work for several days, and I was thoroughly sick of my home – I could never seem to settle within the quiet of my apartment – but I was also bored of my friends and tired of their society. I spent days on end roaming the Edinburgh streets in a sort of trance, aimlessly agitated and following vague, uneven circuits, the life of the city reduced to an endless bombardment of images which were only images, emptying out like a deck of cards, some of them beautiful, some of them odd or unpleasant, and all of them entirely insignificant. For days the streets bombarded my advancing mind, and I forged on, as grimly and stupidly as a bus.
One night, on the third or the fourth day, when the workings of my mind were as faraway to me as the progress of my liver or the welfare of my white blood cells, or rather, when my mind was as plain as the theatre wall upon which a Chinese wizard casts the pictures from his magic lantern, on one of these nights I spotted Marcin.
A jaunty little figure, nosing through the crowds of clubbers on the far side of the Cowgate. He was as real as a soft voice in the ear. Wispy colourless dreadlocks, a baggy tee-shirt of violent green, and a trail in his head which he followed like an ant.
I hesitated. How would I greet him? What would I say to him? But he was already getting away, walking very quickly down the Cowgate.
I blundered into the road, as abruptly as a spilled drink, almost being hit by a car which was packed untidily full of clubbers. For a moment, I was terrified that the bellow of the car horn would capture Marcin’s attention, but he trotted on oblivious to the jeers and applause of the clubbers around me. I belatedly reached the other side of the road.
I followed Marcin for a bit, wary of getting too close. He slipped into the long shadow of an arcade which crouched back from the street, huddling in the darkness, and I followed accordingly. Yet I then glimpsed Marcin spin around, like the yelp of a puppy, and he was unexpectedly gone. I was at first uncertain, and I was then suddenly frantic, imagining that he was galloping away from me. But I sensed a gap in the wall of the arcade, perhaps the entrance to a wynd. I stepped gingerly inside…
My feet found stone steps which lead steeply downwards. I edged my way down, half on my arse, my fingers skirting the stone walls at my elbows, my nerves tumbling like spring lambs. Then a great blast of cold air hit me, a raw, pure underground airstream. I was now on level ground, and it seemed that I was inside a cavernous draughty interior.
“Hello?” I whimpered.
The reader should perceive that at the time I had little understanding of what was happening to me. Seeking answers days later on Wikipedia, however, I would learn that I had actually stumbled upon the Edinburgh Underground. In the 1890s, the Caledonian Railway Company had commenced work upon a Tube system beneath Edinburgh, completing a series of tunnels and stations from Leith to Marchmont, and Portobello to Haymarket. The project was sabotaged by unanticipated levels of condensation, which had flooded tunnels and made the management of a tube system ultimately impossible. For years these abandoned tunnels had slept below the city, known only to a handful of people.
Venturing into these curiouser and curiouser tunnels, I perhaps believed that I had ended up in a collection of odourless, disused sewers. I was conceivably walking through the darkness for an eternity, but I eventually became conscious of a faint glow on the walls ahead. I crept up to the end of my tunnel and peeped around at what I would later identify as the Bristo Square station.
I would later learn that this station can only be accessed from the Forest Café, and that the Café’s clientele use the surrounding tunnels to farm magic mushrooms. Many of these subways, which should have carried the traffic of the city, are now laid with a bed of carbohydrate mulch, from which thousands of mushrooms sprout. I would learn that for the hippies at the Forest, these are often tunnels of death. The hippies will typically descend to gobble up some mushrooms, and they will then drift mindlessly off into the maze of tunnels. Search parties will be sent down to find them, but the search parties will themselves get high and lost. The Forest Café will always refuse on principle to alert the emergency services about their missing men, and hundreds of hippies will perish every year within these fungus laden catacombs.
Now, however, I emerged from the darkness of the tunnel and stepped unexpectedly into a rather sleepy, lo-fi party. There was a sharp smell of marijuana and, as with anything associated with the Forest Café, the insistent beating of bongo drums, like fists pounding endlessly at a locked door. Three women all with dreadlocks, oriental clothes, and jewellery made of string were painting a large turd on what looked like it had once been the side of a white van. The remains of a burnt American flag smouldered underfoot. The further that I walked into this party, the more that my head seemed to fill with fumes and stale air. This whole pack of hippies resembled a giant disastrous family on holiday, who were eternally waiting at the station for a train to carry them back to reality.
A little naked man who smelt of feet floated in front of me. “Gosh, do you have any weed?” he asked in a very nice English accent. I wondered why he was wearing sunglasses.
“Do you know where Marcin is?” I inquired.
“Sure!” the man said. “Hey Marcin!” he called across the party.
“Yo dude!” a stoned-looking Pole with a picture of a lighthouse enthroned on cliffs over a stormy sea tattooed over his whole left arm stuck up a thumb with a seagull on it at me.
“That’s not Marcin, stupid.” I turned away, sadly.
Somehow, I knew that I was walking towards Newington. It was odd, walking back to my apartment in fathomless silence. I did not meet a soul on my way home, although I saw a couple of foxes darting in the tunnels ahead. At the Newington station, I climbed up some stairs, kicked in a dry stone wall, and emerged from behind some bins at the Pollock Halls of Residence.