Subscriber friend, Pamela R, was a winner in our 2016 Celebration. She won a custom short story from D.I. Telbat, in which Pamela chose to have her daughter as protagonist in the story, “Shaped by Life.” We thank Pamela for her permission to include the story here so others can also enjoy this chronicle where Shana makes a stand for Christ.
Shaped by Life
by D.I. Telbat
Shana Caspertein, of the Arkansas Casperteins, saw the police lights and instantly thought they were coming for her. She touched her burqa, which covered her head and face, to ensure her long blonde hair was concealed and tucked out of sight. Saudi Arabia had made an effort to extend rights to women, but Shana knew the country run by Wahhabi extremists still viewed women as inferior to men.
“Don’t worry,” the Riyadh taxi driver said in near-perfect English. He was a wiry, whiny man, but he would suffice as a mandatory escort. “You foreigners worry too much. Those are just the mutawa, the religious police.”
Shana didn’t respond. It was the religious police she worried about! Though she’d opted to wear the full black burqa to hide her Western features, if her identification were checked, she’d be recognized as an American by more than just the taxi driver. Saudi relations with America had been strained lately, but Shana wasn’t concerned about government policies. The country claimed a one-hundred-percent Muslim population, and Shana was a devout Christian. That was surely worthy of some concern!
The three other women in the taxi van from the hotel chattered in Arabic, ready for an afternoon of shopping, ignoring the traffic jam and police lights. So, Shana sat back in her seat and tried to relax. She told herself that paranoia would only interfere with her vacation, something her friends and family had begged her to take, though they hadn’t expected her to pick Arabia, of all places.
But no one in the country knew she was a Christian, and she hoped to keep it that way. If she simply acted normal and kept to herself, she could pray to discover why God had placed it on her heart to travel to the oil-rich country in the first place. She’d been in Arabia for a week, and she was beginning to wonder if God had actually prompted her to come at all. A week spent under a burqa for nothing!
The taxi driver cursed in Arabic and honked the horn.
“Look at this!” He shook his fist. “There is the fool who is causing this mess!”
Shana leaned between the front seats to see. Immediately, she saw a large bald man in slacks and a collared shirt limping heavily on a wounded leg. Blood stained his pants, and his belt had been applied as a hasty tourniquet around his thigh.
“Has that man been shot?” Shana gasped.
The bald man fell against a vehicle in the intersection and more angry drivers honked their horns. The police vehicles were trapped in traffic. Several plain-clothed enforcers stood outside their cars, weapons drawn, trying to see where the man was. They apparently wanted to finish off the man they’d already shot.
The taxi driver electronically locked all the doors of the van.
“This is not the Arabia you came to see, no?” he asked. “Maybe this is more like your Chicago. Bang, bang!”
“He’s coming this way!” Shana felt her heart pound. “Why would they be chasing him?”
“They’re mutawa.” The driver shrugged. “This is not rare. When people refuse the ways of Allah, they must be made to submit. It is Allah’s way.”
Shana looked back at the three women who’d traveled with her from the hotel. They were silent now, watching the scene unfold.
“Get down!” the driver yelled. “They might shoot!”
Everyone in the van ducked except Shana. She gazed through the chaos outside at the police aiming their weapons as they searched for the wounded man. The man reached their van, crouching low to hide. He had no chance to escape. The police were closing in.
Shana unlocked the side door and hesitated. Was she really about to risk her life for a stranger? Could she really do this? She barely heard the screams of the women in the back of the van as she threw open the side door.
At that instant, it all seemed clear to her. This was why she’d come to Arabia! The taxi driver grabbed at her arm, but Shana brushed his hand away. A man had been shot. The Muslim enforcers were about to silence someone who wouldn’t submit to Allah. It was that simple. She had to help him.
The wounded man looked up at Shana, and she gestured to him with her hand. Aware that he could probably see only her green eyes through the burqa gauze at that close range, she hoped her smile reached her eyes. He climbed through the side door and fell with a grunt onto the middle seat. The three women in the back stopped screaming, perhaps from shock.
“Drive!” Shana ordered the taxi driver, her hand on the still stranger. The man was lightly bearded, in his late thirties, and he wore a wedding ring. His breath came in quick pants. “Drive now!”
He’s bleeding on my seat!” The driver’s face twisted in contempt, but his eyes only grew larger as a gunshot cracked outside and a bullet tore through a corner of the windshield. “Get him out of my van!”
Shana hadn’t opened the door only for the stranger to get caught sitting still! She forced her way into the front passenger seat. The driver batted at her hands as she reached across him and opened his door.
“Get out!” she ordered with a hard glare, but didn’t wait for him to concede. When she’d played high school softball, she’d stared down tougher pitchers than this startled driver with his protests. With a shove, she sent him into the street, then climbed into the driver’s seat.
“You can’t drive!” The taxi driver screamed at the window and crossed his arms. “You’re a woman!”
She hit the gas and scraped past the car in front of them. Two more bullets punctured the side of the van, but now she was focused on driving down a busy Riyadh sidewalk, full of pedestrians already panicked from the gunfire. They leaped aside as she swerved left and right to bypass the traffic jam and escape the religious police.
Suddenly, the street was clear. She crashed over the curb and slammed on the brakes.
“Get out!” she ordered the three women in back.
Shana didn’t know much Arabic, but they seemed to understand her English well enough. They climbed over one another as they escaped the van through the side door.
A moment later, Shana sped away, the sound of sirens and honking horns fading behind them. She turned down two side streets and slowed her speed to match other cars. In all the haste, she’d lost her sense of direction, and prayed she wasn’t headed back toward the traffic jam.
A manhunt was certainly being organized. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. What now? It wouldn’t take long for investigators to question the taxi driver, then discover who she was. Her hotel room would be searched. And she realized they would kill her when they caught her.
Though she was as good as dead as the man they’d been chasing, she still had peace about what she’d done, even through the terror of doing it. Obeying God’s still small voice inside her always brought calm, but she felt she’d crossed into an area where she had no experience. How could she have known to prepare herself to help a wounded man on the streets of Riyadh?
Though not tall, Shana had always been tougher than the boys her age, and her steady nerves had pushed her through an athletic adolescence. Glancing in the mirror, she shook her head at herself and scoffed. She wasn’t in high school any longer, and this was no softball game. This was life and death, and she didn’t feel that her life had shaped her for anything this dangerous.
She pulled into an alley and parked behind a clothing store. For the first time, she noticed a bullet had grazed her forearm, and blood dripped off her elbow. It was a superficial wound, which she quickly bandaged with a torn strip from her burqa. With a tug, she pulled the head covering completely off and took a deep breath. Her adrenalin waned, and the reality of what she’d done began to set in more fully.
Her mother would be devastated if she were executed in public. But calling her now wasn’t an option; Shana could barely explain to herself what she’d done, let alone to someone who’d want to know how she’d gotten herself into this mess.
“God, I believe You led me here.” She checked the mirrors. “But now what?”
A groan from the wounded man drew her to climb behind her seat. As gently as possible, she loosened the tourniquet he’d applied. The pain startled him from his daze, and he gripped her wrist, his eyes wild with fright.
“Where are we?” he asked without an accent.
“You speak English?” Shana fit two fingers into the bullet hole in his slacks and tore a bigger hole. “We’re in Riyadh. I don’t know where. Behind some shop.”
“Did Corban Dowler send you?” The man released her wrist and laid his head back. “Thirty seconds later, and they would’ve caught me. Somebody blew my cover, or maybe I neglected something. They found the safe house, almost got the Bibles, but I hid them in—”
“Maybe you shouldn’t tell me. I don’t really know anyone named Corban. Get ready. This will hurt.”
She felt through the blood and oozing flesh for the bullet.
“Do you know . . . what you’re doing?” he asked, barely holding back a sob.
“I wanted to be a flight nurse since I was five.” She smiled, remembering better times. “I settled on being a medical assistant for a while, but life rarely goes as planned, right? The bullet’s in there, close to the bone. It feels flattened.”
“Probably a ricochet. Not exactly my first.” He frowned. “Wait, you’re not with COIL?”
“COIL? I think I’ve heard my mom talk about them. That Christian organization? I thought that was all fiction.”
“Does this look like fiction?” He gritted his teeth as Shana squeezed his wound. Tears of pain rolled from the man’s eyes, then he caught his breath as she lifted her fingers from the wound. “Wait a minute. You’re a civilian?”
“Uh, yeah. One more go at it, and I think I can pop it out. This is my first bullet removal.”
“What are you doing in Arabia?”
“I saved up a little money. Don’t laugh, but I felt like God wanted me to visit this place.”
“Oh, I’m not laughing. You just saved my life. It’s not the first time God did the unexplainable for His people. And you’re a Christian? Talk about being in the right place at the right time!”
“Yeah.” She pointed at his leg. “But talking isn’t going to get this bullet out.”
“Just one more question. If you’re not a COIL agent, why’d you open the door for me?”
“I saw a wounded man running from Muslim religious police. Opening the door was the easy part. I left the hard part to you. If you have connections, you’ve got to get me out of the country alive.”
“Nothing a phone call won’t fix. The name’s Carson Adams. You really came to Saudi Arabia with faith that God wanted you here? We need more Christians like you in this world.”
“You want to talk and bleed, Mr. Adams, or do you want me to fix this?”
“Do what you do, Flight Nurse.”
Shana pinched down hard with her fingertips, working the flattened bullet back up to the surface. Carson tensed, then relaxed as he lapsed into unconsciousness. She prayed the man would come around sooner rather than later, then she plucked the bullet out. Tearing off a section of her burqa, she wrapped it against the seeping wound.
“Is it over?” Carson appeared pale as he opened his eyes, though Shana had seen worse blood loss during her medical training. “I may have been a Marine long ago, but I can’t take pain like I used to.”
“It’s over. At least, that part.” Shana offered her cell phone. “Not to rush you or anything, but I can’t exactly drive us to Israel. There seems to be the small matter of a law prohibiting me from driving at all, being a woman.”
Carson dialed a number and held the phone to his ear.
“This is Ironwise. I’m wounded in Riyadh, and I need a safe exit for two. You have my signal? Confirmed.” He hung up and looked at his leg. “How bad will I bleed if I try to walk? We need to leave this van behind.”
“How far do we have to walk?”
“A few blocks,” he said, glancing out the window, “if we are where I think we are.”
“With the bullet out, it’ll bleed less and hurt less, though I’m sure you’ll have to limp. But I’ll be with you. I have a limp, too, so people will notice us.”
“Jacob didn’t become the person God wanted him to become until he was given a limp. It sounds like you’ve got quite a story of your own, Flight Nurse.” He moved to the side door. “You ready?”
“Call me Shana—and my story is nothing as dramatic as a bullet in the leg.”
“Well, it seems our stories just merged, and you can tell me your side as we walk. It might help us seem a little more casual if we’re talking along the way.”
“I have to warn you, Mr. Adams, I’m no agent. And my story might have more tragedy to it than you want to hear. I’m just a simple American girl who happened to go where God wanted her to go for a change.”
“But you’re in the hands of God now, right?”
He helped her fit what was left of her burqa over her head.
“Yeah, now I am, but I’ve had more downs in life than ups.”
“Then everything you’ve been through up to this point has simply been preparation for what God wants to use you for next. Do you believe that? Your story of tragedy is God’s story of triumph. You’re His now. Your story is meant to impact lives, and it seems to already be working.”
“You saved my life. My wife and kids would agree with me: you’re more than just a simple American girl with a tough story.”
Carson slid open the door and Shana climbed out first. She helped him stand and test his wounded leg as he leaned on her smaller frame.
They left the van in the alley and walked side-by-side down the sidewalk of the quiet street. Carson winced with each step. At one point, Shana looked up at his face. He smiled down, but there was pain in his smile. From his words, Shana realized that was a good description: her life was a smile now, though with a little pain still. At least her story now merged with the story of Carson Adams, and she could see the fruit of what it meant to trust God by coming to Arabia.
And it had all begun that day, the day she’d dared to unlock and open a door. With the confidence that God was indeed moving her life with a purpose for good, she began to tell the Saudi Arabian Christian agent her story. He listened as he limped beside her, and Shana knew God had shaped her life in a special way—to be shared with others!
The End of Shaped by Life
Carson Adams is the main character in D.I. Telbat’s novel, Arabian Variable.
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