The office I work from is in the depths of a country estate alongside the River Thames, which snakes past on it’s way towards London, the south east of England, and eventually the sea. The building is relatively modern – I say relatively, because it is surrounded by cottages that would once have been the residence for gardeners, gamekeepers, and so forth. The service staff for the estate.
The big house stretches out behind our office, and would have been quite the country seat in years gone by. My other half once visited it for an interview (once upon a time she was a contract chartered accountant) – during the dot com boom one of the famous video game development companies had the leasehold. Apparently the insides of the big house are like a time-warm to another place, and another time – with sweeping spiral staircases, marble floors, and high ceilings. You might imagine a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow parked on the driveway, and the flapper daughters of the family coming and going in the fashions of the day.
While the big house is now empty, and has been for many years, the cottages now serve as home for the family that own the estate, and a variety of people that seem to come and go each year – renting properties from time to time. I can imagine why they might not stay here – we are miles from the nearby town, and there are very few facilities nearby.
While cycling to and from the estate each day on my way to work, or home, I often pass a pretty blonde lady walking her dog. She lives in the cottage directly behind our offices, and has done for several years now. I imagine she likes the seclusion, because she has lasted longer than any of the other tennants of the last decade or so (and yes, I really have worked here that long).
While standing in the kitchen in the office making coffee on a morning I will often see her arriving home with her dog, or getting in her car to go to work – and have piece by piece constructed a life for her, and a friendship that Walter Mitty might have been proud of.
There was a time last year when one of the family that owns the estate moved in next door to her, and quite entertainingly tried very hard to both impress her, and to become friends or more. I wrote at the time about his attempts to “happen to be outside” at the times she returned from walking her dog, and his quite tragic purchases of three wheeled motorbikes, left parked in obvious places to be seen, or sportscars being in conspicuous parking places. You might say he was of a certain age, and you might say he tried too hard.
You might also say he never tried at all – because of course we will never know the true nature of their friendship. He no longer tries. He no longer makes excuses to busy himself with something outside the house when she passes by.
My own conversations with her have only ever extended as far as a cheery “Good Morning” while cycling past her, or a mutual smile and a wave as I pass on the way home. Her dog once exploded in fury at me (or my bicycle – it’s hard to tell which it was most incensed by) when I came face-to-face with them outside the office.
While making coffee, I sometimes look up at the moment she happens to enter or leave her house, and wonder what her name is, who she is, and if we will ever be more than “hello”.