On a busy summer Sunday I served a middle-aged woman who bought a book about the Museum and a refrigerator magnet which, with the tax, came to a grand total of $16.18.
She paid with a twenty. After I counted back her change of $3.82, she stood staring at the money in her hand.
Oh god, was this going to be “one of those days…” I thought, with a smile plastered on my face.
She saw me staring. “Oh, no worries,” she said, “I was just looking at your money. I’ve never seen American money before.”
“Where are you from?” I asked her.
Lots of Ozzies come to the museum, because L.A.’s the main hub between Australia/New Zealand and North America.” “Welcome to the United States,” I said.
“Where are you from?” she asked me.
People hear my accent and always want to know where I come from. I sometimes say country number two – where we lived for over twenty years and where our children were born – because I know from experience that it won’t be a long story. If I give the name of my birth country I have to be able to answer the many questions that I know will follow. I was feeling chatty that day, so I told this woman the truth.
“What a coincidence,” she said, “I’m also from there!” I don’t know why meeting a countryman makes me so happy, but it does, perhaps it helps me feel less lonely in this huge country. I was doubly delighted to discover we came from the same city.
“What’s your name?” she asked me.
“Rosanne Freed,” I said, “What’s yours?”
“Carmella – – -” she said. I didn’t hear her surname, it started with a Z–.
Carmella isn’t a very popular name, I’ve only known one person called Carmella, and she was my sister’s best friend from elementary school, so I asked her, “Do you by any chance know my sister M.J?” – which is almost like asking a New Yorker whether they know Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and City – but hey, you never know.
“Yes, I do,” she said, “M.J. was my very best school chum. What did you say your name was…?”
The woman standing in front of me looking at the American money in her hand was my sister’s long-lost school friend, Carmella S. The last time we saw each other was in 1968, when we were both on holiday in Tel Aviv. I remembered her as a short-sighted overweight girl who peered at you through the thick lenses of her spectacles.
“I didn’t recognize you, because you aren’t wearing glasses,” I told her…