Her name was Pauline and it was the early stages of lockdown. We’d been drilled in the importance of social distancing but it felt strange, almost rude, to blatantly avoid people.
We were walking towards each other so I veered away, as per recent instructions. We caught each other’s gaze and she thanked me for making the effort. She clearly felt awkward too; we laughed about it together. Standing in the gutter with Pauline by a front fence, we got chatting about this new reality.
After some time we wished each other well and continued on our walk. She lived nearby, I learnt, but I’d never seen her before. Or perhaps I had and hadn’t noticed.
Reflecting, as we’ve had the space to do in our coronavirus world, I’ve thought back to the people I met on the streets of an old mining town in southern Austria in which I stayed many years ago. I used to love to walk then too and would welcome the greetings from strangers along the way. “Grüss Gott” would be the daily acknowledgement, expressed with a nod and often a smile.
I tried it upon my return to the trendy inner-city suburb of Melbourne where I lived. “Good morning,” I’d proffer, with a smile. Sometimes I’d be ignored, but mostly I’d receive an embarrassed sort of half-smile. Occasionally, a warm reply and even some snippets of conversation.