Mrs Mabel Hunter, a woman in her late seventies, groaned when she woke: her head throbbed. Then she remembered how the previous evening she had well and truly over imbibed. Scotch was her downfall. All she wanted was one dram - just a wee nip to give her a pick-up before dinner. Before she knew it she had drained the bottle and on awakening had no recollection of the previous evening.
She stumbled out of bed and reached for her analgesics. The tablets usually acted swiftly with headaches but she continued to feel hung-over. She switched on the radio for company while she chomped on her toast that was generously slathered with home-made plum jam. She was so proud of her culinary efforts in making the preserve from fruit grown in her backyard. Then the worst thing that could have happened: happened.
Mabel crunched on something hard and heard an almighty ‘crack’ in her mouth. Immediately she spat out the partly masticated food. On peering into the mess she detected fragments of a tooth and an intact plum seed. Blast! A gap showed in her top front teeth. Why hadn’t she been more careful removing the pips before embarking on her jam-cooking spree. Now she would require a replacement tooth — ASAP and that would cost her. She thought dentists were money-grubbers who charged exorbitant amounts for their work.
Over the years she had to sell off her shares to make ends meet, especially now she was imbibing more alcohol. She drank because she was lonely. Poor Mabel. One by one her friends had excluded her from their social activities. Ever since the children had left home the nights were quiet. Her offspring seldom phoned. In the meantime bills arrived daily; they multiplied to the extent she regularly drove to town to withdraw cash. Mabel always paid her bills that way because her mother had told her it was the most efficient way to control finances.
She scheduled an urgent consultation at her dental surgery. The only spot available was for 8:30 am. Mabel’s head continued to ache as she set off for town in her battered yellow Ford. While driving in auto pilot mode she found herself going through a red light. When zipping up the car park ramp at an unsafe speed she hurriedly reversed the car into a vacant spot, unaware of a nearby post. She was stunned to hear a loud bang: she had misjudged her distance and had badly indented the boot of her car. What else could go wrong? Misplaced anger welled through her body.
On route to the dentist Mabel scurried through the car park walkway. There, she spied four smokers brazenly puffing away. Three were women. A sign read: SMOKING PROHIBITED. Mabel was enraged. Having recently been diagnosed with asthma, she invariably coughed whenever she inhaled second-hand smoke. Due to inconsiderate smokers she had to use an acculhaler twice daily. Her spendthrift ex-husband, had been a heavy smoker, and her dad too. They were responsible for her damaged lungs. And now there were adults and teenagers smoking in public places in defiance of the law. Her anger accelerated.
The visit with the dentist didn’t go well. Mr Smith said he would have to refer her to an implant specialist. When she was presented with an account for the consultation she let fly. Pulling out a sheaf of accounts she flourished them under the receptionist’s nose, and yelled: ‘Look at this lot of bills I have to pay. You know I’m a pensioner. There’s no one to help me out here. You’ll have to set the rotten debt collectors on to me if you want your money.’ The receptionist was most upset.
‘Now I’m going to fix those inconsiderate smokers’ Mabel muttered as she slammed the surgery door. On arrival at the car park walkway she observed more smokers present. Anger overwhelmed her. Aha! More smokers and there’s a family close by breathing in their polluted air. How dare they! This time I’m going to do something about it. Mabel’s scowl transformed into a fake smile as she approached the car park attendant seated in a cramped office. He saw a small, elderly woman with salt-and-pepper hair and weathered skin. She was neatly attired in jeans, and wore a floral jumper.
‘Can I help you?’ he asked, trying not to stare at the gap in her teeth. ‘Why, yes, Officer, you can. Have you noticed those people outside the car park smoking?’
‘Of course. They are regulars who come from next door for their smokos.’
‘Can’t you tell them they’re not allowed to smoke in the walkway?’
He paused before replying: ‘Ma’am, their smoking is nothing to do with us. It is out of our jurisdiction.’
Mabel’s bespectacled birdlike eyes gleamed with anticipation. ‘Well, whose jurisdiction is it? You can tell me.’
‘It’s the local council’s. Here, at the car park we have a room set aside for our staff. Do you see that young woman in the middle of the walkway? The one dressed in black. She’s a regular who comes from next door.’
‘Thank you, officer, you’ve been most helpful.’ Mabel returned to the walkway with a determined air. The smoker noticed the elderly woman glaring at her. Immediately she stubbed out her cigarette and left. Mabel stood awhile before following her at a discrete distance. The worker passed some shops before heading towards a multi-story government building. Mabel had caught up to the woman by the time she had pushed the third floor button.
‘What floor do you want?’ the young woman politely asked.
‘The same as you, thank you,’ Mabel replied. In the confined lift space the smell of cigarette smoke was overwhelming and caused Mabel to blurt out: ‘Do you realise your clothes stink of smoke?’
‘No. I didn’t know they smelled,’ the embarrassed woman timidly replied. Ping’ went the lift. The doors opened and the scared office worker escaped. Mabel observed her press a green button to open the automatic doors for access to the reception area. She did the same.
‘How can I help you?’ asked the tall and lissome receptionist . Without preamble Mabel launched her attack: ‘I’ve had a gutful of being a passive smoker. That young woman who entered your office — I saw her smoking in the walkway of the car park about five minutes ago. I’ve got asthma and I’m sick and tired of inhaling other people’s smoke.’ The receptionist, though staggered by the outburst, remained calm.
‘Thank you for telling me. Perhaps I could send an e-mail around the office to notify staff I have received a complaint about a member smoking in the car park?’
‘You do that. Thank you.’ Mabel’s anger was not assuaged by her placating tone. Damn it! I may as well go for broke. She returned to the lift. Some minutes later the lift doors opened at the fifth floor.
In her interaction with yet another female receptionist she introduced herself. ‘My name is Mrs Mabel Hunter and I have come to complain about staff in this here building using the public car park walkway to smoke their cigarettes. You see, I have asthma …’ and repeated her spiel. Somewhat dismissive in her manner, the receptionist treated Mabel off-handedly, as if she were a nuisance. A defiant Mabel murmured: ‘I’m not done, yet.’
On her return journey from the fifth floor two burly men entered the elevator at the third floor. They joked and laughed as they pressed the button for Floor five. Why they did so was a mystery — Mabel couldn’t understand what they were laughing about — must be some stupid in-joke. Unaffected by their unseemly behaviour she firmly pushed the ground floor button. To her great relief the car park walkway was deserted.
She stopped at the local bottle shop to buy more of the $30 Reserve Scotch. In her kitchen she downed a few while she reflected on her day. Somewhat mellowed by the alcohol she felt twinges of remorse about her overreaction and was sorry that she had confronted the young office worker so aggressively. Some would call it harassment? Good grief! Those men could have been Security. A chilling thought entered her mind: she could have also been charged with stalking.
While pondering on her drinking habit, she experienced a revelation: she and the smokers had something in common — drug addiction! Now was the time to reduce her alcohol consumption before it escalated further. Hadn’t her doctor had been on her back about it? Then she thought of the money she would save. Mabel knew it would be difficult but she was determined to mend her ways — one day at a time. Most importantly, she had to acknowledge she was powerless and would require assistance — that would be confronting. However, She knew her doctor would provide support. And as for those smokers: they had a choice — sooner rather than later —to butt out.