well, maybe not the loneliest - there are billions of lonely men in the world, after all - but certainly in the top fifty or one hundred.
walker had one peculiarity that separated him from most of his similarly afflicted comrades.
he had nothing to say and no desire to talk.
only to listen to other people.
and to look at them. this is where the problem lay.
walker had a way of staring at his fellow humans - whether they were speaking to him or not - that they generally found quite disconcerting.
starting with his mother.
walker’s earliest memories were of his mother shouting at him - “jesus christ, will you stop staring at me like that!”
and of his mother complaining to her friends, as they sat around in her cigarette smoke filled kitchen,
“this kid is going to drive me nuts the way he just stares at me all the time!”
eventually walker ran away from home.
as he had no marketable skills or qualities, and no friends, he became a homeless person.
fortunately the city of moderate size he found himself in had a relatively tolerant attitude toward the homeless (and no superabundance of them) and had shelters and soup kitchens and such so that his daily life was not as wretched as it might have been.
he spent his days walking the streets.
his habits of staring at people and “invading their space” in cafeterias and park benches and buses, often caused him grief, and he learned from bitter experience to try to curtail his proclivities.
sometimes he rode the subway, getting on it and riding on it continuously to nowhere as much as the fare system permitted.
and then one day in the subway he had a revelation.
he realized he could watch people’s reflections in the subway windows - and they did not notice!
it was almost as good as watching them directly, and nobody challenged him.
and so he began riding the riding the subways for hours - panhandling to get fares when he had to - often long into the night, when the watching got a bit more interesting.
on more than one occasion he stayed on the subway so late he was not able to get a bed at the homeless shelter he frequented.
he enjoyed watching the parade of faces, even when he could not hear or understand what people were saying, as was often the case because so many spoke languages other than english.
he never got up and followed anybody, no matter how interesting he found them, and so far as he knew he never encountered the same person twice, though he might have.
and then finally the spell was broken.
one chilly evening he got off the subway near the shelter when he heard a deep voice behind him.
“hey you! you with the green hat!”
walker was wearing a green oakland a’s baseball cap and he turned around.
he was confronted by a heavy-set and heavily bundled up woman carrying two shopping bags in each hand. she had been on the subway car and walker had watched her on and off for at least nine stops, as the car had been almost empty and there were few people to watch.
“you were looking at me! all the way from 14th street! thought you were so sly!”
walker was stunned. “i was not! i was not! i - i was looking straight ahead -“ he managed to squeak out as she advanced on him.
“yes, straight ahead at me in the mirror, motherfucker! what did you think you were going to see! hey!” the woman knocked walker down and he fell flat on his back on the filthy sidewalk..
“sick-ass perverted motherfucker! “ there were no other people in sight and she began kicking him with her heavy boots. ”i bet you look in people’s windows too! and up little girl’s dresses! you’re lucky i’m just kicking your ass and don’t call the cops !”
walker couldn’t get up and covered his face and let her kick him in the ribs.
finally - or maybe suddenly - he heard another voice. a man’s voice. “hey, hey, lady, what are you doing there? you want to go to jail for assault and battery? first degree murder?”
the kicks stopped and walker managed to scramble to his feet and start running.
the last thing walker heard was the man’s voice - “just looking at you?” he glanced back and saw the woman struggling half-heartedly with the man. the man was wearing - a uniform? a transit policeman’s uniform?
but he didn’t look back after that and made his getaway.
walker never went back on the subway after that. in fact he was cured of his desire to stare at people.
he started spending his days at the library. he became especially fond of books about ufos, astrology, satanism, and arctic and antarctic exploration.