That first spring morning he came up from the east harbour, where he’d been dossing on an old barge. He strode down the Geldesekade, one of the waterways into the old city. The April sun intersecting the trees, seeming to drape a leopard skin around him. Down one side of the Geldesekade were warehouses and Chinese restaurants, fronts for big-time heroin smugglers. As he walked past he glanced in through one of the restaurant windows absentmindedly and saw a swarm of eels cease their squirming and stare back at him, their round, desolate eyes as beseeching as a Chinese work gang.
Down the other side of the Geldesekade loitered the cheap, black, shop-worn whores of the day shift, about half the price of the ripe night-time girls. He cut across the bridge and to their inviting gestures grinned, displaying his empty upturned palms. If not quite Spender’s cynical gesture of the poor, the message of penury was clear. He cut across the head of the Nieuwmarkt Square, the sun beating back the chill of the morning, warm on the backs of the market traders, their voices ringing out for the coming day amid the clang of scaffolding poles as they erected their stalls in the shadow of the old Toll House. Then he turned right and headed up the Barndesteeg, past the dissolved nunnery, as far as the Thai brothel at the end, where the curtains were drawn against the day. And across the alley was the Torenzicht Hotel.
The steps of its ancient stoop were worn as hollow as collection plates by the centuries of pilgrims’ feet of whores, burghers, sailors, nuns, murderers, merchants and the miscellaneous flotsam that had wound their way to this, their temporal Santiago del Compostella, and grasped their moment to peddle their trade or take their pleasures in this black Narcissan well that grants your every wish...