Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Brief Encounter

On my walks round Valley's End I often meet several people who might be classified as 'simple'. Two of them never speak to me and barely look at me sideways, although one of them always has a careful glance at Benno before dancing a little detour to make sure they don't pass too closely. The other one takes long steps, hands deep in the pockets of his dark, long overcoat, summer and winter, head down; I doubt that he notices anybody, at least, he gives no sign that he does.

The other two chatter. If you let them, they'll chatter for as long as they can detain you. Both of them have a strange power over me. I feel bad about leaving them standing in the middle of the road, still talking inconsequentially, while I walk backwards, stumbling away from them, muttering, repeating what they've said, agreeing with whatever I think they've been saying.

The four are all middle-aged, only one is a woman.

I met her on the footbridge over the river yesterday afternoon. She had me pinned down, while I edged past her;  I was almost across when she changed her mind about letting me go without interrogating me. It is always an interrogation, never a friendly, but non-committal, "nice day today" which is the usual currency exchanged with a chance-met fellow walker. Abruptly, with something of an accusation in her tone, she asked:

"Do you live in Valley's End?"

"Yes, I do".

She smiled a sour smile, not believing me. Not only do I meet her out walking, we have also shared a cup of tea and a biscuit at many charity mornings.

"I don't know you".

I have learned that it's best not to mention previous meetings. They will involve a lot of explanations which I am too impatient to give. I smile, hoping I don't look as shifty and ill-at-ease as I feel.

"Yes, we've been here xx years now. I think I've seen you before. I live in Mrs. Pettigrew's house".

Round here, your house is never your house, it is always the house of the previous owner. It only becomes your house when you leave it.

"No", long drawn-out, shaking her head. "No, I don't know you."

She isn't mellowing. There's a small pause, during which I turn slightly to attempt my escape.

"Have you found a cleaner then?" this was unexpected. So she knew me after all?

"Yes, thank you, I did".

"Because you were looking for a cleaner, weren't you?" How could she possibly know?
"Jolly good, well done, who is she?"

"A girl from the town".

"Because I do cleaning as well, you know".

"Do you, that's kind of you." I'm babbling. But I have reached the end of the footbridge,  the open road is two steps away. Up to now I have been shuffling sideways, crab fashion, I am about to turn my back to her and, with luck, say goodbye over my shoulder.

"Yes, I do", she said, "I can come and clean for you".

Benno's nose has led him off the bridge and on to the verge up the road on the other side a little way. Excellent dog. I pretend I'm looking for him.

"Excuse me, I must  . . . . . . .

"Nice to meet you", she calls after me.


  1. What an interesting look at these types of encounters. I do all I can to avoid them, too, but sometimes the interrogators feel they must have their way. Good to have a pooch to save us from the stealing of our time. Yes, excellent dog.

  2. Hello:
    Beautifully told, and so real. This is country life exactly as we remember and with these 'meetings' one is always left with that slight feeling of guilt that one is not, possibly, perhaps, loving one's neighbour quite in the manner in which one was instructed at Sunday School. And yes, how do these people who, on the one hand profess not to know one, always know far more than one is comfortable with?

    You have reminded us also of the country truth that, as you rightly say, one is always living in someone else's house.

  3. I recognise this scenario. We are used to seeing 'differently-abled' people as the Americans so quaintly call them, as there is a community for them at the other end of the village.
    I gather you won't be employing an additional cleaner!

  4. One of my golden rules: if someone you meet makes you feel uncomfortable or even guilty, there is something wrong with them, not you.

  5. i am the one that will talk to anyone...and it often gets me into these places...yeah, if she knows that much already but...might not want to hire that one...

  6. Oh dear, how uncomfortable for you, wanting to do the right thing, but not knowing quite what it is; and how sad for her, never really knowing the people she meets quite regularly.
    I do love the British country idea that you live in the house of the person who owned it previously.

    —Kay, Alberta, Canada

  7. I wonder if she suffers from a mild form of dementia. Who knows? I don't think I would hire her to work for me, though. Your description was perfect! I smiled in recognition.

  8. I have run into a few of these people in my building. One learns to not make eye contact but still, it seems so rude.

  9. A skill I learned while waitressing that still serves me well: A pleasant but blank expression focused on the far distance, skimming over the tops of human heads, making no eye contact.
    What I'm trying for is to look as if I'm preoccupied and searching for someone or something on the horizon.

  10. Friko, you've described this encounter well, and I can also offer praise to Benno.

    In my daily opportunities for encounters with the unknown public at the shop, I have developed all sorts of ways to get my antennae tuned, my responses attuned, and always hope for a friendly outcome. So far, luck has mostly been with me.


  11. Encounters like you described make me so uncomfortable. In fact, I was wriggling as I read you post.

  12. I can understand there are times when I'm shopping and run into one of the patients who visit the Dr. At times that is awkward. What do you say to someone you often only know by their condition? Wishing you well! Cathy

  13. It is interesting that I find some simple folks very easy to talk with, and others who leave me so uncomfortable in my own skin. I wonder what the difference is?

  14. Is it possible to chat for a minute and then just..'oh my, have to run, nice seeing you, bye' as you walk away?

    It doesn't matter if they are still stalking, oops, I mean talking. just take your leave and keep walking.

  15. These situations are tough. We have all met people that seem like they don't understand the ways of speaking to each other. They will say things that are too familiar, things you would say to a close friend or relative.
    Sometimes I will stop and talk and other times I will say a quick, "Good morning Mrs. Smith! It sure is a lovely day!" and keep walking. I don't like doing it but what else is there to do?

    Great description!

  16. We should count our blessings. A small accident, a bump on the head, a fall, anything could turn a fragile body into a simple body. I understand how an encounter with mentally challenged people can make us uncomfortable because we are the lucky ones. Live with gratitude.

  17. This is so wonderfully written how could one not relate.
    If I've the time I very much enjoy talking with these people. In San Francisco there were many, and oddly enough, I felt very comfortable with them.
    Here in the sticks of Oklahoma, there are also so many but they are of a different mold and one that I do not enjoy.

  18. That was a lovely little moment on the bridge - lovely for me, if not for you. You took me right there and I believe I could feel the same desperation to get to the other side and away from your gentle interrogator.

  19. This excellent sketch from your world had me admiring Benno. I've often noticed how people use their dogs as a distraction - to keep the conversation superficial and light, but here's an excellent example of how they can save you from an awkward situation too.

    I must tell you how your comment today made my whole summer - so unexpected and so very appreciated....

  20. Some folks we must just 'handle' kindly blessing them and going on our way...

    Re: your comments at my blog;
    I am beyond disappointed about the spectacle my country's politicians are putting on!

    Aloha from Waikiki;

    Comfort Spiral


    > < } } ( ° >

    < ° ) } } > <

  21. Very nice description of some awkward moments ... you handle them well!

  22. A classic encounter - always good to have a faithful companion along - perhaps they sense they can help to extricate their mistress from uncomfortable situations.
    What bothers me is when meeting someone who you know slightly and they step very, very close to you - right into that little comfort space we want to keep around us.

  23. "Give us a job , Mister" country-style ?
    Had you met her in the village high street , it would have been uncomfortable enough . But alone , I can see how desperate to get away you were .

  24. manche Leute sind in ihrer vermeintlichen Arglosigkeit schon fast gefährlich finde ich und so ganz spontan: diese Frau würde ich wohl eher ganz intensiv meiden...!
    Ich wünsche Dir friedvolle Spaziergänge und nur ehrliche und interessante Gespräche :-)!
    und: das Bild ist wirklich sehr schön!

  25. Strangely, we had an encounter with a dog walker who insisted that we shouldn't be allowed to walk in the surrounding countryside...because we didn't have a dog. Hmmm...

  26. Wonderfully told, and thank goodness for lovely Benno! :o)

  27. Hi Friko .. oh I can quite see your encounter .. but to understand the machinations of the mind .. definitely cannot! Those sort of encounters make us uncomfortable and I can read it in your words .. so well expressed. Hilary

  28. so glad to know that it's not just me that has strange encounters :)

  29. I think you handle an awkward situation very well. Enjoyed walking with you today.

  30. Yes I have had these encounters as well. Some get pretty awkward! Ha!
    You did well!

  31. What a strange encounter, but not totally unusual, I suppose. Kinda scary, even.

    Benno deserves a special treat today.

  32. Sometimes it's helpful to remember that we cannot expect a satisfactory end to such an encounter. Other people, for whatever reason, are locked into a strange landscape. Well done for doing so well.

  33. I really enjoyed your story Friko. I live in the "poor" end of my county and several of the houses round here are "half-way" housese, homes for folks in recovery from substance abuse, release from prison, and mental retardation. Occasionally, they want to pet one of my dogs, and stop to admire my garden when their caretakers take them out for walks round the neighborhood. The "simples" never bother me at all.

    A priest who had a brother who was mentally retarded told me once that they were "God's angels." By this, I think he meant they could not do wrong in the way we mere mortals could.

    I think I must be simple, I still refer to my neighbor's house as Bridget's house, although she moved away several years ago.

  34. I love these poetic glimpses into your world!

  35. Well, she was possessed of no grace, but her desperation made me feel a spot of sympathy for her!

  36. Years ago there was a 'simple' fellow in our area who was often at the grocery store. He just wanted to shake hands. I kind of miss him.

    And I still refer to our farm as the Freeman place though we bought it from them 36 years ago.


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