Somebody once asked me what I think nostalgia is and I said it smells like car exhaust in a country halfway across the world. Like cigarettes at the bus stop where I hold my breath so I don’t inhale the secondhand smoke. Like the scent of busy restaurants wafting through red traffic lights and car honks and the din of conversation in a second tongue.
My mother, brother, and I are sitting in a taxicab, eyelids inches away from dreams and feet still swollen from spending half a day in the sky. June heat seeps into everything and no one here seems to mind it. I read the sticker glued onto the windowpane, two languages colliding in the center of it (and of me). My mother strikes up a conversation with the cab driver and it’s strange to think that it’s here, somewhere I’ve only been twice before, that she’s returned home. I look out the window at the cars rushing by and it doesn’t feel like we’re halfway across the world.
We turn onto a one-way street and it’s as if I’m at home again. We’re on our way back from piano class, and we pass six different state license plates in five minutes—first Nevada, then California Massachusetts New Jersey Florida (and of course Pennsylvania)—bumping into Virginia on the highway a bit after and Ohio later that evening. Every time we spot a new one we speculate as to why they might be in town on what seems to be a normal Friday evening. We never figure out a good reason, but I still think it’s too unlikely to be pure coincidence.
Hills whirl past the glass: I’m nodding my head as some friends, my brother, and I play charades in the back of the tour van, still full of energy despite a day of adventure. K gestures wildly, pointing every which way. Trees? Sky? Bird? She shakes her head but is smiling anyway. We will leave this city with memories of parasailing at the ocean shore, of cliff diving together and splashing into the water, of drinking 7-Up, of us all ordering the exact same dish at a restaurant and watching the expression on the waiter’s face, of teasing, of laughing, of living. For now we bide our time before day settles into dusk. Streetlights shine, lining the path forward with pillars of light.
We whisk by on the highway in black midnight, the moon fastened to a quilt of sky—on this road we are finally headed home. Streetlights walk past us: man-made stars brought to earth because the ones that shined above weren’t bright enough. Sometimes, I imagine that the world is turning and turning under our feet, and we’re frozen in the same place, the car mumbling as we roll along this treadmill of Earth. Silence clutches me in its embrace, and I let the steady thrum of wheels on pavement lull me to sleep.
I rub my eyes and watch the sparks fade into twilight before dawn, limbs still half-asleep from racing the sun to morning. Trees roll past the glass—I’ve traveled this road many times before in wintry cold, with the night's blanket still settled upon our yellow school bus.
Today, the sun has just begun to rise above the horizon. It begs for attention, flashing in and out of view behind the tree branches.
I can’t help but stare back into its golden eyes.
Linda Kong (she/her) is a teen writer from the Mid-Atlantic. Her work has previously appeared in perhappened and Write the World Review. When she's not writing, you can find her drinking bubble tea, watching D&D actual play shows, and trying not to fail calculus. Find her online at lindakong.carrd.co and on Twitter @kinda_long.