It was only after we’d been meeting for a few months that it dawned on me she never asked me any questions.  None at all.  Not a flicker of curiosity.

When we first met, on a crisp February morning with frost glistening on the fields, she’d chatted apologetically about her frisky new dog, explaining that he was only half way through his obedience training.  By contrast, my rescue dog treated the enthusiastic sniffing and molesting with utter distain.  I was proud of him.

On subsequent walks I leant about her husband − diabetic and grumpy, about her daughter − suffering from ME, about her son − unemployed and living at home again but drinking too much, about her mother −  demented and living in a care home, about her house − in need of a new kitchen, and about her neighbours − noisy and unfriendly.

She told me her name, Glenda, and I told her mine, David − though I needn’t have bothered because she never used it. I guessed she was about my age, in her late sixties. She was of average height, quite portly, with short hair dyed black.  She wore a beret and ‘sensible’ clothes and walked briskly, in purposeful shoes, with her head thrust forward.  We always walked side-by-side so eye contact between us was rare.

She greeted me cheerfully whenever we met and would immediately launch into updating me on the latest crises in her life: wisteria growing up the front of her house had dislodged the guttering, she was worried about her daughter being so lethargic, the car had failed its MOT but her husband didn’t trust the garage, she’d visited her mother and noticed some bruises on her arms that the manager of the nursing home couldn’t explain.

I always listened politely, saying the occasional ‘oh dear’ but I found her one-way monologues increasingly tedious.  After a while I started to vary the time of my morning walk hoping to avoid her. This would work well for a few days, sometimes even for a week or so, but no sooner was I back to relishing a solitary walk than she’d suddenly reappear (had she lain in wait?) and the outpourings would start all over again: her husband was having trouble with his feet and might have to have some toes amputated, it was her son-in-law’s birthday and she was going to make a cake and take it round to her daughter’s place, her son might be getting a job as a volunteer in a charity shop and, if she could get him up in time, he was going for an interview that very afternoon, her bath was emptying slowly and she needed to get the plumber in to sort it out.

Not, alas, scintillating stuff.  I considered my options.

Perhaps I should abandon my pre-breakfast walks or find somewhere else to walk the dog? But why the hell should I?  I wasn’t sure I could cope with my dog’s accusing looks if he was deprived of his early morning scampers across the nearby fields.  Anyway, I was addicted to starting my day by striding out, whatever the weather, gulping fresh air, spotting the occasional deer, listening to the skylarks fluttering high in the skies above and, on my return journey, dropping into the newsagent to pick up my daily paper.

Perhaps I should level with Glenda and tell her that I preferred to walk alone, enjoying the seasons and mulling over this and that as I prepared myself for the day ahead.  But she obviously loved what she called ‘our little chats’ and bumping into her from time to time was inevitable.

No, the answer was to set myself a challenge: to discover something really fascinating about her. Surely Glenda must have secrets, things she wasn’t telling me or, better still, things she had never told anybody?  For all I knew she might be a spy or a pole dancer or an Olympic medallist.

So, I set to work digging and delving.

How many dogs had she had before this one?  Three.  What books did she enjoy?  At present she was working her way through Mary Berry’s Simple Cakes.  Favourite television programme?  Cooking programmes.  Any hobbies, apart from baking cakes?  Knitting.  What music did she enjoy?  Musicals, South Pacific was her favourite.  What did she like doing most?  Cooking and walking the dog. What was her favourite time of year?  Spring.  Did she drive?  No, her husband did all the driving.

Glenda’s answers were always forthcoming, even when I bombarded her with supplementary questions, but they still failed to convey anything that I considered fascinating.

I stepped up my efforts.

What was the worst thing that had ever happened to her?  Falling off her bike and breaking her shoulder.  The best thing?  Having an extension put on the house.  What would she do if she won the lottery?  She didn’t do the lottery but if she did she’d invest any winnings in case she or her husband needed to pay for a nursing home.  What was the naughtiest thing she had ever done?  Pulled the arms off her sister’s teddy bear.  What was the best holiday she had ever had?  The Canary Isles where she and her husband went for two weeks every year, always staying in the same hotel and meeting up with the same group of friends.  And the worst?  A week in Scarborough when it never stopped raining.  Had she ever been really embarrassed?  Yes, once in school assembly when the head teacher picked on her and asked her to stand up and spell Wednesday.  She was flustered and forgot the ‘d’. Everyone laughed.

Try as I might, Glenda stayed doggedly beige.

I decided to push my luck and try some more intrusive questions.

What do you dislike most about yourself?  I wish I was taller and had longer legs. What’s your biggest regret?  My son not having a proper job.  Have you ever been really drunk?  No, alcohol doesn’t agree with me.  Have you ever cheated on your husband?  What an odd question, certainly not!  How many boyfriends did you have before you got married?  None really.  I met my husband when we were still at school.

All to no avail, my walking companion remained humdrum and dreary.  Perhaps I should ask her where she bought her knickers?  But I could guess the answer: M&S.

I decided to switch tactics and see if I could provoke her into asking me a question, any question!  Just for fun, I invented a scoring system: 1 for easy/banal questions such as ‘Isn’t it a nice day?, 2 for personal questions such as ‘Are you married?’, 3 for profound questions such as ‘Do you believe in God?’ and 4 for saucy questions such as ‘How often do you have sex?’.  My cunning plan was to let drop tantalising morsels of information about me in the hope that sooner or later she’d take the bait.

On our next encounter we discovered that the farmer had ploughed up the diagonal track we always took across a large field.

Glenda was indignant. ‘It’s a right of way, he can’t do that!’

‘There’s only one thing for it,’ I said, ‘let’s follow the old route and forge a new path.’

So, cussedly, we set off trudging across the deep furrows of newly turned soil.  The going was heavy and Glenda, breathless and grumbling she’d have to give her dog a bath, suddenly slipped and fell.  Her unruly dog pranced round her prone body barking excitedly at the prospect of a new game.  Glenda stretched out her arms and, with some difficulty, I pulled her up.  We’d never touched before and she said, ‘Gosh, you’re strong.  My husband could never manage that.’

Seizing my opportunity I said, ‘Yes, when I was younger I was a professional weight lifter, one of those guys in tight fitting trunks with rippling muscles.’

‘Oh dear,’ she said looking down at the mud on her coat, ‘what a mess.’

Not a flicker of interest in my supposed career as a weight lifter.  No curiosity about the muscles quivering beneath my clothing.

On another occasion we met after I had been away on a two week family holiday in Minorca.  As she approached, beaming happily, I felt sure she’d be curious about where I had been.

Instead she said, ‘Ah, there you are!  I’ve been wanting to tell you about the gypsies who offered to tarmac our front drive.  They said they were working in the area and could do it for half the usual price.’

I said, ‘I’m just back from an expedition to the north pole.’

‘Fancy.  But you’d think they’d know we had more sense than to fall for that, a cock and bull story about having some tarmac left over.  My husband reported them to the police but they weren’t interested.’

‘Don’t you want to know whether we saw Father Christmas?’

‘Ha ha.  Funny you should say that, I think our daughter still believes in Santa Claus.  When she was about twelve I tried to tell her it was her dad who answered the letters she addressed to Santa and drank the glass of sweet sherry she left by the fireplace.  She was so upset, I’ve not dared to broach the subject ever since.’

I persisted. ‘We had a few narrow escapes.  I nearly fell down a crevasse.’

‘Goodness.  Reminds me of the only time I went skiing and slid off the ski run.  I found myself up to my waist in deep snow.  It took me ages to struggle back and we never went skiing again.  And the worst thing was that when we got back we found the dog had been taken ill at the kennels.  It cost us a fortune in vet’s fees.’

Undaunted I tried again when we next met.  After our customary tame exchanges about the weather I said, ‘I’m off to see my father again today.  I sat with him all day yesterday.  He’s on his deathbed.’

‘Gracious.  My father didn’t hang around, he just dropped dead with an aneurysm, but my aunt, that’s my mother’s sister, lingered for ages.  She was unconscious for two days before she died.  My sister and I sat by her bedside doing our knitting.  She never even knew we were there.’

It was hopeless. No questions about my father: where was he? why he was dying? how old was he? was I close to him?

The score was zilch.

Shortly after this encounter, Glenda vanished. I felt slightly annoyed that I’d been deprived of further attempts to cajole a question out of her, especially as I’d dreamt up some promising scenarios:  how I was once kidnapped and spent a year chained to a radiator, how I was an accidental bigamist, how I’d made a fortune but lost it all gambling, how I’d  got lost in the Amazon rainforest, how I’d walked on a tightrope across Niagara Falls.  Things like that.

Naturally, I wondered what had become of Glenda but quickly pushed speculations aside, fearful that even thinking about her might conjure her up. My walks continued and I met another dog walker, a woman with whom it was possible to have normal two-way conversations.

Then one morning I tethered my dog to the metal ring outside the newsagent and, as usual, collected my daily paper.  Glenda’s obituary was on page 15.  I read how she and her dog had been mown down by a lorry whilst crossing a main road.  Both had died at the scene.  The obituary went on to describe her ‘glittering career’ as an economist, first at Coutts Bank and eventually as head of the UK Government’s Economic Unit.  A photograph showed her being awarded a CBE by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.  I read the caption.  The investiture had happened only two years before Glenda and I had met.

Why, I wondered, after I’d given her so many opportunities, had she never once mentioned her illustrious career?

I could hear her saying, ‘Because you never asked’.

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