By Eleanor Cowan
On Tuesday, a young friend from Montreal called with good news. A single mother of four children, proud of her escape from an abusive ex-husband, Kaila is back at school, works part-time to cover the groceries, and, each week it seems, successfully faces yet another challenge to advance her world.
On Monday, a problem with the toilet required a plumber. Kaila called the “cheapest in town” ad circled in red ballpoint in an old phone book. In his early 50’s, the uniformed plumber waited for Kaila to return from taking her children to school that morning. As he inspected the toilet in her apartment, he began to talk about the high cost of living. Raising his eyebrows, he whistled as he announced: “Big buck problem here.” He also spoke of the crazy rise in food prices, bus passes, ice skates. “The kiddie list goes on and on,” he smiled. Approaching Kaila, he touched her breast.
“How about free service?” he inquired, standing so close she could feel his breath on her face.
“You need to leave right now,” said Kaila. Alone in her apartment, she moved to the door.
“Ah c’mon now,” he said. “Don’t be like that. It’s $75 dollars for the half hour to drive over here and another $150 for the hour to replace your cracked pipe. Gimme ten minutes and we’re even.”
“Get out,” said Kaila. “Right now.”
Twenty minutes later, on her way to work and for the first time in her life, Kaila stepped into the local police dept. to alert them about the predator, the plumber who worked for himself.
“Will you press charges?” asked the officer, gripping the offender’s business card. Mis-reading Kaila’s expression as hesitation, he added that she might do so for all the poor women in the neighbourhood who’d fall prey to his shameless bribe.
“Of course,” replied Kaila. “I want this creep stopped!”
Later that day, Kaila learned more about the predator who, in the new-immigrant community close by, took full advantage of struggling newcomers.”
“He raped a refugee woman whose citizenship papers were not yet official. Of course, she didn’t want to go to the police nor call attention to herself in any way. She feared her acceptance into the country might be jeopardized. She’s now pregnant. And she’s not his first victim.” said Kaila.
Kaila’s call meant so much to me.
On Wednesday, at my hospital volunteer job, my 84-year-old co-volunteer commandeered the front desk to make a personal call about his faulty phone bill. When I asked to use the computer to register the patient beside me, Greg yelled at me. “Back off! You darn well wait till I’m done!”
“Never mind,” whispered the pale young woman, rolling her eyes. “He’s old,” she added, offering a ready excuse for bad behavior. She took a seat. I pulled out my cell phone.
It took ten seconds for the Director of Volunteers to arrive on the scene and invite the rude offender to the office for a wee chat. Since Greg continued to justify his disrespectful behavior, the coordinator suggested he review his reasons for volunteering at the hospital and determine if such service remained on his priority list. The ill patient watched Greg tear out the door— and smiled.
This weekend, Kaila and I shared our small victories, the tiny triumphs still so necessary in our society, mini-victories that fell to us to accomplish. We felt proud. We took responsibility. We each of us did our small part.
“Our plumber predator won’t roam free anymore,” Kaila said. “Since I pressed charges, the police are moving forward with full prosecution. I’ll see the creep in court.”
“Wow, that’s great,” I said. “Think of all the terrified newcomers he’s held hostage for who knows how long!”
Moments later, Greg called, his tone subdued. He apologized to me. He said he’d behave on Thursday.
While the degrees of treachery in our two stories differed, Kaila and I agreed that the themes were the same.
We also agreed that our solutions had nothing to do with ignoring, overlooking or discounting problems.
We keep our own power tool kits at the ready.