Time of No Reply

I’ve been living in this town for twenty-two years now. (Pause: That’s amazing… isn't that amazing? Okay, move on). 

In a couple of ways, it’s a dream-come-true for me because, in my London days, I would sometimes think about the possibility of living in a place where I knew loads of people and where I was fairly deep-embedded… and here I am.

One peculiarity of small-town life is that lots of people say ‘Hello’ to you and, generally you say ‘Hello’ back to the lots of people who say it. In fairness, you also institute quite a lot of ‘Hellos’ yourself and, in turn, you tend to get them back. It’s a sort of a ‘Hello-fest’ sometimes and that’s okay with me.

There’s this one guy though… I’ve known him for practically all of my twenty-two years in the town and, at the same time, I don’t know him at all. I don’t know his name, I don’t know ‘who his people are’. I don’t know anything about him, really.

As the local expression goes, “I only know him to say ‘Hello’ to.’ And I do. Oh, God, I do. And, okay you’ve guessed it, he never-ever says ‘Hello’ back.

When I first arrived in town, he was a youngish man. He looked a bit like Dexter Fletcher did then. Maybe that’s why I first said ‘Hello’ to him. Maybe I thought he looked like an unidentified friend of mine rather than Dexter Fletcher. Whatever the reason, I said ‘Hello’ to him and he didn’t say ‘Hello’ back and then we were off and running.

Neither he nor the real Dexter Fletcher now looks anything like Dexter Fletcher did then, if you get my drift. Twenty-two years have passed. Twenty-two years of not being ‘Hello-ed back. Regular meetings on the streets of my town. Never a word. 

This begs an obvious question, I know. Why do I keep saying ‘Hello’ to him?

Let me try to address that.

It’s a very good question and, in fact, I believe the entire crux of the matter lies somewhere in the answer.

The truth of the matter is, he drags my ‘Hello’ out of me. This happened most recently on Thursday afternoon last so I know what I’m talking about. It’s still fresh in my mind and it’s happened so many times over the years that I can’t begin to count them. He drags it out.

We approach each other on the street. I see him and I say to myself, “Nope, no way, nah-hah, I am not saying ‘hello’ to this dude this time. I’ve had it with all that shit.” But, as he approaches, he stares at me. Not in an angry way. It’s more of a mildly quizzical manner. He looks right into my eyes and this engaged expression forms on his face. I can tell, without any doubt, that this time will be different. This time, he has recognised me as the dude he’s being seeing around the place for all these years.

As we get closer, he stares and stares and stares and, much as I hate myself for it, much as I know I must not fall, I do it, I just do it.


And nothing. The stare slides away beyond me and I get absolutely nothing back.

And then I’m annoyed for little while. Who does he think he is? Fuck him. If he doesn’t want to say hello why does he keep staring at me? What a prick.

But then I get to thinking, as I occasionally do. What does this exchange look like from his side? “Who *is* this guy,” he might be saying, “what does he want and why the hell won’t he leave me alone.” Maybe he’s just terminally shy and can’t bring himself to respond before I’ve swept past like some swarthy tsunami. Maybe it’s me who is the sinner here and maybe I should learn to recognise that, rather than just eternally pointing the finger elsewhere.

I’ll learn a lesson in tolerance from this, rather than just getting the hump over it. Still, I wish he wouldn’t continue to draw me out like that. Leave me alone and I won’t say hello to you, I promise.

But, anyway, I’ve learned my lesson now. I’m never doing it again.

Nope, no way, nah-hah.


Marc Paterson said...

I too live in a 'hello' place. I also get rebuffed by a few. Admittedly, as we live in a coastal(ish) place there are tourists who pass through, strangers, that may never cross my path again but any non-compliant greeters among them don't bother me as much. It's the ones on the school run that bug me.

I gave to add, since we moved here, I've felt a bit of an outsider anyway and of the few who didn't respond to my initial hello, I tend to look down at my son and engage with him as I pass them, or feign a harried, in-a-rush expression.

As a rule, I'm not the most social person, but I will always say hello and happily engage in a little small talk. Having the dog to walk pushes me into these exchanges more too. Yogi has absolutely no qualms and will leap and wag his tail at any passing lifeform. It shames me to say that I probably know the names of more dogs in the village than people's.

Jim Murdoch said...

Can you imagine the amount of willpower it’d take NOT to say hello, nod or simply smile at someone who made the effort to greet you on the street? I mean, it’s a reflex reaction. Or maybe it would take no willpower at all if you were of a certain mind or suffering from autonomic reflex dysfunction. Only an insane person does “the same thing over and over expecting different results”—so supposedly said Einstein (although it looks like he probably read it in a Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet)—and yet, having years and years of experience with computers, I know how wrong he, or whoever first said it, was.

There’s nothing worse than not getting it. My current obsession is the woman who lives in 5F. Because of the way I sleep I’m often up most of the night and about a week ago I looked out of my kitchen window and saw someone sitting with their back to the window gesturing wildly. I was captivated for a whole five minutes until I realised she wasn’t going to go all Rear Window on me. The next night I peeked out again and there she was. And the night after that. And the night after that. Always sitting with her back to the window. People are weird. I mean I’m weird for watching her; I admit it. It’s not the being up all night—I get that (it’s half two in the morning right now)—but spending hours and hours sitting in a window… Who does that?