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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This particular Saturday morning, I ran through the rain all the way down Ricksville, up Grace, took a right on Woodlawn, and finally reached Perry before crossing over to Main. I hurried past the Wilkinson Hardware Store without looking in, because everyone knew that they didn't serve blacks and everyone's ma said we were not to go near there or we'd get such a whupping our butts would be aflame for a week. I swung open the door to Nate's and quickly went to the back and put on an apron. Then I got out the mop, broom, and dustpan and filled a bucket with soapy water.

"This floor here is real dirty, Nate," I said, mopping away.

Nate was tall, with a high forehead, light brown eyes, and thick, smooth brown skin. He was looking at me impatiently, momentarily distracted from spicing the chicken he was about to cook.

"Sure is. A dirty floor store is a profitable one. Means people are coming in and out. Just make sure you mop up real good. It's been raining and folks' shoes are muddy. Now, back to work, Ella. Today's a busy day."

I cleaned in silence for the next half hour, giving the floor all my attention, getting on my hands and knees to scrape the gummy sticky mess off the linoleum with a knife. Afterwards, when the floor was clean and shiny, I washed my hands and sat at the counter, watching Nate fry the spicy batch of chicken for the Saturday noontime rush.


"Yes?" Nate was focused on dipping chicken thighs into a bowl of flour mixed with seasoning.

"Sure you couldn't be my father?"

He abruptly stopped what he was doing, dusted his floury hands over his apron, and turned around so he was facing me. After a moment, he walked up to the counter and looked at me wearily.

"Ella, what is wrong?"

I shook my head. "Nothing. Just checking."

"Okay, you ask me if I am your father at least three times a year, and if I remember correctly, you even asked me once if I was an angel. An angel, Ella?"

My mouth wobbled and I concentrated on counting the number of chicken pieces on the table to hold back the bucket of wetness that was always behind my eyes, trying to seep out.

"You know the answer is no. I'm just a single man with no kids, just a lot of chicken to fry."

His face softened. "Why does it matter so much that you have no daddy? I never had one. Not one who would acknowledge me anyway." His eyes looked sad for an instant. Then he shook his head and continued, "Half the kids up Ricksville Road don't often see their fathers. How often do your brothers and sister see Leroy? That man's always gone. Eight months in Alabama, six months in Arkansas, here for a few months, then he's gone again. It's what we do down here, Ella, men trying to chase down money to keep body and soul together."

I didn't answer, holding in the volcano trapped inside my chest.

"What happened to God?" he said. "I thought you told me the last time that He was your dad."

I wanted to say that I needed one on earth, too, but when my mouth opened nothing came out.

It was quiet in the store. Nate looked troubled.

"Did they forget your birthday again?"

I shrugged off the question, pretending I didn't care if they did or they didn't.

"Is it your twelfth?"

I nodded.

Nate's broad smile filled the room.

Nate wasn't handsome at first glance, but when you'd stared up at him as many times as I had, or had seen him smiling or singing softly to himself, you'd see his features rearranging into such symmetrical perfection that strangers would think someone else had walked in and taken over the grill.

"I remember twelve. Now, that's a great age. You suddenly feel all grown up, finally on the march to being a teenager." He smiled down at me. "Well, I haven't forgotten. I've got something for you."

He came around the counter and put his hands on my shoulders and led me to the back storeroom. From behind the door, he pulled out the most beautiful hand-carved kite I had ever seen. The wood looked light and flexible, and the thin, silky cloth was a pretty turquoise color. It was almost as tall as I was.

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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