My travel story/memoir ‘Amsterdam’ won the Australian Festival of Travel Writing 500 word short story comp and was published in the April issue of The Victorian Writer. Writers Vic have kindly allowed me to reproduce the story here. I hope you enjoy it.
My last week in Europe. All the dorms at the hostel are full, so I’ve been placed at the top of a tight, winding staircase in a tiny attic room sliced in half by the roof.
I sit at the bar alone, trying to own the romance of loneliness. For the rest of the month I’d thrived on being alone, even trying for days to shake off Brisbane-boy who followed me from Venice to Vienna.
Maybe it’s because I’m so close to going home.
I look around the bar, my stomach twisting, annoyed at my own desperation (‘but you love being alone’, I remind myself) until an olive-skinned young man comes over to talk to me. His name is Fadil and he’s from Cairo. He produces a cartoonishly large, cigar-shaped joint from his pocket and asks me if I’d like to join him. We go up to the back of the bar, and smoke and talk. He answers his phone a few times, displaying his popularity, then invites me to hang out with him for the night. I’m relieved and grateful.
We enter a pool hall above a café, filled with smoke and Arab men. Fadil doesn’t play but needs to check in with about eight different people. I stand back shyly but not too awkwardly, relaxed by the drug.
Next we walk down an alleyway and Fadil presses a buzzer on a metal door. Someone draws back a flap, like in the Wizard of Oz when they reach the Emerald City. A fat man in sequins lets us in and leads us ‘darlings’ to the upper level (past rooms cordoned off with cherry-red velvet drapes). The nightclub has one long, elevated lounge around its sides and café tables and chairs on the dancefloor. The music is slow trance and there are arty white-light projections on the walls. The people around the edges have bare feet and bottles of Moet in buckets. I think one of them is Ralph Fiennes. We sit at a table and chair, exposed, and I order a glass of Moet from a menu, because I never have.
The next day Fadil and I eat among Kama Sutra tapestries in an Indian restaurant. He pokes at his phone during dinner, frowning and complaining about having too many friends. It is as though he’s complaining about having to be with me. I have not risen to the top, the cream of his many acquaintances. I have not passed some invisible test. I feel underappreciated and disappointed, so I fight the terror of loneliness and leave him to the rest of them.
That night there are such storms over Europe: rib-cracking thunder and the sky swirling, like Van Gogh’s starry night without the light. The anxiety of the possibility of flight cancellations compounds my melancholy and I drink, alone in my hovel, until I feel sick.
On the last day of my trip I take 80 self-portraits with wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s.