The Train Ride To Freedom
Leah Shoebridge, Grade 6, St Thomas Mores Primary School
Finalist in the 'Play On Words 2021' competition
Clang! The gates shut with an ear-piercing noise as I slipped through the gap tentatively. A river of rust fell onto my auburn hair. Despite my best attempt to go unnoticed, Matron, the head of the orphanage, was waiting nearby, alerted by the sound.
I groaned. I knew just what was going to happen next, and it was getting old, fast.
“Adelaide Winnifred!” Matron boomed. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
I sighed. Just as I’d expected, Matron was fuming. She was a dragon, ferocious, dangerous and surreptitious. “I was only-”
“Enough. I shan’t listen to your childish excuses any longer. I have better things to do with my time.” Matron’s tone was deadly quiet now, even snake-like. “I’m sick of you prancing around with your head in the clouds. It’s repulsive and I, quite frankly, am sick of it. So, to ensure that I don’t have to put up with you ever again, I’m assigning you to a workhouse.”
I gulped. I’d known I was going to be in trouble, I always was, but this, this was truly dreadful. What was I going to do?
Before I’d even had my daily meal of cold cabbage broth, I was on a train to a workhouse, and I was petrified. I’d heard stories about children going to workhouses, but they’d always seemed like dark fairy tales to me. Now, it was my reality. I needed to escape, but how? Settling down, I began to think.
My eyes frantically darted around the carriage, searching for anything that might help me. The window? No, the glass would cut my skin. The shelf above me? No, I’d be found eventually. The door? I almost chuckled at my absurd hopefulness, but then it struck me like lightning. The door was the only exit. If I could get to the door, I could flee, and, for the first time in my life, I would be free.
I looked down at my clothes. My petticoat was torn and stained, and my skin was greasy. I couldn’t possibly pass as a respectable maiden.
Once more, I scanned the room desperately. My eyes fell on the answer: the curtains. The fabric was elaborate, like Matron’s good teapot that she only used when guests visited. Quickly, I tore down the curtain and draped it around me. It was heavy but glamorous, and, when I tried to stand, I slipped. The same thing happened the next time. And the next.
Finally, I managed to stand. Using the glass panels as prompts, I stumbled through the train.
In my most regal voice, I demanded the driver let me off the train. “I suffer from motion sickness, good fellow, and I prefer to travel via automobiles.” If I was entirely honest, I’d never used an automobile in my life, but that was irrelevant.
Disgruntled, the driver let me off on the outskirts of London.
Though I knew that London was polluted, overcrowded and filthy, I was thrilled. Because, finally, I was free.