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Nairobi Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the story opens, Oliver Leahy is taking Ginny to some exclusive shops on New York City’s Madison Avenue to buy for her what he calls “an appropriate outfit.” For what it is appropriate, Ginny does not know, but she takes great pleasure in the several hours of shopping. Ginny is very attractive, the kind of woman it would be hard for a man not to find captivating, though she seems unaware of that. Indeed, she is a rather young model.

It is only after the reader has finished the story, reflected on it, and considered the reverberations of the title, “Nairobi,” that he or she comes to understand what is taking place. Ginny is innocently to get some information for Oliver. The information will come (although she will not know that) from Herbert Crews as a tribute to her beauty. Crews is highly placed in the Zieboldt Foundation, which has money to give away or invest.

In the first shop, Ginny loves a green velvet jumpsuit, but whether to buy it is not her decision, and Oliver chooses for her a navy blue blazer and a white pleated skirt, both in Irish linen, and a pale blue silk blouse. Oliver tells the clerk to take the tags off, that she will wear the clothes, and the clerk wraps Ginny’s old clothes in a bundle. Out in the street, Ginny looks at herself in the shop windows and finds her image strange but not unpleasing. Oliver compliments her, saying that she looks like a convent schoolgirl.

In a jewelry boutique, Oliver buys for her more gifts to emphasize her look of expensive simplicity: silver earrings in conch shapes and thin silver bracelets with the heads of animals and birds. Ginny is puzzled about how to relate to this man who is buying her expensive gifts—in essence, costuming her—and when he asks if it hurts to put the earrings in her ears, she is conscious of him being close to her. She does not know whether to accept the intimacy or draw away. She draws away slightly, perhaps like a convent schoolgirl, as she answers him. In a shoe salon, Oliver chooses for her some vanilla kidskin sandals, which evidently please Ginny very much. The salesperson notes that Oliver’s taste is “unerring.”

Her costume is now complete. It makes no demands or claims, except the evident one, and it speaks, as her appearance and manner speak, of guilelessness. They take a cab, and Oliver gives her instructions in a low, “casual” voice.

Ginny is to speak and interact very little, and perhaps even wander away to skim a magazine or step onto the porch, if no one is speaking to her. She is to pay no attention to Oliver. Above all, she is to act as if nothing that any of the three of them say is important to her. He squeezes Ginny’s hand and releases it, and he repeats that she is not to be concerned with any of them. She says yes, admiring her vanilla sandals with eight straps on each, and thinks that she has never owned any shoes so lovely. She reassures Oliver that she understands him.

The reader wonders why this lovely, innocent young woman is being made so irresistible and at the same time being instructed to be so cool and distant. For whom is she the bait, and for what purpose is he to be so tantalized? How will he demand intimacy?

The uniformed doorman is very accommodating about keeping the parcel that Oliver is carrying. In the elevator, Oliver shows some signs of nervousness. He assays that her costume is perfect, and he straightens his tie. Ginny regards him coolly as an old thirty-four-year-old, but she realizes that he is handsome and comes to see that they are an attractive couple.

Oliver introduces his friends, Marguerite and Herbert, their last name sounding like “Crews.” Oliver says that they cannot stay and he cannot accompany them on their...

(The entire section is 1,018 words.)