Not an Era for Women

Updated: Jun 17

I stood in front of the station; the twenty dollars clenched in my fist tightly as if they were the most valuable possession I had in this world. Simba was limping beside me, his tongue licking the boundary of his mouth as if ready to attack someone. I was stuck in a ‘do or die’ situation. It would be a matter of time before they will find me. My choices were clear: hop on that train and be far away from those monsters or lurk in the streets waiting for them to find me.

Illustration by Rihab Nadeem

I advanced to the ticket counter and purchased a ticket to Derby with my precious twenty dollars. The man behind the counter gave me a quizzical look. Obviously, any sane person would question an unaccompanied teenage girl dressed in rags and a hungry-looking dog beside her. The 19th century was not an era for the prosperity of women.

I finally found an empty cabin where I could sit peacefully without any watchful gaze examining my existence and of course map out my plan. I escaped the Broadmoor Asylum for Mad Women in the morning after breakfast, which meant they would not have noticed my absence until lunch. From informing the doctors and looking for me to finally revealing the bad news to my stepfather, it would have been dark outside and they would not have been able to hunt for me until the next morning. I could be safe in Derby for two days even if they immediately figured out my hideout, which was unlikely given that I had never told anyone about Brida, my pen pal.

The train arrived at my destination just as the sun was setting on the thick, puffy clouds and dispersing its final light for all to witness until the next sunrise. I grabbed the handful of possessions I had stuffed in a dirty pillowcase stolen from the asylum and emerged out of the train with Simba. I knew the address by heart. The challenge was to find a means to reach there. Luckily, I spotted a truck whose driver was kind enough to drop me at my desired location. He said it was on his way. Finally, I had some luck.

Arriving at the given address, I could not keep the smile from creeping up on my face. I had finally made it! I had escaped successfully, and I was far away from the filthy reach of my stepfather. I was greeted humbly by all except Brida’s sister. She was a close-minded woman whose perceptions were dictated by stereotypes.

Just as I had feared, I spent two days there with utmost happiness until he came looking for me. He found me. He was standing in the doorway talking to Brida’s mother when he saw me. My stepfather held out the train ticket in the air to tease me. I was not careful enough. I was met with my inescapable fate. The 19th century was not for women to rise freely, to roam freely. And like the truck driver, this era belonged to betrayers.

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