He was an 11-year-old boy who loved a bike. Every day for six months, he would press his nose to the glass, and he would yearn, and he would dream.
There it sat, shiny and spiffy, in the front window of the bike shop. It was a Mongoose BMX -- ten speeds, the best brakes, heavy duty studded tires, orange and black trim. But the price tag made you catch your breath: $260.
In the suburbs, maybe you pay that kind of money. But when you live in a housing project in a tough part of town five blocks from the bike shop, you don't waste time thinking seriously about $260 bikes. All you do is press your nose to the window, and yearn, and dream.
Then one evening, a $20,000 sports car pulled up in front of the bike shop. A beautiful young woman and a handsome man got out. The boy was gazing at the bike through the window as they walked past, so he didn't notice them. He was too busy dreaming.
The couple went into a restaurant next door. But ten minutes later, they came back out. The handsome man walked up to the boy and asked if he wanted the bike. The boy was surprised, but why deny six months' worth of truth? Sure, he wanted the bike, he told the stranger.
"Then I'll buy it for you," said the man. Just like that, he walked into the store and asked how much it cost. Within moments, he had forked over $260 in cash, as the beautiful young woman looked on, beaming.
It was hard to tell who was more shocked -- the boy or the guys who work in the store. To tell the truth, the kid had become kind of a pain in the neck all those months, forever plastering his nose to the window, forever telling everyone who passed how much he wanted the bike. The kid hardly expected a dazzling couple in a gleaming sports car to buy him the bike. But do you think the fellows behind the counter did?
In five minutes, it was all over. The boy was riding his bike up and down the street, smiling more widely than he ever thought he would. And with an over-the-shoulder wave, the couple had gotten back in their car and zoomed off -- without explaining why they had done it.
If only nice stories ended like that. If only newspapermen didn't have to check, and doublecheck, and ask why. If only people who did such nice things didn't also do some things that aren't so nice . . . .
The handsome man hadn't just bought a $260 bike for a kid he didn't know. He had also anticipated what would happen when the kid flew through the front door, crying, "Mama, Mama, you're never going to believe this . . . . "
Exactly. Mama would have been sure her son had stolen the bike. So the handsome man left his companion's name and phone number at the bike shop, with her consent, so Mama could verify that the whole thing was on the level.
At the other end of that phone number, I found the beautiful young woman. Why did you do it? "We were sitting there trying to eat our dinner," she told me, "but we couldn't eat. We had seen how badly he wanted it. So I said, 'Why don't we go buy it for him?' "
And who was your dinner companion? "I guess you could say he's a friend of mine." What do you mean? "I'd rather not explain." Why not? "Personal reasons."
I had already guessed most of it by the time the man returned my phone call.
Didn't I understand? His wife thought he was out of town on business, and he had planned to have a quiet dinner that evening with a very special young woman, and he loves kids, and he loves her, and suddenly he was just deciding to do it, to lay out $260 for a kid he knew he'd never see again.
"To impress the girl?" I asked.
"To impress the girl," he said.
You don't see any names in this story because there are innocent people to protect. A wife who doesn't need to find out this kind of news in this kind of way. A bike shop owner who wanted a columnist to write about a happy kid, and who shouldn't have to pay a price for it. Most of all, a kid who's probably riding around a housing project right this minute on a Mongoose BMX.
I love Santa Claus stories as much as the next guy. It's just that sometimes the presents are wrapped with hidden strings.