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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Print Excerpt

And my lovely day shattered and crumbled into dust at my feet.

Chapter 4

Philadelphia, Mississippi, Early 1953

She was white and was never allowed to forget it. But she wasn't quite the right type of white. Wasn't blond, or blue-eyed. Just the mousy brown of an ordinary white person. Her mother always told her that her hair was near white when she was born. It had taken two years for it to turn a pale blond.

"You were so adorable. Like a cherub," her mother would say wistfully. "Skin like cream, eyes the palest blue-green. You took after me then." Her mother always paused after saying this, as though she didn't want to relinquish the image. "Then your father's genes kicked in and now look at you, all that beautiful hair and eyes turned brown, just like your brother." Then, perhaps feeling guilty, her mother would add hastily, "Well, at least you still have your beautiful skin. You need to stay out of the sun, or you will burn. I keep telling you that." She must have heard this almost every day of her life, right up to when her mother died.

Yet she remembers a time of being out in the sun all day, hatless. It was a time when her mother didn't care or had other things to occupy her. She doesn't remember her mother much during this time. All she remembers is running barefoot outside, and someone, Bessie, their black cook, calling her name, running after her, swooping her up, smooshing her laughing face against that soft round mountainous chest before swirling her around and around. It was a chest she returned to time and time again: when her stomach hurt, or when she felt lonely, or when her brother, Randy, was tormenting her. Bessie would swoop her up, kiss her with a big resounding smack, and put her under her skirts, where she would stay, quiet as a mouse, as Bessie hummed and sang as she washed the clothes in the tub, till Randy disappeared. She would then crawl out from under those skirts and Bessie would say, laughing, "Go on with you, chile. I gots work to do. Don't think I got time to play games with you," and then she would wink at her.

"Don't go encouraging that chile," Mary, Bessie's helper, would say, scowling. "You know how they be. One minute all cute and babyish, and the next like the very devil take them over. Look at that Randy over there. See how quickly he turn? Wasn't but five years ago he was sucking on your breast, and now can't barely stand the sight o' you. Sooner spit at you than say hello."

"This one's different. I knows it."

"This one's just the same as her ma. You just slow, Bessie. How many of them babies you raised?"

They were always talking about her and her ma, but she wasn't sure what they were saying, just that Mary looked mad, but she always looked mad, and Bessie, well, Bessie was just Bessie. She put her thumb in her mouth and listened awhile more before going to pull on Bessie's long skirt.

"I'm tired."

Bessie immediately sat down on the kitchen chair that was pushed against the wall. Reached up and pulled her across her lap, so that her head was resting on that mountain of pillows. She relaxed into Bessie's soft flesh.

"Sleep, chile."

Chapter 5

Nate's Diner stood right in the center of town on Main Street, an oddity because it was the only black-owned business on the white side of town.

If you were on Main Street, you could not miss the brand-new Greyhound Bus Station, nor ignore the delicious, greasy fried chicken smell that wafted in and out as Nate's doors opened and closed; so tempting it made everyone waiting for the bus wonder if they had time to slip out of line to grab a quick bite to go before the bus driver shouted, "Bring your tickets, step up, bring your tickets."

And if you decided to make a run for it, all you had to do was follow your nose, and it would lead you across the road and half a block up, right to the red neon sign. Ma was the tall, heavy-set woman you saw behind the counter fixing and wrapping sandwiches or burgers or sometimes frying crispy chicken wings and fries. She worked afternoons six days a week at a job that she said was way beneath her.

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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