Visiting Edinburgh again, I feel like a tourist – take more photos, of skylines and of friends, walk up Calton Hill to see the sun set, sit in the Meadows with a cider and a bag of grapes as I have not done since I was a student. The familiar smell of grass, weed and smoke from early barbecues makes me nostalgic. I am here to say farewell – leaving drinks pushed back to become left drinks, to become a weekend visit of coffees and sunshine and ciders and unexpected gifts.
I meet Victoria on Castle Terrace. It is a sunny Saturday and the street thrums with shoppers at the farmers’ market. My attention distracted by the smells of burgers and frying onions, I don’t see her until she is just before me, beaming and greeting me as though it has been years rather than merely weeks. At the market I buy soaps – lavender, and lime and thyme. She buys grape hyacinth bulbs. At home, hyacinths are coming into bloom beside the pond.
It is a Saturday bathed in a happy weekend glow. At Victoria’s we drink tea and listen to her wedding playlist. I suggest additions of cheesy eighties pop, promise recklessly that I will be the first on the dance floor. She has embroidered wedding slippers with wild flowers and weeds. They are swithering over whether to do a first dance. She and I attempt a haphazard waltz around the living room, negotiating obstacles, twirling like teenagers and laughing until we run out of breath and flop onto the sofa.
Later, after a long sun-soaked afternoon and a mad dash from Tollcross to Leith, I sit in the dim light of the Brass Monkey bar next to a chalkboard marked ‘reserved’ and reassure the waiter that yes, my friends will be along shortly, briefly consider befriending some strangers in the pub to fill the tables, just in case. But the tables are soon filled – Iain – who brings cheese! – and Annie, François – we kiss cheeks -, Lydia – bearing a bunch of bright tulips and a bag of mushrooms -, Victoria and Alex, Oa and Fuzz, Jess, Ray, Claudia and Malcolm – who bring me gin and tonics, a stationery set and, to my everlasting delight, a friendship bracelet -, Rob, Susan, Amanda, Nick and Ash – engaged! (I add, affianced, betrothed), Kate, Justina, Jim – who nods at my leather jacket, calls me Wing Commander Aston. They ask ‘what are you drinking?’ – I gesture at a cider glass half full, agree ‘later’. A little drunker than intended I switch to orange juice and lemonade.
I flit from group to group, new friends and old. At various intervals I make serious eye contact, say with inebriated sincerity: ‘You are so beautiful. Look at you. You have a beautiful face.’ Then gesture expansively towards the group: ‘I have the most beautiful friends’. Nobody seems in the least surprised by my effusive proclamations. I take it as a sign that the fact is irrefutable. Quite sober now, I stand by it.
Hours later, of course, come the goodbyes, and I hug my friends tightly. There is such a core of people who I love here, yet the days and weeks pull me further from the city. My course of driving lessons is more than halfway through, and with it my excuse for city visits. Once I pass my test, I’ll be moving on again – away from the Borders and renovations, on to somewhere else. For now, I have not gone so very far, but the evening is a sort of marker point. I am now a visitor, and I take a lot of photos.