We were both about nine or ten years old. And we were drinking from water fountains at the same time. We were standing on the box-step that allowed little guys to reach the handle. Our fountains were about five or six feet apart and the water spigot and handle were on opposite sides of each fountain. So, we looked at each other as we sipped. I was careful not to let my lips touch the spigot because Mom warned me I could get polio by doing that.
I noticed he looked scared when I looked back at him. His eyes got real big. I allowed the icy water to numb my lips as I slowly sipped.
I felt a sense of excitement and wonder. I was alone for some brief moments in a huge department store while Grandma was shopping for a new winter coat. Downtown Indianapolis was overwhelming with people, cars and huge buildings.
When the other kid left with his waiting parents, I wandered over to his fountain and tried to understand why we each had signs telling us which fountain to use. His fountain said “Blacks Only”. No one was waiting so I climbed up his step and slowly turned on his water. I spit it out. The water was warm. Not like my fountain. I crept to the doorway of his bathroom and heard no noises so I walked in. I felt scared. There were paper towels all over the floor around an overflowing trash can…and the air was cold. I wondered why they didn’t have a man in there keeping things clean….like in my bathroom on the other side of my fountain.
Knowing Grandma would come looking for me soon, I hurried back to the ladies coat department. I was just in time because when Grandma saw me she asked my opinion about a bright burgundy coat. It was heavy and long and I really liked it on Grandma. I told her it made her look beautiful. I believe she wore that coat every winter for the next forty years.
When Grandma wore that bright burgundy coat, it reminded me of drinking warm water and seeing a boy’s scared eyes looking back at me.
I often wonder what became of him. And I wonder if those scared eyes became angry ones.