Excerpt from A Girl is A Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Girl is A Body of Water

by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

A Girl is A Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi X
A Girl is A Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 560 pages
    Jun 15, 2021, 450 pages


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Nattetta, Bugerere, Ugand

May 1975

Until that night, Kirabo had not cared about her. She was curious on occasion (Where is she? What does she look like? How does it feel to have a mother?, that sort of thing), but whenever she asked about her and family said, "No one knows about her," in that never-mind way of large families, she dropped it. After all, she was with family and she was loved. But then recently her second self, the one who did mad things, had started to fly out of her body, and she had linked the two.

On this occasion, when she asked about her mother and family fobbed her off again with "Don't think about her; think about your grandparents and your father," something tore. It must have been the new suspicion (Maybe she does not want me because I am ...) that cut like razors.

A mosquito came zwinging. It must have gorged itself on some-one because its song was slow and deep, unlike the skinny, high-pitched hungry ones that flew as if crazed. Kirabo's eyes found it and followed it, followed it and, rising to her knees, she clapped it so hard her palms burned. She brought her hands to the candle to check her prize. Black blood: yesterday's. There is no satisfaction like clapping a bloated mosquito out of existence mid-air. She wiped mosquito mash on a stray piece of paper and sat back and waited again.

Kirabo wanted storytelling, but the teenagers were engrossed in gossip. They lounged on three bunk beds in the girls' bed-room. Some lay, some sat, legs dangling, others cross-legged, squeezed cosily, two or three to a bed. They had gathered as usual, after supper, to chatter before going off to sleep. Kirabo was not welcome.

For a while she had watched them, waiting to catch a pause, a breath, a tick of silence in their babble, to wedge in her call to storytelling—nothing. Finally, she gritted her teeth and called, "Once, a day came ..." but her voice carried too far above the teenagers' heads and rang impatient in the rafters.

The hush that fell could have brought down trees. Teenagers' heads turned, eyes glaring (But who does this child think she is?), some seething (What makes you think we want to hear your stories?). None answered her call.

Another twelve-year-old would have been intimidated—there were ten teenagers in the room—but not Kirabo. Not visibly, anyway. She stared straight ahead, lips pouting. She was the kabejja of her grandparents, which meant that all the love in the house belonged to her, and whether they liked it or not, the teenagers.

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Excerpted from A Girl is A Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Copyright © 2020 by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Excerpted by permission of Tin House Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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