The train is a small, rickety thing. The sound of its wheels whirring and bumping over the tracks is everpresent, and the constant murmur of conversation in most of the cars can't drown it out.
I don't mind it so much. The consistency of it is soothing. If I focus on it, I can almost forget I'm surrounded by people in this stuffy, hot train car and imagine I'm going on this journey for the first time, excited and nervous, my stomach in knots and my eyes bright with anticipation.
The memories still bring back that sense of aching nostalgia, though it's started to fade over time, turning into gentle wistfullness and a faint melancholy.
"Excuse me," a voice says.
I look up, startled. Standing in the aisle next to me is you. You're maybe a bit younger than me but not by much.
"Can I sit here?" You say, pointing at the seat across from me.
"Oh, sure," I say with a smile, reaching over and taking my bag off the seat. You sit down, pulling a book out of your bag and starting to read.
I find myself wishing I had a book, or something to do, but my phone is dead and I don't have any of the fantasy novels I used to read on the train.
I sigh, picking at my fingernails. Before, sitting alone with just my thoughts was fine, but now that there's you're here, I feel awkward and a bit embarassed.
I look out the window. It's night - the pale, dim lights in the train cast shadows everywhere, making the windows dark and mirror-like. Still, if I press my face against them, I can see out.
I watch the scenery whiz by - trees and grass and the occasional house, looking all but abandoned with its lights off and cars parked in the garage, not the driveway.
"Do you ever wonder what the point to it all is?"
I look around. It's the man who's spoken. You've put your book away and you're watching me with your quick, observant eyes.
"What do you mean?" I say.
"I mean, you do all these cool things and go on all these cool trips, but what do you get out of it? Nothing except maybe a cheap souvenir if you're lucky," you say. Your voice is unexpectedly emphatic, I can tell this means a lot to you.
"And maybe a new friend or a fresh start or a chance to talk to family you haven't seen in years," I say. You wave your hand as if to brush those ideas away.
"Almost never that, though," you say, and I don't have a response to that, because you're right.
"Memories," I say. "You get memories."
"Yeah, but what's the point of memories?" You reply. "A dusty, incomplete picture album that you can never do anything with except look back at and feel sad for all the opportunities you missed."
"They can make you happy, too," I say, though I think of my grandparents, all the times I spent with them, climbing out of the train and immediately getting engulfed in my grandma's hugs, and wonder. The memories are all sad now, not the way they used to be.
You watch me skeptically. Eventually, you shrug and pull out your phone. I watch as you look at it, not really focusing on it, mostly just letting the bright colors on the screen wash over you.
I glance back out the window, thinking about what you said. I think about how when I remember visiting my grandparents, I mostly remember the long train rides: reading my books and texting my friends, staring out the window at corn fields and laughing with strangers I'd probaby never see again.
The train starts to slow down. I can see the station ahead of us, and I start to pick up my bag.
"Maybe," I say to you, "the point is going on the journey."
The train screeches to a halt and I get off, holding my tiny bag in one hand. I step onto the ground, half expecting my grandma to appear and hug me and say how much I've grown. When she doesn't, I'm only a litte bit heartbroken, and not at all surprised. They're gone now.
I glance back at the train. I can see you in the window. You've pulled out your book again. You brush a strand of hair out of your face as you read. The train starts to pull away, and I watch you until it's too far away to see you clearly.
Then I turn and start to walk to the house where my grandparents used to live.