She kissed his chin.
"No, fool. Your child."
They took the train from Columbus on the first of October, crossed eight hundred miles of country where the summer fields had traded their gold for furrows of night frost that melted in the morning and dripped over the dirt like cake icing. The sky was the blue of metal that'd just come off the press. Blocks of hay sat in dun-colored fields, and Luther saw a pack of horses in Missouri run for a full mile, their bodies as gray as their breath. And the train streamed through it all, shaking the ground, screaming at the sky, and Luther huffed his breath into the glass and doodled with his finger, drew baseballs, drew bats, drew a child with a head too big for its body.
Lila looked at it and laughed. "That's what our boy gonna look like? Big old head like his daddy? Long skinny body?"
"Nah," Luther said, "gonna look like you."
And he gave the child breasts the size of circus balloons and Lila giggled and swatted his hand and rubbed the child off the window.
The trip took two days and Luther lost some money in a card game with some porters the first night, and Lila stayed mad about that well into the next morning, but otherwise Luther was hard-pressed coming up with a time he'd cherished more in his life. There'd been a few plays here and there on the diamond, and he'd once gone to Memphis when he was seventeen with his cousin, Sweet George, and they'd had themselves a time on Beale Street that he'd never forget, but riding in that train car with Lila, knowing his child lived in her body--her body no longer a singular life, but more like a life-and-a-half--and that they were, as he'd so often dreamed, out in the world, drunk on the speed of their crossing, he felt a lessening of the anxious throb that had lived in his chest since he was a boy. He'd never known where that throb came from, only that it had always been there and he'd tried to work it away and play it away and drink it away and fuck it away and sleep it away his whole life. But now, sitting on a seat with his feet on a floor that was bolted to a steel underbelly that was strapped to wheels that locked onto rails and hurtled through time and distance as if time and distance weren't nothing at all, he loved his life and he loved Lila and he loved their child and he knew, as he always had, that he loved speed, because things that possessed it could not be tethered, and so, they couldn't be sold.
They arrived in Tulsa at the Santa Fe rail yard at nine in the morning and were met by Lila's Aunt Marta and her husband, James.
James was as big as Marta was small, both of them dark as dark got, with skin stretched so tight across the bone Luther wondered how they breathed. Big as James was, and he was the height some men only reached on horseback, Marta was, no doubt, the dog who ate first.
Four, maybe five, seconds into the introductions, Marta said, "James, honey, git them bags, would you? Let the poor girl stand there and faint from the weight?"
Lila said, "It's all right, Auntie, I--"
"James?" Aunt Marta snapped her fingers at James's hip and the man hopped to. Then she smiled, all pretty and small, and said, "Girl, you as beautiful as you ever was, praise the Lord."
Lila surrendered her bags to Uncle James and said, "Auntie, this is Luther Laurence, the young man I been writing you about."
Though he probably should have figured as much, it took Luther by surprise to realize his name had been placed to paper and sent across four state lines to land in Aunt Marta's hand, the letters touched, however incidentally, by her tiny thumb.
Aunt Marta gave him a smile that had a lot less warmth in it than the one she gave her niece. She took his hand in both of hers. She looked up into his eyes.
"A pleasure to meet you, Luther Laurence. We're churchgoers here in Greenwood. You a churchgoer?"
"Yes, ma'am. Surely."
"Well, then," she said and gave his hand a moist press and a slow shake, "we're to get along fine, I 'spect."
Luther was prepared for a long walk out of the train station and up through town to Marta and James's house, but James led them to an Olds Reo as red and shiny as an apple just pulled from a water bucket. Had wood spoke wheels and a black top that James rolled down and latched in the back. They piled the suitcases in the backseat with Marta and Lila, the two of them already talking a mile a minute, and Luther climbed up front with James and they pulled out of the lot, Luther thinking how a colored man driving a car like this in Columbus was just asking to get shot for a thief, but at the Tulsa train station, not even the white folk seemed to notice them.
James explained the Olds had a flathead V8 engine in it, sixty horsepower, and he worked the shift up into third gear and smiled big. "What you do for work?" Luther asked.
"Own two garages," James said. "Got four men working under me. Would love to put you to work there, son, but I got all the help I can handle right now. But don't you worry--one thing Tulsa's got on either side of the tracks is jobs, plenty of jobs. You in oil country, son. Whole place just sprung up overnight 'cause of the black crude. Shoot. None of this was even here twenty-fi ve years ago. Wasn't nothing but a trading post back then. Believe that?"
Luther looked out the window at downtown, saw buildings bigger than any he'd seen in Memphis, big as ones he'd seen only in pictures of Chicago and New York, and cars filling the streets, and people, too, and he thought how you would have figured a place like this would take a century to build, but this country just didn't have time to wait no more, no interest in patience and no reason for it either.
He looked forward as they drove into Greenwood, and James waved to some men building a house and they waved back and he tooted his horn and Marta explained how coming up here was the section of Greenwood Avenue known as the Black Wall Street, lookie here. . . .
And Luther saw a black bank and an ice cream parlor filled with black teenagers and a barbershop and a billiard parlor and a big old grocery store and a bigger department store and a law office and a doctor's office and a newspaper, and all of it occupied by colored folk. And then they rolled past the movie theater, big bulbs surrounding a huge white marquee, and Luther looked above that marquee to see the name of the place --The Dreamland--and he thought, That's where we've come. Because all this had to be just that indeed.
By the time they drove up Detroit Avenue, where James and Marta Hollaway owned their own home, Luther's stomach was starting to slide. The homes along Detroit Avenue were red brick or creamy chocolate stone and they were as big as the homes of white folk. And not white folk who were just getting by, but white folk who lived good. The lawns were trimmed to bright green stubble and several of the homes had wraparound porches and bright awnings.