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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

    Paperback:
    Jan 2024, 368 pages

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How did he know today was my birthday and that I had really wanted a kite? "How did you know?" I asked when I'd found my voice.

"Still think I'm an angel?" Nate was gently teasing. "Yes, just give me wings and a tutu and I'm right at home," he said, and he kept right on raveling up the kite's string. "I used river birch, the lightest and best kite wood around."

I touched the wood. "It's real nice. It's going to fly great. But I never mentioned it was my birthday to anyone," I persisted.

"Ella, believe me, everyone in Ricksville knows the day you were born, and as a matter of fact, I brought the midwife to your house to help with the birth. I think I was the third person in the world to see you. What a pretty baby you were."

I stared into his lying face.

"Yes, you were. Sure enough, you looked nothing like your ma, but those big eyes of yours lit up your whole face. Still do, and don't let anyone tell you different."

I forgave him the lie.

"As to what you want, I can read you like a book. You've just got one of those wide-open faces. Too much emotion."

Nate crouched down till he was at my level, the worried look back on his face. "Ella, let me give you a piece of advice. You feel too much, and everything you feel is right there on that face of yours. It's in your voice. You've got to close that face of yours or people will keep hurting you. Put on a skin of toughness and hide yourself. You know, like a crab."

His hand reached out and shook me a little, his eyes searching mine. I didn't know what he was looking for, but it seemed like he didn't find it, for he just shook his head, looked at me in exasperation, and handed me the kite.

"Go on, take it out for a run. I know there's nothing you like better than running, and you'll have to run like the wind to get that kite in the air. Put it in your mind that you're an African running away from slave hunters deep in West Africa and you will fly."

I reached for the kite slowly, wondering if it was really mine. The urge to fly it was too much. I was ready.

"Take it around the back, use Perry Lane," Nate said. I scarcely heard his voice. I stretched out my hand and held the kite. It felt so light, so delicate. How it would soar! At Perry Lane, I started running like there were a million devils chasing me, slave-hunter dogs nipping at my heels. Yet my mind was clear, and an age-old rhythm pounded in my blood as I ran, till I felt the tension in the cord and the reassuring noise of the kite rippling in the wind. And still I ran, not even stopping to watch the kite, because by then the joy of running had oiled my joints, and that bucket of water behind my eyes had finally dried up, and I couldn't stop running, and from there it was Perry to Woodlawn, Woodlawn to Grace, and Grace to Ricksville. It was there I finally stopped, close to home, and turned to watch. I saw the large turquoise kite rise to meet the blue sky, bucking like a wild bronco as it got caught in updrafts and then growing stronger and pulling, tussling with me and the wind till it was finally soaring straight and high above me, like a bird on a wire. As I watched, the kite and the sky knitted together and became one.

Chapter 6

Philadelphia, Mississippi, August 1954

She loved her father more than her ma, and certainly more than Randy. Her daddy was big and strong and was the boss of the farm. He had dark brown straight hair like hers and everyone said they were two peas in a pod. She tried to walk like him, talk like him, and by the time she was sent to the big school up the road, she refused to wear anything other than pants and a shirt, just like him. His laugh was as loud as the church bells on Sunday, and when he walked across the farm, everyone disappeared. All the farmhands, who were always white, and all the nigger boys; they all ducked out of sight until he called them out. That they were scared of him made her realize that he was a king.

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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