Short Story: Young People These Days

Una sostenitrice dei valori tradizionali maltratta i giovani con il suo bastone, incolpandoli dei problemi sociali. Ma è davvero la paladina della morale o può risultare aggressiva nelle sue azioni?

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Molly Malcolm

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I’m watching you,” Nellie Brown tells the teenage girl in the sweet section of her local shop. “I know what you’re up to.” 

“What?” The girl gives her a bewildered look. “I’m not up to anything!”

“Oh, we’ll see about that.” Nellie read an article just last week about the increase of theft in Ireland, and knows that young people like this girl are to blame — because young people are to blame for everything these days.

“Young people these days… no respect!” she says, as she follows a group of boys down an aisle and waves her caneat them. 

Nellie doesn’t need her cane to walk. She can walk perfectly well, thank you very much. But the cane is a convenient instrument when she needs to reprimand or intimidate, and so do her part for society.

“Doing your job for you again,” she tells the young woman at the checkout. The woman is Greta, the daughter of the man who owns the shop. Nellie doesn’t appreciate how Greta is looking at her, as if she’s the troublemaker — and not the young delinquents. “If it weren’t for me, you’d have a riot on your hands.” 

This time, Nellie is thinking of footage she’s seen on a news channel, of a group of young people the journalist referred to as a “flash mob” running into a shop in New York and stealing the merchandise before running away. 

“Excuse me?” says Greta, giving Nellie her change.

“Look, young lady, you might not care if some of these ruffians steal your father’s merchandise. But their thieving makes everything more expensive for honest citizens, including old-age pensioners like me.”

 “Nobody’s stealing anything,” says Greta.

“Thanks to me!” says Nellie.

She leaves in disgust, only to discover two teenagers loitering outside, no doubt hoping to convince someone to buy them alcohol or cigarettes. They have the audacity to ask her for money.

“Get on home!” she shouts at them, and hits them with her cane. “I’m sick of the lot of you!”

She walks home, lamenting the deterioration of her town, Maynooth in County Kildare. When she was a girl, young people were honest and respectful, but these days they are out of control. They don’t go to mass; some of them don’t even believe in God or read the Bible. It was different in her day.

Nellie has committed not only to reprimanding young delinquents, but also to converting them to Catholicism. A year ago, when her neighbour began renting her house to a group of Maynooth University students, Nellie was horrified. But then she had a revelation: this was the perfect opportunity to guide a group of impressionable young people away from a life of immorality. 

So every evening, she plays recordings of the mass loudly out her window, in the hope that God’s message would dissuade them from the alcohol, drugs and immoral behaviour all students participate in these days.

A few evenings later, Nellie is having a cup of tea, listening to the mass that is blaring out the window. 

She lowers the volume before going to the door, where she discovers two young Gardaí. They introduce themselves as Garda Roger Bentley and Garda Helen McGuire. 

“Oh, I think I know what this is about,” says Nellie. For years, she’d been hoping to be a contender for the local Garda award, given annually to a resident of the town for their service to the local community. Certainly, Nellie merits recognition for her efforts to dissuade young people from committing crime and to maintain order.

Is that so?” says Garda Bentley.

“It’s about the award?” says Nellie, a declaration more than a question in her mind, but she wants to appear humble.

“No,” he says. 

“I’m afraid we’ve received a number of complaints about you,” says Garda McGuire.

“Complaints?” Nellie laughs. “Is this some sort of joke?”

The two Gardaí are quite young, so she wouldn’t be surprised if this is their idea of some demented joke.

“It’s no joke,” says Garda Bentley, opening a page of his notebook. “First complaint was by two youths. Assault and battery outside Murphy’s Shop on Wednesday morning.”

“Assault and battery?” Nellie is indignant.

“They said you hit them with a stick,” says Garda McGuire.

“Well… they were loitering, up to no good

“Actually, they were collecting money for a local charity.”

Garda Bentley continues. “Greta Murphy of Murphy’s Shop witnessed the assault and made a separate complaint: harassment of customers. She said it’s been going on for months and you’ll be barred from the shop if it continues.”

“I haven’t harassed anyone,” protests Nellie. “You know young people these days. I was just… well, monitoring their activities.”

“Not your right or responsibility,” says Garda McGuire. 

“We’ve also received several noise complaints from your neighbours,” says Garda Bentley. “If you have hearing problems, may we suggest headphones?”

“My hearing is perfectly fine,” says Nellie, offended.

“Well then, perhaps lower the volume. The students next door are studying for their exams, so would appreciate some peace and quiet.”

“Studying! That’s what they say!” Nellie feels her cheeks burning.

“Consider this a formal warning, Mrs Brown,” says Garda McGuire. “The youths have declined to press charges for now, but if you continue with these forms of behaviour, we will have no choice but to take legal action against you.”

Nellie is too humiliated to respond, and even more humiliated as the Gardaí leave and she hears one say to the other, with a laugh, “Elderly people these days, huh?”  

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