“The Other Side of the Hedge” by E.M. Forster is one of the short stories that I do not get tired of reading. I keep coming back to it, not because it is great literature but because it reminds me that we need to unwind and enjoy life whenever we can. It is a story that touches my heart and, most importantly, it is a story that carefully whispers, “When you are tired, don’t forget to take a break.”
When I read it last night, I felt the urge to write something about it. I crawled out of bed and opened the notebook I had on my bedside table. There were two empty pages left in it. I decided to fill them.
So I wrote, ‘I remember the first time I read “The Other Side of the Hedge”. Early morning. Espresso in a paper cup. A cigarette drooping from my lips. Sitting on the stairs at the entrance of the restaurant where I used to work. Waiting for Hassan (or Hussein) to come and unlock the main door so that I go in and start my shift.’
I paused for a moment to reread what I wrote. Unsatisfied, I decided to spend some time on summarizing the story.
‘At the beginning of the story, the unnamed narrator is so tired from walking that he decides to sit down to rest. We quickly discover the world he lives in: Life is a race, literally, and the only goal is to move forward — to advance. (The whole story is one big metaphor.) As soon as he pauses to rest, the narrator is outstripped and left behind. No one stops to help him; they are all busy competing against one another. He remembers his brother whom he had left by the roadside a couple of years ago. “He had wasted his breath on singing, and his strength on helping others,” he recollects, believing that he had traveled more wisely than his brother had. However, he does confess that the tediousness of the road distresses him —“… dust under foot and brown crackling hedges on either side, ever since I could remember.” The unnamed narrator then inadvertently ends up on the other side of the hedge where there is no competition, and everyone seems to be happy and worry-free. When he asks where this place leads to, the answer he receives is, “Nowhere, thank the Lord!” He is shocked to hear this.’
I paused again. This wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to write something about the story. But what was it? What did I want to say? I couldn’t remember. Unsatisfied again, I turned the page. I had filled the first of the last two pages.
I stared at the empty page for a minute or two. Then, in the middle of the page, I wrote, ‘If I were on the other side of the hedge now, I was probably sleeping comfortably.’
Now, as I am about to publish this post, I am thinking, ‘What does this all mean?’
The answer is, ‘Probably nothing.’