A few nights ago, I found myself thinking about those times in life when unexpected events occur, and I couldn’t help but recall my vacation to the U.K. a few years ago. I thought I would share an excerpt from my journal recounting that experience:
Having participated in my first international conference in Stirling, I decided to remain a few extra days in Scotland to tour a couple of the larger cities. While in Glasgow at an internet café, I reconnected online with a Scottish chat-mate I had made before leaving the U.S. We had discussed meeting but had never made firm plans, but during our exchange on my final day in Glasgow, we made arrangements to meet the following evening in Edinburgh, the next stop on my Scottish tour. The June springtime would mean hours of daylight for my cyber pen pal to show me around the city.
The next evening, to my chagrin, I sat upon the bed in my shabby hotel room on Princes Street waiting for my friend’s call, when I saw a note slide under my door. It was from the front desk:
Mr. McKellar regrets that he will not be able to meet with you today. He trusts you will have a pleasant holiday in Edinburgh.
Disappointed, I rang his mobile, but no one answered. After trying unsuccessfully another time, I decided he was now avoiding me, probably ashamed for having stood me up. Determined not to let such triviality ruin my first night in town, I headed off on my own, down the street and around the corner, where I had spied a few pubs earlier in the day. I selected a bar inside an older building (but then, aren’t all buildings in that part of Edinburgh older?), although the interior was quite modern: a mixture of clean white walls and dark black tables and chairs.
I sat at the bar and, being an amateur drinker at best, ordered a generic beer—I’ve never been one to enjoy anything dark or stout—when the gentlemen a seat away from me suggested I try the brand that he was having. I obliged, and my concession led to a lengthy but quite enjoyable conversation with the young man. He had just returned to Edinburgh from a holiday in Greece where, based upon the golden brown hue of his sun-kissed face and arms, the weather must already have been much warmer than the brisk Scottish climate. He spoke of the Greek warmth in terms of centigrade, and I smiled and nodded, pretending to know how the numbers might relate to my own, rather American knowledge of Fahrenheit temperatures, all the while never wanting him to stop talking; the lilt of his voice I recognized as being unmistakably Irish and so unique amidst the array of Scottish brogues I had for days encountered. His browned skin and dark features belied the expectation of ginger hair and freckles often thought to accompany such an accent: Black Irish and handsome, he continued his tale of Greek adventure through another round of drinks and our relocation to a corner table at the far end of the pub.
The last light of the Edinburgh evening faded to darkness, and we continued to chat, becoming all the more cozy in our positions against the banquette, as I—the less experienced drinker—grew tipsier with each round of drinks. By the time he leaned forward to kiss me, I’m certain my eyes were (at least) slightly glazed over, but I took delight in his advance. Ever the tourist, my camera captured the moment after, with the young Irishman still leaning in closely against me, and the now empty glasses signaling an end to our perfect but impromptu first date. He insisted on walking me to my hotel door, and on the way we made plans to meet the next evening, as soon as he could leave work. He wanted to give me a small tour of the city, for I would return to London the morning after.
Outside my hotel, our embrace lingered rather longer than that of strangers; several deep kisses later, he had followed me up the steps of the Royal British Hotel and into my room, where the paper-thin mattress of the tiny single bed proved initially awkward for both our bodies—a complication soon negotiated. I remember hearing the early trucks outside my window, making their morning deliveries, as he slowly dressed and exited the room.
He came round the next evening, shortly after five o’clock, and we struck out from Princes Street in the direction of Edinburgh Castle. Our conversations during dinner proved as lively as the evening before, and we used my final hours of Scotland’s daylight exploring the streets that seemed to fall somewhere in between Old Town and New Town. The setting sun blazed on our faces, Edinburgh Castle hovering shadeless above and in the distance, when we happened upon a hidden churchyard somehow shielded from the strongest light. We followed a curious path that led us to a small graveyard behind the church. Patches of pale blue flowers grew all around, and my handsome tour guide insisted I photograph one cluster in particular. I obliged, though my shoddy camera would neither properly accommodate the strange lighting nor my nervous handiwork. Still, he was satisfied. We kissed there amidst the blooming flowers and ancient gravestones before journeying back in the direction of the hotel.
As we walked through the Princes Street Gardens, we happened upon a céilidh in the open air theatre; we stopped for a moment to observe the dancers, comprised mostly of elderly people, moving about happily in time with the traditional music that filled the air. When, finally, we turned to go, he took my hand in his and held it throughout the remainder of our stroll through the park.
When we resurfaced on the sidewalk of Princes Street, I felt a small sense of dread, knowing that we would soon reach the door of my hotel and our second date together would have to end. I took the sudden slowing down of his pace to mean he felt the same. We made small talk and discussed American television, but as the hotel drew closer, the conversation turned to an exchange of contact information and the possibility of future visits. We parted just outside the hotel entrance, where our prior evening had been intended to conclude, and I stood half-inside the door as I watched him stroll back up Princes Street, this time without me, the fading sunlight shining brightly against his dark hair before he turned a corner and vanished out of sight. Certain that the past twenty-four hours had been much more exciting and unexpected than if my (former) friend had not stood me up, I climbed the flight of stairs to my hotel room contentedly, but with less eagerness in my step than the night before.