I walk my dog each morning before breakfast; a brisk 45-minute circuit up a lane and across fields; a delightful way to start each day.  Of course, I regularly meet other dog walkers and most mornings I meet a woman in her sixties and we stop for a brief chat.  Well, I’m not sure ‘chat’ is quite right.  My dictionary says a chat is an informal conversation, but what happens isn’t a conversation; it is a one-sided outpouring.  She tells me in great detail what she did yesterday, what she plans to do today, what her daughters are doing, what her husband is up to.  The monologues are especially long after she has returned from a holiday; the journey there and back, a blow by blow account of the weather, where they stayed, what was satisfactory and what wasn’t.

This has been going on for the best part of three years. And in all that time she has never, not ever, asked me a single question; not even a rhetorical one.

It took a while for it dawn on me that she had no interest whatsoever in anything at all about me.  I don’t resent this, I just find it fascinating.  How is it possible to meet someone most days for three years, without being in the least curious about their circumstances? 

So, after a while I set myself the challenge of seeing if I could tease a question out of her. 

My harmless game started off with fairly innocuous attempts.  For example, when my dog went into kennels I walked by myself for a couple of mornings.  I felt certain that she’d notice the absence of the dog and ask me where it was.  But no, just news of her husband’s problems with his legs (they don’t work very well and he is going to see a specialist – again).  After I had taken my grandchildren away on holiday, I mentioned we had been on an adventure to the Isle of Man.  I was confident that this destination would be sufficiently unusual to warrant a question.  But no, she immediately told me how, as a little girl, she used to have holidays on the Island, where they used to stay (Port Erin), how her uncle had worked for the IOM Steam Packet Company, the gauge of the Island’s rail tracks (3 feet), the name of the Island’s only mountain (Snaefell) – and so on.

So, I stepped up my efforts.  For example, when my father was dying, I told her I was off to visit him in hospital. She immediately told me about the protracted death of her sister, how it had dragged on for days, how she sat by her bed with her sister giving no flicker of recognition, how attentive the nurses were, how moving the funeral was.  When my daughter broke her collar bone, I dropped this into the monologue. She immediately told me about her daughter’s heavy periods, that her GP didn’t take her daughter seriously, that her husband had had to go to Malaysia on a business trip leaving her with two demanding toddlers, that their house was too big to manage without help. On polling day at the recent general election, I told her how I was going to vote in the forlorn hope that this might trigger her curiosity. But no, she immediately told me how she had applied for a postal vote and not received notification in time, how our local MP was useless (her husband had written complaining about pot holes and not received a reply), how politicians were all crooks only interested in lining their own pockets.

Whatever I try, it fails to attract a question.  But this morning, suddenly, out popped an unsolicited question!  The dear lady approached me carrying a plastic bag and stopped to show me some mushrooms she had gathered. I told her I liked mushroom soup and then, totally unexpectedly, she rummaged in her bag and produced an odd shaped fungus and asked me if I thought it was a mushroom.  I was so taken aback, that I said it was. Afterwards, recovering from the shock of being consulted, I walked on wondering whether my careless answer might contribute to her early demise.

Of course, I realise this is only a partial triumph; she still hasn’t asked me a question about me. But a question about mushrooms is surely a start. At least I know she is capable of composing a question.  Perhaps if I walk naked one morning she’ll ask me why I’m not wearing any clothes. Or, more probably, it will only remind her to tell me about her bunions.

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