Oh I know that chap… ! But do you?

If we are to count as friends the many people whom we see around us, be it during the early morning rush, at lunch break or on our way home, then we would probably have more friends than we know.

Yes, indeed the pun is on the word “know”. These are the strangers around us whom we know of their presence but yet we don’t really know them. Let me explain.

Every morning, I jog past the cleaner who sweeps the grounds of my HDB estate. Indifferent by nature, I jog by without a word, while he remains buried in his tedious task of sweeping up the litter, from sweet wrappers to fallen leaves.

A little while back, when I got out from the lift from my 12th floor apartment, I chanced upon the maid and her ward rushing to catch the bus to school. I often meet them in the lift, the slim built Indonesian with a deeply chiseled dimple on her cheeks and the pony tailed school girl. “I tell you don’t run ah…or I will tell your mummy!” scowled the maid as she tried to grab hold of the girl’s arm.  Not a day will pass during the school term when I will not meet the duo as they scuffled to see who gets to the school bus first. I like this burst of energy as it sets the mood for my exercise. However, I must confess I don’t even know where they live let alone who they are. They are strangers.

After my morning run, it’s my turn to get to the bus stop and thence to the train station. Oh yes, there’s this woman in her frontline bank uniform. She cuts a striking figure among the crowd at the bus stop. The colour of her uniform and her scarf made her stand out. And, any day that I don’t get to see her, I’ll notice it because she has a presence. Well, she’s a stranger in that I don’t even know her name.

Remember how we sometimes exchange glances at people who look familiar? We almost know them … yes I said “almost” because when I am there, he too will be there. We are like colleagues, leaving for lunch at the same time to the same nearby eateries. “He probably noticed that I just cropped my hair today,” I thought as my right shoulder accidentally bumped against his in the lift. “Oh sorry!” I said quickly, which he returned with a smile. But, he’s a stranger. We don’t know each other.

I am sure many of us would have these “friends” whom we can claim to “know” yet we don’t know them. When we speak to our friends and they make reference to this or that chap, often our reply will be: “Oh yes, I know who you are referring. He’s quite tall, wears glasses and walks with a slight limp.” However that visual connect is all that we know of this or that chap.

Just count how many people you can claim to know them, yet you don’t know them in your life? We may not be as lonely or anti-social as some make us urban dwellers appear to be.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine