07 September 2009

A Boy and His Bike.

This Saturday began like any good one should, with a little coffee in the morning and a big plan: garage sales and errands and a good chunk of time to myself. Not that I mind company on the weekend, of course, but lately that hasn't been balanced much with time for absolute solitude. By this weekend, I was ready for it. There is something about browsing through junk and walking around the grocery store that focuses my usually wandering gaze momentarily onto a single dusty plate.

This weekend, I was restricted to going to garage sales in our neighborhood for one reason or another and Miriam had called with a tip on some mason jars on Clarke Street. With backpack and cash in tow, I headed there first. Three little old ladies greeted me warmly, with all manner of things laid out on card tables, pulling evenly from the latest five decades. They were contentedly sitting in the shade, discussing the neighborhood generally while I scoured the piles until I settled on a few silly things: 3 yards of red cotton fabric, a gold barrette, a new belt and an old-fashioned metal ice cube tray. As I traded 8 dollars for the treasures, I asked after the mason jars. The oldest and least mobile of the three indicated that she'd been the one who talked to Miriam and sure, she had some jars, but no one but her knew where to look for them. She'd have to go down to the basement herself, but she wasn't feeling up to it just then. Could I come back a little later on?

Of course, I said, I could certainly stop back later but not to trouble herself too greatly after just these jars. She got a curious look and asked why we wanted mason jars after all. Her friend answered for me, Why, these girls want to make jam! The older one looked again at me doubtfully. Jam? And then what are you going to do with it! Eat it? She chuckled at the thought and told me again to stop back later on. Then she handed me back a dollar, reconsidering after this little while her earlier price on the piece of red cotton fabric.

The younger lady then nodded toward the end of the driveway where a younger boy, of 13 or 14 had set up a stand selling lemonade and had displayed some things of his. I do hope he sells some things, she said to her friend. He's such a nice boy. And you know, his parents don't help him out at all either. But he is such a nice young man.

I said I'd take a look at what I might be able to use, but glanced doubtfully at the old computer printer, skateboard and BMX bike. As a junk collector, I reach more readily for old lady junk than for 13 year old kid junk, but looking more closely, I saw that he was selling an old bike lock too. We can always use another bike lock around our house, with all of our bicycle riding friends, and I asked him the price.

He asked how much I had to spend. I offered five, and he offered seven, and I caved at the higher price, because this was a little kid after all. And a bicycle lock with a working key is a commodity indeed. As I handed him the dollars, I asked why he didn't need a bike lock himself and looked up for the first time at his face.

For a boy, he was pretty quiet and he had nice manners without sounding maladjusted. Although his sneakers weren't name brand or new, they were clean, like he'd made an effort to stay out of the dirt. Well...he said, I'm selling my bike too, so I don't need a lock anymore. I felt a sting in the end of my nose. Oh, I said, a little lump caught in my throat. He handed me the key to the lock, wrapped carefully up in a little plastic sandwich baggie and I placed it into the pocket of my backpack. I turned and headed back to my own bike, feeling fairly rotten.

I had meant to be nice, to buy something he was selling, but that was before I realized he was just a little kid, selling off his bike just as the weather here is getting nice out. I imagined that he needed school supplies or some similarly responsible thing, the kind of kid the elderly ladies next door affectionately call a nice young man, and here I was letting him sell me his bike lock.

My own little brother, another quietly responsible kid who's always been helpful and responsible beyond his years, watched too closely as my grandfather got sick when he was only 12. And here was this kid Chris, who so reminded me of Jake, both without much mischief behind their eyes.

I ran the rest of my errands and came back a few hours later for the mason jars. The bike was still for sale. Another truth hit me after leaving the second time: that if he didn't sell his bike now, he wouldn't be able to ride it without the lock he'd sold me that morning. I was fairly crushed at this thought, but didn't want to meddle. On the other hand, I couldn't bring myself to use the lock, knowing he probably needed it.

At five o'clock I succumbed to the guilt of the thing. I called my mom and laid it out for her. She assured me that I wouldn't seem totally insane if I went back and tried to give it back. So before I really knew what I would say and before I could get nervous, I rode my bike back to Clarke Street for the third time that day. I found Chris next to his own house next door, wearing his bike helmet and getting ready to ride out on his bike.

Hey there, I said, So, no luck selling the bike then? No, he replied, Actually I'm glad you came back. He too, had realized the mistake in selling the lock in advance of the bike, but he seemed troubled over the issue of refunding the money he had already grown attached to. So I proposed a solution. I told him I wanted him to keep the lock as long as he still had the bike. If he did sell it, then he could email me and bring me the lock, but he could hang onto it until then. I wrote down my email address and told him that it didn't really matter how long it took him, I was in no hurry, and in the meantime, he could also hang onto the money I'd already paid him.

I handed him the lock and the key and my whole person felt instantly lighter. He seemed pretty relieved himself. Even if I never see that lock again, I'm not too concerned about the seven dollars, either way. For me, seven dollars is a tiny amount of money, but for a kid, I recall it being quite a lot.. And I'm happy to gamble on the possibility that it is.


bikeville said...

such a nice story. I love the label-"kids are great"!

Emily Glaubinger said...

jeez, my heart hurts now.