I have finally, and sadly, gotten a taste of what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship. See naturally, I am a walker. I walk away from jobs that don’t give me the gratification that I imagined or expected, friendships that do not offer reciprocity, I walk away from business deals immediately I start questioning some aspects of them, or catch a whiff of foul play. It’s never as easy as it sounds, but I do it all the same.
However, recently I was dealt an interesting card in one of my relationships. The fallout is not what I am furious about. That was sort of expected. See naturally, wherever expectations are present, disappointments are inevitable. They might come as a shock, yes, but as sure as death, they will come.
What really has my knickers in a knot is that for the first time in life, I can’t seem to yank myself out of this one. After what felt like a dagger had been twisted and turned severally inside my fragile heart, I have found myself again and again reaching out for my phone, even as dread trundles down my throat, heart beats fast, and the contents of my stomach churn like a milk processor.
Let’s backtrack to a few weeks before I got myself here. Exactly ten days ago.
It’s a loose Monday. I am at my aunt in law’s place in Worcester, Massachusetts. It’s the season of fall, and there’s this beauty all around which is like nothing I have ever seen before. There are lakes and trees every few meters we drive, kinda like the greenery you see in Murang’a and Kericho, only that there are no undulating hills, just mostly flat surfaces, and instead of this photoshopped green we are used to, the leaves on the trees come in shades of burnt orange, yellow, purple and even red. The burst of colours is psychedelic.
I arrived here on Saturday evening, after spending the previous two weeks in Dallas,Texas; Orlando, Florida, and while at it took a five day cruise to the Bahamas from Florida. There was magic everywhere I went, and whilst I thought nothing would make me happy after the cruise, that I might as well take the next flight back home to Nairobi, experiencing fall in Worcester and the love from my aunt and cousins in law is really the cherry on the cake.
We spent Sunday driving around Worcester in MA, and then visited another cousin in New Hampshire, a state that’s 45 minutes from where we resided. The beauty about the USA is that some states are so close to each other, and a three hour drive can see you having breakfast in New Hampshire, lunch in Massachusetts and dinner in New York, yet all these states are as different and diverse as a safari excursion in the Mara, a city expedition in Nairobi or a countryside adventure in Sagana or Nanyuki.
New Hampshire particularly surprised me with its minimal rules, so much so you could cycle without a helmet or drive without your safety belt on. Here you do things at your own peril, and safety precautions are taken because it’s the smart thing to do, not because the law requires it. On top of that, there are no state taxes levied on the citizens. I found their slogan “Live Free or Die” inscribed on the car number plates to be just as radical as some decisions I have made on the fly.
Back to Monday morning. My cousin and I decide to fill up the rest of the week with activities. I have a whole week before my inaugural trip to the US comes to an end.
“Let’s take a drive to New York on Wednesday!” She says.
I had no idea that New York was a drive away from Massachusetts, so this news has my heart doing back flips! When planning my trip, I had kinda hoped to see NY but then I imagined my itinerary was already packed, so I had packed that thought for another time.
“You are a mind reader, L!” I exclaim. “Please, let’s!”
We decide to do a two night trip, and immediately, launch the Airbnb App, book a gorgeous brick apartment in the quiet side of Brooklyn, and phone up the shuttle company to reserve our seats. We agree to spend Wednesday exploring Brooklyn, and the second day, Manhattan. On Wednesday at 7am, the shuttle picks us up from my aunty’s house. It’s a small one that accommodates nine people including the driver, which makes for an intimate ride. The drive is uneventful as I sleep most of the way, save for this West African guy who decides to phone all his relatives in Africa an entire two hours, and every time I briefly come off my nap I catch him on phone narrating in a dramatic flair. What a relief when he gets off in the Bronx, which means we have a blissful 1 hour ride to Brooklyn. The driver, an elderly Spaniard seemingly in his late fifties, is playing and grooving to catchy reggaeton jams, literally lifting his hands off the steering wheel and throwing them in the air every so often.
We are dropped off to our Airbnb and after checking in, freshening up and dressing up like New Yorkers, I hail an Uber and off we go to explore downtown. I love Uber for its international presence, and wherever I have travelled to in the past, I never have had to worry about hailing cabs, or having that country’s currency for movement purposes. With Uber available, and the fact that my credit card is linked to my account, I have enjoyed such efficiency over the last seven years.
Downtown Brooklyn is busy. Lots of people walking on the streets, half of them on phone. Idlers smoking weed at every corner, especially near smoke shops which you spot every few miles. It’s a bright day, the skies are blue. The air smells of ambition even as in some places, it is laced with weed. The irony. We take a brief tour of Barclays Center, a multi-purpose indoor arena that hosts premier concerts (Jay Z, Madonna, Beyonce, Rihanna etc have performed there) championship boxing and basket ball games.
We take a walk further down the street and find this charming Caribbean restaurant. Bay windows, from which you can see the interior which has three wooden tables, a long bar counter, and resplendent walls in lime and yellow. Reggae music beams from the TV hanging above one end of the counter. The food, Jamaican Jerk and plantain, immediately sends us to Kingston. We crown the day by visiting Footprints, an establishment that gives off a restaurant/bar vibe, and has a band setting up as we stroll in at 8pm. I almost drop my phone in excitement as a few minutes later, the band belts out Beres Hammond’s “I Feel Good” and I yank my phone out of my handbag to record while dancing at the same time. My cousin looks at me in awe.
“They don’t play much reggae in Kenya?” She teases.
For about three hours, my cousin and I are on our feet, dancing to reggae songs. At 11.00pm, I call an Uber and we head to our Airbnb, after a befitting ending to our first day in New York.
It is on our second day that the unimaginable happens.
After sleeping in for the better part of the morning, we head out of the house at 1:30pm and find our Uber waiting for us. Today we plan on doing all the touristy things in Manhattan, starting with a boat tour of the Statue of Liberty at 3pm which we have already paid USD 48 for online, a visit to Times Square when dusk checks in, and everything in between. The drive from Brooklyn to Battery Park, Manhattan, takes about 50 minutes. We drive through an under sea tunnel and find ourselves in a whole new universe. The Atlantic sea on one side, Skyscrapers on the other. Modern day architecture everywhere. The driver, a late twenties-early thirties Spaniard guy donning a New York Yankees cap, has been on his phone throughout the drive and only looks back to say thank you when he drops us off at Battery Park. It’s 2:10pm when we alight the Uber, and I realise this because I check my apple watch to see how much time we have before the boat ride.
“There’s the Empire State Building. You get to tick off one landmark already! ” Screams L as we cross the road, our handbags hanging over our shoulders and jackets over our arms. “Hand me your phone a take a photo of you.”
I dig into my handbag and after ferreting around for a minute, a wave of panic engulfs me.
“Shit! I think I left my phone in the Uber.” I curse.
L grabs my bag, places it upside down on a bench by the roadside and every imaginable thing pours out, except my iPhone. I take a deep breath and remind myself I am in the USA, the land of possibilities, including a high probability of lost items being gracefully handed back to their owners. Only problem is that we have no way of contacting the driver since I had used my phone, a phone which is now sitting pretty in his backseat, to call him. We google Uber support on L’s phone, and most of the results require us, as riders, to log into our apps to contact Uber support. I try logging onto the Uber app from L’s phone but it sends a verification code to my number to prove its me.
With no other way to reach Uber, we call a number that we find online for Uber support, which is clearly indicated that it only supports drivers as riders should reach Uber through the app. A well spoken Asian lady picks up, explains what we already know, but I inform her of the verification code situation. She offers to help, by sending instructions in my email. I log onto my email from L’s phone, but as fate would have it, owing to the unimaginable pressure and the fact that I access my emails on my iPhone and MacBook with no need for password input, I cannot recall the password to save my life!
We call back the drivers’ Uber support line and explain my predicament to another Uber agent whose name is Xia, like my second born daughter. My face lights up, as I imagine my daughter will certainly get me out of this shit. She promises to connect me to Uber support for the riders, but in the meantime, asks me if I would like a chance to win USD 100. I tell her I wouldn’t mind, but if we could please get the pressing issue out of the way unless I would be guaranteed to win USD 1600 which is the cost of my phone. She apologises, politely refuses to connect me through (as I assume she had targets for whatever raffle she was running) and reads out a number for me to contact. When we call that number, we are met with a “not in service” message.
I spot the sea a few miles ahead, something which has been there all along but as expected I was too preoccupied to notice. I am reminded of the boat cruise, and when I turn my left wrist, I am surprised that it is already 4:00pm. Two hours have lapsed, and so has the boat ride. I tell L that we should just head back to Brooklyn, but she’s hell bent on making one last call. So she pretends to be me, calls Uber support, goes through the same drill and is connected to riders’ support after begging and informing them that she has a flight to catch and needs her phone, gets connected to an agent who promises to send an email, explains that she can’t access her email and she would very much appreciate if the agent could just call the driver (which you would expect to be the first thing they do instead of sending a rider an email to initiate the call *face on my palm!*). The agent insists that it’s not possible, L issues a few threats stating her rights and how she’ll sue Uber, and the agent agrees to do her this one favour. The hell?!
We are put on hold, some annoying music is playing in the background, and after five minutes, the agent comes back to inform us that the driver is not picking up his calls. Of course hombre, two and a half hours later is celebrating Christmas coming early and has already phoned her daughter in Mexico that he has finally gotten her the iPhone pro that he promised. L asks the agent to call one more time, she explains that she has called twice and that is the maximum allowable limit.
“It is unfair to disturb the driver as he could be attending to personal matters at this time,” the agent quips. At this point I have had enough of Uber agents and their condescending attitude towards riders. Frustrated and exhausted, L and I simultaneously curse and swear to never use Uber again. It’s going to 5pm, I have no urge to see any more of Manhattan, and as for Times Square, I can continue watching it in movies as I have all my life.
We walk a few steps, hail a yellow cab and settle in the backseat.
“1447 East 88th Street, Brooklyn.” L informs the driver. He first launches the address in his google app and it shows that the trip will take an hour and fifteen minutes.
“Sure you want to do this?” He asks in a heavy Chinese accent, while pointing at the google map estimate.
“We have to get home, sir.” Responds L.
“Ok, I start the trip.”
At the back of the driver’s headrest hangs a screen that shows the meter reading. So the thing about the yellow cabs, they charge you by the minute. It’s rush hour in Manhattan and traffic is building up. L and I are heatedly unpacking the afternoon that was, and the next time I look at the screen, I notice we have already incurred USD 15 and the cab has not moved an inch.
“This is not realistic.” I tell L. “At this rate we will pay over USD 200 for this trip.”
She silently goes on Uber, puts our address in Brooklyn and learns that it would cost us USD 62.
I ask the cab guy to end the trip, L pays our bill which is now USD 20 and like citizens in a failed coup, we get off the yellow cab and hail an an Uber.
I am currently back in Nairobi, still taking Ubers whenever I need to move around, and going through therapy three times a week.