‘A Matter of Taste’ by Alex La Guma

Not unlike Grace Paley, Alex La Guma takes a tiny moment and with great economy conjures an entire time, in this instance the years of apartheid in South Africa. Impoverished people at the margins of society are shown as emotionally intelligent and imaginative, capable of a rich fantasy which can alleviate the pain at least for a while. When I say people, I mean men, and men officially divided by race. I’ve made it sound more sentimental than it is, probably because I chose it instead of O. Henry’s ‘Gift of the Magi’ for fear of ridicule. The story also contains the word “portjackson” which I assume is a plant or tree, but to look it up would be to ruin the frisson of seeing the word. Portjackson.

(1967; included in A Walk in the Night, Heinemann African Writers Series, which seems to be out of print.)