I spent a lot of time in my mother’s shops growing up. My favorite one was located in a second-story apartment in the city. It had large front rooms and even a back area with a kitchenette and a bathroom with a shower. Mom set up one of the back rooms as a space for me to do my homework and play while she took care of customers. After I had finished my school work, I would set up my toys and play on the desk by the window. This window looked right into the balcony area of a large building with a clock tower.
One day while I was playing, I saw a woman staring back at me from the clock tower window. When she saw that I had seen her, she waved and smiled at me, so I waved back. Later, I told my mother about her, but she said that that was unlikely and that I had probably imagined it. A few days later when I saw the woman again, I called for my mother. Once again, she was gone by the time my mother came over. It was like she kept disappearing in the split second that I turned away from the window.
After a few more times, my mother decided to go look into the matter and took me to visit the building across the street. We had originally thought the building was a church, but it turned out to be a library. My mother led me up to the circulation desk, introduced herself, explained why we were there, and said to the librarian, “Please tell my daughter that there is no woman walking around in the clock tower.”
The librarian took one look at us, sighed and said, “We’ll I’d like to, but this is not the first time that someone has told us that.” My mother’s face fell. I immediately asked if we could go see the clock tower for ourselves. The librarian shook her head and showed us that the stone staircase leading up to the tower was clearly roped off. “We don’t give tours. Only the maintenance workers go up there to fix the clock.”
“Then how does the lady keep getting up there?” I asked.
“Well, it’s more like she never left,” the librarian said. “We don’t like to talk about it very often because we don’t want to scare people away from using the library, but since you have already seen her, I might as well tell you.” She paused, taking a breath. “It’s a sad story. This building used to be a women’s prison. Most of the women hadn’t actually done anything wrong. Many of them were young, unmarried, working-class girls who didn’t have families to protect them. One day, one of the prisoners managed to sneak upstairs and jump from the tower.”
“But why does she stay here if she wanted to get out of this place? That seems like a cruel punishment,” I said.
“She may not be able to move on,” said my mom. “She lived in a time when society was incredibly strict, especially towards women. Women didn’t really have rights back then and they often looked down on one another for not living up to what was expected of them. Perhaps you comforted her by just saying hello.”
Mom and I went back to the store. I looked a few more times, but I never saw the lady in the clock tower again. I hope that she finally found her freedom.