Where is castle?
Where’s the castle you mean.
Where’s the castle.
Yes, castle where is?
No. Where is THE castle?
I don’t know. Where?
There, look. It’s there on the volcano. It’s the Queen’s. Look at the flag.
Why you let unelected unaccountable monarchy rule over you?
David put on his happy-to-help-tourists face, ready for the next words, where is castle, old town, queue for tattoo….
“- me pal, where’s North Bridge, the methadone clinic ken, the chemist?”
David wasn’t ready for this. It was August, after all, season of upside-down maps and disbelief at the steepness of stairs. He checked his wallet, phone. Idiot.
“Well, this one up at the top of the hill’s parallel to the Bridges so if you go up here and turn left and then right the next one’s the Bridges but I don’t know if the clin- the chemist is left or right -”
But the two men were gone, fast on thin legs, across the road through the traffic.
David breathed deeply and turned back towards the Grassmarket. Now, where were the tourists in distress?
A woman scrubbed clothes in the grey water in the wheelbarrow. A man crouched on his heels and watched her. He flicked away his cigarette butt and it landed in the barrow. To the two tourists, the tone the woman used sounded venomous.
They hurried through the first door they came to along the cloister. People slept in hammocks in the humid twilight. The tourists stopped suddenly and backed out of the room. Perhaps the people in the hammocks were looking at them.
The rest of their group were standing in the shade of the courtyard wall while their guide recited facts they did not appear to be taking in. Only the slight man with the wispy beard and the conical hat, always him, seemed to be listening, and asked questions.
Again he said “In my youth I marched with the students in Paris. We were for you.” Again the guide said “My grandmother was young when she lost all her family.”
On the far side of the courtyard someone said two dollars was too much. His friend had told him not to pay more than one dollar fifty.
The woman finished the washing and hung it dripping on the scaffolding. As the two tourists hurried towards their group, they wondered how it would ever dry.
The castle outlined itself against a cloudless sky. The vapour trails of planes passing over the city formed an awkward diagonal cross.
Anna and Barry were arguing. He should not look at other women like that, never mind if they were tourists or not. And she did not care that she had thought Nelson Mandela was a fictional character. Fictional, dead, what did it matter?
Once again he turned and went into the gallery to calm down. She watched him go, shook her head and went to wait for him in the café. She ordered him a scone.