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What If by Ella Spear

This story is to remember Winifred Jones who planted a White Fir on 2 July 1911

I looked down at my watch. Two in the morning.

I couldn't sleep. I had been tossing and turning, going through every possible scenario of what was going to happen tomorrow. I tried to block out the bad ones, but I couldn't stop them seeping back in. I knew the risks I was taking. I knew what I was doing was helping in the fight. I had never thought of myself as a suffragette, because of what my family would think of me, but I have now realised that I am doing this for myself and no one can stop me. I will go tomorrow and be proud of who I am and deal with the consequences later.

When I woke up to get ready, the sun was up. There was frost on the windows that had formed overnight. The thought of going to work filled me with dread; I hated my job at the cleaners. I always have to work late and I’m paid so little, and I frequently fall sick because of the washing up powder. When I went downstairs to have breakfast, the radio was on. My husband was listening to the latest suffragette news.

"What makes them think they can behave like this? This country has managed perfectly well for hundreds of years without women voting. They should be worrying about their own problems, not filling their silly little heads with things they don't understand," he said, shaking his head like he always did.

I couldn't say anything. I just gulped and turned away, not wanting him to see the anger in my eyes. If he looked at me, might he guess? Might he spot the nervous energy I felt inside? But he didn't look up from his newspaper.
"I'd better be off then," I said quickly. I couldn't look at him.

***

I had always hated the dusty hot smell of the Tube station, with its hundreds of people rushing to work, but today my mind was on other things. As the Tube doors closed I remembered what I was about to do. My father and my husband would be furious. I could hear them now, always muttering under their breath whenever I mentioned anything to do with the suffragettes. I reminded myself that I did not care what they thought. Most of the time, I felt trapped, isolated, completely alone. Being a suffragette though, it made me feel like I had more power and a reason to live.

A rush of dizziness came over me when I saw police officers swarming around the station when I exited the train. I looked down at my hands; I was shaking like a leaf. Everywhere I looked there were men in uniforms, like a thousand blue bottles. Why did it feel like their eyes were locked on me? Are they all after me? I clutched my suitcase tighter, trying to stop the shuddering. I was convinced that they were going to arrest me. Not that this would be so bad, as it would stop me from what I was going to do.

But even if they arrested me I knew that when I got out I would come back, again and again, if I needed to. On more than one occasion I had thought about dumping my suitcase and its contents and pretending everything was normal, but I knew I couldn't. Everyone was counting on me. I knew that what was I was doing was right and I needed to fight for it. But deep inside I couldn't help but think there might be more peaceful methods to get what we wanted. Or maybe I was only thinking that because I was so frightened. But I also knew that nothing would change if we carried on as usual. We needed to show people who we were.

***

Here we were finally, all of us standing in the bitter wind, waiting. Blowing into our hands, desperately trying to keep warm. My hands were like ice shards and my fingers felt as though they were going to fall off. It was starting to get dark as the sun was setting. My husband would be worrying about where I was and when I would be home. I felt like turning and running away, but I couldn't back out now. I was part of something that mattered. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I allowed myself to think; what if? What if we actually did get the vote? I could hardly bear to think of it. I had to put the thought away, back in a box in my mind. I couldn't let myself get distracted.

There were 50 of us. Not all together, but I knew they were not far away. I was with seven others, crouching behind some bushes. I could see Buckingham Palace in the shadows, a couple of hundred feet to our right. Enid was just in front of me. She was the one who first persuaded me to get involved in this. I suppose it is all her fault. But I don't blame her. I was so scared I could start screaming and not stop, but I was also happy to be here, happy with what I was about to do. Happy that I was going to make a difference.

A whisper started going through the group.

"Nearly time, it's nearly time".

We started walking in unison, creeping quickly and slowly towards our destination. My heart was racing at 1000mph. I had never felt so nervous. All around me, from different directions, I could see other groups of a similar size to ours, copying our movements.

We were here. At the railings. All taking out our chains, getting ready to lock ourselves, trying to be as quick as possible. Trying to not make a sound, for if we got caught now it would all be over, and all of this would have been for nothing. I don't know what would happen once they discovered us. Would they cut us down? I had Enid on my left and Margaret on my right. Having them both by my side made me feel safer, they have both been my friends since before I can remember.

I lost track of time. The sun was now coming up so it could be around six in the morning. I could hear the sound of horses and carts roaming around London. I had gotten used to the strange and disapproving looks we got from everyone walking pass, and the verbal abuse from those who didn't agree with what we were doing. I hadn't gotten any sleep and my whole body was aching.

All of a sudden I could hear murmuring down the line. I looked around me but couldn't see anything. Then I saw a huddle of police officers charging towards us. I instinctively grabbed hold of Enid's hand; it calmed me down knowing other people had my back.

They were getting closer and closer, shouting something that I couldn't understand. What were we supposed to do, just stay here like sitting ducks? I thought about making a run for it, but if I did I would never forgive myself. I had to wait it out. I heard screaming come down the line. My hands were shaking as adrenaline mixed with fear rushed through my body. I could see women kicking and yelling insults as they were dragged away by police officers. How had they gotten their chains offs?

Suddenly, a set of hands grabbed hold of me, gripping me so tightly I couldn't fight him off. They cut my chains and dragged me away just like everyone else, like I was some sort of object instead of a human being. I could feel their hands purposely digging into me. The pain was excruciating.

I was sitting in the back of a car, my hands cuffed so tight I thought they might turn blue. I was so bruised that every time I moved it was agony. I knew where they were taking me though. I tried my hardest not to show any fear, but all the time I felt like bursting into tears.

***

The room was bare. It consisted of nothing but a single bed with a paper-thin mattress and a small metal wash basin covered in mould. The damp walls gave the room a musty smell. Who was the last person to be locked up in here, I wondered. Another suffragette, perhaps. I hoped that it was. Not a drunken man or a thief or someone who had started a fight. It made me feel better imagining a fellow suffragette here before me, maybe last week, maybe last month. Someone scared like me.

Ella was born in Norwich and grew up in the countryside near a small town called Beccles. At age 13, she is now in Year 9 of Langley School and partakes in a range of activities including football and the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Outside of school, Ella enjoys playing hockey with her club, the Magpies, and in the summer she often goes sailing. The film ‘The Suffragettes’ first sparked her interest in the votes for women campaign, and inspired her to write this story.