Can we go somewhere after work? 

To talk?

do you know what formwork is?





CHORUS: Every day on the site / back-breaking work / it’s cold now / dark when you leave for work / dark when you get home / Silumko follows instructions / he learns quickly / a good worker / a fast worker / He is biding his time / waiting until nobody is in earshot

SILUMKO: Bra Smile?

BRA SMILE: What is it, my boy?

SILUMKO: Can we go somewhere after work? To talk?

A long beat.

BRA SMILE: Meet me at the shebeen after work

CHORUS: The appointed hour arrives / Silu enters the shebeen / All the way in the back corner / Bra Smile is already seated. 

SILUMKO sits down opposite BRA SMILE.

BRA SMILE: Did you tell anyone you were meeting me?


BRA SMILE: Anyone from work see you coming here?


BRA SMILE: Ag, it doesn’t matter anyway. (beat) I won’t beat around the bush. I know you want to know what happened to your father.

SILUMKO: Very badly

BRA SMILE: I’ve thought for a long time about this. I signed a document, you know, they made us promise we would keep quiet.


BRA SMILE: But I’m old now, almost retired. I’ll get my pension anyway. They can fire me if they want to.

SILUMKO: Were you there when it happened?

BRA SMILE: No. But I can tell you what I know. Do you know what formwork is?

SILUMKO: No, I don’t…

BRA SMILE: Your father didn’t teach you anything about construction hey? Formwork is the neck that supports the head. It holds the concrete up until it hardens enough to support itself. We pour the wet concrete onto it so it needs to be very strong. And we know it causes all the accidents – the formwork, the scaffolding – but they keep on rushing us, rushing us, making us do it slapdash… I’ve been a long time in this job; I know the right way to do it, how it needs to be oiled when you aren’t using it so it doesn’t leave rust on the concrete; how it needs to be put up very securely because ja, it needs to take all the weight when the concrete is fresh, it needs to stay in place if the structure vibrates from traffic or something…

SILUMKO: Bawo, I’m not following –

BRA SMILE: So, we are doing the inspection before pouring the concrete and I take one look at the formwork, the shuttering, and I say no. No, no, no. This is not the way to do it. It is not safe. I can see in one second that it is not securely built. And I go back on the ground and I say to the supervisor: I think it is not safe. I don’t want to say whose fault it is, was it the design or the guys who put it up or what, but ja, the way it is now is not good.

SILUMKO: And what did he say, the supervisor?

BRA SMILE: He said –

We are transported back to the site. MR VAN HEERDEN faces off with BRA SMILE.

MR VH: Mister Smile, we are three weeks behind schedule, I have the boss breathing down my neck to start the pour and I have a line of guys at my office every morning asking for a job so if you’d like to keep yours, I suggest you do as your name says: put a goddamn smile on your face and get your team up on that scaffolding.

BRA SMILE: Meneer. I’ve lost two fingers, but I’m not going to lose my life in this job. If my team goes up there, it won’t be me sending them.

MR VH: Bring your guys here.

BRA SMILE: I have already told them I don’t want them up there.

MR VH: I said bring your guys here.

BRA SMILE: (sighing) Meneer, I am leaving for the day.

MR VH: You’re leaving for the day? It’s three o’clock in the fucking afternoon.

BRA SMILE: Yes. I am leaving for the day. You will need the rest of the afternoon to show the engineers the safety concerns and decide how to redo them.

MR VH: Here God, hierdie plek is a fokken gemors. [Dear God, this place is a fucking mess] How many times do I have to say it? Get your fucking guys up there on that fucking scaffolding so we can start the fucking pour.

CHORUS: There is a moment before a decision is taken / there, on the precipice, / there is still a path back or around / the jelly is not yet set / the word not yet escaped from the throat / but once taken / a cage is opened / an egg is cracked / once taken / it cannot be turned back from.

We return to the shebeen. SILUMKO’s hands are gripping the edge of the table.

BRA SMILE: (to SILUMKO) I walked away from that man. And I left my team there.

SILUMKO: (softly) To decide for themselves.

BRA SMILE: No. To fend for themselves. For them there was no decision. The choice was already made. My son, I have made many decisions in my life I’m not proud of, but this one? This one I will never recover from. (he sighs) I want to apologise. I want to ask your forgiveness.

SILUMKO is shaking with grief and anger.

SILUMKO: You did what you thought was right. The fault does not lie with you.

BRA SMILE: I can see you are in pain, my son.


BRA SMILE: Pain is a part of life. In my time, I have known pain of the body. But this pain, the pain of the mind and the heart, is the worst kind of pain. You cannot go to a doctor and take medicine for this pain.

SILUMKO: There is nothing to do. I must bear it.

BRA SMILE: No. You must fight it. Others have done this before you. You can find your fight behind your fear. But you must think and you must not be afraid of your thoughts. If you have questions, there will be those around you who will answer. You must know what you are going to battle with and why.

CHORUS: (singing) What are you doing, Silumko?

Where are you going, Silumko?

What do you seek Silumko?

Are you lost in the hollow city, Silumko?