The short story Recitatif is divided into 'encounters', each one a union or reunion between the characters Twyla and Roberta.
Meeting in a state home for children, Twyla and Roberta become friends because of their similar circumstances. Both are currently residing at St. Bonny's because their mothers could not provide adequate care for them. Neither of the children knows the reality of what is happening with their parents, Roberta being told her mother is sick and Twyla being told her mother "dances all night". Rolling into a major theme of the novel, both of the girls are different races (black and white), but who is who is not told just yet. Despite these differences, what they have both been through is what makes them such good pals. They have an "alliance" with each other against the girls on the second floor, and against the orphans at the home who lost their parents, probably just so that they could have something to do. Maggie becomes friends with both of them - although she cannot talk, she makes food in the kitchen for all of the children. Every Sunday, the girls' mothers come to see them at a church. Both of the youth become embarrassed when, after Mary (Twyla's mother) offers her hand to Roberta's mother, Roberta's mother refuses to touch it.
Eight years later in the 1960's, the good friends Twlya and Roberta coincidentally meet again. Twyla is working at a restaurant that Roberta comes into with two men that are too rambunctious and annoying. The short encounter resembles themes of how both of the girls don't like how the other is living, but are too cowardly to change anything.
Third Encounter -
Twelve years after the second encounter, or twenty years after the first, the women meet again. Both are married, and they bump shopping carts at a new supermarket. The meeting seems a lot more optimistic than it was last time, since memories of their wedding day's love for their husbands, and just little things that they've done over the years are shared. Both don't have any money problems, since Roberta is married to an IBM executive and Twyla a firefighter.
At an unknown date, the women meet once again. Racial matters, now that the two are adults, get in the way of their friendship. Twyla sees Roberta picketing forced integration, an she feels scared. Roberta doesn't have any sympathy for her, and continues to protest. Roberta tells Twyla that when Twyla was little, she had kicked Maggie, who Roberta says was black, while she was on the ground. Twyla never thought of Maggie as black before, instead having "sandy skin". Joining an anti-picket picket across the street, Twyla holds up signs that seem to have a conversation with Roberta.
On Christmas Eve some time far after the previous encounter, the two meet for the final time in a quiet coffee shop. The two discuss racism once again, and sympathy is spread. Ending without a resolution, the conclusion shows much resemblance to our world today.