Bradley pedaled along the gravel bike path through the park, pumping hard and spraying gravel as he turned the corners. In a few minutes the school tardy bell would ring. He had been late twice already this month, and if he was late again, the school would call his mother. He just couldn’t let that happen.
His father had died when he was two years old, and since then he and his mother had lived alone. She worked the early shift at the hospital so that she could be home with him in the afternoons and evenings, but it meant that he had to get ready for school by himself and make his own breakfast. They had decided that an eleven-year-old could manage those things on his own. If the school called Mom at work, she’d be disappointed and worried. She might even hire Sister Williams again to help him get ready for school.
Suddenly Bradley skidded to a stop next to a black leather wallet, thick with papers and cards. It took him only a moment to scoop it up, slip it into his backpack, and be on his way.
Some early-morning jogger or someone taking a walk must have dropped the wallet, he decided. A fat wallet like this must contain lots of money. He thought about how tired his mother was after her shift at the hospital and about how little money they had after she paid the rent and bought food and clothes. They seldom had anything extra nice. Take his old bicycle, for instance. Mom had been so excited to find it at a garage sale so that he could have a motocross bike like everyone else that he could never tell her how much teasing he got because it was so battered and scratched. His mother’s birthday was just two days away, and even more than he wanted a new bicycle, he wanted to give her a really nice birthday present.
He shoved his bike into the rack in the school yard and hurried inside, dropping into his seat just as the bell rang. During recess, Bradley went into one of the cubicles in the lavatory. He dug the wallet out of his backpack and opened it. His fingers trembled as he took out the bills: twenty, forty, sixty—sixty dollars! He stuffed the money back inside and pulled out some cards, searching for a driver’s license. When he found it, the picture of a woman stared back at him. She had big brown eyes and wavy hair, her name was Maryann Foster, and she lived not very far from him. A heavy feeling started in his stomach as he wondered if Mrs. Foster had a son. He put everything back into the wallet and shoved it into his jacket pocket. Finders-keepers, he thought. But there was a tight feeling in his chest.
When Bradley got home after school, he tiptoed into the house and hurried to his room to hide the wallet. He sat down on his bed and thought about the birthday present that he could buy. For some reason, though, he didn’t feel happy.
He worked on his homework until his mother called him for supper. He kissed her and sat down at the table.
“How was school?” she asked.
“OK, I guess.”
“You sound unhappy. Did something happen at school that you want to talk about?”
“No, not really,” he replied. “Mom, what would you like for your birthday?”
“Oh, Bradley, I know that you don’t have much money, so I don’t want you to worry about my birthday. Just having you is like getting a present every day.”
“What if I told you that someone gave me some money?” Bradley felt his face grow red. The wallet was making him lie, and suddenly he hated it.
“Did someone give you some money?” his mother asked.
When he looked at his mother’s worried face, Bradley had to tell her the truth. “No, but this morning on my way to school I found a wallet. It has sixty dollars in it. I want to buy you a present.”
“Finders-keepers?” his mother asked.
“I thought that we probably need the money more than anyone else. You’ve always said that I should pray for what I need, and I’ve been praying for a long time for some way to buy you a really nice present.” Tears started to run down his cheeks.
“Do you think that if you really need it, that it’s all right to keep something that isn’t yours?” Mom asked in a quiet voice.
“No. I tried to tell myself that it was finders-keepers, but I didn’t really believe it. All I wanted to do was buy you something nice.”
“I know, honey,” said Mom, “but there’s a better present that you can give me than one bought with money.”
Bradley got up and gave her a hug, then went upstairs to get the wallet.
After supper they started walking to Mrs. Foster’s. When they found her address, Bradley opened the gate, went up the sidewalk bordered with late-summer flowers, and rang the doorbell.
The door opened, and Bradley recognized Mrs. Foster from her picture. Clinging to her legs and staring at him shyly were two small children, and she had a baby in her arms. She looked tired, and there were worry lines creasing her forehead.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Uh … my name’s Bradley. This morning on my way to school, I found this, so I’m returning it to you.” He held out the wallet.
The woman stared at him a moment, speechless. Then her face crumpled, and she started to cry. “I’m sorry,” she said, wiping the tears from her cheeks with the corner of her apron. “Won’t you please come in?”
When they were sitting inside, Bradley noticed that the furniture was old and that all the toys on the floor were in bad shape.
“Oh, Bradley,” said Mrs. Foster, “I’m grateful that you are honest. When I couldn’t find the wallet, I didn’t know what to do. I’ve been praying all day that whoever found my wallet would return it to me. Thank you for answering my prayer.”
Later, as they were walking home, Mom asked, “When Mrs. Foster tried to give you some money for a reward, why didn’t you take it?”
“Well, I decided that I didn’t really need the money so much. When I first found the wallet, I thought that it was the answer to my prayer. But I’m happier now to have been the answer to Mrs. Foster’s prayer. I think that she needs the money more than we do.”
“Oh, Bradley,” said Mom, hugging him. “I’m proud of you! You really are the best birthday present that any mother could have!”