Monday 17 December 2018

A man walks into a forest

A man walks into a forest.

This single sentence, in its purity, in its simplicity, is among the oldest stories of mystery we know, told and retold in more or less the same form for over two thousand years.

A man walks into a forest.

Resist the temptation to expand upon it, that's unnecessary. To add that he doesn't come out is not only redundant but prescriptive; to supply the two flippant words “the end” forces a closure on the story that it should naturally refuse.

A man walks into a forest.

The forest is a signifier of terror, of annihilation.

While no space on this island we inhabit is untrodden by human foot or unaffected by human passage, the forest is nevertheless a lonely place, and lonelier still for being not so much untouched as abandoned. The forest is a haunted place.

Its spirits have not forgotten us. They have not forgiven us.

A man walks into a forest.

We do not ask what happened to him, but we should perhaps ask why and perhaps it is a fine distinction. And yet.

A man walks into a forest.

Was it his decision to come here? Did something compel him? Was he curious? Did he expect to find someone? Did someone expect to find him? Is this where his journey came to an end, or did it only signal the end of a phase in his life, the start of something better?

Perhaps he entered this lonely place with the expectation that halfway through he would begin to leave, and find something new on the other side.

All that we are certain of is this:

A man walks into a forest.

It's the beginning and the end of it, the central mystery, insoluble, irreducible, pure.

And the only sure reply that we can bring to the question it raises is this:

You will never know.