Grief Song


CHORUS: Young Silumko / half-boy, half-man / already, at such a tender age, bowed by the heaviness of existence / back bent from the burden he must bear / seeks release from the confines of gravity / seeks lightness / seeks weightlessness


CHORUS A: What is he going to do, now that he know what happened?

CHORUS B: Some of what happened, he knows some of what happened.


CHORUS A: Listen, mama is calling.

SILUMKO picks up his cellphone.

MAMA: Son? I bought airtime, enough of this whatsapp story.

SILUMKO: Yes mama.

MAMA: You are lonely.


MAMA: Yes, you are. I can hear it in your voice.

SILUMKO: No, mama. I am fine.


SILUMKO: Injani imfuyo? [How are the cattle?]

MAMA: You ask about the cattle before your sisters? The cattle are fine. Mpilo is looking after them well. And he is different. They are calming him. He doesn’t have that scared look in his eyes all the time.

SILUMKO: I’m going to get us the money, mama. I promise.

MAMA: I know you will, Silumko. You are our great hope. (she starts to cry) You know, when you were small they used to call you a little old person... an old soul, our Silu… yes, you have been on this earth before.

CHORUS A: I can’t watch. I can’t bear to see mama cry.

CHORUS B: Neither can Silu, it reminds him of the day -

CHORUS A: No, no, let’s not tell it. It’s too sad.

CHORUS C: We have to. It’s part of the story. We have to go back.

CHORUS: (together) Back now, back to that fateful day.

CHORUS: A Sunday. Mama’s phone rings.

KHOLA: Silu. It’s Khola. There’s been an accident.

CHORUS: Silu is silent. He listens. He puts the phone down. He walks out of the house, past Uncle Mpilo sitting on his chair, out into the veld.

Rumbles of thunder, not far away. The CHORUS follows him with a large fan. SILUMKO starts to run.

CHORUS: The wind starts to blow hard / He starts to run / His legs are taking him up over the hill / He runs and runs and runs until he reaches the top. / Look, the sun is going behind a cloud.

It turns dark.

SILUMKO: (panting) There, down there, you see our house? Do you see mama coming outside now?

A crack of lightning.

SILUMKO: Do you see mama falling down to her knees and striking the earth? She is screaming but I can’t hear the words she is saying. (he reaches out, calls out) Mama! Mama! Uxolo, Mama! Mama, I am asking the night to come! I am asking the stars to drip hot wax on us! I am asking the veld grass to grow long and fast until we are swallowed into the soil! I am asking people to come and board up our house with us still inside it! Mama, I am asking the sky to open and for the rain to come and sweep us and the house away!

The CHORUS pours a bucket of water over his head.

CHORUS: Look up, Silumko / Look at the sky / A piece of the sky has been burnt / by the heat of your heartbreak / A corner of the sky has turned black



The CHORUS once again become the passengers in the taxi. One of them tunes the radio. It lands on a preacher whose voice booms out loudly:

PREACHER’S VOICE: Truly, truly I speak to those of you who are lost, who feel that there is no way out, who seek clarity, who cannot see the way forward. Isiah chapter 41 verse 10 , the Lord says: Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand!’ Speak your truth, my brother, speak it out, do not allow a burden to weigh heavy on your heart, say how you feel –

SILUMKO: Feeling broken; feeling half a man; feeling tired of trying all the time, feeling unable to fight through the pain.

The passengers in the taxi give him sympathetic looks.

CHORUS: Young Silumko / half-boy, half-man / already, at such a tender age, bowed by the heaviness of existence / back bent from the burden he must bear / seeks release from the confines of gravity / seeks lightness / seeks weightlessness

SILUMKO: Mall of Africa… thank you. (exits the taxi)

CHORUS B: I don’t like where this is going. Look at his face.

SILUMKO’s face is blank. He moves as if pulled forward by some force.

CHORUS: A security guard / dozing through the last moments of a double shift / his face illuminated by a bank of CCTV screens / is roused from slumber by a flicker of movement / in the corner of a screen /he sits up: a man is climbing into the water feature / stepping over the hollow rocks / bypassing the plastic palms / and, it appears, submerging himself in the shallow pool. / For several moments, he lies face-down in the water / then, his own hand / as if belonging to someone else / comes up and begins to hold his head underwater / while his head jerks upwards for air. / For several minutes he appears to struggle against himself / then, body slackening, he relaxes.



The CHORUS gently lays his body onto the mattress. We hear the sounds of a hospital. SILUMKO is lying in a hospital bed, his eyes closed. The CHORUS hovers over him worried.

CHORUS A: Is he going to be alright?

CHORUS B: I don’t know.

CHORUS A: We need to send him a sign. Please.

CHORUS C: (beat) Okay. A sign.

UNCLE MPILO appears at the foot of SILUMKO’s bed.

UNCLE MPILO: Silumko. Silumko, wake up.

SILUMKO wakes groggily.

SILUMKO: Malume? You are here. You are speaking. You are looking into my eyes!

UNCLE MPILO: After so many years, I have forgotten what my own voice sounds like.

SILUMKO: It is a good voice. We miss it, Malume.

UNCLE MPILO: Silumko, I am here to deliver a message. Are you listening?

SILUMKO: Yes, Malume.

UNCLE MPILO: The message is this: Do not let them break you. Do not let them break you like they broke me, like they broke your father. When everything in your heart has been wrecked and shipwrecked again further, when they have made it so your dreams feel hollow, I tell you there is a way.



CHORUS: It is raining in Johannesburg / Silumko discharges himself from hospital. / walks and walks, holding the yellow envelope under his clothes to protect it from the rain. (singing) Where are you going, Silumko?

SILUMKO curls up in a ball on the doorstep of VALERIA’s flat in Hillbrow. VALERIA enters and notices him on the floor.

VALERIA: Silumko?

VALERIA gently shakes him awake, then helps him inside. He is weak and unsteady on his feet. She settles him and puts a blanket around him.