Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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“Couldn’t you be nice!”

An everyday scenario; the traffic policewoman flags this mini-bus taxi for jumping a red light. The chauffeur disembarks and starts pleading for forgiveness. They all do, don’t they! The officer was one unsmiling, all business and no play lady. She didn’t budge to his “Have mercy on my soul!” sort of pleas. Finally, he says; “Couldn’t you be nice!”

She breaks into one of those coast-to-coast smiles with enough power to illuminate an entire town. One look at the smile radiating from her face and you conclude, “A smile makes or breaks a lady’s luck.” And just as footnote material, she was quite pretty, too!

The chauffeur was all teeth; he went for the kill and tickled her senses enough to me make her smile; in that smile he saw a hundred or so birr saved! But his triumph genes soon melted into the thin air as the smiling officer wrote him a ticket.  Well, she was doing her job. He asked if she couldn’t be nice, and she complied. She smiled, didn’t she? What more could she have done!

That got me thinking about the lengths we go to act nice even at the expense of other people’s comfort. You are in a cinema, and the picture they were screening is fast approaching its climax. And all of a sudden the beautiful heroine is thrown into some scary cave by the villain. A big dragon approaches her, and the girl sitting in front of you gasps and glues her face to her boyfriend’s chest.  Romeo is visibly concerned and has to do something; dragon or no dragon, he should take the Superman role; comfort her now or else! “Don’t worry,” he says, “he’ll save her and they’ll marry at the end of the film.” Case closed. What? What do you mean he spoiled your day! He had to save his girlfriend from too many lost heartbeats! After all, he was being nice. What’s wrong about that!

Well, being nice doesn’t always get you the standing ovation. There are prices to pay long the way. He was only being nice to his ‘damsel in distress,’ and who is anybody to tell him he should have done otherwise!

You’re waiting in line at a theatre.  You need some to pump some action into your otherwise dull existence.  Then a guy comes from the streets and heads for the door as if he was the only living creature within a ten-kilometer radius. (It’s shocking how inconsiderate and rude some of us could be.) He greets the doorman; smiles, handshakes, hugs are exchanged and the doorman lets him in just like that. Forget the seventy odd people waiting in line. The doorman was being nice! Who is anybody to tell him otherwise!

Your phone buzzes; you look at the number. Wait a minute, whose number was that?  Oh; it was him! That son-of-something must have a good reason to call you as if you craved to hear his voice. After all, to use Facebook jargon, you have ‘blocked’ him from you list.


“Hello!” even you are surprised by the passion in your normally dull and unceremonious voice. “You know, I was planning to call you this evening.” The last time you thought about him you had tons of four letter words for him. The guy practically mugged your dream girl when you thought you were days away from popping the champagne cork. But you’ve to be nice! You aren’t going to roast in hell while everybody is enjoying paradise! The nice guys are a diminishing collection and you could be one shinning hope to the endangered species. “You know I was thinking about you the other day.” False! The guy might not probably call your bluff; but still you’ve been nice, at least you’ve tried.

Someone tells a joke, or he thinks he told the most hilarious joke which would have reddened the eyes of Charlie Chaplin with envy. The fact is the joke is so disgusting that if you laughed you yourself would be one big joke! Still you laugh! You have to be nice.

Life gets a whole lot better for the self-styled comedian. He is a comedian, isn’t he?  I mean in a country where honorary degrees serve as some titles (Honorary Dr. So and so”) the guy is a comedian if he says is one. He told his jokes, you laughed and his next step should be booking some hotel for a weekly standup comedy show. The guy feels the world should roll out the red carpet for him.

 I mean, saying, “The next time you think of telling a joke please give us prior notice. We would go to Mongolia and apply for a refugee status.”

Recently a cousin from the countryside had some breaking news for me. I have a 130 year-old relative! Breaking news about ‘The First Man on Mars’ wouldn’t have excited me as this one did. A 130 year-old guy is not only an asset but also a blessing. He might even help us in clearing up some disagreements about our history in a country where one in three has turned into an accomplished historian entitled to pass the final verdict.

Saying something like, “Oh cut it out! No one lives that long! Not in this country anyway!” or “Do you guys think we in the city are one big bunch of fools! (Though a sizeable number of us could fit the category!)” wouldn’t win me some Mo Ibrahim prize.  I should be nice and play my cards right; “Really! That’s wonderful; you should take me to him some day!” Could anyone have been more enthusiastic?  “Thank you for telling me such good news.” My cousin was one happy soul. And also back in the countryside I would get the “He is a very nice guy. I’m proud for being his relative,” accolades.  

One can be the staunchest religious guy since Moses received those tablets; one might be some philosopher’s choirboy who believes everything starts and finishes with you and only you. Either way being nice is that most humane gesture which never fails to impress others.

The cabbie was telling a multi-volume story when he pleaded, “Couldn’t you be nice!”


Contributed by Ephrem Endale


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