you know what they're like: they attract mosquitoes. There was a bar of citronella, too, that you could melt. This seemed to me a worthwhile precaution.
    When I came down to dinner, it was completely dark; garlands of multicolored lights were strung between the houses. So there was electricity in the village, I noted, they simply hadn't thought it necessary to install it in the rooms. I stopped for a moment and leaned on the guardrail to look down at the river; the moon was up and shimmered on the water. Opposite, you could vaguely make out the dark mass of the jungle; from time to time, the raucous cry of a nocturnal bird emanated from its depths.

    Human groups of more than three people have a tendency, apparently spontaneous, to split into two hostile subgroups. Dinner was served on a pontoon in the middle of the river; this time, the tables had been laid for eight. The ecologists and the naturopaths were already installed at one table; the ex-pork butchers were currently all alone at the second. What could have brought about the rift? Maybe the massage discussion at lunch, which, let's face it, hadn't gone too well. In addition, that morning, Suzanne, soberly dressed in a white linen tunic and trousers — nicely cut to emphasize her angular features —had burst out laughing when she saw Josette's flower-print dress. Whatever the reason, the divisions had begun. In a rather cowardly move, I slowed my pace so as to let Lionel, my neighbor from the plane, who also had the neighboring cottage, overtake me. He made his choice quickly, barely aware of doing so. I didn't even get the impression it was a choice based on elective affinity, more a sort of class solidarity, or rather (since he worked at Gaz de France and was therefore a civil servant, while the others had been small shopkeepers) a solidarity based on level of education. René welcomed us with evident relief. In any case, our decision was not critical at this stage of the game: had we joined the others we would have forcefully confirmed the isolation of the ex-pork butchers, whereas this way, we were really only balancing out the table numbers.
    Babette and Léa arrived shortly after and without a second thought sat at the other table.
    Quite some time later—our first courses had already been served — Valérie appeared on the edge of.the pontoon; she looked around her uncertainly. At the other table, there were still two empty places beside Babette and Léa. She hesitated a little longer, made a little start, and came and sat on my left.
    Josiane had taken even longer than usual getting ready. She must have had trouble putting on her makeup by candlelight. Her black velvet dress wasn't bad, a bit low-cut, but not excessively so. She also hesitated for a moment, then came and sat opposite Valérie.
    Robert arrived last, a little unsteady. He'd probably been boozing it up before the meal —I'd seen him with a bottle of Mekong earlier. He dropped heavily onto the bench next to Valérie. A short but fearful cry went up from somewhere close by in the jungle; probably some small mammal had just breathed its last.

    Sôn moved between the tables to check that everything was okay and that we had all settled in nicely. She was having dinner elsewhere, with the driver—a less-than-democratic arrangement that had already earned Josiane's disapproval at lunchtime. But, basically, I think it suited her just fine, even if she had nothing against us. Despite her best efforts, she seemed to find long discussions in French a bit tiring.
    At the next table the conversation purred happily, discussing the beauty of the location, the joy of being at one with nature, far from civilization, the essential values, etc. "Yeah, it's awesome," confirmed Léa. "And y'know, we're really smack in the middle of jungle. I can't believe it."
    Our table was having a little more difficulty finding common ground. Opposite me, Lionel was eating placidly, making no effort whatsoever. I

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