The old man sits at the table across from me, his newspaper folded to a neat quarter page and laid flat on the table, so he can read while he eats. I can't make out from here what section he's reading, but he seems absorbed in it, never looking up to observe his surroundings, barely glancing at his food as he lifts it mechanically to his mouth, pausing only to turn the paper over, the fork placed back on the plate for an instant, then picked up again.
If he did look up for a moment, if he happened to look this way, would I acknowledge his gaze, perhaps smile at him? No. I wouldn't want to meet his eyes, wouldn't want him to think I had been staring. I would look down to my book, pretend to read, wondering all the time whether he'd gone back to his paper, whether it was safe to look up.
Yet I am grateful for his presence here, grateful that he too has come out on this cold Sunday afternoon to this shabby chinese restaurant to have lunch by himself. Grateful because his being here means I am less alone in being alone.