Walking back from my ballet class, I came upon a man and a dog, approaching me from the opposite direction. The dog, a large black and white mongrel, seemed to smile at me, and I smiled back. Its owner, a middle-aged man with a salt-and-pepper beard, wearing an anorak, smiled at me as if we knew each other.
Did I know him? I didn’t think so, but I said hello back. ‘Your dog smiled at me.’
The dog came up for a sniff, then went up the steps of the nearest house, which I assumed was its home and therefore the home of the anorak man.
‘She’s a smiley dog. Don’t know where she gets it from,’ said the man, smiling.
Aha, I thought, he’s a friendly man, and was immediately on guard.
I’m not averse to chatting with strangers and am often the first one to talk. Glasgow is a chatty place, unlike Edinburgh, and, in that way at least, I fit in. Anorak Man seemed quite pleasant and safe, although as a woman, I instinctively run a security check on random men. You never know, he might have a couple of women chopped up in his freezer or secreted under the floorboards.
Also, responding to friendliness by random men can serve as a sort of consent: suddenly you find yourself in the position of having to deal with hurt feelings when you reject advances you interpreted as nothing more than friendly human interaction. In many cases, at the first, mildest whiff of potential interest, I have frozen off conversation with an unknown man because I simply can’t be arsed with the fallout. This is less of an issue now I’m middle-aged, but the man was around my age or a little older. My rusty early warning system emitted a squeak of suspicion.
I expected him to follow the dog up the stairs, but before he could do so, the dog came back down after sniffing at the garden through the railing.
‘Don’t you live there?’ I said.
‘No, I live up there.’ The man pointed up the road. ‘[DOG NAME] has a busy social life. She just needed to check who else has peed there.’
‘Well, that’s her business, I suppose,’ I said. ‘Important to know these things.’
The dog, whose name I now knew, if not the man’s, went on ahead.
We stood smiling at each other out of non-specific, street-level goodwill. The conversation had nowhere else to go at this point, and before it could get awkward, the man said, ‘Nice to meet you!’, although we hadn’t really met, and followed his dog, who knew exactly where she was going.
I said something similar, feeling that the situation required it, and we went our separate ways, still anonymous to each other and yet marked out, like the garden railing.