by Missy Burkholder
“A Heroine” will appear in the Leaf, the Curator’s annul print journal. Enjoy your peek between the covers of Leaf 2022!
Shakira was a heroine in a private way. Subtle dramas pulsed through her life, and through them all moved the lady of the moment being all things to all men. She routinely saved the day although no one knew it but herself.
She exited the grocery store, her arm laden with items precisely chosen according to value, brand, and color. Grocery shopping was still a thrill to her, a newly licensed driver, and she frequently offered to go to the store for her mother.
The bright yellow grocery bags were a grotesque shade, and publicly, Shakira abhorred their tastelessness. Only deep inside did she acknowledge how soul-satisfying the garish color was. Vibrant colors suited her and answered an urge within that could scarcely be repressed under the earth tones and neutrals that she so frequently wore. She held the plastic bag away from her gray striped dress. Stripes and gray did not accommodate her rich skin color and crinkly hair, but her classmates had gotten several matching outfits over the time of graduation. Stripes and polka dots now dominated her wardrobe. It was Shakira’s fate to be of African American descent and to spend her life overriding her instincts for the Caucasian tastes of her adoptive parents’ Mennonite culture.
Preoccupied as she was with keeping her stride smooth and rippling, she had nearly reached her vehicle before she realized that a young man was attempting to break into the car.
“Excuse me,” said Shakira, concealing her surprise and rising pat to the occasion.
For a moment, it did not look at though the burglar would desist. Sweating and concentrating, he manipulated the wire hanger, but he did glance over his shoulder. He looked again. Then ripping the wire through the small slit of window and seal, he whirled to face her.
“Excuse me,” Shakira said again. “All the cash is in my wallet. Would you like some?” She held out a fifty, hard-earned from picking strawberries.
The young man swallowed and took the money, his fingers extending limply. He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again . . .
“I . . .”
“Maybe you’d better go,” Shakira suggested.
Thinking quickly, Shakira turned to observe him. He was about to vanish, having reached another car two parking spaces away. This time, he resorted to keys, and withdrawing them from his pocket, he sprang into this vehicle and forthwith was lost to sight. Shakira had time to notice some externals, and she tabulated them as she took her place behind the steering wheel of her own violated vehicle.
“Black hair, skinny, shorter than me . . .”
“But the license plate . . . ? Did you get the license plate number?” Mart inquired later. She had been Shakira’s mother too long to be under illusions about heroic behavior and demanded essentials instead.
“I will not be going to the police about this.” Shakira sat, poised at the kitchen table. She fingered the keys. “I am just thankful I was able to prevent the actual break-in. Poor man. He would have committed a crime if I hadn’t come along.”
“Did he do any damage to the car?” Tony wanted to know. “That kind of thing is hard on door seals.” He wasn’t interested in the alternative outcomes and occasionally appeared greatly tickled about something. He too was under no illusions about his daughter, but got something more like fun out of her anecdotes than his straightforward, uncompromising wife did.
Shakira was uncertain on this point.
“Well, well.” Tony rose and disappeared to have a look.
Shakira departed for her room. Once there she counted over the cash in her wallet. The missing fifty seriously depleted her stash, and she was pleased to suffer in consequence of the wrong done her. This was as it should be.
Voices from the kitchen filtered up to her room, among them a new speaker. Shakira turned her head and distinguished the resourceful tones of Beth Penner, their neighbor lady and fellow church-goer. Debating if she wanted to descend and hobnob with the adults, Shakira stood for a moment, rubbing her lower lip, until brisk steps sounded on the stair.
Bounding to the door, Shakira opened it, and Beth entered, saying, “May I look at your bookcase? I’m in search of my copy of Ben-Hur.”
“Oh, it’s right here,” Shakira stooped and tugged it from under the nightstand with two fingers. “It’s not as good as The Robe. I didn’t finish it.”
“No?” Beth took the offending volume and inspected it.
“It’s not very interesting.”
“Oh, dear. Never mind then.”
Shakira wasn’t listening, speeding on to a recital of her adventure. “Did Mom tell you?” But she told the story without waiting to find out. “I’m so thankful I was able to stop him,” she concluded, her hand on her hip, her eyes fixed unseeing on Beth’s face. “Just think if something amazing would come out of it. What if he would give his heart to the Lord because of my forgiveness? And nonresistance . . . that was nonresistance, wasn’t it?”
“Definitely,” Beth nodded. “That was definitely nonresistant of you.” She knelt by Shakira’s bookshelves.
“Oh!” Shakira sank onto her bed and sighed. “I wish so badly it would make a difference for that man. Beth, why don’t more people become Christians? I was so lucky to get adopted into a godly home.”
The narrowness of her escape rode hard on Shakira by times, and as she turned to prop her elbows on a nearby window sill, she thought again of the life she might have had and the world she might have lived in. Tonight that world loomed anew, raised by the recent brush with the burglar, and as she looked out the window, she felt as though she was staring into its jaws.
Shuddering, she drew back into the room, safe, carpeted, and draped with appropriate sayings about family, friends, and laughter. Huddling her knees together, she wrapped her arms about them and
reminded herself that she was Shakira Reiff, the allegedly beloved daughter of Tony and Mart Reiff who were good Christian parents, and that she was a member in good standing at the upright sanctuary of Castle Hill Mennonite Church as well as freshly graduated from the blessing of a Christian day school. The consciousness of being among the chosen had been fixed firmly in her mind from infanthood, the same consciousness that Rahab or Ruth might have had as one from among the desolate millions of degenerates singly absorbed into the household of faith.
Beth faced about from examining the books to take inventory of Shakira’s uncertain face. Her mouth relaxed, and her eyes gentled. She leaned over to touch the girl’s knee. “Be grateful, Shakira,” she said, “But God would be with you no matter where you were. God knows about those people too. He knows about your burglar. And He can work to win souls in many ways.”
The older woman left, and Shakira curled up into a ball on her bed, staring out the window absorbing the points of the white pines and spruces against the evening sky. With Beth went her calming perspective, and Shakira’s imagination began to agitate again.
Echoing through her head were the dozens of sermons and references to the world and its lost, combining into a dreadful thrust of burden. Shakira hunched her shoulders as the breath of destiny trembled on her neck, and the sensation of being saved warped into a waxing conviction that she was an imposter. She was the publican, disguised among the Pharisees, murmuring “I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not as other men are.” In her words swelled the emotion of one who had been as other men were.
“I’ll pay it all back,” she murmured. “I’ll tell every lost person I know about Jesus.” Rescued from the conglomerate destiny of the world by the hand of God and her parents, she devoutly wished to square this debt by passing on the favor done to her.
The event of the afternoon swelled again in her thoughts, and she ruminated on her own personal criminal. Throughout her life, Shakira had been somewhat isolated from the lost. Most of the non-Mennonites and non-Christians with whom her parents were acquainted seemed to be elderly; there were seldom other young people to engage with. Shakira did not wish to discriminate, but somehow the elderly never quite seemed lost. It seemed they were not in desperate need of salvation, just a few inspirational hymns offered up in the form of nursing home events and cottage meetings. Apparently, old people could absorb the gospel through a few hymns. The people about whom Shakira was really concerned were actual sinners, preferably with a few tattoos and body piercings, the drug addicts, the criminals . . .
Shadows were falling over the lawn, elongating with the diminishing daylight. Day died in the west while Shakira regretted that she had not somehow established more of an encounter. Dismissing him like that! Fishing about in her memory, she realized that she had accumulated no identifying details. She pictured the impact of her gracious behavior if she had only kept him a bit longer to marinate in his shame and mourned her lost chance. Handled deftly with a few phrases like “Go and sin no more”, he might have come to repentance.
She remembered that he must have seen her attire, the white cap, the long dress. Shakira had been told these things were a shining light. The young robber would know that she was a Christian at least. No doubt, the experience would go with him throughout his life. Maybe when he was an old man, he would remember the young woman who had forgiven his attempt at crime and call upon the Lord. Perhaps! Shakira brightened. Perhaps she had shocked him out of a path to full-fledged crime. Brimming with his narrow escape from arrest and sentencing, he would walk a different path from now on.
Then she was sitting, braced against her cane, in a large auditorium listening to a white-haired speaker. The man was sharing the Gospel, telling his own Damascus Road experience where he had been called up short in his career of burglary by a young woman who had offered him cash when he had been about to break into her vehicle. As the talk reached its powerful end, she approached the speaker and said, “I was that young woman.”
The amazement of the audience resounded in her head, but her imagination stopped there. She wasn’t sure what the outcome of such a revelation would be, but she was certain that many people would be brought to Christ by his testimony. Pitched to feverish heights with this vision, she sat straight up, rigid with the tension of her vision. Her eyes dilated in the now dark room, but she saw only brightness.
“Shakira!” Tony was calling from downstairs. “Come down here.”
She went, dream-like, on the tips of her toes.
“Shakira?” Tony was standing by the front door at the bottom of the stairs. Blinking, she focused.
“This young man wants to talk to you.”
Black-haired, skinny, shorter than her . . . the young man stepped forward. The porch light glinted on his hair, and moths flapped about.
“I’m Jeremy,” he said and swallowed.
“Yes?” Recognition burned through Shakira, fully awake and yet still living in her dream. The dream shifted, the audience and speaker faded, and in its place scrolled a scene on a porch.
He held out a fifty-dollar bill. “I brought this back. I was so embarrassed . . . I wasn’t thinking when I took it. I thought it was my vehicle, and I thought I was locked out. So I borrowed a wire hanger and was trying to get in. Please. Here’s your money.”
Tony was saying, “How did you find us?”
“I saw her dress,” Jeremy shifted. “I know what Mennonites are, and I knew there was a church here in Castle Hill. So I went to your church and found the pastor’s contact information on the tract board outside which brought me here . . .”
Shakira wasn’t listening. Staring over her caller’s shoulder, she saw in the twilight, parked beside their gray Ford Focus, an identical car.
Missy Burkholder who used to be any number of things is now first and foremost a wife and mother, but she doesn’t mind writing the occasional story. You can read more of them at graymatters.org.