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 30, 2024, 368 pages


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Ma spent most of the meal with C.T. on her lap, feeding him like a baby even though he was old enough to use a fork. She was breathing better now. Her hair, pulled into a bun for work, now hung loose and luxurious down her back. As soon as she was done with C.T., she put him down on the floor. Kitty put her arms around Ma, and as she did so, Ma's face became soft and relaxed, like putty. I wondered what it would be like to have that effect on people, on Ma.

Kitty was pretty, slender, and waiflike with wide-set eyes, a button nose, and long wavy hair. Ma had once said that looking at Kitty was like standing beside a blue ocean and gazing over the sunset. In our house, we knew that she mesmerized Ma and Leroy with her beauty and her dainty flounce. Somehow the rest of us had escaped her spell.

Stevie saw me looking at them and winked. He was tall for his age, and handsome, except he had big old buckteeth. No one made fun of his teeth, though, because he was the smartest kid in town. Ask Stevie anything about math, physics, or engineering and he would talk you into an unexpected nap. He wolfed down his dinner as usual and waited for Ma. She was who we all yearned for, and Stevie and Kitty constantly fought to be first place in her affections. But we were never able to forget that it was Kitty who was to be Ma's ticket out of the poor side of Ricksville. Ma was going to get Kitty married to a lawyer or doctor up in Atlanta, one of those Morehouse graduates who was looking for a beautiful wife. Never mind that she couldn't divide eight into fifty-six without having to recite the entire eight-times table.

"Do you want some more food, Stevie?" Ma finally noticed Stevie's empty plate.

"Yes. Ma, you sure can fry up some chicken."

"Yes what?"

Ma was a stickler for good manners. She didn't want us disgracing her in public. She wouldn't let anyone forget that although she had sunk this low, she hadn't started out this way.

"Yes, please, Ma. We're in the finals for the baseball tournament, Ma."

Ma turned her attention fully away from Kitty and smiled at Stevie. "We'll be there," she said. "I told Nate there was a chance, and he said he'd give me the day off if it happened."

"Ma, we won the Ricksville mud battle today," I said loudly.

No one spoke.

My words hung in the air and disappeared. Kitty kept picking at her food, and Ma was wiping C.T.'s nose, her eyes keenly on him.

Stevie twitched in his seat.

Why did I even try? How could I have been so stupid? What an idiot you are, I said viciously to myself. What a stupid, ugly idiot. I looked past Stevie. Caught the pity in his eyes and hated him for it. Hated his legitimate birth, his fair skin, and that he was still loved despite his buck teeth.

The silence grew and held.

"You mean our side of the street won?" Stevie's voice was raspy, and too loud.

I felt nothing but shame. I didn't need rescuing. I could rescue myself.

"Yes," I said flatly.

"We never won before," he said.

I shrugged, wishing he would just shut up.

Ma pursed her lips. She turned and lifted C.T. into her arms and carried him off to be cleaned up.

"Hey, Oreo," Stevie said softly.

"What?" I answered meanly.

"Don't worry about it."

I stared at him blankly, as if I didn't know what he was talking about. Hated the name that many outsiders thought was a sweet, pet name. Only I knew it was Leroy's particularly sly way of branding me, so I never forgot that I was the illegitimate child of his wife, a constant reminder of her infidelity, neatly sandwiched between his legitimate children. Only I knew how deep it went, for didn't we all know that the paste in the middle of the cookie was white, when I was as opposite to that as you could get? How could I forget even without the nickname, looking so different than they did? But that was never enough for Leroy.

I willed my tears to slide back into my eyes by thinking how much I hated them all.

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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