These past few weeks, late nights and laziness have forced me into Uber rides with some incredibly amazing people.
Figured I’d share these stories with you guys, as their messages are still very much fresh in my mind and heart.
“You remind me of my daughter,” he laughed while adjusting his rearview mirror, “Squeaky voice, gentle face, but strong message.”
Moe, my Uber driver last Tuesday, is a 60-year-old, retired salesman from Egypt. He was caramel toned, with grayish-green eyes I could clearly see in the dark through his rearview mirror. Something about those grayish-green eyes screamed comfort. They were welcoming, and warm, matching his accented voice that screamed, “Hop in, Sister!” when he picked me up from 6th Ave and 42nd Street. He moved to New York in his 30’s while his wife was pregnant with their first child, Akil. From our 28 minute ride, I came to know that his son, Akil, is currently a teacher in Washington D.C. where he lives with his German wife and his twin boys. Moe is incredibly proud of Akil. Well, he’s proud of all of his children. His second born, Horus, lives in New Jersey, and is about to start a PhD program in “science, I can’t remember which it is.” And then there is Layla. The baby.
“She’s quiet,” Moe continued, “Like mouse! But play piano like superstar!”
He spent the most time speaking about Layla. His “Princess”, as he affectionately referred to her.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“27. 27 and a half.”
“Ah, good age! Twenties are good age! Layla would have been 24 this year.”
The words “would have” clearly stuck out like a sore thumb, and out of guilt, sadness, and a little bit of awkwardness, I stopped asking questions, and silence fell upon our ride. In fact, for fifteen minutes we sat in silence, cruising the West Side Highway, listening to nothing but the air whistle through my cracked window. I wanted to say I was sorry, or maybe bring the conversation back to something light and cheerful. I wanted to desperately fix the situation, not because I couldn’t handle the silence, but because from the short period we had spoken, I had grown fond of this sweet little Egyptian man. His joyous energy was everything I needed when I stepped out of my office building and into his Highlander, and I wanted to bring him back to his happy place.
“Don’t be sad for me darling, I celebrate Layla. You remind me of Layla. I know she would have been good girl like you.”
We exchanged a smile through his rearview mirror, and he proceeded to tell me Layla’s story. Two February’s ago, Moe and his wife came home to find that Layla had hung herself. Moe said he saw the signs before and after the fact, but didn’t know what to do about them, and Layla never acknowledged them. Not directly, at least.
“She’d always say she didn’t feel well. But I didn’t know she didn’t feel well in her mind. I didn’t know until I saw her hanging there.”
Moe expressed that he wished he knew how to talk to her about her feelings. And that he wishes he knew how to express his feelings more when his children were growing up. Because then maybe Akil wouldn’t have felt the need to runaway after college, convert to Christianity, and change his name. Or maybe he and Horus would communicate more other than through texts, and the occasional family event or tragedy. Or maybe Layla would have said, “Baba, I’m sad all the time,” to his face, rather than in a card she left on their bedside table before taking her life.
He wished he had “shared his heart” more.
We continued our conversation for 20 more minutes after arriving to my apartment. Partially because I feel like this was healing to him, and partially because this was healing to me too, in a weird kind of way. I had spent the afternoon contemplating whether to move forward with a project I had recently produced for Certified 10. I spent the afternoon questioning whether it was needed or not. But this conversation, this Uber ride, was not a simple coincidence. It was the Universe piecing together two individuals with similar stories, and an appreciation for “squeaky voices” with extremely strong messages to share. This connection was bigger than a cool moment. This was the world conspiring to tell me that my project, my passion, this production needs to happen.
Before I got out of the car, Moe kissed my hand. He told me to continue to be a good girl, and to always share my heart. And as I settled into bed that evening, replaying our conversation and his words drenched in that thick Northern African accent of his, I was appreciative that something in Moe insisted that he shared his heart with me.
This Certified 10 campaign is for you, Layla.
CERTIFIED WORDS was created to demolish stigmas, attack stereotypes, and decrease beliefs that negatively impact women in our community by sharing real stories from real women. We want to show the world how negative words can manifest and how they play a role in the paths we choose for ourselves.
Round One: I’m Not Crazy
Series premiere: July 6th, 2016
Learn more about the series and campaign here: www.certified10.org/certified-words