If Grace hadn’t gone to the dance that night, she’d never have met Johnny.
If she’d never met Johnny, then they wouldn’t have married.
And if they hadn’t married, they would never have had Jean.
If her parents hadn’t then moved to Chester, Jean would never have met Graham.
If Jean had never met Graham, she would never have married him.
If she’d listened to her mother, she wouldn’t have married him.
But if Jean hadn’t married Graham, they would never have had Paul.
If Graham hadn’t married Jean, he couldn’t have left her, and Paul, for Samantha.
If Graham and Jean hadn’t had Paul, then he wouldn’t, later, have gone to the party where he met Anne.
If he hadn’t have met Anne, he couldn’t have married her.
If he hadn’t married her, he might have been happy.
But if he hadn’t married Anne, they wouldn’t have had Tom and Katherine.
And Tom and Katherine wouldn’t have produced Holly and Laurel and John.
If only, he thinks – Paul thinks – if only all of these if’s hadn’t come to pass. If only Grace hadn’t gone to the dance; if only she hadn’t met Johnny; if only they hadn’t married; if only they hadn’t had Jean; if only Jean hadn’t met Graham; if only she’d listened to her mother; if only Jean and Graham hadn’t got married; if only they hadn’t had Paul… then he, Paul wouldn’t exist. And if that were so, he sometimes thinks, things might somehow be have been better. Not for Tom and Katherine, Holly, Laurel and Mark obviously, because they wouldn’t exist. But then, they’d never know. That’s the trouble with if onlys.
If only the Colonel hadn’t taken power, then the rebels might not have started the war.
If the rebels hadn’t started the war, the Colonel might not have retaliated with such ferocity.
If only he had not retaliated, the people might not have found themselves in the incessant cross-fire.
If the people had not found themselves in the cross-fire, then surely, not as many of them would have been killed.
If only Alya hadn’t thought she could reach the market before the next air strike.
If only the air strike had started after she had reached the rubble on the other side of the street.
If only Alya had survived the air strike, then she would have had the chance to study, once the fighting had finally stopped.
If she had survived the strike, she would, eventually, have married Malik.
If she had married Malik they would have produced Tariq and Kaley.
And they would have produced Hanah and Leila and Jamil.
If only Alya had survived the air strike.
But she did not.
That’s the trouble with if onlys.