“Do you know when it’s coming?” I asked the guy standing at the bus stop. “Citymapper says four minutes.” He was wearing a red coat. He looked about my age, chubby, a bit graceless, but very normal. “Then it will be fourteen!” I replied. It was 10 pm and I just had a glass of wine on an empty stomach. “At least I’m in good company” he added, smiling at me. That was a bit uncomfortable, but I smiled in return.
The bus arrived and I sat close to the window. He sat beside me. “So, what do you do?” he was staring hard. “I write.” I looked at him. It might just have been the creepy shadow formed by the bus lights, but there was something in his eyes that made me feel tense. “And what do you write?” “Many things” I cut short, now looking ahead. “I love to read” he replied, so close that I could feel his breath on my neck. Part of me desperately wanted to stand up and sit somewhere else. But he was just a socially inept guy, and a be-nice imperative suggested that I should hold on for a few more minutes. So I stayed where I was.
The problem is, I was taught to be nice. “Be nice to everyone” my mum always repeated to me, inviting me to kiss strangers on their cheeks. I grew up desperately trying to make everyone feel comfortable around me. Even those who hurt me. Mindful about everyone’s needs, except my own.
I didn’t want him to know where I would get off in advance. I waited until the bus stopped and the doors opened. Then I rushed off. “Nice to meet you, bye!” I shouted from outside. He looked disoriented. Walking home, a voice whispered somewhere in my head. “He might be following you.” It was weird. I trusted my gut and entered an off-licence. Pretending to choose a yogurt, I stared at the door. A few seconds later he appeared in front of the window, looking inside. Looking for me. Our eyes met for an instant, and then he passed by. A feeling of terror got to my knees. I was 50 meters away from my empty flat, the only person living in the neighbourhood was an ex-boyfriend. The retailers — a father and son who looked ok — were my only safety.
“I believe someone is following me” I told them. “Sit down” the father said. I spent half an hour behind their counter, then the son offered to walk me home and I accepted. I didn’t see any red coat around. Once in the elevator, I fell into a fit of crying — so violent that I was robbed of strength. Having to wager on a stranger’s trustworthiness to protect myself from another stranger made me feel defenceless.
The thing is, being nice is bad. It refrains you from doing, saying or being what you want. It teaches you to give up the bridles of action for fear of wounding others’ feelings. And to accept their behaviour to the point they invade you and hurt you. It also doesn’t make you good or genuine. Its falsity rather leads to misunderstandings, ultimately hurting the same people you wanted to protect.
I don’t want to be nice anymore. I just want to be me. And if that sometimes means being harsh, well, that’s ok. “Be yourself” I wish I were told, but I wasn’t. So now it’s up to me to learn what that really means.