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Excerpt from Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Wade in the Water

A Novel

by Nyani Nkrumah

Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah X
Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 320 pages

    Jan 2024, 368 pages


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I sat on the front step, reluctant to head back into the steaming house. It was getting dark, and the sinking sun gave the clouds a heavenly golden-red aura. I reached up and waved to God, who I could just see by his wispy beard. I didn't need a Bible or preacher to tell me God was there; all I had to do was to look outside, past the buildings and the roads that humans had created, to the magnificent magnolia trees that spread out on their own, branches outstretched as though the trees were praising God. Then, finally, I would look up, way up, past the clouds, past the edge of the earth, almost into the Third Heaven.

"Hello, God," I whispered. "It's Ella again."

The clouds moved and God's mouth opened into a wide smile. I smiled back, taking in the gentle breeze and the responding rustle of the leaves. God was passing by in the wind.

"Please make another day just like today," I asked silently.

I never got an answer, because just then I heard the shuffle of Ma's feet down the road, heavy with weight and tiredness. I ran to help her carry in our evening meal—a bag of leftover chicken and fries from Nate's Diner, where Ma worked. The last stretch was downhill, but she was still breathless from the steep climb where Grace meets Ricksville Road.

"Ma, please give me the bag ... Ma ..."

Ma's mouth twitched a little, but she said nothing.

"Ma, give it over."

Ma handed me the bag, and I ran past her, wishing that someone could do something about her sore legs. I flicked on the lights, dumped the bag on the table, and took out the place mats to set the table.

Ma finally came in. She moved slowly past me and stood heaving by the kitchen counter. She opened the bag and began putting chicken pieces and mounds of fries onto the paper plates, and I took them in turn and carefully set five heaped plates on the small kitchen table by the window.

Finally, she turned.

I waited, knowing that she would now speak.

"Get the others."

She never called me by my name.

I was the sin that she couldn't wash out.

I went out the front door and yelled, "Kitty, Callun Thomas, Stevie! Ma wants you!" I waited ten seconds and bellowed out their names again, hard. Stevie came first, running from behind the house, carrying a baseball bat and gloves. He was thirteen, almost fourteen, two years older than me. C.T., the baby and only four years old, trailed behind him. Kitty, who was sixteen and the eldest, was always late. I left Ma to deal with finding her and banged the door shut. Then I scooped C.T. into my arms. He was a bit slow, but he was the sweetest boy I knew. I ruffled his soft light-brown hair and rubbed my face on his cheek.

"You're so pretty," I said.


"Okay, handsome. You're the most handsome boy in the world."

C.T. smiled, a big broad toothy smile. I took him to wash his hands, and by the time I got back into the kitchen, the others were all there. Three heads that looked like Ma and Leroy: soft light brown curly hair; vanilla-hued skin and almond-shaped green eyes. They were so pale they could almost pass for white, except for the curls in their hair and the slightly generous set of their mouths.

I sat at the end of the kitchen table, dark as an oil spill, looking like a cuckoo in their nest.

Becky, my ex-best friend, had taken me behind the woodpile four years ago when I was seven and whispered that I was illegal and that my real father was an Army man with short steel-wool hair, coal black, just like me, who had stopped by Ma's house while her husband, Leroy, was away on one of his long trips. "Just long enough to hang his coat before he was gone," she had added, with her ma's snide smile.

"Illegitimate, not illegal," I had corrected, furious enough to strike her dead. I hated her from that moment on, and I planned an exacting revenge—hacking off all the hair on her baby doll with the open-and-shut eyes. I swore I'd never talk to her again, and I never did.

Excerpted from Wade in the Water by Nyani Nkrumah. Copyright © 2023 by Nyani Nkrumah. Excerpted by permission of Amistad. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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