Two old women

I see only one old woman on the Tuesday morning walk, the one that drives a mobility scooter. As my dog lets loose on the last of the daffodils,
I look in vain for the other old woman - the one that is still able to walk and holds back the Jack Russell terriers that the women appear to share.
Like the old women, there are only two Jack Russells, but they have the malevolent energy of a large and agitated pack. Although their angry, yapping progress around the estate is a regular occurrence, it remains a startling phenomenon: for my dog as much as for me.

But today, quiet. No Jack Russells. No second old woman shouting at the Jack Russells. Just the hum of the first old woman's mobility scooter coming, as always, at speed along the middle of the pavement.

The old woman looks frail today. Her head is tilted to one side and her face, already a little twisted, has twisted some more since I last saw her. It also jerks back and forth. I am not sure whether this is because of the speed she maintains or if it is a physical marker of her decline – and if so, how severe that decline might be. Is she terminally ill or is the jerking just one of the incremental reductions in cognitive and physical abilities that come with age? Can she even hear me? I'm not sure but, as always, I say hello.

Usually my greeting is lost in the cacophony of the dogs and the shouting, but today it rings out clearly. The old woman looks surprised and steers suddenly towards the kerb where she nearly clips a lamp-post. "Sorry," I say, but she has gone.

As I watch her mobility scooter wind away I realise that, though I see her every day, I know almost nothing about the old woman. Is she as hard up as her threadbare clothes suggest? Does she like the other old woman, or just tolerate her for the company? And what does the election mean to her, where does she stand on the retention or non-retention of Trident or on the vicissitudes of a hung parliament?

I decide to become more involved with the old woman, to take an interest beyond nodding my head and standing aside as she passes.

On Wednesday I do this. "Your dogs," I say, as mine snuffles and threatens to shit. "They aren't here." She looks at me but doesn't respond. "Everything's OK I hope," I continue. Still saying nothing the old woman accelerates her mobility scooter away; it moves so quickly that my dog, which is now shitting, is nearly caught in the fat wheels and his hard, brown poos are scattered.

On Thursday the other old woman is back alongside the first old woman. As are the Jack Russells, which snarl at my dog.

I say nothing and walk by.

Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.