Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Compliments and Complainments

(Max and Nat are in the Junction chatting, when Zack walks in wearing a brand new pale blue shirt.)

Nat (turning admiringly towards Zack): Wow! That's a really nice shirt.

Zack (beaming): You think so? Lizzy got it for me as a gift. I'm not really into all this fashion stuff, so I am never really sure how these things look - but it seems that from the reaction I have got so far, I'm right to trust her in these matters.

(Max turns round to look, and rears back as though he has been stunned. Then he gives a wolf-whistle.)

Yes o, Zack - that shirt is fiiiiiiiiiine!

(Zack suddenly stops beaming and gives Max a suspicious glare.)

Zack: All right, what is your agenda?

Max (taken aback): Agenda? Agenda?? Here I am, your friend, complimenting you on your fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine new shirt, and you are accusing me of having an agenda??? (Raises his eyes to the heavens.) See me o, people! As our dear ex-president Obasanjo would say, I am being maligned, insulted and wrongly accused for trying to spread good cheer in the house!

Zack: Good cheer my withered toenail. Either you are being sarcastic, or you are trying to get something out of me. Is that how normal people give compliments?

Max (in mock sorrow, holding his hand to his chest as though he has been stabbed): Zack! How can you say such a thing? And to me - your twin brother who was separated from you at birth! (In mock indignation) Anyway, why aren't you attacking Nat? After all, he praised you too.

Nat (in a warning tone): Hey! Don't drag me into your wahala.

Zack: Anyway, Nat is different. He often compliments others - unlike you.

Max: Do you really think I don't compliment you enough?

Nat (grinning): I think it's a perception thing. The compliments you give him are buried under the insults that you throw at him.

Max (thoughtfully): Is that so? Well, as it is a new year, I hereby resolve in the presence of both of you and all the patrons present in the Junction that I will offer at least twelve compliments to Zachariah Kwashi on each occasion of meeting him.

Nat (shaking his head): I have a bad feeling about this.

Zack (waving a warning finger at Max): Look, I'm not interested in your so-called compliments! I survived quite happily without them before, and I will continue to survive without them.

Max (looking at Zack through half-closed eyes in a dreamy tone): Zack. Do you know, for the first time, I'm noticing the dazzling shine of your balding head. I find it captivating... alluring... how I never noticed it before is beyond me. Lizzy must be a very fortunate woman - imagine being the only person to experience the joy of caressing that smooth surface... (He gets no further as he is interrupted by an explosion of laughter followed by the sound of spluttering and choking as Nat struggles to clear his throat after some kunu has gone down the wrong way.)

Zack (beating Nat on the back to clear his passage): You can see why I would rather accept a curse from the Devil than from praise from you? Please keep your compliments to yourself - I don't understand why you have to be so malicious.

Nat (straightening up and clearing his throat): I don't see what your problem is, Zack. So you believe that Max can never ever be sincere in his praise towards you?

Zack: I would believe he was being sincere if he was serious. But he must always play the joker - so I have learnt not to believe him unless tears are coming from his eyes.

(Max turns to Nat.) Nat, that is a fine wristwatch you are wearing. I like the choice of leather - very solid, very... distinguished.

Nat (smiling): Thanks, Max.

Max (shouting out to Philo across the bar): Philo, your kunu is top-notch A-grade this evening. It's the kind of kunu that can make a man put a bullet in his brain because he knows that from now on, any other taste will always be a pale shadow of the real thing.

(Philo waves back in acknowledgment.)

Max (turning, smiling and gesturing to Zack): See? Compliments given... compliments accepted. My friend, paranoia does not become you.

Zack (grumbling): You're just doing this to prove a point. There have been times that you have been sarcastic and insincere in your praise towards Nat.

Nat: I don't think it's just Max. I think you tend to be suspicious of people's praises unless you know them.

Zack: Well, this is Nigeria. Everyone is always looking for something from someone. Don't you remember your cousin Peter who came some months ago to get money from us? See how full he was of praises. In fact, because of the way Nigerians use compliments, they have been completely devalued. For heaven's sake, we even pay people to praise us - how crazy is that?

Max: As long as the praiser and praisee are happy with that arrangement, I think it's very reasonable. In fact, it shows how valuable people consider praises. Would you pay for something that you didn't value?

Zack: But those aren't genuine praises - a real praise would come from the heart.

Max (scornfully): And who told you those praises aren't from the heart? Imagine - someone has just buttered your bread by spraying you with freshly minted thousand naira notes. How much more heartfelt can your praises of him be after that?

Nat: Come on, Max. Half those praise singers don't even know the person that they are praising. They just make up some generic praise that could apply to anyone. Real praise is all about something that applies to the individual. When you praised my watch, you were talking about something that I owned, not just anything. That showed me that you were paying attention to me, that you were really interested in me.

Max (shrugging): And you are now the final arbiter as to what is praise and what isn't? My friend, don't complicate the picture. If I say something to you and it makes you happy, that is praise. Full stop. Anyway, let us leave that topic for now - I want to deal with this knotty problem we have of Zack not believing that I am sincere when I compliment him. (A determined edge comes into Max's voice as he turns to Zack) In fact, none of us is going to leave the Junction until you are convinced beyond reasonable doubt that when I compliment you, I mean it!

(Zack leans back, and regards Max with interest.)

All right, go on - compliment me.

Max: OK, the problem here is that you aren't convinced that I am sincere. In other words, we have a credibility gap here.

Nat: So - how are you going to bridge this gap?

(Max and Nat ponder the situation for a while, while Zack looks on with a mixture of amusement and scorn.)

Nat: I've got it. Public praise is the answer. If someone doesn't like you but wants to praise you to get something off you, they will prefer to praise you in private. That way, other people won't think the person likes you - and that will suit the person, because he may not want people going round and saying "Look at that friend of Max". But if they like you, they don't mind telling everyone about it.

Zack (grinning): Yes, that sounds like a good idea. Oya, Max - start going from table to table singing my praises.

Max (shaking his head): No-o... that won't work. First of all, I don't think that Brother Zachariah really wants me to do this because it will convince him that I am sincere. I think that my personal embarassment is top on his agenda here. Besides, I want Zack to hear my praise - he can't do that if I'm going from table to table telling everyone else.

Zack (still grinning): Then stand on this table and shout your praises for me at the top of your voice! I promise you that I will hear you loud and clear.

Max (still shaking his head): No-o... that won't work. Think about it - if I stood on top of this table and screamed my praises for you at the top of my voice, everyone might think I was mad. And tell me - what will people think of a man that is being praised by a madman? No-o, we can't have that.

(Max and Nat ponder some more, and then Max exclaims.)

Max: OK, let's recap. The problem here is that you think I'm lying when I'm praising you. In other words, when I say 'black', you are convinced that I mean 'white'.

Zack: Exactly.

Max: And when I say 'good', what you really hear is 'bad', right?

Zack: Uh-huh.

Max: So all I have to do is to exploit the situation and offer reverse praises.

(A confused expression comes over Zack's face.)

Nat (with a widening grin): I think what Max means is that if he insults you, you will believe the opposite of what he is saying and conclude that he is praising you.

Max (smiling): Exactly, Nat. So Zack, do you think that a torrent of abuse will convince you of my sincerity?

Zack (gesturing in resignation): You see? A leopard can never change its spots. Insults, insults, insults - that's all you know.

Max (in mock exasperation): Man, you're a difficult man to please. (Gets up) Anyway, I have to be going. Business meeting, etcetera, etcetera. It's been great talking to you guys - although I don't exactly how to convey my feelings to you, Zack since you believe I'm lying when I'm telling you good things and I'm telling the truth when I'm telling you bad things. I'll see you guys around! (He waves and walks out.)

Nat: I think you were being a bit harsh on Max with his compliments about your shirt. I think sometimes it's better to give people the benefit of the doubt unless it is obviously clear that they are definitely out to insult you. Imagine - you go through life viewing everyone through suspicious eyes. How happy can that make you?

Zack: Come on - you can see how Max always is. He is always out to mock me.

(Just then, the national anthem is played as Zack's phone goes off. He picks it up.)

Lizzy - is that you?

Lizzy: Hello dear. Are you coming back soon? I want to know if I should get your food ready.

Zack: Yes, I'm returning soon. We were just having a discussion about that shirt that you got me.

Lizzy: Oh, did everyone like it?

Zack: Yes, except for Max. You know how he is - always sarcastic, always criticising.

(There are a few moments of silence at the other end.)

Lizzy: Well actually, I'm not supposed to tell you this, but Max gave me the money to buy the shirt for you. In fact, he specifically pointed out the kind of shirt that he thought would look good on you.

(Zack is stunned. He then thanks Lizzy and rings off.)

Nat (noting the change in expression): Hey, Zack - is everything all right?

Zack (in a sombre tone): I think you're right. We often look to words to judge whether people really appreciate us... but we forget that most times, actions speak louder than words...