Why We Leave

Submitted into Contest #47 in response to: Suitcase in hand, you head to the station.... view prompt

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Adventure

The winds of the mountains always bring you home. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t grow up near mountains. The fresh air, the evening breeze, the way the world seems to hold you--it's a sense of freedom and it's a sense of peace. That is what home should be. Home is something you should miss. Maybe it’s just because nature is everyone’s first home. Or maybe, there used to be a story inside you that your heart still remembers. 

Suitcase in hand, you head to the station. Your mother calls out to you, smiling, eyes brimming with tears. You don’t look back again. 

You have your own reasons for everything you do. 

As they check your bag, scan your chest, search your pockets, you look out at the train standing before you. It’s towering, powerful, gleaming in the sunlight, brisk and sharp, the curves metallic and docile. If you were being honest with yourself, this was your real home. 

Why is it that fresh air always brings so much peace? You hold your breath. Then the smoke starts to brew from the train, the engine squeals and giggles. It knows you don’t belong here. It’s calling to you. 

“You heading home?” A voice asks as you grab your suitcase, drag it across the gravelly path to get in line. You turn to the gruff sound, unaware of who it reminds you of. 

“Leaving, actually.” The engine sputters and coughs. Liar, it seems to say, chortling. You try to be polite. “What about you?” 

He squints as the sun glints down on him. Glancing up, you notice it seems to be focused in on his eyes. Maybe the sun has its own issues with this man, the way the breeze does with you, seems to push you, seems to tighten a hold on your throat rather than flow through it. “Me too.” You look down at his empty hands. 

“No luggage?” You ask. 

Behind you, someone calls your name. He looks down too, shrugging. “Nope. I’m just gonna go where the rails take me.” 

You laugh, but he’s not smiling. Your grin darkens down, and you notice the sun seems to harden its stare in his eyes. You wonder how he can even keep them open at this point. “So, why’re you leaving?” He asks. Your name is called again.

He glances back at your mother, meets her eyes. “That you?” He asks. 

There’s a flare of anger in your chest, but it’s blown out as soon as it comes. You bite the inside of your cheek. “Nope.” You pop your lip, glance down at your shoes. The handle of your suitcase does little to stop your nails from digging into your palm. 

You both ignore the unanswered question. The response lingers between you, the breeze, the engine, and the sun, all shout it down. Why do any of us leave? You want to respond. You’re not really going anywhere. 

Finally, the doors open. You let out a breath you forgot you were holding. The conductor stands outside the train, grinning, smiling, nodding at the people that walk in, that easily entrust him with their lives as they step onto the metal. You wonder if they think so little of themselves. Then you wonder if maybe they’ve just stepped in this train as many times as you have. That they know the risks. 

This time, when your mother calls your name, she’s shrieking it, violent and desperate. You know without turning around that her face is red and wet. She agreed that you should leave, but she can’t help but put on a show. 

“You should say goodbye to her.” The stranger says, patting your shoulder roughly before he walks in, pushing his ticket into a woman’s hand. 

You give your ticket after him, pick up your suitcase and place it down on the train. Between the train and your feet, there is a small bend where you could fall. You weigh your foot down into it just to see how it would feel. The windows of the train are tinted. This is the last time you’ll ever see her. You don’t want it to be fake. You have your own reasons. 

She calls you again, angrily, and her voice pounds weakly at your chest. You roll your shoulders, meet the ticket collector’s eyes, and nod at her when she hands you back your passport. She looks sympathetic, like she knows too. For a second you wonder what her story is. But then, you realize, it isn’t a pondering worth while. Why do any of us leave? 

Suddenly, you are overcome with eagerness when you realize where you’re going. “Goodbye!” You shout down into the bend, and then leap onto the train, hands wringing the handles of the doorway. You throw your head back, far enough that if you rolled your eyes up you’d see her, but instead you stare up at the sky, welcome the breeze as it whispers against your face. “Goodbye,” you grin, eyes cold and still starting to tear. It’s the good kind of crying, the kind that comes without pain. 

Maybe the pain is there. Somewhere where your heart remembers, but your mind does not. You snatch up the handle of your suitcase as you stand up straight. You grin at the ticket collector, and she smiles back at you.      

The man is standing in the hall. He’s got a weary smile on his face. Everyone in the train looks bubbling, excited. It’s not just him, and it’s not just the ticket collector. And it’s not just you. He says, “That was quite dramatic.” 

You say, “You wanted to do it too.” 

You walk down and find your seat, settle in, your tiny red suitcase pliant on your lap. The woman sitting ahead of you clears her throat, turning to look out the window. Her light brown hair is wind-blown, face flushed red from the chill. You wonder. 

If everyone acted the way they felt, the way they truly felt. The way you saw them. This train would be alive. The woman has a hand over her mouth. You can see the beginnings of a smile peeking out from behind it. You start to see the signs everywhere. 

A couple leaning against each other, seemingly bored. Her feet are tapping under the table. His hands are fidgeting with gid. 

The man from before, he releases a sigh. You see the top of his head from where he sits ahead of you. A sigh of content. 

Maybe of longing. 

Streaks of golden light from the sun are still flaring directly at his face, reflecting through the windows. It brings a smile to you. You wonder if he notices, or ever gets annoyed. Or if he just embraces the light the way you take in the wind when it billows and rushes you.

You look out across the ridge and you hear the train doors close. You look at the life of before, that you thought you would always come back to. You’ve been travelling your whole life. Of course this train is your home.

You won’t miss the life you were supposed to have, the one they needed you to have. You listen to the thrum of the train as it starts up beneath your feet. Trace the lines on your trusty suitcase, the one you got six years ago from a kind stranger in Venice; you’ve traced these lines hundreds of times before. You've been in this seat hundreds of times before.

The little kids in the back sing along with the train as it whistles and bellows. The windows are tinted, but you can’t look at your mother. You think maybe she is still out there shouting, squeezing and pinching at her eyes to get them red and blubbering. You are on the other side of the train, staring out at the messy fields, and the far-away mountains you didn’t grow up on. You stare at them as they start to pass by, slowly at first and then all at once.

 The breeze seems to chase you, even though the filtered air inside is determined to keep it out. It bangs at the window, leaving a misty trace of cold. You draw on it with your finger, tell it goodbye. This is the first time you’ve said goodbye to this place. You won’t miss it. 

Then, the boy from before, with his incessant tapping, he wrings his hands and drops his head to the table. The man ahead of you sighs again, leaning back, tufts of his sandy hair billowing up. The woman with the hidden smile presses her forehead to the glass. You know how it feels to have the vibrations burning against your skin.

This, you think, is different.

In your head, all these bodies are saying the same thing. In your head, maybe, they are pressing themselves to the train, indulging in every last moment of it. The singing children are a harmonious choir, playing behind your stand as you sit for the last time. Trace the lines for the last time. Mourning early and excited. 

This, you think, you’ll miss. 


June 26, 2020 16:28

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2 comments

Noelle Lee
08:20 Jul 03, 2020

I think you did a fantastic job of showing the complicated relationship that the narrator has with their mother. The way you drew out the narrator's assumptions about their mothers actions to make herself look more sympathetic was very well done, and I loved the details of the narrator fighting off their emotions when the stranger identifies her mother in the crowd. This was one of my favorite lines: There’s a flare of anger in your chest, but it’s blown out as soon as it comes. You bite the inside of your cheek. “Nope.” And I was really...

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Kathryn D
21:39 Jul 03, 2020

Thank you so much! I didn't think I was writing that idea as well as I could but you definitely got what I was going for.

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