484. John

This morning, I discovered that due to illness, a child who was going to visit me could not make it. But I was in a very sociable mood, and since the weather was okay, I decided to get on my scooter and take the bus into town. There would probably be some people there. I hummed “Downtown” as I travelled. When I got to the bus stop, a half hour early, a boy named John was waiting for the bus. I told him the bus wouldn’t be there for thirty minutes, and he was surprised. He was on a mission to get some groceries at a convenience store, and he thought buses came every ten minutes. They do, on school days, but not on Saturdays. And this was Saturday.
I’m a little tentative about starting conversations with children I don’t know when their parents aren’t around. I worry about other adults who may start up conversations with children and have sinister motives. I know my own motives aren’t sinister, but how did John know that? And would his pleasant and helpful conversation with me make him trust strange adults more than he should?
But since he was already trusting a strange adult, I’m glad it was me.
We talked about the bus schedule. I showed him my schedule, and he said his mother had one at home, but couldn’t find it. It’s so much easier to stay organized when you live alone, as I do. The bus schedule was not a topic full of potential, and we moved on to a discussion of school. I guessed that he was in fifth grade (I always try to guess a little high; children like to be thought of as older than they are), and he told me he was in fourth grade. I said he was almost in fifth grade, so I wasn’t far off. He seemed to like that.
John told me he went to the Pearson School, but it was a racist school, so next year he might go to the Jackson School. I asked him whether all the teachers were racist, and he said no, it was just the principal. For the purpose of that conversation, I refrained from probing; I strongly suspected that he was reflecting his parents’ opinions, and I didn’t think it was my place to explore the issue too much. John was black,
and he told me the principal, who was Puerto Rican, was prejudiced against blacks and whites. To me, that seemed highly unlikely in Amherst, but it did not seem like something I should challenge in that situation.
We talked a lot on the bus, and later, we were the only ones at the bus stop for the return trip. He was fascinated by my scooter, and we talked about that for a while. I brought up the subject of basketball. Amherst is a basketball town; I
didn’t come up with the subject because of any racial stereotype. John got very animated, and loved talking about basketball. As we were talking, I took bubble water out of my bag, and he blew bubbles. I told him I wanted to buy a basketball to bring to school, and he recommended that I avoid getting a professional-sized basketball. He told me children would have trouble controlling it.
John and I enjoyed our brief time together. I’ll probably see him around again, and we’ll enjoy some more time. I thought you’d enjoy this little slice of my life.

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