Oklahoma’s Symphony

Excellence Award in the 'Play On Words 2021' competition

Rowland stands in the building as three men look at him up and down, their fingers massaging their firearms.
“Give him to me,” one of them says, his flustered face mustering a voice filled with venom.
“Give the goddamn criminal,” he says again, his fist curling up into a ball.
“No,” the sheriff says calmly. But any man could see the quaver in his voice as he saw the crowd of faces outside build-up, a mob with murderous intent. He gestures for the men to leave, and they do, slowly. Rowland’s heart begins to beat rapidly, and he feels his clothes stick to the sweat on his ebony skin. Closing his eyes, he begins to sing a nonchalant jingle that he used to sing while shining shoes.
A rock hits Rowland in the temple and he flinches slightly. He looks up hesitantly as officers hastily surge in front of him, positioning rifles at the crowd. He looks far into the distance and sees another mob coalesce around the crowd. Black men, some unarmed, made their way in front of him to join the officers. The crowd begins to murmur more violently, their voices getting heated.
A single gunshot fires in the air and wakes Rowland from his stupor. At that moment, his heart slows to a standstill as the bewildered men slowly turn. And the uneasy, contentious peace becomes consumed in fire and noise as both sides begin to shoot, indiscriminately. The sheriff grabs him violently and pushes him to the ground.
Rowland pulled himself up and ran, his voice muttering the same jingle again. The tempo of his metronome accelerates as he runs through the chaos.
He collides with the group of black men who joined the sheriff’s defenses. “Run back to Greenwood,” they shout as they run. Gunfire echoes through the air and the nearest man to him falls, shock still etched onto his dying face. Another man bursts out of the dust, yelling, “Loot the stores for guns if you don’t have one. They’re going to Greenwood.”
And the incessant jingle in his mind became deafening within his brain, each note coinciding with his heartbeat and each step on the ground.
It was morning. Greenwood of Tulsa, a beacon of prosperity in the darkness of America, was lit aflame. Rowland stood in shock as dozens of white men poured out of cars and buses, armed with guns. They lit oil rags and threw it onto stores, laughing in the red-blood passion that only the mob could give.
Around Rowland, thousands of men and women poured out of buildings, running while others held their guns out in determination, firing back at the cars of murderers that shot at everyone, indiscriminately.
This was not his home. Should he take up arms to defend it?
Rowland heard the jingle again, ringing ceaselessly in his mind, threatening to break his sanity. No. He could not. All he could do was run.
He ran.


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