On seeking joy through chance encounters

I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: dogs and babies are excellent conversation starters.

This week I met a woman who’d lived in my neighbourhood since before one of the arterial roads was nothing more than a dirt track, since before the local primary school existed.

There’s a couple that lives near me that regularly walks their small white dog (please don’t ask me the breed… maybe a Maltese Shi Tzu?) in the evenings. We often cross paths and stop long enough for the three dogs (two mine, one theirs) to sniff and greet each other. We exchange pleasantries and, like most dog owners, talk through our dogs (really, we should all consider careers in ventriloquism).

What do I know about these women?

  1. they’re always friendly,
  2. they’re very old-school polite (no brusque “see ya later” from these two lovely humans),
  3. they wear tank tops, runners/sneakers and shorts when walking their dog. Always (do they own other clothes? Who knows!),
  4. their dog’s name is Buddy.

Yep, that’s it. That’s the entirety of what I know about them. Our conversations generally don’t stray beyond a polite but short greeting, and a little banter via our dogs. But this week, one of this couple was out walking the dog with her mother. I think I’ve seen the older woman around, but with my memory for faces, it’s hard to be certain. At best, we’re nodding acquaintances. This week, that changed.

My dogs and I spotted them across the road and decided to wait for them to cross to our side. I could hear her daughter carefully explain that Buddy and my dogs often stopped and chatted, and that they liked each other’s company. When the three of them — the older woman, her adult daughter, and Buddy the dog of indeterminate heritage — had crossed to our side of the road, they stopped. We (the humans) said hello, and the dogs sniffed each other’s bums, snarfled loudly and excitedly, and wagged their whole bodies in greeting.

It didn’t take long for us to fall into the usual patterns of small talk — the weather, the worrying rise in infections, and such. And it took even less time to segue into what my tattoo meant, the headstone on her friend’s parents’ grave, and how long I’d lived in the area. After a little searching she produced a photo of said headstone on her phone — despite the quiet attempts at dissuasion from her daughter. The friend was either of Indian heritage or had a significant connection to India. You see why this topic became relevant to our conversation? Associations, points of connection, avenues and inroads. Brains are incredible.

“I’ve lived here since this road wasn’t even a road. Since before there was a school.” She waved her hand in the general direction of the local primary school.

“This school was built to take the pressure off the only existing school in the area which had some 50 or 60 students in a classroom!”

She told me how she used to run down this road when it was a dirt track, all the way to school. How she was in the first intake class (I looked it up. The school was opened in 1951 — a year before my father left India for Singapore, to make his way in the world — associations, points of connection, avenues and inroads). I got a mini lesson in local history.

She was a good storyteller, and bursting with enthusiasm for her topic. And I’m always happy to hear a well-told story.

After a while, we separated the now-bored canines, and went off on our respective paths. But that encounter, that insight into the local history, personalised by this woman who had lived it, buoyed me. It was a precious reminder that this moment we’re living is not the only moment. That history is rich and living, it is our neighbour who has lived here their entire life, it is the institutions we take for granted, it is the hidden gems that are uncovered in chance encounters.

Featured image: a collection of various black and white photographs arranged in a haphazard manner. Image by Suzy Hazelwood/Pexels

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