Water Color Lines
By Bayo Ojikutu
We rode the path north from our high-rise propped against the lake. My bike was garish yellow with knobby black handles; my sister Bisi’s was pinkish red; our mother’s: tall, red, and silver-streak sleek. They made me lead the way because I am the oldest child, and the boy. They were prepping me for a most fantastic role in the dream. Or maybe I went first so they could laugh as I teetered ahead on that high, bright Schwinn, pedaling eastward around the bend bordering what we still called the Country Club. This was before that Valhalla for gilt edges and ornate moldings was unshuttered, and the Country Club became the Cultural Center for the second wave of migrants.
Straddling club greens, the lake was full of windy love and living promise. Yet in a city where winter lasted two-thirds of forever, that splendid water was too often colored gray.
We rode near a lineup of old police Impalas and Crown Victorias halted at the Illinois Central–Metra red light. The parade of cars took up that stretch of the Drive as if they’d come to conquer the neighborhood.
“What happened now?” I asked, remembering the day we had approached our building to find lights swallowing the black tar parking lot. Serve and Protect had come to bust up a ring—some illicit enterprise on the top floor. They go up there in their fast elevator, our father had explained. It’s a fool’s joy ride: The higher that elevator rises, the faster it tumbles back down in this place.
“They’re making a movie,” Ma comforted as we pedaled past the high fence protecting the grounds. “The club is open for filming. Read about it in Jet or Ebony. I’ll show you when we get home.”
“A movie?” Bisi asked from her Huffy. “I want to see. What’s it called?”
“The Blues Brothers,” Ma said. “Cab Calloway and Aretha Franklin are in it, too, I believe. Do you remember them?”
We knew Cab from my mother’s mother’s plastic-covered 33 collection: Calloway and Redd Foxx forever spared from dust’s wear. And everyone knew Aretha, the Queen of Soul: our lady of peace south of McCormick Place, wailing her piece on the world music stage.
“They’re ‘brothers’ . . . ?” I asked.
I was six, maybe seven, so Bisi was five at best. “Blues brothers?” she added, frowning with post-toddler indignation. “The people from Grandma’s wax?”
“It’s a movie,” Ma explained. “Made by Hollywood.”
They teach us all things, these big people on their sleek bikes. We rode toward the Loop’s towers but stopped somewhere before 63rd Street Beach.
Blue is the color seen when riding on the shore. Snapshots taken from helicopters and top floors resonate with its splendor. We see it and believe: Our city of blues and a few other jive hues should straddle azure water, and indeed it does. The lake turns bluest when the sun splits open sky’s end, reflecting and beaming and meshing with this gray and green, the broad splatter of a child’s watercolor alchemy. On summer mornings, this is the color of sun fighting through and a new day come.
Bayo Ojikutu is the author of the novels 47th Street Black and Free Burning.