Friday, 14 December 2007

Stranger encounters

Many mornings when I walk to work, I pass the same woman walking in the opposite direction. Like me, she walks fast, purposefully. I wonder if she recognises me as the same person she frequently encounters. There's never any sign of recognition. Not even a faint smile. I don't smile either.

We always pass in the same stretch of footpath. It varies exactly where, depending on whether one or other of us is later or earlier than normal. I always wonder where she's going, where she works, for there's not a lot in the direction she's walking. Is she near her destination, or has she just stepped out the door and has another half-hour to go?

My most recent hypothesis is that she's a nanny. Somehow to me she looks like a nanny, although I don't know why. She's about forty, wiry and lean, reddish wavy hair that's always tied back, and always wears multi-layers of skirt or dress. Makeup too.

I sometimes contemplate stopping her in the street and asking her, so intense is my curiosity. Yet she does not seem a particularly approachable person. Maybe I don't either.

There's another man I often see on a different part of the walk, a middle-aged man out with his large fluffy white dog. I can tell he recognises me, because there's a hint of a smile, but it's not yet an exchange of greeting. More an awareness. This afternoon, the dog barked from the other side of the road, and I idly wondered whether it barked at me! This man is much easier to categorise -- retiree!

It's interesting how people in the city don't talk to -- even acknowledge -- each other. If this happened in the country, I'd be on a first-name basis with both these characters by now. You say hello to everyone you meet on a walk, and this type of recurring experience would not go unnoticed!

On the other hand, I also pass a couple of crossing supervisors in the morning. One ignores me politely, but the other insists on saying hello. I can't get past without this greeting. Sometimes I cross to the other side of the road (further up of course) to avoid him! There is nothing menacing about him, he's clearly just a friendly person. But the fact is, I don't want to be saying hello! I'm usually listening to music or an audio book, plus am invariably hot and sweaty. I'm just not in the mood to be friendly. I approach in dread!

So there you go. It's one thing to be fascinated by someone you see everyday, and wonder about their life and who they are. But once you cross the social line and find yourself exchanging greetings, it suddenly becomes a burden.

So methinks I shall continue to merely wonder about the mystery woman and retiree man.


  1. Huh, that's funny, Ellen. I too meet the same people each day when I am walking or running. Each one of them greets me. I have my music blaring so most people wave or nod their heads, but I have had conversations with a couple of them at times. I wonder if it is because I have a dog and many of them (but not all) have dogs too?? The conversations have generally been about the dog or the weather.

  2. Absolutely -- a dog makes ALL the difference. Even I nod and smile to people when I have my mother's dog with me! And the people you meet at the park! But I'm generally more relaxed on such occasions, less purposeful. So maybe I'm just less sociable than you are!
    (Or maybe people are more chilled out where you live!)

  3. Last weekend I saw one of the 'walkers' out of context. I was in Spotlight and so was she. Neither of us spoke to one another!!! I wondered if she recognised me, but seeing as we have been passing each other almost every day for two years I reckon she did. Neither of us even gave the smile and nod greeting. Weird!

  4. I highly recommend being on a "hello" basis with the crossing supervisor, aka lollypop man. I say hello to our lollypop men every time I see them, and recently, when I was hit by a car, they were very very helpful. (I'm ok, only a couple of grazes, a bruise and a sore foot - I was very lucky). But, I was so grateful to these men who immediately ran to my aid, they ran at the car and screamed for it to stop, they helped me up, they gathered up my stuff, they enquired whether my husband was coming (Pete often runs a couple of minutes behind me), and they reinforced that I had done everything right, while the car was in the wrong. It really made me feel "less in the city" and more "part of a community who cares for each other". Hugs, A.