They were still dancing when, just before dawn on a late summer’s day, the harbour of Libreville prepared to welcome Le Grand-Saint-Antoine. The band- a pitifully hot quartet in faded dinner-jackets- had long ago packed up their instruments and retired to their remote and stifling cabin. A young boy finished washing down the deck, and two stewards loosened their ties, and heaved the bins full of discarded streamers across to the side. Only the couple remained, and I couldn’t help watching them for a few minutes, as the amount of sea behind them infinitesimally grew.

A strange sense of foreboding, or cowardice, or saving-the-best-for-last, meant I couldn’t quite turn around to look at the land yet. The sea stretched further than ever. A forlorn, not-quite-empty champagne bottle raised its neck above the horizon from its forgotten table as we bobbed on the waves. The dancing woman’s eyes flashed faster than her legs moved; her chin rested on her partner’s shoulder. He was looking out to sea, and she was looking at me with idle curiosity, or perhaps simply drowsiness.

I turned to look at the port’s tangle of abandoned railway sidings- some Chinese container wagons appeared to have taken root in the weeds. A café already had patrons at its outside tables, and a dog was yapping. A tired, dry scent reached me, and I felt the urge to buy a newspaper.

There was a city to explore. I realised I wasn’t wearing a watch. I turned briefly back to look at the ocean, and the dancing couple seemed frozen, the woman’s eyes closed now, or almost, I couldn’t quite tell. From somewhere behind me came the whistle of a locomotive.



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