I stepped onto the balcony of Aftas Beach House an hour after dawn. The mist had rolled in, and the only other person was a woman walking on the sand, her purple djellaba billowing in the sea breeze. She sat on a rock at the edge of the water, unwound her headscarf, removed her sandals, and gazed at the surf.
Under the cliff at the far end of the beach, a large group of feral dogs were dancing in and out of the water and tussling in the sand. Their excited woofs were brought to me in gusts. I could barely make them out through the mist, but my camera’s telescopic lens managed better.
I went downstairs and out onto the beach, hoping to get some closer shots, but the dogs moved like a mirage. The farther I walked towards them, the farther they drifted away, so that the distance between us remained the same. Gradually, they disappeared up a dry river bed.
I followed the river bed for a few twists and turns. The thunder of the surf was quieter here, and I realised how accustomed I had grown to its sound. What had seemed very loud when we first arrived in Mirleft is now a hypnotic background rhythm we are barely conscious of, that drowns out the muezzin’s cry and lulls us into deep slumber at night.
The scent of spices reached me from the plants growing on the riverbanks. A fig tree grew from the middle of what would have been a waterfall, had there been any water. I could no longer hear the dogs, and was sure I would never catch up with them. Feral dogs can roam a long way. Towns here can be twenty miles apart, with nothing between but sand and rocks and desert scrub, but Bunty and I have seen dogs padding along the roads from town to town.
Returning to the beachhouse, I met two of the other guests. They were about to leave, but there was something they had wanted to do on the beach first.
“We were saying goodbye to the puppies,” they said.
“What puppies?” I asked.
“Next door,” they said. “Outside the building with the dolphins painted on the wall.”
I went and looked. All I could see was an empty verandah and a stored rowing boat. Then, from behind the boat came some playful yaps. Ignoring the lure of the open road, the puppies had found a bone, and a length of rope to play with.