The Road Not Taken

I am disconcerted to find, kneeling over the grave of my wife of twenty-three years, a man I have never seen before. My wife has been resting for a year and four months and nineteen days now.

The stranger starts to his feet at my sight. He is elder, about my age (I am 63), cotton white hair, in grey tailored pants and white shirt. I notice a fresh Camilla flower (her favourite!) across the gravestone.

“Who is this man mourning my wife,” I wonder, as I eye him with unease.

Was my wife having an affair with him? Or is he a secret admirer? An old flame? Or perhaps just a distant relative who has just heard her passing? I fear this incident may defile the sanctity of my memory of my wife.

“Pardon me,” I say to him, “was my wife known to you?”

“Mona was a friend,” he replies, with low voice, “from when she was a student, back in the university”.

From when she was a student, back in the university. Those six years she had been away on education.

“Daniel. My name is Daniel,” he adds, offering to shake my hand.

Daniel? My wife loved related many anecdotes from that part of her life over the years, but I do not recall her ever mentioning a Daniel.

“Natnael,” I rejoin, taking his hand.

The wind blows a piece of paper off the flower on the gravestone. It takes our attention.

The stranger picks it up. He tells me that it is a poem, by a certain Robert Frost, titled, “Road Not Taken”. He says he associates it with my wife. He asks if he may read it to ‘you both’. You both.

He recites these lines:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveler, long I stood/And looked down one as far as I could/To where it bent in the undergrowth;/Then took the other, as just as fair,/And having perhaps the better claim,/Because it was grassy and wanted wear;/Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same,/And both that morning equally lay/In leaves no step had trodden black./Oh, I kept the first for another day!/Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/I doubted if I should ever come back./I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence:/Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — /I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.

He pauses. “Mona is my road not taken,” he continues.

“I beg your pardon”.

“Thirty years ago,” he continues, “She and I stood on a crossroad, after eight months journey of love together. Before us lied two choices: a future together or going our separate ways. As far as I could foresee at the time, the future together did not appear especially bright. I was at a point in my life when life fell upon my head and I was unstable, disturbed; I just pulled into my shell. I was incapable of giving her the love she merited; I felt she would be miserable if she remained with me. For once in my life, I could not take the selfish, undignified step of taking her anyway. And so I walked away”.

“Thus,” he concludes, “our future became a road not taken”.

This revelation upsets me. To think that our relationship, our marriage, the family we built together, our three children the road this stranger did not take, in his consideration, sacrifice and Mona keeping this from me — what is the meaning of this?

I ask him if he had tried to reach out to her all these years. The man shakes his head in answer, but adds that not a day has ever passed without going back to that crossroad, without ever feeling if he had made the right choice; if he should have been a little selfish; if she were happy.

“Was she happy” he asks me.

Happy? I scoff at the word. What is happiness? What do you even care?

“Why are you here?” I question him, instead.

“I heard of her passing only recently,” he answers, “I wanted to pay my respect. And perhaps also because I wanted to see with mine own eyes the dead end of the road not taken”.

“The other road,” I speak, “you have been taking over these thirty years is there a wife, children in it?”

“Yes,” he replies, “I met someone later and we have two beautiful girls from our union”.

We remain silent.

As we are thus stand in silence, it occurs to me that I and this stranger, two old men at the twilight years of our lives are now crossroads of my dead wife over her grave: he the road she had not taken and I the road she took. I wonder if she ever regretted taking me; if she ever wanted to go back in life and take the road not taken; if she were to rise up now, would she take him over me?”

[This is a story in progress; it is far from complete. I would appreciate it if you leave your comments for its improvement].

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