What does that mean? asks Screen Five.
Editor: In darkness so deep that sky and land become one, Blackie wanders far from the safety of a Samaritan’s Purse orphanage and off into the Philippine jungle. His trusty flashlight blows its only bulb moments before something large crashes through brush behind our explorer.
But he’s got backup batteries, brightly adds Four.
Mind if we just let him tell the story? queries Six. Go ahead, Black. You were just about to meet something big.
Should I do something? Something’s better than nothing. But what? I can’t win. Stay and get bullstomped? Move and get snakechomped?
You don’t know it’s a bull, says Five. And they’ve got the krait here, anyway. Soldiers claim you’re dead two steps after his bite.
Well, if he bites, laughs Two, just take one step
Forward! commands Five. Turtles go nowhere ’til they stick their necks out.
That’s also, mocks Six, how they get their heads chopped off.
Emboldened by Five, I take unseeing step after step, aiming for the orphanage’s faint orange glow. Twice I fall, not wanting to know what tripped me.
Cattle cross the path in front of me, their huge human-hurting horns outlined by the starlight. Four smells my fear and suggests, Tarzan. I issue the ape man’s iconic call and split the night. Spooked cattle cross hurriedly, horns flashing like curved light sabers. Confused cattle drivers cross even faster.
At last I stand in the orphanage doorway, breathing heavily, sweat streaming off my face. “Hey,” shouts a pal clearing the table, “it’s out’a shape Blackwell. Hot enough for ya?”
Shuddering, I snap back to the present, where “Chook Norris karate!” chants reach rock-concert levels and Big Rick shifts nervously beside me. “What’s your plan? The place is comin’ down!”
Signaling the interpreter, I ask that she introduce our martial arts specialist. She smiles bashfully but surprises me by shaking my hand warmly, as if we’ve known one another years. “You talk kids now, Chook?”
Four repeats, Chook? He gasps in realization: The beard, the build, the bad haircut, the karate – Black, they think you’re Norris!
Ooorahhh! bellows Six, though neither of us spent a moment in the Marines.
“Where’s the first board you’re breaking?” I ask Rick. He, a top-ranked black belt, points at logs thicker than the Federal tax code and unnecessarily adds, “With my head.”
Five of the screens sound an alarm: You could kill us!
“Oh, but it’s fine to kill me with your ideas, eh?”
“Kill you with what?” asks Rick, more concerned still.
Can’t let ’em down, reprimands Six, who makes me look out across 300 tiny, tightly packed, Tagalog-talking Filipino tots standing, clapping, wildly cheering “my” name in that humid air. Rick sees my determined look as I walk toward the thick boards and he whispers, “Death wish, Black?”
I stop and call the interpreter to me. “I’m not Chook – er, Chuck.”
Her eyes widen. “Not understand, Chook. Kids happy. Wait for you!”
“Look, I’m – I’m just Blackie. Blackie Blackwell. Not … not Chuck Norris.”
Hey, is she gonna cry? asks Two.
“Please – er, pakiusap – tell them I’m not Chuck. Say Rick will do the karate.” She does.
Hey, are they gonna cry? asks Two.
C’mon, Black, coaxes Six. You can still do this … can still pull this off. It’s not too late.
But it is. The raucous crowd falls almost silent as Rick steps up and begins his amazing demonstration. With each successive display of skill – Rick’s cracking boards with everything but his eyes – life returns to the children. By the end of our giant expert’s karate demonstration and pep talk, the kids laugh in delight.
I walk out among the youngsters. Two girls, maybe eight and six, wrap arms around me. “Chook, Chook!” they shout and nestle against my chest.
Didn’t get the memo, chides Three.
My arms, not those of Chuck Norris, hold the girls. Their smiles dissuade my explanation of mistaken identity. A full minute later, the oldest looks up. “You stay!” she commands, then disentangles and runs away.
She returns with a three-year-old boy. “Hoog brothuh!” she directs, and the boy reaches tiny arms skyward. I lean down to pick him up, maybe squeeze him tightly to me. As I lean, he turns his face in anticipation of matching my full hug.
The once-hidden right side reveals a huge, ghastly facial wound, wet and weeping. Recoiling, I pat his head.
COWARD! roars Six, and my shame floods me. You came halfway ’cross the world for just such a time and place as this. Don’t you dare back down!
You, adds One, may be the only man who ever hugs this boy.
And, says Two, softly, it wouldn’t be just any man hugging him. It would be Chuck Norris.
The older sister laughs, “No, Chook,” then joyously repeats, “you hoog. Hoog!” She wraps ’round me demonstratively, showing an American film hero the proper way to hug a Filipino child.
Screens. Sister. Smile of an innocent child.
Aloft in my arms, the boy laughs freely, gestures wildly, hugs madly. Our faces press tightly and remain one, the youngster settling against my chest and sighing. I utter the few Tagalog phrases Three feeds me, and the child giggles. To help my mouth “wohk bettuh” in its clumsy wording, the boy’s five fingers stop touching his wound and move to my lips.
My head reels, aware those fingers drip with bacteria. But my heart and six screens direct me to hold the boy more tightly yet.
I, the very white middle of a Filipinoreo cookie, look around. Every orphanage worker is surrounded by – covered in, actually – children. For this moment, a jungle once filled with danger, difficulties and despair gives way to echoes of laughter, love, and hope.
“Is good, Chook?” asks the older sister, anxiously studying my face.
“Yes,” says Chuck Norris, “it is good.”