I had found long ago that down by the waterfront in MalmÃ¶ life stirred for at least a short while after dark. And so I became a regular.
On a cool wet evening in May, I made a visit. Oil lamps and candles flickered in doorways. Figures, the men of the sea, moved their way along the wharf, bent over in their woolen coats and upturned collars. They were dark shapes, hard to discern against the shifting darkness cast from the shadows of the flickering lights. About us, a cold rain fell. It kept the figures moving, either back towards their ships or else into the places that were open to them.
Out on the water, the sway of scattered lights hinted the location of ships at anchor. But as I made my way onto Norra Vallgatan, most of the harbor view became lost behind the bulk of the vessels that were tied up close. Putting the Uppsala bastion to my back, I looked up into the night, letting my focus travel the height of the foremast of the first ship along my route. The wetness of the rain felt good on my face and I rubbed the water into my cheeks and massaged it into the skin of my throat.
I wrapped myself into the sounds and smell of the port. Staying along the edge of the front street's buildings and keeping the water to my right, I made my way along. The harbor itself, the men, the ships - all had their own stench. The mix was harsh and the breeze quickly brought and cleared them way over and over. But mostly it was the smell of the wet street, the wet dirt and the wet canvas that assaulted me.
The next ship was smaller, older, but with more lamps burning within than the first. I could hear the men. Their voices, a form of Dutch, just as with the light of their hanging oil lamps, spilled out through the ship's open portals. Within, they were discussing something to do with storage and how many crates more could be added. For me the details were too difficult to follow.
I continued past the first and then the second open establishment and stopped outside the third. The men inside were grouped into knots. I knew they'd be organized by their assignment. Sailors from any ship tend to stay together when they come ashore. This would be a foreign port with a strange language. Yet it would be a change from ordinary ship life and so for them it would be an adventure to come ashore and to go into the places and spend the evening â€“ for a short while â€“ on land and away from the continuous swell of the water. And so I knew they could come.
I stood and waited, keeping to myself and holding close against the side of the establishment. The groups would filter out in a short while. The docks by day bustled but at night things closed up early. My need was to find a straggler, one who came out alone. By experience I knew it would either happen soon or not at all. Once the groups started to retreat back to the water my chance would be over. Then it'd be over for the night. And I would likewise slip away into the darkness.