Summary

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Last Updated May 22, 2023.

The play opens in a dilapidated one-room shack in the “non-white” section of the Korsten settlement in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The walls appear battered and worn, consisting of scraps of corrugated iron, wood, cardboard boxes, and hessian bags. Sparsely furnished, the shack boasts only one door and window. Contained within its slouching walls are an oil stove, a kettle, and several pots. A shelf over one of the beds holds a small collection of books, a Bible, and an alarm clock. Inside the shack, Morris waits for his brother, Zachariah, to return home from work. 

Morris need not wait long as Zachariah soon enters. Zachariah sits down and soaks his feet in an enamel wash basin, and Morris inquires about his day. Zachariah complains about working at the park, explaining to his brother that being on his feet all day worsens his calluses. He has little choice, however; he must comply or lose his job, so his feet are in near-constant pain.

Zachariah then laments about the life he used to enjoy with Minnie, an old friend of his. He reminisces about the good times he had when Minnie came around and bemoans that Morris is a homebody that prefers quiet evenings, missing the wild nightlife that he and Minnie often frequented. To comfort his brother, Morris tries to remind Zachariah about their plans. When his alarm clock rings, Morris stands and prepares dinner. He talks about the future and reminds Zachariah of their dream to save up for a small farm on which they can grow food and be self-sufficient.

Despite the logic of his brother’s words, Zachariah remains upset. He reminisces about fun-filled evenings and the female company he once enjoyed. In response, Morris suggests that Zachariah find a female pen pal, but Zachariah is skeptical about this prospect, as he is illiterate and can neither read nor write. Morris reassures Zachariah that he will read and write the letters for Zachariah.

The next evening, Morris turns to the pen pal section of the newspaper. He creates a list of three potential pen pals for his brother: Ethel Lange, Nellie de Wet, and Betty Jones. After some discussion, the brothers settle on Ethel Lange, and Morris helps Zachariah write his first letter to her.

A few days later, a reply arrives from Ethel. In her letter, she has included a picture. Morris's reaction to the image is explosive; he tells Zachariah to burn the letter, as Ethel is white, and her brother Cornelius is a policeman. Understandably, Morris fears for Zachariah's safety. However, Zachariah insists that he likes the idea of corresponding with a white woman, telling Morris that they will proceed gently and assuring his worried brother that he knows how to handle Ethel's policeman brother.

Defeated, Morris sits down to help Zachariah pen a reply to Ethel. The brothers decide to embellish the truth, telling her that Zachariah has a car and looks forward to taking her and her friend Lucy for a drive. Despite playing along, Morris remains wary, warning Zachariah that he is playing with fire. The next evening, they receive a reply from Ethel.

In her next letter, Ethel tells Zachariah that she and Lucy plan to vacation in Port Elizabeth in June. They will stay with Lucy's uncle in Kensington, which is just five minutes away from the brothers’ home. Morris is livid. He tells Zachariah that his game is up and that there will be trouble when Ethel's brother discovers that Zachariah is a black man.

Zachariah agrees that it would be dangerous for him to meet Ethel and suggests...

(This entire section contains 927 words.)

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that Morris—with his fairer skin and white-passing appearance—go in his stead, as Ethel would never know the difference. Zachariah insists that Morris could easily charm Ethel with his conversation and gallant behavior. However, Morris argues that he will need a suit to look the part of a gentleman—an expense they can ill afford. Zachariah then asks about the money they have been saving, and Morris runs to grab the tin holding the cash. A brief tussle ensues, but Zachariah ultimately wins.

The next day, Zachariah brings home a suit for Morris, who unhappily puts it on. The brothers then practice how Morris might greet and converse with Ethel. Their conversation is lively and comical; however, the happy moment is ruined when Morris—still acting as a white man—directs a racial epithet at Zachariah.

The next evening when Zachariah returns from work, the shack is in disarray. Anxious from the events of the previous night, Morris has not completed his usual housekeeping tasks. Zachariah is furious and confronts Morris, who explains that he is leaving and cannot follow through with meeting Ethel. To cheer Morris up, Zachariah produces a letter from Ethel and tells Morris to read it.

Morris does so, and his mood changes. Apologetically, Ethel explains that she is now engaged to a man named Stoffel, who does not want her to correspond with other men. Heaving a sigh of relief, Morris says that they can move on from this silliness and begin saving again. Zachariah, however, appears deflated.

To humor Zachariah, Morris agrees to put on the new suit one last time. Then, the two brothers engage in more playacting. Morris takes on the role of Zachariah's white supervisor, while Zachariah plays the subservient black park attendant. The two trade jabs and insults, and the roleplaying almost ends in violence. The play concludes with the two turning in for the night, both resigned to spending their foreseeable future together.

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