Summary of Coin by Cyprian Ekwensi
“Coin Driver” is a beautiful love story by the famous Nigerian writer Cyprian Ekwensi. It is about a poor coin driver named Charlie, who tried very hard to win the heart of Nancy, a beautiful lady who sang like a canary, on the Atlantic shore of Freetown in Sierra Leone. However, despite his best efforts, he did not succeed. After realizing that he could not live peacefully without Nancy, he thought that if he could not have her, he must have something that symbolized her. Nancy represented music to him, and if he had music like hers, he could survive. However, he loved Nancy for much more than just her music, so his music had to be unique, natural, fresh, and melodious like a canary’s. Eventually, he decided to buy a canary bird to quench his thirst for music.
“That was it! A canary. He should have thought of it before.”
Therefore, he sailed to Canary Island in Cape Verde to find a canary that sang just like Nancy. Charlie finally found what he was looking for, but the bird cost all that he had, leaving him with no means to return to Freetown. He told his hard-luck story to the captain of a cargo boat who had seen him at the bazaar. The captain was so impressed by Charlie’s courage and his love for Nancy that he sailed Charlie on his boat for the homeward journey to Freetown.
News of the singing bird spread quickly, and Charlie’s house became a tourist attraction of some sort. The beautiful Nancy’s popularity was slowly decreasing and being overtaken by the bird. Nancy and Diamond Joe (Charlie’s bitter rival) were both jealous. They offered Charlie a handsome price for the canary, but Charlie declined the offer.
Charlie did all of this because he loved Nancy so much that he had bought the bird out of love for her. However, he had a bitter relationship with Diamond Joe because he always remained with Nancy, and Charlie was very jealous of him.
Finally, out of jealousy and a desire for Charlie’s attention, Nancy got rid of the bird with the help of Diamond Joe. Diamond Joe killed the bird, and Charlie was furious. But to Charlie’s surprise, Nancy proclaimed her love for him by comparing herself to the canary. She said, “Charlie, I think I can sing as well as the canary. Will you put me in your cage, I mean your house? Will you? I promise to sing for you every day and forever as my voice is good.”
The theme of love and jealousy is beautifully described in the story by Cyprian Ekwensi. Charlie loved Nancy but was jealous of Diamond Joe because he saw him extend his heavy-ringed hand and clasp Nancy’s delicate and shapely fingers. Charlie boiled with envy, and he could not bear the thought of Diamond capturing Nancy. But Nancy and Diamond were also jealous of Charlie when the popularity of his canary grew, and Nancy’s popularity was overtaken by the music of Charlie’s canary. However, in the end, love won over jealousy when Nancy expressed her love for Charlie.
The story begins with Charlie admiring Nancy’s beauty and wanting to marry her despite his financial struggles. However, his bitter rival, Diamond Joe, interrupts him and takes Nancy away, which makes Charlie jealous. He buys the canary to have something that reminds him of Nancy, and it becomes a symbol of his love for her. The bird’s popularity and Nancy’s jealousy lead to the story’s climax, with Nancy conspiring with Diamond Joe to kill the bird. However, her love for Charlie is finally revealed, and the story ends on a positive note.
Explanation of Coin Driver
Nancy came down the lane in the bright sunshine of the Freetown afternoon. Charlie, the diver of the coin, but the flower bush aside and stared at her. She was tall, with rich black skin and wide and black eyes and red lips, so red with lipstick. Her large golden loops of earings danced with her light footsteps in rhythm. Of her white sandals, dust rose slightly, but her eyes were clear as the ribbons in her straw hat. Charlie was enmeshed in her beauty. He thought that she was a fine girl. He waited for her behind the bush for a moment: to ask her to become his wife.
And she was alone too – alone! He was in a flutter. ‘How I will tell her this thing? I got no money like de rich men who come from Grand Palm. And I want this girl who sings like a canary. Because of Nancy, everybody who comes to Freetown must go to Grand Palm Hotel to lodge – white man, black man, all de stranger!’
As she was alone there he was in a flashback. He thought about how he will tell her this thing. He had not got any money like the rich men from Grand Palmm but he wanted this beautiful girl who was singing like a canary. Nancy was so captivating girl that everyone who comes to Freetown must go to Grand Palm Hotel to lodge. She was very famous.
Charlie stepped forward with hope. Nancy smile and her smile encourage him, “Nancy, I got to tell you something…” She was smiling even more sweetly, but her eyes bored right through him and beyond. Charlie, confused, turned to see what she was gazing at.
His bitter rival Diamond Joe stood in the path behind him. Joe’s golden tooth was sparkling. He reached out a heavy-ringed hand and clasped delicate and shapely fingers on Nancy. Charlie was burning by jealousy. He saw them walking away; he saw Nancy slip a box into Joe’s hands that she had been holding. He was annoyed with the manner in which they held hands, whispered into each other’s ears, and even looked back over their heads to laugh at him. He glared at them until they turned the corner, and even then his eyes still fixed on the bush that had concealed them; his ears still listened for their tune of joy, for their sneering contempt of him.
He thought about his canvas shoes, his tunic top, and his white drill shorts, and now he understood why he had struggled. He realised that he had come to court a girl like Nancy, the singing star of the Grand Palm, the most exclusive social attraction in Freetown, and he was unimpressively dressed, but he simultaneously thought that if this girl liked him she won’t worry about his outfit.
He remembered the night when he first heard Nancy sing, and how since then he had known no peace of mind. He had even succeeded nonce in entering her dressing-room. It was shortly before she went on stage, and her girls were helping her adorn herself. Charlie was ill at ease. Things destined for her ears only would be heard by others. Why did she not send the maids away? Perhaps they were mocking him now. Why did she keep glancing at her watch, slim and expensive though it was?
He recalled the night when he heard Nancy singing for the first time, and how since then he had lost his peace of mind. Even one day had succeeded in reaching her dressing-room. It was shortly before she went on stage and her companion girls were helping her adorn herself. Charlie was ill at ease. Things meant only to her ears would be heard by others. Why didn’t she send away the maids? Maybe they just mocked him now. Why did she look at her watch, slim and expensive though it was?
What is it now, Mister?” She was marking out her brow with a pencil.
Charlie averted his gaze. “I – got a little money I’ve been saving!”
“‘ And you want me to marry you,” she flashed, serving up his most secret thoughts in a manner which made nonsense ambition.
“No…No. Not so! I- I think to say you will like to improve your voice…”What was wrong with telling her the truth? This was not what he meant to say, but it had now been said.
She frowned. ‘You mean to tell me I don’t sing well?’
“Not so!’ Charlie’s hands rose in protest. ‘I beg pardon, Madam. No, you sing like a canary. Like canary! But you know… nowadays, anybody in Africa who do anything fine must travel and see the world,”
Charlie was so indulged that he forgot about the two maids present there. For some time he was how attentively Nancy was listening to him. But very soon the spark vanished out of her eyes. She sighed badly and stated that she can not accept his offer.
Charlie knew he could not live peacefully without Nancy. If he could not get Nancy, he must have something – a symbol of her.
Nancy to him mean music. If he had music like Nancy’s, he could survive. However, he loved Nancy much not her music only. So, his music must be unique. It must be natural, fresh and melodious like a canary. At last, he planned to be a canary to quench his thirst of music. “That was it! A canary. He should have thought of it before.”
Note: Canary is a small, yellow bird that is well known for its singing, sometimes kept as a pet.
He didn’t tell any of his plans because he thought he would be called’ silly.’ They would laugh and say,” Charlie, you have crazy? You mean, you going to Cape Verde to cast canary because a woman refuses you?’ They would not encourage him and so he didn’t tell anyone. He tied up his money to his waist in an old cloth. He went to the market and bought food, putting freshwater in an oil tin. And at night he drifted silently northwards in his bigger canoe when nobody saw him.
He had been on the wide Atlantic for days. Sun and wind bit into his face and in his back. Hunger clenched his heart. The porpoises were swimming about and the sharks were waiting for him to drown while the whales were tossing his boat. But when Charlie actually eased off in the Canary Islands, he thought nothing could be more romantic than finding a stunning canary-one that sang like Nancy.
Finally, Charlie found just what he needed. He found a canary which sang beautifully exact like Nancy. But the bird cost all that he had. He had no means now to return Freetown. He told his hard-luck story to the captain of a cargo boat who had seen at the bazaar. The captain was so impressed by Charlie’s courage and his love for that he sailed Charlie on his boat for the homeward journey to Freetown.
Charlie was never careless to take the great care of the canary. He called her Nancy. Her cage was never without red pepper and water. Nancy (the canary) entertained the group with ceaseless gymnastics of song all through the stormy passage. Charlie’s heart swelled with excitement at keeping the cage at arm’s length.
‘Now, when I want to hear good music, I don’t go any more to the Grand Palm. I got my own Nancy in the house!’ he laughed. ‘Wait till Diamon’ Joe see this!’
When Charlie returned back in the Freetown Charlie found it impossible to hide such talent. The news Nancy spread very fast and everyone heard about the coin driver’s extraordinary canary. Instantly, the bird became a great attraction. All the tourists who were going Freetown went first to the Grand Palm, then came straight to Charlie’s little home to hear Nancy sing.
Once a white woman gave a bag of scarce seeds to Charlie. On hearing the price Charlie had paid for the bird, an American tourist offered double for it. Charlie would not sell it. He was quite certain that Nancy of the Grand Palm had heard of the bird; and so must Diamond Joe.
Very soon a new passenger liner had arrived in port, and as Charlie was planning to go down to work for the day, he heard a knock on his door. It was Nancy, and Diamond Joe was with her. Charlie had not seen her since his trip to Cape Verde, and now it seemed to him that she had become even more stunning. Nancy, the girl, could only sing. It could not substitute the love he had in his heart for Nancy of the Grand Palm.
He saw her eyes giving life to her lips, and her teeth shone with laughter. But Diamond’s lips, red as Nancy’s new frock, portrayed greed, envy, resentment. All the meanness of his personality seemed to burst at the sight of Nancy’s innocent joy. They wanted to buy Charlie’s Nancy. They told him that that will pay him three times money he had spent on the canary. But Charlie rejected their offer.
Nancy was making the bird sing. In absolute wonder she stared at it, cooing all the while. Charlie flattered himself in admiration for his owner. Or was she just trying to annoy Joe Diamond? When they left, he noticed the irritated expression on Joe’s face. He also knew his voyage to Cape Verde was in vain. Even Nancy loved him; more so than ever before and was he not harming her reputation in some way by bringing this bird back to Freetown?
The haunting thought ruled over him that day. He was so engrossed that due to his own thoughts he did not notice the absence of Diamond Joe. When he went home and opened the front door of his house, he felt strange like somebody had been in his room. The cage seemed to have been moved. He kept whistling. He walked straight to the cage and it was taken down. At the bottom was a lifeless thing. Nancy, the canary was dead.
Charlie was shocked. He lost count of time. Slowly it dawned upon him that his canary had not died a natural death. She was killed by someone who hated her presence. Now he remembered how, in the morning, Diamond Joe had looked at the bird, how he had not seen him at work. He was furious. He rushed to Diamond how and found him in the drinking house. He forced his way into the room and grabbed Diamond Joe by coat-collar smashing his mask with his right-hand mallet.
‘Where’s my canary? Talk!’
Both men fought badly. Diamond warned him to send for the police, but Charlie was heading for the Grand Palm in search of Nancy. He didn’t find her, and all-day he walked through the streets looking for her.
The end of the story is ironical. To Charlie surprise, Nancy finally expressed her heart in his favour. She was sobbing now. She expressed:
“You see, everybody loved your Nancy better than me. Even you! Since you got your Nancy, you don’ come to see me in the Grand Palm! That’s why Joe killed your bird.”
Charlie could not believe his eyes when she compared herself to the canary.
‘Charlie, I – I think I can sing as well as the canary. Will, you put me in your cage, I mean -your house-‘…Will you? I promise to sing for you every day and forever as my voice is good –‘.
Charlie looked into her face to see if she meant it. But the tears veiled her eyes and she could not stand his gaze. ‘Don’ cry, Nancy,’ he said, reaching out in the dark and touching her soft shoulders.
Charlie looked through her face to see whether she meant it. But her eyes were blurred by the tears and she could not stand his glare.’ Don’t cry, Nancy,’ he said while touching her soft shoulders.