The little boy made his way home against the biting wind that cut his face. His tiny boot prints stretched into the darkness behind him as the snow fell, seemingly bent on covering everything and erasing it from memory, leaving the earth clean and white. It had grown dark and the only light came from the street lamps that stood like soldiers along the sidewalk, spilling their light in golden circles around them. Occasionally the little boy would pass under one of these lights, and for a brief moment he felt he was safe from the numbing cold and the thick, pervasive darkness. But the feeling lingered only briefly before he was thrust again into the shadows, leaving his respite behind.
The little boy followed the sidewalk beneath his feet, passing one darkened house after another. With all of the lights out and the inhabitants asleep for the night, the houses were devoid of life, and the almost hungry look they had made the little boy turn his head, lest they see him staring and decide to consume him.
So the little boy walked on, his head down and his hands in his pockets, and before long the ground beneath him became illuminated. He looked up to see that there was, in fact, one building with its lights still on. The little boy saw with a mix of excitement and dismay that it was a toy store. Sharp pangs of longing gripped him as he gazed transfixed through the store's windows. He approached the door with the intent to go inside, but as he stood on the snow covered steps, he noticed a sign hung on the knob that told him the store was closed. Not surprised, but with a heavy heart yet, the little boy turned and stepped back onto the sidewalk. He gave the store a final mournful look, and that's when he noticed the brown paper bag on the ground near the door.
After a moment of deliberation, the boy scanned the street around him went over to the bag. He squatted down to get a look inside, and what he saw caught his breath. He reached inside and delicately withdrew the object, anxious that someone was watching him but excited nonetheless.
It was a porcelain angel, its wings made with real feathers, and it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. To the smallest detail the angel had been crafted, and the little boy stood there in the snow letting his eyes take in every one. He noticed first the angel's impossibly blue eyes that sat like gemstones in her serene expression, and mused that color like that couldn't exist in a world like his. The angel's hair had been made with the utmost care, and it cascaded down her back in waves of gold. The little boy ran his shaking fingers through it and was taken by how soft it was. Finally, he saw that the angel had been given a smile. It was full of an immense sadness as well as joy, as if the weight of the world rested behind it, and the little boy's heart began to pound in his chest. He had found something amazing here, and he couldn't wait to take it home. He could no longer feel the chill of the night air around him, and he felt as though he may burst as he thought of the look on his mother's face when he showed it to her. He'd never gotten his mother a Christmas present before, and the thought of giving her something so amazing brought tears to the little boy's eyes.
The little boy was jolted out of his fantasy, however, by the sound of the door opening in front of him. An elderly man emerged from the building and examined the street. Then he noticed him the boy there with the angel in his arms. He frowned heavily, and when he did the little boy knew that he would not be giving his mother a Christmas present after all.
"Young man," he said with an effort, "that doesn't belong to you. Now put it back in the bag and hand it here. Should kick myself for leaving it out here in the first place."
The little boy could hardly hide his disappointment as he did what he was told. He gently placed the angel back into the bag and gave it to the old man, knowing that he could easily take the bag and run had he wanted to. But the angel wasn't his, and he knew that to take it meant someone else would be denied.
"Thank you, son," said the old man, patting him on the shoulder. "Now get home before you freeze to death.
The little boy stood for a long while outside the toy store after the old man had gone back inside, numbed more by an enormous sense of loss than by the cold. With a sigh, he began walking again, wanting nothing more than to get as far away from the store as possible. But even as he did, the image of the angel circled his mind. He had held perfection in his hands, and now it was gone. She was someone else's after all, and you can't take what doesn't belong to you.
Despite this thought, the little boy bemoaned how unfair it all was. Like a rigged game, he thought. Maybe it was a game, but the boy wished that he would win at least once. That's all he wanted.