He didn’t intend to buy anything. He just wanted to browse for a while, really just waste some time in the little shop that specialized in used musical instruments off a London alley.
“How much for this?” he asked the proprietor, pointing to a well-used harmonica laying in one of the display cases.
“That one I’ll let you have for sixty-five pounds,” the proprietor called out from behind the counter.
The customer nodded and moved deeper into the shop, its aisles narrow and cramped. For some reason he still doesn’t recall even to this day, he turned again to the owner and asked, “This old red tambourine? How much?”
“Oh, that’s not for sale. Sorry,” was the reply from the front of the shop.
There was something about the tambourine that drew him to it. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Something powerful, though. An urge he couldn’t resist. “Look,” he continued, “I’ll give you fifty pounds for it. That seems fair, given its age and condition.”
The owner moved from behind his counter and walked down the aisle to where the customer was standing holding the tambourine. The look on the owner’s face was one of annoyance as he took the tambourine from the shopper’s hands, placed it back on its shelf, announced, “I said it’s not for sale,” and turned unceremoniously back to where he had been working.
“Hey, wait! Don’t get all upset,” he called after the owner who by now was sitting behind the counter again. “If it’s not for sale, at least tell me why. Okay? How hard could that be?”
The owner looked over at him, sighed and motioned for him to come to the counter. “I suppose you’re right,” the owner apologized. “I shouldn’t have left it on the shelf if I didn’t want to sell it. But until you came in, nobody has shown any interest in it at all . . . for years.” The owner paused and then added, “So, I guess you’re entitled to an explanation.”
Coming out from behind the counter, the proprietor indicated for the customer to follow him back to where the old red tambourine was sitting on its shelf. Handing it to the customer, he said, “So, you want to know why it’s not for sale, huh? Well, then, shake it. See what happens.” As he finished, he backed away from the customer a bit and egged him on with, “Go ahead. Give it a few shakes.”
The customer just stood in the aisle holding the tambourine, but not shaking it. He looked suspiciously at the owner who had moved back a few more feet than before and asked, “So what gives here, anyway? You told me I was owed some explanation and now you’re just telling me to shake this thing and I’ll get my explanation. Is this some kind of scam or trick or something?”
The owner shook his head and said, “No scam, no trick. Just shake the tambourine and see what happens. I’ll just move back here a bit more, just in case.”
“Just in case what?” the customer countered, a bit of anger in his voice. And a little fear.
“You’ll have to shake the tambourine to find out.”
The customer moved a step closer to the owner, who, in turn, stepped back a step.
“Hey, look, pal,” the customer declared, handing the old tambourine back to the owner, “You can take this old piece of junk and put it where the sun don’t shine. Maybe some other sucker will bite on your little game. But not me, brother.”
And with that, the customer turned and stormed out of the store, slamming the front door as he left.
The owner waited for a few moments and then, lovingly stroking the little old tambourine, said, “Another unworthy one, my little friend.”
The little old tambourine rattled itself and on the floor at the feet of the owner appeared ten small gold coins.
“Thank you, my old friend,” the owner said, carefully replacing the tambourine to its place on the shelf. “May we get lucky before I die and find you a new owner. Someone who is worthy and fearless.”
Slowly bending down, the owner picked up the ten small gold coins off the floor just as another customer entered the store.
“Hey, old man,” the new customer jauntily announced in his mock cockney accent, “I’m starting a new band, and we need some instruments.”
The owner straightened up and walked towards the young man. His brash and loutish behavior, his designer-style clothing, his shaggy hairdo and his large lips suggested something promising to the owner.
“Why, yes, young man,” the owner replied, “I may have just the thing for an up and coming musical group.”