Dash in pidgin English means an ancillary gift to an exchange. What happened when the dash became attached to the indentured labour contracts that the Spanish Empire brought from Cuba to their last colony, Spanish Guinea? On the island of Fernando Pó, which came to be almost wholly populated by Nigerian labour migrants, the conditional gift in the form of a large wage advance produced a particularly intense contradiction. In the historiography of unfree labour, the excess wage advance is thought to create conditions for the perpetuation of bondage through debt. However, in imperial contexts, the wage advance did not generate compliance and immobility; exactly the opposite – it produced unprecedented waves of further escalation and dispersed flight. The dash was pushed up by workers themselves and relayed by informal recruiters. Together they turned this lynchpin of indentured labour and debt peonage into a counter-practice that almost led to the collapse of the plantations in the 1950s. The trajectories of the dash led to a more pointed version of the foundational thesis of global labour history: namely, that it was actually free labour, not unfree labour, that was incompatible with labour scarcity-ridden imperial capitalism.