(This is the second of a two-part story. For the first, click here.)
It seems a blur and to this day Norbit is hard put to explain exactly what transpired in the moments after his foot’s encounter with a figure in a shimmering suit and hat of purple riding what appeared to be a bicycle, playing what looked to be a miniature keyboard.
Just for a second it even seemed as if this figure had perched upon his preposterous hat an even more preposterous assortment of animals, namely, a blue monkey playing a flute, a large green mouse playing a fiddle, and a smaller red mouse carrying a trailing red banner!
Yet the very next minute Norbit found himself flat on his back staring up at a quartet of people who were busy extricating themselves off his person having landed atop him in the most clownish fashion possible.
“But this is preposterous!” Norbit protested as soon as he could catch his breath. “Has the world gone mad?!”
The red-haired man in purple regarded him sympathetically for a moment before replying, “In a manner of speaking, yes. Are you hurt?”
Norbit tried raising himself on one arm but sank back immediately at the pain which shot through his other arm.
“Hold on!” said the man in purple, bending down. “It looks like you may have sprained your arm. Possibly a simple fracture but I doubt it. Fortunately for you ….”
“Fortunately! Fortunately for me?!”
The man frowned. “As I was saying, fortunately for you I happen to have a first-aid kit on me. Now hold still!”
Norbit could only glare at the man, mute as he was with anger and pain, but thankfully he was fitted with a splint and given an aspirin and soon found himself on his feet with his arm resting comfortably in a sling.
“Now we must get him to a doctor, mustn’t we?” the man asked his three companions.
“Don’t trouble yourself,” Norbit began haughtily, but was interrupted.
“Naturally you’ll want to thank your benefactors first! Here they are …..”
“Benefactors? Benefactors?! All four of you run into me, knock me down, break my arm, and ….”
“First let me introduce you to ….”
“What happened to the monkey with the flute …..”
“… Monkey Carl who plays first flute.” A short, round, curly-haired man stepped forward, wildly fingering an imaginary flute and nodding.
“…. and the big mouse with the fiddle and the little mouse with the banner?”
“Next, we have Little Timmy the Mouse who waves our brigade banner and keeps time, and Big Jim the Mouse who plays first violin.” A large black, middle-aged man with a stutter muttered something, gesticulating with his imaginary fiddle then began swaying to the melody only he could hear. Stepping out in front of him was a young boy with large dark eyes who shambled forward and held out his hand before laughing nervously and retreating.
“Together,” said the man, “we constitute the Special Needs Brigade. It’s an orchestra, you see.”
“The Special Needs Brigade!” Monkey Carl, Big Jim the Mouse, and Little Timmy the Mouse agreed in perfect harmony.
Slack-jawed, Norbit could only stare at them as the man in purple cleared his throat, dusted off his hat, and gently suggested that he might want to introduce himself as well.
Norbit opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again.
“But I saw a monkey and two mice with instruments and a bicycle-looking-thing ….”
“Of course you did! Here we are!” His companions nodded vigorously. “Now, come, tell us your ….”
Suddenly a shrill but authoritative female voice put paid to the ongoing introductions. “Carl! Jim! Tim! Where are you? No more monkey and mice games! Carl! Jim! Tim!”
From around the shrubbery there emerged a smartly dressed young woman with a thoroughly exasperated face. In one glance, she took in the situation and frowning on them all was about to chastise each one roundly when she suddenly recognized Norbit.
“Elder Norbit! Oh, Elder Norbit!” she wailed. “You remember me? Sally Crane. I’m in charge of Mother’s Day Out for Families with Special Needs Children and Adults at our church. Sally Crane.”
Norbit opened his mouth and closed it again.
“Honestly, Elder Norbit! I’m the only one who shows up and there aren’t enough volunteers for the people on the waiting list and Carl ….”
“Monkey Carl!” protested Monkey Carl.
“… and Jim …..”
“B-b-big Jim the M-m-mouse!” protested Big Jim the Mouse.
“… and Tim ….”
“Little Timmy the Mouse, thank you!” said Little Timmy the Mouse.
“… are too much for one person. As you can see!”
“But what about this man in purple ….” Norbit began, but Crane seemed not to hear him and continued.
“We need more volunteers, Elder Norbit. Or if not, more funding to hire ….”
“The purple man, Miss Crane?” Norbit asked again.
‘What purple man?” asked Crane, looking about her.
Norbit pointed to the red-haired man standing silently beside him. “This one.”
Crane looked bewildered. “Is this another game? because I’m tired of Mickey Mouse and Monkey games! Something has to be done ….” A stream of words flowed from her that included a litany of terms – developmental disabilities, autism, Asperger’s and Down’s Syndromes, schizophrenia, ADHD, and neuro-developmental disorders – together with a list of all the challenges facing parents, siblings, and caretakers.
But Norbit had stopped listening as he slowly absorbed the fact that only he and his new-found acquaintances could see the man in purple.
The man returned his gaze even as Crane’s voice droned on beside them.
“It’s time, isn’t it, Norbit?” the man asked.
“We serve the Almighty God, the Lord and Creator of the universe and all it contains, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, do we not?”
“Yes, of course, you’re an angel! You’re ….”
“I’ve been sent to wake you up, Elder Norbit, for you have been asleep in the light far too long. These little ones need you. Can you not give them a cup of water from the well-spring you have been given?”
Norbit turned to look at Monkey Carl who appeared to be shaking his flute before placing it to his lips once again, and Little Timmy the Mouse who seemed to see the banner swirling about him, and Big Jim the Mouse who sawed wildly on his fiddle.
‘Yes. Yes! I will ….” he began.
“You will?!” Crane gasped and squealed in delight. “Then I’ll leave them to you. Carl, Jim, and Tim! This is Elder Norbit. He’ll bring you back to church after your walk.”
And with that, Crane was gone before Norbit could utter another word.
Norbit looked at the man in purple ruefully. “I feel as if everything I’ve done in my life will be nothing compared to this.”
“You may very well be right.” The man smiled. “But it may be everything has been a preparation for this. It must, therefore, be of great worth.”
“To occupy them for one afternoon a week?”
“If it involves your heart, yes. There is much these little ones will teach you of Him. Be sure you listen, Jud Norbit.”
And right before their eyes, the man vanished as if he never was.
A rush of joy and love for his God and Savior melted his heart and Norbit turned to look at his three charges. “Would you like to come to my house?” he asked. “I can’t play the flute, the fiddle, or fly a banner, but I can play the piano. Will you come?”
All three nodded, asking if he knew this song and that one, and this hymn or that tune.
And so it was that when Pritcherd opened the door to Elder Norbit that afternoon, he was met with a sight that affected him so profoundly that his countenance never quite recovered and his face looked quite human from then on, and Mrs. Gray found her baking talents were never more appreciated as by a growing rag-tag group known as the Special Needs Brigade.