As the narrator recalls her student years in Cape Town, South Africa, near which her parents owned a mine, she remembers her long friendship with her schoolmate Miriam Saiyetovitz and Miriam’s parents, who owned a concession store.
Against her mother’s initial objections, the narrator finds herself drawn into the exotic world of the concession stores where Africans shop. She is enticed by the sights, smells, sounds, and activities of the shopkeepers and the Africans. Though she is careful to keep her physical distance, because she is repulsed by some of the customs, sights, and smells that accompany this busy merchant world, she experiences an excitement and abundance of life that is seemingly missing from her own.
One day, as she visits the shops, she recognizes a schoolmate among the faces in a crowd and befriends Miriam Saiyetovitz (whose name the narrator initially terms “ugly”). The narrator’s description of Miriam’s mother makes it clear that she is befriending the daughter of a Jewish immigrant family, whose socioeconomic status falls far below that of her own family. Miriam’s parents are hardworking, however, and try to give their daughter everything they can. The narrator is impressed that her newfound friend can retrieve a lemonade from the kitchen inside the shop whenever she desires. She also notes that although Miriam does not physically distance herself from the Africans, she seems not to notice them either, talking only of school and how the future will unfold for the two girls. In fact, Miriam appears unaffected by her surroundings in general.
Miriam is invited to the narrator’s house for a birthday party but appears to think no more of it than of the concession stores. When Miriam tells her mother about the party, Mrs. Saiyetovitz,...
(The entire section is 736 words.)