At a Loss For Words by English Major and Journalism Minor student Laila M. Mostafa

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The teddy bear with the golden ribbon

Laila looks down at her laptop hesitantly. She had never experienced writer’s block before. In fact, she thought she never would as writing usually came easy to her. As a writer, Laila would mostly write what was on her mind; even in academic essays, she would choose the topics she was most passionate about, and that alone helped boost her creativity that much more. Her nail-bitten fingers stroked the letters on the keyboard, waiting for inspiration to strike. She pulls her dark brown hair in a bun, ridding herself of any physical distractions. 

Ever since its announcement, the final story for Laila’s Literary Journalism class has been busying her head, exploring different topics and people to write about. She sits at her white, IKEA-bought desk and searches her mind. Whenever a thought occurred to her, Laila would immediately dismiss it out of boredom, simplicity, or a lack of interesting details. Laila lets out a short sigh as her mother enters the room. 

“What’s wrong?” Laila’s mother asked. 

“I’m supposed to write a story for my Mass Communication class, but I have zero ideas in my head,” Laila complains. 

Laila’s mother smiles and hands her a cup of green tea, “You always say this before any big assignment. Just leave the laptop for a while and do something else. The idea will hit you out of nowhere, you’ll see.”

Laila lets out another hopeless sigh as her mother leaves the room and shuts the door behind her. She lowers her laptop screen and looks around the room. She notices a big, sand-colored teddy bear lying in the corner near her dresser. The bear had a silk, golden ribbon wrapped around its neck; it was smiling warmly at her. Laila smiles back as she stands up and moves towards it. 

The fluffy teddy bear was a gift from Laila’s late grandfather; he had gifted it to her when she was only six years old. Despite her young age, Laila still remembers the day she received it; she was wearing a sleeveless, white dress with black shoes and cotton, white socks. Her hair was tied in a water fountain-like style using a royal blue scrunchie. It was her sixth birthday, and Laila’s family were gathered around her in a circle. Laila’s grandfather called her to his side and handed her a rainbow-patterned box that was almost as tall as her. Laila stood on her tiptoes to open the lid but immediately slipped and fell on the marbled, freshly-polished off-white floor. Shocked, six-year-old Laila immediately started crying. Laila’s grandfather quickly pickled her up and held her in his arms until she calmed down; he used the back of his warm, wrinkle-filled hands to wipe the tears away from her face. Laila’s grandfather then kissed the top of her head and unwrapped the gift himself. Excited, Laila kept looking at the top of the box, eager to see what’s inside. Her grandfather’s hands lowered into the box and emerged with a large, cuddly teddy bear on his arm. He handed it to wide, hazel-eyed Laila, who couldn’t stop staring at her new favorite toy. 

“Is this for me, Gedo?” she asked innocently. 

“Of course, habibti. You’re my first grandchild. I want you to know how much I love you,” he replied softly. He then looked at the bear with loving eyes and said, “What will you name it?”

Laila paused for a moment to think and said, “Teddy.”

“Teddy? Everyone names their stuffed animal ‘Teddy.’ Don’t you want to pick a different name?”

Laila then smiled and responded, “Okay, I’ll name him after you.”

Smiling widely, Laila’s grandfather revealed one of his missing front teeth, “That’s very sweet of you.” 

In a quick, swift motion, Laila quickly moved to hug her grandfather. She then completely wrapped herself within him so that no one else could see her. In that moment, she wished that this hug would last forever. 

Looking at the shabby, worn-out teddy bear now, Laila starts reminiscing about her grandfather. He had passed away two years following that memory, but his presence remained with her all these past years, nevertheless. She remembered how supportive he was of her writing dream. Ever since Laila was a child, she would draw characters in a comic-like fashion and present it to him out loud to her one-person audience. Whenever she did, Laila’s grandfather would applaud very loudly and say, “Habibti, I see great success in your future. One day, you will get one of your stories published. When you do, I will be sitting in the very first row of the room, waiting to hear your book readings just as I am now.”

Laila would often remember this statement and tear up. Even now, she used the back of her hand to brush away her tears just as her grandfather did on her sixth birthday. In that moment, Laila knew that she had to make her grandfather proud. 

Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, Laila found the inspiration she needed for her story. She quickly moves back to her desk and lifts the laptop screen. Before she could start typing, Laila’s mother entered the room once again. She lifts the now-cold cup of green tea and pauses. 

Ha, how’s it going? Do you know what you’re going to write about now?”

Laila smiled and said, “Yes, mama. I do.” 

Alhamdulilah. Let me know if you need anything.” 

Laila’s mother leaves the room as Laila smiles and starts typing, “Laila looks down at her laptop hesitantly…”