While standing outside Eason’s I see a man I know walking through the crowd. Dressed in his barrister’s suit and head down in deep conversation with an elegant looking lady, I almost don’t recognise Richard. We say a brief hello as he hurries past, while the lady with him glances at me with a look of recognition. I try to place her too, but as she’s in close discussion with Richard, I only get a side view of her face.
I’m waiting for my daughter Ruby, who’s buying a few lastminute college things around town before returning for what will, in all probability, be a few weeks away. Ruby came home for the days just gone, but we both know that with the pandemic spreading it’s for the best that she returns to Limerick until the worst of it passes. Neither of us is saying anything, but the feeling is there. I also know that it might be my last bit of time with Ruby for the next few weeks and to make the most of our morning.
Waiting for Ruby gives me time to stand still and watch Tralee go about its business, and I think this is my first time since the March lockdown that I have time to do it. After Richard passes a few more familiar faces go into Eason’s or carry on to Pennys. People nod or say hello, and often I won’t recognise someone as they are wearing a mask. I’m wary of coming too close to anyone and keep moving, sentry-like, up and down outside the shop. A few minutes go by of watching and moving until Richard reappears on his own, with the usual smile on his face. I smile back, happy to see him.
“How’s Daisy?” he asks.
Daisy is our family dog. A lovable ball of fur who wriggles and smiles when she sees you and though only small in stature, holds a huge place in all our hearts. I take Daisy for a walk around the town park every morning. We usually leave around eight o’clock, doing two laps of the 35-acres, meeting other dogs and their owners along the way. Who we meet and where depends on our time of leaving home. How Richard knows of Daisy and why he’s asking me about her catches me by surprise.
“She’s fine,” I answer, always happy to talk about our little ragamuffin.
“That was my Mum with me, and she asked ‘who’s that man?’ when we said hello,” Richard explains to my probably quizzical looking face, “she meets you every morning in the park with Daisy, when she’s walking Alfie,”
“Ah, that’s why I knew her from somewhere,” I laugh, knowing now who the lady Richard was talking to earlier – Alfie’s owner.
Each day I enter the park through the kissing gates by Castle Countess. Often as I walk up the well- worn, poured-concrete steps to the path, I meet Alfie and his owner. If not right at the top of the steps, it is somewhere close by. Alfie’s problem is an infatuation with Daisy; not content with seeing her he’ll stop and not move until Daisy comes along. Daisy shows little interest in Alfie, another small dog, but it’s nothing personal, Daisy just loves humans over dogs. Even if they are ahead of us in the park, Alfie will sit down and not budge. Often Richard’s Mum will be pulling at him or cajoling him just to move but to little or no avail. The other dog with them takes no interest in Daisy except maybe to bark before going for a sniff in the leaves. For Alfie though it’s love, and most mornings I’ll have to try rush past, apologising for delaying the team out for their walk. Without Alfie by her side, I didn’t recognise Richard’s Mum in town, though we have had many laughs at the hopelessness of Alfie’s love. Lately though Alfie has fallen out of love and our chatting time has reduced as a result.
It’s the same around the park. We meet Bailey and her master every day, and each time Daisy and Bailey will have a barking match and block each other’s path until one blinks, and gives way. I’ve no idea of who Bailey’s owner is or where he lives, though we have great chats most days. There’s also Teddy who is now in love with Daisy too, a small black fellow who, like Alfie, won’t budge until he sniffs at Daisy, much to his owner’s annoyance. I’ve often spoken with another walker about our dogs, the upset he went through when one died and about caring for his sick father when in A&E one night. I don’t know his name and almost didn’t recognise him this morning when I met him carrying a plastic bag but without his dog. I was later than usual, and the man had already walked the dog and was on his way home after doing the shopping. Another woman I meet always apologises for her Yorkie snuffling around Daisy, but as I always tell her, there’s no need. One woman who doesn’t know me but whose son is a friend of Lisa’s through work, will stop to discuss politics and whatever is in the news, while her new arrival Scarlett the beagle, gets to know Daisy. Their tetchy relationship is improving, but Scarlett definitely takes after her movie heroine namesake at times, not that Daisy is the best example of how to behave in public. Owners and dogs meet at different stages of our walks but are known only to each other by our four-legged companions.
When Daisy and I come home each morning, Lisa will always ask who we met, and I’ll list off all these people whose names I do not know, starting with ‘Oh Alfie and his owner’, (now ‘Alfie and Richard’s mother,’) or ‘Bailey and Bailey’s Dad,’ or ‘the Polish lady and her funny little dog,’ and add a few lines from each conversation.
Now I realise I’m probably one of these people in the others’ homes. I’m ‘the man with the beard with Daisy’ who is a story in another kitchen when a morning walk is over. No doubt it is the same all over the world, and there’s something warming about how the simple ways of our dogs define how we are recognised. The nod, the chat, and comments on the weather make for a pleasant beginning to a day, and start lovely friendships.
What the dogs make of it all is anyone’s guess.