Saturday, July 20, 2024

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Amphibious Green: A Short Story by by Nnedi Okorafor

The little girl in the car sat quietly in a sea of daisies staring at the tiny white frog in the plastic bag. The African clawed frog was a gift from her mother. Nevertheless, it simply would never replace Baxter, even if it was from the same place as her parents. Ada poked at the plastic bag sending the frog into a fit of watery energy. When it tired, it slowly sank back to the bottom of the bag, motionless again.

From the driver’s seat, her mother smiled. Ada was her most sensitive child. She was like a human tuning fork. Maybe Ada wouldn’t forget about the toad but at least her attention would be occupied for a while.

“You guys look look!” Ada exclaimed bursting into the living room, the pet shop plastic bag shaking violently in her tight grip. “Mommy got me this!”

Her oldest sister, Chinyere, who sat in front of the wide screen television only grunted. She was too grown up for such childish nonsense. Iheoma sat at the family computer. She glanced at Ada with a hint of interest. She was in the midst of her most wonderful poem ever and was a little annoyed at the interruption. She squinted at the bag. “Why the thing is almost, like, microscopic!” she said. She turned back to her poem. “Now quit bugging me. A poet is not to be interrupted.”

Ada set up the aquarium with shaking hands. No, the frog wasn’t Baxter but it sure was cute. It had beady black eyes and a permanent smile stretched across its face. The twelve-gallon aquarium decorated with plastic sea plants and blue stones was a paradise for the tiny frog. She sat and watched its stop-go movements for hours. The transparent smooth skinned creature pumped its legs, its eyes brooding and its short hands limp. Every so often a bubble of air would escape its tight lips.


The grass in the yard reached just beyond her head. It was cool and damp from the morning’s dew. With a belly full of flies and after a night of thick sleep, she lazily decided to explore the yard. She sat for a moment, listening to the usual loud sounds of the yard — juicy flies zooming around, worms burrowing underground and the earthshaking footsteps of the ground hairless creatures. She was about to hop further along into the yard when the ground began to tremor. Shit! How could I be so absent -minded, she thought. At the last second she tried to make a hop for it. However, powerful as she was, her speed suffered because of her lack of one leg, her left one. The creature violently scooped her into its hands and for a moment she blacked out from pure shock. She shut her brown speckled eyes and prayed that the Unnamed had better things in store for her. The hairless being was making guttural sounds and jumping up and down. She felt her full stomach turn. She was whirled around, poked and prodded, thrust into the faces of other hairless beings and then finally thrown into a flimsy box and left alone next to their home.

For hours, she could only sit there in shock, sick to her stomach. Her warts and bumps ached; her one foot and two hands were sore. Night finally fell, and she was still left alone. It had begun to rain by the time she had saved up enough energy for her escape. She threw her heavy bulk hard against the box’s wall again and again. By this time it had begun to rain and the box was deteriorating. She burst through it and hopped, free, into the night.


“You’re a nigger lover, Jimmy!” one of the boys sang out the window from the back of the bus. “Yeah, your lips are gonna turn black and get all fat by tomorrow! Ha ha!”

The little boy with the fine blonde hair and thick black glasses put his chin to his chest and hurried past the bus on his bike. Ada sat in the middle of the bus trying to disappear. It was like this everyday. When the group of young white boys each took turns spitting in her hair, she did as she did practically everyday; she recited frog genus’ in her head: Agalychnis, Atelopus, Bufo, Centrolenella, Dendrobates, Hyla. As she walked home, her hair laden with saliva, she’d always begin to feel better. Anything was better than the bus ride home. She was the only black girl in the third grade. And her two sisters were in the junior high, which meant no back up. It was an understatement to say that her school had a racial problem. The entire neighborhood was borderline KKK territory. When she got home, she’d scrub her hair and body, thoroughly. The afternoon was bright orange-yellow and the air smelled of honeysuckle. As soon as the little Nigerian American girl stepped off the bus, it was as if the sun and air cleared her head of all the filth she’d just endured. By the time the bus was behind her, she was skipping home.

“Hi, mom,” she said, heading straight for her room. “How was school?” “The usual,” she called behind her, in her high-pitched voice. Standing in the hot water of the shower, Ada let herself wonder why that annoying Jimmy Panagopolis has kissed her on the playground. Aside from the fact that he was always intentionally getting on her nerves, he had stolen Baxter from her. She had caught Baxter that night. Her mother had forced her to keep it outside. The only container that she could quickly find was a Happy Meal box in the garbage. The very next day Jimmy had been bragging on the playground about catching a big one-legged toad. There was no way Jimmy could have caught the toad near his house as he had claimed. He lived blocks away from her! She had punched him in the face then and there. He’d only laughed, blew her another kiss and skipped away.


Ada: I don’t really notice stuff like that.

The Olive E-Zine: So you’re saying that though you were the only black girl in your entire grade, you didn’t think there was much of a problem with that?

Ada: Like I said, I didn’t really notice stuff like that back then.

The Olive E-Zine: So tell me about these racial images that show up in your paintings?

Ada: That’s only what you see.

The Olive E-Zine: So you’re denying that the images are racial?

Ada: I’m not denying anything.

The Olive E-Zine: Interesting. Back to your past, so when those boys spit in your hair every bus ride, you didn’t think it had anything to do with your race?

Ada: Can we talk about something else? Really, there are more important things. Geez!


Ada picked nasty seaweed from between her toes and then stood awkwardly in her leaf green swimming suit. She was highly aware of her blackness in the hot sun amongst the more common whiteness all around her. She could spot her two sisters easily amongst the sunbathers. Aside from their huge umbrella, the two girls were like pepper in a salty sea. She wished they’d come into the water with her. She hated swimming alone but, as usual, they would rather sit and talk about boys than swim.

“He’s cool but, I don’t know, he’s always complaining about how strict mom and dad are.” Chinyere said.

“Let me guess,” said Iheoma. “He said that you should just stand up to them and get on with your life.”

Chinyere’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “That’s exactly what he said! I mean, who stands up to their parents at fifteen!”

“Don’t listen to him,” said Iheoma. “That boy is stupid or something.”

Ada squinted at her sisters from near the water and decided not to try and convince them to join her. What was the point? She’d only be wasting her time and mom would be back to pick them up soon. Instead she padded across the hot sand toward the more deserted part of the beach where all the crabs and sea urchins liked to hang out. The seawater dried into flaky granules of salt on her smooth skin. She licked her arm. The Bahamas were beautiful. To Ada the islands were enchanted with unimaginable creatures that she’d never forget. She’d almost fainted in pleasure the first time she saw a humming bird. She was staring at a large red flower when it had zoomed by. It hovered in front of the flower for only a moment and then disappeared. Ada’s first reaction was that it was a large dragonfly. But a second look showed her that it was a tiny bird with tiny purple blue and black feathers. Other treasures included a balcony filled with fiery eyed bright green tree frogs one morning, air so laden with water that her skin seemed to breath, speckled sting rays that loomed at the bottom of shallow waters like miniature draculas and a dark roaring sea shore that only appeared at night. During the day it was tranquil and clear as glass. But at night, when the tide came in, the waters became black and terrifying. Any monster could have hidden safely in those waters. The thought excited Ada very much. When she got to a deserted place on the beach next to the water, she plopped down in the damp sand and began to draw pictures in the sand with her index finger.


“But mommy, I hate poetry,” Ada whined. Next to her on the floor lay her sister, smiling smugly.

“I love poetry, mommy. You can read this one that I’m writing when I’m done.”

“OK, Iheoma. Come read it to your father and me in our room when you’re finished,” their mother said with a chuckle.

Iheoma looked smugly at her sister, her neck craned to the side like a dove. Ada stuck her tongue out.

“Ada, try your best to write something, OK,” her mother said walking away. Ada grumbled to herself. She had always hated poetry. It wasn’t even fun to read, let alone write. Poetry couldn’t compare to actual books, she thought. She couldn’t imagine one mere poem giving her the pleasure that “A Comet in Moomin Land” or “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” gave her. Why is mom always trying to make me write poetry? As if it’s the only thing that would make me creative or something.

“Maybe you’re just not creative enough,” said Iheoma. “Not everyone is born with it, you know.”

“Oh shut up, you…you ass kisser. Go dance for mom and dad or something,” Ada snapped.

“You’re just green with envy because your brain is dry and mine isn’t, ha ha,” Iheoma replied in a singsong voice. Ada had to control herself from rolling over and kicking her sister. Though Iheoma was only four years older than she was, Iheoma was already twice her size. And she wouldn’t hesitate to kick Ada’s ass if necessary, which seemed to be quite often these days. Why was Iheoma such an ass kisser, always out to please mom and dad, getting the best grades, having the most friends? She was such an asshole, Ada silently fumed as she remembered coming down the stairs after a long shower to the sound of music. And there her older sister was in the middle of the living room shaking her annoying booty. Both her parents sat beaming on the couch clapping and laughing. Ada wanted to bite through her lip when her mother giggled and said “Isn’t she talented?!”

“So much showmanship!” her father said.

“Showwomanship!” Iheoma said. Ada ripped up the paper full of poetic fits and starts and threw it at Iheoma. On the fresh new piece, she began to draw her pet African clawed frog. The frog was the second one she had, the first one surviving only a week. However, Barney II had lasted seven months and he deserved to be drawn. Ada closed her eyes and pictured Barney II and thought about how much she loved him. He never told her how uncreative she was. He’d never spit in her hair or make fun of her course hair and wide nostriled nose. He’d never accuse her of scratching her booty. And he didn’t expect her to act any certain way just because she was a girl. Her eyes closed and her pen moving across the paper, her lip quivered.

“Hey that’s pretty good,” Iheoma said looking over her shoulder. Ada turned to look at her sister. Iheoma suddenly didn’t sound her usual chipper self.

“Thanks,” Ada said trying to read the look on her middle sister’s face. Iheoma looked like she was about to cry.

“What’s your problem?” Iheoma just shrugged and looked away. Ada turned back to her picture and the two continued creating.


Sometimes, Ada would just sit in her room staring out the window, her mind working a hundred miles an hours. For a thirteen-year-old, she was terribly brooding. Nobody seemed to understand her or have much in common with her. Does anyone see anything, she’d wondered? Her parents had moved them out of the school where ‘nigger’ was her first name. But now, she was called different names that she didn’t understand, like Oreo, Uncle Tom and Jiggaboo. And the name callers, this time, weren’t white but black, like herself. After taking her usual after school shower, she’d throw herself face down on the bed and sulk until the Smurfs came on the Cartoon Network an hour later. Watching the Smurfs had a depressurizing effect.

And she had grown so distant from her sisters. They were living the normal lives of seventeen and eighteen year olds. They had boyfriends and were quite popular amongst their peers. Chinyere had even been accepted into one of the top universities in the country. Neither of them had much time to even bug her. Ada glanced over at the fashion magazine on the floor sitting on top of newspaper she’d spread on the floor. She had taken from Chinyere’s room out of curiosity. After a few minutes of flipping through it, Ada had decided to make some improvements. The magazine glistened, its pages soaked in the black paint Ada had dipped it in. Ada turned back to the window, dropped her head into her hands and quietly sobbed.


“See, it’s true,” said Ada to her friend Nancy. “All the boys in the cartoon are always darker than the girls, what sense does that make? In the Jetsons, George is white just like Jane is, so why is he darker? Same with the Flintstones and everything else.”

Nancy shrugged. “That’s because girls are supposed to be like that, I guess.”

Be like what? Ada wanted to ask.

“What does it matter anyway?” asked Lilly.

“Whatever. I still don’t agree,” Ada snapped. She suddenly wished Nancy and Lilly would disappear into thin air, never to be seen again. She didn’t care if they were really her only two close friends. How come all my friends are so damn stupid.

“Ah, let’s just watch this,” said Ada flipping to the Smurfs.

“Makes no difference to me,” said Nancy.

“Me neither,” said Lilly.

Ada’s hands only twitched once.


It all started when… Ada woke up thinking about the new painting set her mother had bought her yesterday for her eighth birthday. She had dreamt of liquid colors and the chemically smell of pigment and frog green paint drops on her nose. She rolled out of her bed and went to the bathroom and came back. She took the paint set and large sketchpad to the living room and set to what she thought it was that painters did. She stood in front of her “canvas” and thought about what it was she wanted to paint. When an idea popped into her head she began to work. For a while she followed the direction about mixing colors that the paint set came with. Then she decided she could do a better job and mixed her own colors. Once she got into it, she was impassioned. She closed her eyes and let her hands fly. A smile crept across her face. She didn’t see or hear her mother walk into the living room. She only became aware of someone else’s presence when she heard her mother gasp. Her eyes shot op en.

“Mom! You scared me!” Her mother didn’t answer. She only crept toward what her daughter had painted, her eyes glistening. “My father used to play a guitar that looked exactly like that,” her mother whispered. “I can almost hear the songs he used to play so beautifully.”

Ada could only look at her mother. She wasn’t finished painting the picture and she felt a pang of annoyance at someone having seen her work before it was finished, even if it was her first attempt. At the same time, that look on her mother’s face made her skin prickle. “After your grandfather died, that guitar was stolen, never to be seen again. This painting is beautiful, Ada.”

Ada only smiled, feeling proud that something she’d created evoked something so deep. Last year, during their trip home to Nigeria, her aunt had told her a bit about her grandfather’s guitar playing. She’d said he’d sit on the porch and play lively highlife tunes that would have the whole village whistling and smiling. Ada could imagine her mother doing that booty-shaking dance she loved to do at Nigerian parties to her father’s guitar playing. Since then anytime Ada heard acoustic guitar, she had thought about the grandfather she never knew. And the songs his lively fingers produced that she’d never heard. Her grandfather was whom she’d been thinking about as she painted.

After staring at it for a long time, her mother finally came back to herself. “When you are finished, can I have this to frame?”

Ada merely shrugged, she planned to paint many many more. “Sure.”

“Good. Now, have you finished your homework? If you haven’t forgotten, you have school tomorrow.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get around to it.”


Ada stood looking at her locker, her eye unfocused. She picked up the banana peel that someone had slipped into her locker and dropped on the floor when she wasn’t looking.

The two boys standing behind her giggled and elbowed each other.

“Really, he likes you,” said the shorter one with puffy cheeks, pointing to his tall dreadlocked friend, who smiled bashfully. Ada knew he had big dark eyes and white teeth. Ada sighed and rolled her eyes. This is NOT funny, she thought, it’s actually mean. Other students passed by in the hallway. Ada pushed a braid out of her face and slammed her locker shut.

“Yeah, right,” she said quickly walking past them, her head down.

“Really, he likes you!” shouted the short boy behind her.

“Whatever,” Ada mumbled without turning around.


Ada’s high school graduation was a relief. She walked across the grass past a group of girls who were hugging and crying. She was glad when she found her parents and sisters. Now she could leave this place for good.


Ada: I did a lot of painting in high school.

The Olive E-Zine: Do you think as a high school student that you used your art as a sort of crutch?

Ada: Ha ha, well not as a “crutch” per se. It was a sort of almost therapy, I guess. I hated high school.

The Olive E-Zine: Why?

Ada: Why not?


Ada and her family didn’t arrive at the art gallery until late. Ada knew various artists from all over the country would be revealing their new art works at the gallery, too. She wanted to make a grand entrance. She’d actually skipped her English 101 course so that she could sit in her apartment living room and mentally prepare for the onslaught of egos at these events. Until now, Ada’s parents had not allowed Ada to go public with her artwork. “School first,” was what her father had always stressed. Now that she was in college and absolutely loving it with its in-depth courses and active artsy society, her parents felt it was finally OK. Her love for academics had blossomed and nothing would extinguish it, or so they hoped.

As soon as Ada began seeking places to display her many works, she found herself in the highest society of artists. She wore a silky moss green dress that, for once, was long enough to reach her ankles. She’d merely had to brush her closely cut Afro. Her mother and sisters weren’t as surprised as Ada had feared when they saw that she had cut off her shoulder length mane of damaged chemically straightened hair. Her two sisters had actually surprised her with their freshly braided hairstyles. When they arrived at the art gallery, Ada’s legs immediately began to shake. There were so many people and she immediately spotted dozens of painters she’d only seen in magazines and books.

The floors were carpeted with a lush wine shag. Some pieces were unveiled, some were in the process of being unveiled and others were still covered. One painting, or was it a drawing, seemed to be comprised of highly detailed doodles. Lines and arches and flowers mixed themselves into a soup of surprising logic. Ada couldn’t figure out why it was pleasing to her eye. Another work showed a gorgeous mountainous landscape where nothing was the right color. The mountains were various shades of purple, the sky was a forest green and the trees were pink and yellow. Ada wondered what drug the painting creator was on. Surreal portraits, noble genre paintings, forgotten historical paintings were all over the place. Upper-class looking people milled around on clouds of haughtiness. Art critical eyes floated with pad and paper from colorful landscapes to modest murals to watery colors to serious portraits. And common folk savvy enough to finagle their way in had huge smiles on their faces. The air smelled of paint, expensive perfume and a hint of cigarette smoke. All light was focused on the paintings. Ada grinned to herself. She had never shown one of her paintings to the public and look where she was already. She put her hand to her mouth to stifle her snickers.

“There you are,” said Mrs. Neumann, the owner of the highbrow art gallery and the woman who had taken one look at her painting and almost begged Ada to display it in her gallery. “We’re just about to unveil your painting. Come with me.”

“Oh, Mrs. Neumann…this is my family,” Ada interrupted, motioning to her loved ones.

“Oh, I’m so rude! Nice to meet you all,” she said offering a clammy limp hand to her parents and sisters. Chinyere and Iheoma, had to stifle their smirks. Chinyere was in medical school and Iheoma was in Business school. It wasn’t often that they were in the presence of such people. Nevertheless, it didn’t make them all any less funny. “You have a very very talented daughter here. I have no doubt that her painting will sell for thousands of dollars tonight.”

“Really?!” Iheoma exclaimed. Ada sharply elbowed her sister.

“Yes, really, my dear. My gallery attracts the top artists and art buyers in the world,” said Mrs. Neumann, holding her marshmallowy neck up high. “Now, Ada come with me, we’ve got an unveiling to attend.”

As soon as Mrs. Neumann stepped in front of Ada’s covered painting, holding the microphone, a crowd immediately formed in front of her. Not every work of art was special enough to be introduced by the gallery owner. Ada stood next to her, her long legs feeling as if they lacked bone. She stood so still that she felt her body would suddenly spring uncontrollably into action.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mrs. Neumann deliberately said taking her time, to give more people a moment to make their way into the growing audience. “I’m about to introduce to you some of the greatest work I’ve seen in years. Her name is Ada Okwugwo and she’s only twenty years old. Oh, screw it, let me just show it to you.” There was a hush that flew across the audience. Ada nervously looked around, shifting from one foot to the other. She spotted her family in the front right and felt a bit of comfort. But why was everyone so silent? She glanced at her exposed painting and then back at the wide eyes of the audience then back at her painting. The room had gone completely silent. Was this the normal initial reaction? Maybe these people knew so much about art that they were busy analyzing and taking it all in. Maybe they were merely trying to come up with the best way to tell her how much the painting sucked. Then it was broken, ever so softly. Someone near the back sniffled. Ada tried to locate the sniffler. Then someone else sobbed near the front. A man to the left dropped his face into his hands. A woman in the center simply stared at the painting, salty water streaming from her eyes. Shoulders slumped. Faces frowned. Bodies shuddered. The entire room was crying, sniffling, weeping. Ada had painted the drooping daisy with its half dried half radiant indigo petals just after she’d watched the year’s Miss America Pageant. After drying her tears, she’d painted for hours, her eyes open only to the sad image that lingered in her head. It had all seemed so sorrowful that night. All those talented women grinning to the point where their painted faces were about to crack. Their dresses restricting, their talents secondary, lined up like clones. She’d sat there in front of the television and watched the entire thing. Standing in the yellow-white spotlight, she didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. Afterwards her father was anything but sad at his daughter earning ten thousand dollars in a day.


The Olive E-Zine: So what is it that you, yourself, wish to convey in your paintings?

Ada: I don’t know, they are what they are. I just paint. I have no audience in mind when that brush is hitting the canvas. When I look at my paintings afterwards, I sometime wonder how that came from me.

The Olive E-Zine: Well, your works definitely seem to have a strong effect on people, regardless. Whole rooms of laughing, crying and embarrassed feeling people. Tabloids have even gone so far as to cite voodoo as your secret.

Ada: That’s pretty funny. I think the secret to my paintings is more that they make the normal strange and new, not voodoo. I wonder, if I were white would the tabloids have come to the conclusion that my talent lies in an ancient African Religion? No disrespect to voodoo, but I strongly doubt it.

The Olive E-Zine: Good point.

Ada: I know.

The Olive E-Zine: On the same note, don’t you find people’s reactions to your work odd? I mean, come on, entire rooms full of people having the same emotional reaction to a work of art. That is not normal.

Ada: Depends on what your definition of normal is.


She began to see beautiful streams of color lace across his face and through his chest. Green, yellow, red. She shut her eyes and let it intensify, metallic and strong. Just as her entire body started to shudder, she heard it. “Waa Waa Waa! Waa Waa Waa!”

“What the fuck?!” They both froze and listened. It came again. “Waa Waa Waa!”

He made a slight move as he turned toward the sound. Ada’s body reacted by resuming its orgasmic aftershocks. In mid-shudder, it dawned on her what the sound was. The realization mixed with the physical sensation made her start laughing hysterically. At first he frowned and then just the look on her face made him join in. “It’s my frog,” she snickered, after a while. Only two days ago, Ada had grown lonely in her off campus single apartment and gone out and bought a tree frog. She had meant to buy a guinea pig or chinchilla but the tree frog had caught her eye and her heart. It had sat, suctioned to the far side of aquarium, staring back at her with its golden eyes. Up until tonight, she’d had no idea that the thing liked to sing.

After they untangled themselves from each other, they crept over to the medium sized heat regulated aquarium that sat on her bedroom dresser. As soon as they got within a few feet of the frog, it stopped singing, suspiciously eyeing them.

“I think we must have turned it on,” Said said with a laugh.

“Man, don’t even make my frog into some voyeuristic pervert. Plus she’s female, I asked the sales guy.”

“Oh so you’re saying perverts are only male?”

“The majority of the time.”

“But not 100% of the time, dear.”

“Yeah, yeah, you and your obsession with detail, spare me your madness.” She had met Said five months ago in one of her annoying English classes she was required to take. She should have taken the class her freshman year but she had put it off until her last semester. She was not happy to find out that she would be a senior in a class full of freshmen. One of those freshmen was Said who had just joined the university from Madagascar. Ada had sat and stared at his three long thick dreadlocks for the entire hour. She couldn’t imagine how long it would take for hers to get like that. After class he had turned to her and said in his thickly accented voice “I’ve heard of you.” He had taught her more about painting than she’d learned from the art galleries or her classes. He too was an art student, his specialization was “detail” as he liked to say. Well known in his country, the university had managed to snag him. The first time Ada saw one of his works, she’d stood in the same place for an hour staring at it; Her eyes couldn’t seem to get a grip on the slippery image. Frog, sunset, ocean, trees, all of those things. None of them. And it made a world of difference.

Staring blankly across the room, she wondered. What was life really about, anyway? In her heart she felt that the world was full of wonderful things but there seemed so little to see. Most of the time, she’d hide under the cool soft green moss in the corner. Whenever she felt particularly adventurous, she slide up the side of the aquarium, her suctioned feet and hands allowing her to defy gravity. Today she was feeling strong and had climbed all the way to the top. From there she had a good view of the room her world sat in. She saw moving shapes near the center of the room and felt a tiny pang of fear. When she was scared, she always calmed herself with songs. She also sang when she felt lonely, though she couldn’t possibly have known what loneliness was. She had no idea where she’d learned the songs but singing them always made her feel better. When she sang, whatever was bothering her would float away riding the short breaths she exhaled. Five months later, she thought to herself: In this life one must take chances. She had to move or she’d crumble. So one day when the giant was nowhere in sight, she decided to leave the aquarium. She squeezed out of the plastic lid and hopped out. She felt exhilarated, there was more! She jumped toward the closest dark spot she saw and decided to take a rest. When she woke, she noticed how dry and cold the air had become. She pulled her long legs in close and shut her eyes hoping things would change soon. Her skin felt papery and ached terribly.


Ada skipped into her room. She was having a good day and it was going to get better when Said picked her up and they went off to the Reggae club tonight. She glanced into Binna’s aquarium on her way to the bathroom. After washing her hands, she realized, she didn’t see the tree frog anywhere in her aquarium. She went back to it and took a closer look and found nothing. She caught her breath on the brink of panic and opened the lid. She checked underneath the damp moss and behind the large chunk of wood. She was gone. She’d practically torn her bedroom apart searching for Binna when Said knocked on the door. She opened the door.

“My frog is gone,” she said, turning and walking back to her room. He followed her in and began to help her look. An hour later, Ada sat down in the middle of her messed up room, with her shoe in her hand.

“Said,” she quietly said. “Come here.”

“Yeah,” he asked sitting next to her, putting his arm around her. She held the shoes out to him.

“Oh my,” he said after glancing inside. “I’m sorry, Ada.”

As she pressed her face into his shirt, Ada wondered whether she would have died if Ada had found her sooner.


The Olive E-Zine: We’ve noticed the last two of your paintings have been of a sad nature, the Clown, Music With Plants. Would you describe yourself as happy?

Ada: These are strange times….there’s a lot going on, I guess. Maybe not happy but content?

The Olive E-Zine: You say that as if you’re not sure.

Ada: I can’t seem to convey my thoughts in words right now.

The Olive E-Zine: Well, what would you say bothers you the most about the world at the moment.

Ada: Oh a lot of things! It’s funny. My work is selling well, right now. Technically I should be happy but… I don’t live in a vacuum. Even if you had all the room available on the net, I don’t think you’d have enough room in your online magazine for all I see wrong with what’s around me.

The Olive E-Zine: So how do you deal with it.

Ada: Good question.


Ada plopped down onto the couch next to Said with the day’s mail. Said broke the comfortable silence.

“See that,” he said pointing to the television screen where a black and white Lemur acrobatically hopped across the screen on two legs with its long hands in the air. “We have hundreds of kinds of those back home. We’ve got even more types of frogs. I had a friend who touched a bright golden one and…” He turned to Ada and frowned.

“Hmm?” she mumbled after he nudged her with his elbow. When she saw the annoyed look on his face, she immediately felt bad. She was always interested in stories about Madagascar but at the moment her attention was elsewhere. “I’m sorry Said,” she said leaning over and giving him a slight kiss. “But look, they sent me another one.” She handed him the opened envelope with the pictures inside.

S?id’s frown immediately melted into a soft grin. He chuckled. “Now it’s made it to Paris!” he laughed. “This is crazy!” Ada didn’t find it all so funny, though anyone else would have gotten a kick out of it every time. But she’d really loved that ceramic violin-playing frog. Before it was stolen, she had kept the eight-inch artwork standing on her windowsill. Her best friend from high school, Kyra, had given it to her as a gag present for her 15th birthday. Though it was meant to be funny, over the years, Ada had fallen in love with the gaudy green musical frog with the dreamy look on its face as it played.

“Man, who are these people?” she asked. “I mean, I just can’t figure it out. Who would break into someone’s apartment and only take a cheap ceramic frog? The thing was far from a work of art. It was spray painted green for goodness sake.”

Said shrugged. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I guess.” The pictures started arriving in her inbox about two weeks after the frog disappeared. Judging from the poor quality of the pictures, Ada figured they were taken with a digital camera. The first one was of the ceramic frog standing on the pavement in front of the Kremlin. A week and a half later, the frog was playing its fiddle on Easter Island. Two weeks later, it was strumming away in front of the Taj Mahal. Then the Pyramids. Its most recent visit was the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Ada printed out the photo, got up and put it with the others on her dresser.

“Don’t worry about it, Ada,” Said said from the other room. “You can always paint another one.”

“Ha ha, Said. Very funny,” Ada said.


Ada stared at the ceiling and grasped Said’s hand as the tattoo artist did his job. The tattoo parlor smelled of antiseptic, the walls covered with elaborate drawings of flowers, plants and fairies. Ada wasn’t sure which she couldn’t believe more, the fact that she was in New Orleans instead of class or that she was getting a tattoo of a frog on her shoulder blade. They’d both decided to take the spontaneous road trip two days ago. Ada hoped it would get rid of what Said was calling his “muse block.” Of late, Said had been quieter than usual, which Ada didn’t think possible. At first, his quietness had bothered her. It wasn’t that he didn’t let her in on who he was and what was on his mind, it was just that he didn’t do it very often using words. He’d draw her pictures of his anger at failing a math test. He’d write her letters telling stories of his home in Madagascar. Once in a while, he’d tell her tales about his country. And if he didn’t have anything to say, he didn’t do what he claimed Americans always did, which was babble about nothing because the silence made them uncomfortable. He simply wouldn’t say anything at all. The closer she got to Said, the more she liked his scarce usage of spoken language. But in the last few weeks he barely spoke to her in any language. Ada thought that some irresponsible time off campus would do them both good. Plus she’d heard that New Orleans was a magnet for artists.

She’d chosen a creeping tree frog the size of her fist with red eyes and a forked tongue. The pain wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought it would be but she still needed a way to keep her mind off of it. Since Said was never much of a talker, she’d blabbed with the tattoo artist whose name was John. John looked exactly as she’d have imagined a tattoo artists would look; like a big burly biker Caucasian guy with numerous tattoos creeping up each arm. He was also a really nice guy. She figured she clicked with him partially because he was a fellow artist.

“So why a frog?” he’d asked after they had discussed everything from his life story to how Ada’s mother had no idea where she currently was.

Said chuckled at this. “Because the girl’s confused,” he said. “She doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going.”

“Oh shut up, Said,” Ada said with a laugh. “It’s nothing like that, John. Frogs, I don’t know, they just mean a lot to me. On one level, I feel that they represent me and my duality, how I was born and raised here, in the US. Yet, I have Nigerian blood running through my veins and I’ve also grown up with my parents’ culture. Nigeria and the United States are like water and land to frogs, I can’t live without either one.”

“Hmm, I dig that,” said John smiling, his face inches away from her shoulder blade as he needled away. Ada squinted trying not to move. “Also,” she continued with some effort. “Frogs have this weird presence in my life. Whoo, that stings.”

“Just relax, you’re doing fine,” John recited.


With all her success, Ada simply couldn’t be happy. Apparently Said’s feelings for her messed with his art. When he decided to stay away from her for a little while “to clear his head” was the last straw. There was so much she needed. She needed love, she needed control, she always needed more.

And then one day something happened. It was on the Friday night she’d gotten the last photo of her ceramic frog. A note had accompanied the picture. It had one word: “Sorry”. The photo showed the ceramic piece’s shattered remains. She’d sat in front of the television staring blankly at the screen. Terrible thoughts and ideas tumbled around in her head. Rest in peace. That guy with the Zodiac name in the newspaper who wore the expensive clothes who had been found in an alley with a hole in his head. That news story on Halloween night about the African American girl from her high school who’d been attacked by skinheads. Friendless. The 35 year old white man who jumped from his office building. Fat and ugly and weighing 100 pounds. Who was the real Slim Shady? Her friend David who had recently told her that he didn’t like dating black women because they were too difficult. “I don’t want to deal with a woman who comes bearing guns and knives,” he’d said in his Ghanaian accent. That stupid man named Batak who was always mean to her because she was taller than him. Her friend Gabrielle who stripped to support her education and who hated every human being with a penis. He can’t go home. The fetish-ized Asian woman. The boxed-in man. “Innocent” cartoons. Amadou Diallo and Steven Biko. Hair weaves like Europeans and fake nails done by Koreans. Gold rings and expensive cars and no diploma. Norms and mores. Misunderstandings and selfishness covered beautiful things with a thick coat of shit brown. Maybe it was time to pick up a paintbrush. Who would want to buy a painting that made them want to cry just from being near it, Ada didn’t know. Nor did she care.

She ended up in her studio, paintbrush and palette in hand, staring at a blank canvas. Her heart was beating fast, her cheeks were salty, her skin felt dry and her head ached. She stroked, at times, jabbed at others. She used every shade of green she could mix. When she was finished, she threw down her paintbrushes and collapsed into a heap on the floor. It just wouldn’t let up. It was as if a group of Boreal Chorus Tree Frogs were congregating on her chest. She could feel their cold feet. The cacophony was unbearable. The noise pushing out every rational thought. Was her life so miserable? She wondered. The studio reeked of wet paint and her own sour sweat. She pulled her body off the ground and maneuvered it to the bathroom. The pain was not even close to the pain she felt when she was getting her tattoo. The razor blade had cut through her skin with a delicious ease. Only the thought of the frog on her shoulder blade made her feel the slightest bit of regret. Other than that, she was happy with her decision. She consciously didn’t’ think about her mother, father, sister, sister. She knew she’d hurt Said but hadn’t he hurt her just as badly, if not worse? Except, he was still alive and haunting her at the same time. She heard a door slam from far off somewhere but a soothing sleep was wiping it all away.


He sat quietly, an amphibian on the wall. It was one of those days where he couldn’t be anything but happy. He could practically drink the tropical air, it was so humid. The tree frog looked down at the two hairless beings basking in the sun. On a day like this, hairless beings didn’t move much so he doubted he was in any real danger. He shifted his left foot for better suction. They sat in straw chairs watching the sea. One of them had long hair that grew in thick dark brown ropes. The other had shorter hair that grew in thinner more orange red brown ropes and she munched slowly on her mixed leaves coated with a sweet berry smelling substance. If the frog knew the language of humans, he’d have known to call it spinach salad with raspberry dressing. If the tree frog was closer and if he cared he would see that they were both smiling. The tree frog quickly lost interest in the humans. After snatching a lazy fly from the air with his pink sticky tongue, he slowly closed his eyes an d went to sleep.

Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor
Zahrah the Windseeker (Houghton Mifflin) is Nnedi Okorafor's first novel. Her second novel, Ejii the Shadow Speaker, is published by Hyperion Books for Children. Nnedi's short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, including Dark Matter II, Strange Horizons, the Margin Anthology of Magical Realism and Writers of the Future, Volume XVIII. Nnedi lives with her daughter, Anyaugo, and family in Illinois.


  1. oh my god, u just analyzed a part of m e crying out for exposure. i must say this work is better than most award winning writeups.bravo.

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