The Man Who Walked Backwards

Author: Lisa Sammoh

"The Man Who Walked Backwards" is an absurdist short story about a man's abnormality as seen by the world, and his search for a lost love he always remembers.

Everyone was present to witness the day that the man in town would walk backwards. Hundreds of people stood clumped up in the train station. The men shook their heads in disbelief. The women fanned their faces with misplaced awe. And the children—well, the children secretly hoped their parents would buy them sweets when they were going back home.

The crowd parted like the Red Sea to let the man pass through. In he came, backwards, with a spring on his feet and a smile on his face. He wore a dark charcoal tweed suit with polished black loafers. On his wrist was a gold Rolex watch, and in his hand a rather large briefcase. He gripped it tightly as some of the people began to wonder what was in it.

“Forget the Prohibition! This man is insane,” one man said. The crowd roared with laughter, determined to break the Walking Man’s spirit. But he kept on walking— backwards—until he stopped in front of the train doors.

He bowed and waved to the crowd.

“My fellow friends,” he said, “I bid you goodbye today, in hope that we’ll see each other again soon.”

“You’re a crazy old man, thinking you can walk backwards to the end of the world,” someone yelled from behind.

The crowd began to close in around the man. Several police officers blew their whistles and tried stopping them from pushing each other onto the rail tracks.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Get on with it!” one of the police officers managed to say before he was crushed by the imploding stampede. With one last glance and a wave, the man entered inside. The train roared with newfound life, steam billowing from the chutes, wheels turning and churning on the tracks. And on he travelled to the land that was beyond.

By the time the train arrived in New York, the news of the Walking Man had crossed borders faster than the fastest Duesenberg at that time. News reporters flocked in hundreds to be able to record his arrival. The man strode—backward—to the New York Harbor, around the reporters and the blinding flashes from their cameras, to the port’s shoreline. He walked to a small dinghy boat anchored nearby, put his briefcase in it and climbed aboard the boat, his back facing the Hudson River.

“Where are you heading off to, sir?” the reporters shouted.

“I’m going to row backwards to the end of the world,” the man replied calmly. The reporters were so surprised by his answer.

“Backwards? To the end of the world? That is insane!—Utter madness!”

The man glanced at the afternoon sun, stroked his handlebar moustache and nodded solemnly.

“Wait—what’s in the briefcase?” they shouted again, clicking and flashing their cameras while doing so. A strange look passed on the man’s face. And without another word, he began to row his boat away from the shore. Away and away he continued to row the little boat, until the sun had began to set and his frame was nothing but a tiny dot at the end of the horizon.

When the little girl in Sussex, England heard the news on the radio of the Walking Man, she just couldn’t contain her excitement. To anyone who cared to listen to her, she would say, “Just you wait and see; the Walking Man will come here and I’ll just be able talk to him.”

Early Tuesday morning when her mother had sent her to the market to buy some fresh fish, the little girl skipped along the streets, around the horses and the carriages, and down to the docks.

“How do you do?…And how do you do today?” she said. “It’s a fine mornin’ today, I say.” Nobody bothered to reply. It didn’t matter to the girl as her mind drifted on what she would tell the Walking Man when she met him.

And just as she thought that, she saw a small dinghy boat dock near the shoreline, and a tall man in a dark charcoal tweed suit climb out of it. He picked up his briefcase and off he started walking towards the streets—backwards—as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do.

The little girl held on to her skirt and ran as fast as her legs could carry her to him. Because his back was facing away from the street, he bumped into the girl and knocked her down to the ground.

“Are you okay, little girl?” he asked with concern.

“I am now, sir. I was just walkin’ to the market, singin’ my everyday happy song, hopin’ I get some fresh fish for ‘Ma. In my head I thought—oh yes, I thought—I bet if I walked to the market today instead of takin’ the bus as usual, I would probably run into the Walking Man,” she replied, barely able to breath between the sentences.

The man laughed.

“Probably, eh?”

“Yes, sir, probably. ‘Ma says it’s not nice for little girls to bet on everything they see, but I said ‘I’ll take my chances, thank you very much.’”

“Well, aren’t you a talkative one.” He started to walk again and the girl skipped along to catch up with him.

“Since you were so eager to see me, what would you like to know?” he asked.

The little girl’s eyes grew large in size. A thousand questions popped into her head until it began to hurt. She hadn’t thought she would get the chance to actually ask the Walking Man a question.

“What’s at the end of the world?” she finally asked.

“A special someone.”

“A who?”

“She’s been waiting for a really long time,” he replied. “In fact, you look just like her.”

“I don’t think that’s so. ‘Ma says that I don’t look like the other girls in town.” She hang her head down and pouted. “She says I’ll be the last one to get married, and still then it won’t even happen.”

The man shrugged and stroked his moustache.

“Well I think you should give yourself more credit. Not every girl in town will get to say that they talked to the man who walked backwards.”

By then, a crowd had begun to form as people recognized who the man was. You see, after some time, news had travelled that the Walking Man was in town. And when everyone had caught a glimpse of how he looked, they then went on their way, leaving him to walk backwards around town with the little girl by his side.

After what seemed like hours, they arrived in front of a big old gate on an expanse of flat ground. The man pushed the gate and it swung open.

“What are we doing here?” the girl asked.

“This is where the end of the world is, my dear,” he replied. Slowly, they walked inside the grounds. It was dreadfully quiet, such that if one listened carefully, they could hear the wind whisper of tales it had seen and heard.

“If we’re coming to see someone here, don’t you think we should have bought some flowers along the way?” she spoke again.

The man didn’t answer. Backwards, he strolled across and around the countless mounds of dirt and grass. He finally stopped in front of one and knelt down next to it. The girl, not knowing what to do, sat down beside him.

The man thought of his adventure and all the people he had met. They were all awed, and sometimes disgruntled, by his odd behaviour. And even though they had all wanted to know where he was heading to, no one had asked him why he was doing so.

After a long bout of silence, he spoke up. “Here lies my favorite girl, Annie. She was only ten when tragedy struck and death snatched her from my arms.”

And slowly, he opened the briefcase. The girl’s curiosity got the best of her. After all this time, she was the first one who got to see what was inside of it. Wait until the girls heard of this!

Inside the briefcase was an oil painting of a small girl, quite small like the little girl herself in fact, and she was sitting on a shoe box while staring sadly into a long mirror. On her lap was an ugly rag doll, in fact, one of the ugliest the little girl had ever seen.

“Is that her?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Does it still hurt you?”

The man stared off in the distant space and smiled. “Not as much anymore.”


“I suppose all the time I spent walking around backwards seemed to have healed me. It’s been years since Annie died — and months since I left my hometown — and now seconds since I realized that it didn’t hurt as much when I missed her.”

And with that, the man could feel the ages-old heaviness from within lift up and out of him. He could almost see it drift away up to the sky, mingling with the mist that never seemed to lift that far from the ground.

The little girl suddenly stood up.

“Oh dear—oh dear! I’m afraid I’ve gone and done it now. ‘Ma had strictly told me not to take long with the fish.” She took the man’s hand and vigorously shook it. “Good sir, I’m afraid I have to leave. It’ll be dark soon and I don’t want to be on the receiving end of ‘Ma’s stick.”

The man stood up as well. Clutching the now empty briefcase in one hand, he asked, “Do you think she’ll mind if I join by for supper?”

“No way, no. It’s just me, my ‘Ma, my sister Edith and my really large dog, Pope. I’m sure she won’t mind,” she replied with a smile.

And together, they began to walk away from the graveyard, a light spring in both their steps.

Even though the little girl soon realized that the man was no longer walking backwards, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. For they had both found a new beginning that day, a new beginning of time.