“Discovering True Beauty,” a short story by Chemistry student Heba Abed

Photo by Heba Abed

The kayak rocked gently as Hafsa’s father and brother-in-law attempted to paddle to the middle of the large lake ahead of them. They lagged behind, closer to the dock. Hafsa tried to help out at first but gave up quickly, letting the men figure it out. She sat on one of the cool, metal stools in the kayak and gazed around, mesmerized. Below her, lights danced around, glimmering off the clear, aqua green lake. Bright green hills and slopes surrounded the lake, hugging it. Large, jagged mountains loomed behind the greenery, competing for Hafsa’s attention. Patches of bright white snow brightened up the mountains. Hafsa couldn’t stop staring. Her city-accustomed eyes dashed right and left, absorbing the beautiful scenery. 

Photo by Heba Abed

 “It’s so pretty…” said Hafsa, her voice barely audible. 

Hafsa wrapped her large, baby pink coat around her tall figure, warming herself. The cool, fresh air tickled her nostrils. Her pink lips parted slightly into a warm, gentle smile. The dark bags under her eyes grew a shade lighter, brightening her tan face. A rosy flush radiated off her cheeks. Her black scarf wrapped firmly around her head, covering her hair and warming her ears. Hafsa clutched her rose gold iPhone in her reddish hand, occasionally lifting it up to snap pictures of herself, her family, and the scenery. 

Not a single horn blasted in the background, nor did any car whisk by her. Instead, the irregular click-clack of the ores as they rattled against their joints formed a soothing rhythm. Water splashed right and left, clapping for the ores. Above her, birds twittered with one another. Their musical conversations floated down around Hafsa, encasing her in a peaceful bubble. The soft laughter of children running around the lake faded away the further they kayaked. 


A loud, piercing shriek ripped Hafsa out of her trance. She whipped her head to her older sister, Rafya, who sat facing her on the opposite stool. Her eyebrows rose slightly as she stared at her screaming sister. The kayak rocked strongly below them, disturbed by the commotion. Hafsa’s father and brother-in-law looked back, their eyes narrow and confused. 

Rafya continued screeching, claiming that something flew into her eye. She frantically thrashed around, blinking hard. An abrupt burst of laughter escaped Hafsa. Tiny wrinkles and deep laughter lines painted her face. Her jolly chuckles competed with Rafya’s cries. She couldn’t help it; her sister looked hilarious. Then, Hafsa noticed it: a small neon green dot glowing in Rafya’s eye. 

“Rafya stop moving! I see it!” Hafsa exclaimed, toning down her laughter into small giggles.  

She shuffled closer to her sister and reached her slender arm out. Up close, she could see a tiny, lime colored creature on the white part of her sister’s wide, tearful eyes. With her thumb and pointer finger, Hafsa forced her sister’s eye open. Rafya kept blinking vehemently, making it difficult for Hafsa to pull out the bug. Her brother-in-law and father continued paddling nonchalantly, occasionally glimpsing back at what Hafsa was doing. 

“Rafya, stop blinking,” Hafsa said authoritatively, raising her voice slightly. Rafya stopped moving instantly, allowing Hafsa to take control. 

With her right hand, Hafsa pushed the dead bug to the corner of her sister’s eye, pulled it out, and flicked it in the water. She immediately thrust her hand in the water, washing away any traces of the bug. 

“Is it out?” Rafya asked, her voice wavering slightly. 

“Yah,” Hafsa replied, smiling cheekily. 

Hafsa returned to her seat, gazing around once more. The steady rhythm of the ores splashing into the lake lulled her back into her peaceful trance, as though she was never interrupted. She lost herself once again in the beauty of her surroundings.  ar