LITERATURE IN A WEEK: A Review of Okoye Charles’ The Bicycle Repairman

Posted: January 22, 2014 in Critical Review, Literature in a Week

by Chimezie Chika

Through graceful strokes of compassion, Charles Okoye has provided a rare insight into the bases of the human condition.


Today brings us yet again to our weekly takes on works of literature.
With this peek into life, we can as well flag off the second review on this column.

What drew me to this poem in the first place is the melancholic tone. No poem has evoked such sorrow before–no, not since Kofi Awoonor’s Songs of Sorrow and a few others.

The melancholic tone made this poem bleak. Something that is quite apt when you consider that–to use a popular cliche–life is not really a bed of roses. The juxtaposition of the bleak melancholia and a story, a vignette, produced such powerful first stanza as could ever be asked of poesy:

“The repairman was my friend
We bonded over a bicycle wheel
With spanner and a bolt, he worked diligently
His palms were of crimson brown, tainted by many years of hardship
He smiled at me, I smiled back
Tomorrow we shall break word and tear.”

This first stanza started like a simple, well-told, innocent story. But on a second look, the metaphor became visible. The poet persona had encountered life. And life was the repairman. He went further to tell us: ”His palms were of crimson brown, tainted by many years of hardship”
The reader became aware that the repairman was not really perfect. His palms were deformed by his ‘diligent’ work. The crimson quality of the repairman’s palm fore-shadowed something sinister, a death, that the reader might not quite grasp at once. The underlyng sadness was established by the last line of the first stanza: ”Tomorrow we shall break word and tear”
It was here that the poet completed the statement he made in line 2. The poet persona became friends with the repairman because he brought him a tyre, and the persona knew that their friendship would grow deeper.

I didn’t mean to provide a detailed analysis of this first stanza: that is largely not my interest. However, to understand this poem, I had to break down the palm kernel of those wonderful lines to show how much power lay therein. These lines showed that the poet is a keen observer of life, a poet at the height of his power. The way he reeled off the words, ‘bonded’, ‘crimson’, ‘tainted’, ‘break’, ‘tear’, showed that he knew exactly the well from which to draw the exact words.

The second stanza began with a declaration: ”Someone is dead, an unfortunate stranger is dead.”
Life has its casualties. Nothing is steady as far as life is concerned. The riding of bicycle became a metaphor for the cyclically continuous movement of life. The death of human beings
cannot stop life from going on.

The story took on a philosphical slant in the second stanza. The persona after passing through life, the repairman’s shop, and seeing that things were no longer the same, decided to ask why.

The poem concluded with the clarification of the repairman’s befuddlement as to why things were no longer the same: his friend had died. And to emphasize the important insignificance of one death and the fleeting nature of one live in Life, the poem concluded:

”And he cycled away in time.”

This poem is decidedly a highly-wrought work. This is highly inspired poetry. The kind of work that can make you appreciate the little things that life has to offer.
The human condition of staying and going, this continuous cycle that is life is unveiled with such tear-jerking compassion and keen observation such as could only be seen with a truely gifted poet.

The poem as whole, the story, is an extended metaphor of life. For life is made up of live and death: everything that lives must die and everything that dies must have lived; and it is the dying not so much the living that makes life what it is.

This is a poem that should be made compulsory for school students. A work whose power lay in its brevity and the visual strokes of language used. Reading it, one has the impression of a painter at work. And a very thoughtful one at that.

The Bicycle Repairman by Okoye Chukwudi Charles Ezeamalukwuo

The repair man was my friend
We bonded over a bicycle wheel
With a spanner and a bolt, he worked diligently
His palms were of crimson brown, tainted by many years of hardship
He smiled at me, I smiled back.
Tomorrow we shall break word and tear.

Someone is dead, an unfortunate stranger is dead
You will not see me mourning him
I pedaled my bicycle down through the streets of life
Passed the repair man’s shop
He wasn’t there.
When next I see him,
I would ask him of whom the flute sang today.

The next day I met a man, pedalling his bicycle
He looked familiar so I stopped him and I asked
“Who died yesterday?”
“The Repair man.” He replied,
And cycled away in time.

You can read the poem The Bicycle Repairman

All Right Reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the written permission of the publishers.

  1. I’m beginning to see a super pundit in Chimezie Chika. Your reviews hit the stamps of creativity, depth thinking, and of course, your emotional-but-impeccable choice of words on this poem.

    I’m always happy to come across/feel the vibes of people like you, who see the colours my eyes take no notes of. So Chika (maybe you’re a “he or she” as your unisex name implies), I feel so proud of your detailed review.

  2. emeghara Victoria oluchi says:

    beautiful, short, punchy n skillfully crafted poem and an equally well thought out and insightful review to go with it. well done. stanza 3 sent me reflecting on life bits fleeting nature

  3. Chimezie says:

    Thanks my man. The review is only a personal take. Thanks oo.

  4. timnwaobilo says:

    O wow!
    I am awed.
    This is a beautiful review. Hardly would you find another better. Opened my consciousness to dots and crosses in the main poem with which my enlightenment didn’t originally align. Equating the repair man to life is surely apt. Moreso, the cyclic pedalling.

    Mr Chika, this caught me off-guard. You killed it. You killed me.

  5. Ezeamalukwuo says:

    Great Review…I am awed

  6. Chimezie says:

    Thanks all

  7. Ceejon says:

    Classical and critical retrospection. Honestly speaking, I wouldn’t have perceived all these that the reviewer had pointed out, even with my nostrils drawn wide apart(figurative).
    It’s quite amazing that one can see a collage of rich philosophies where ordinarily, others just see a blank space..

    The poem is a simple and yet rich one. Not surprised though, I mean, considering the poet.

  8. LegendaryCJN says:

    Appreciation on this great explication of the text.
    I’ll read your review anytime, anywhere.


  9. Adaka Timothy says:

    Its quite insightful 2 capture those hints that we overlooked. 9ice 1.

  10. Anene Francis says:

    Something about poetry I find facinating is that several items or viewpoints could be sandwiched in one medium; a maze leading to various ends, some even not originally intended by the poet… This review did well in illuminating some of the paths unnoticed by many. Nice work

    Personally, from the poem, I saw a stranger/friend dichotomy. It stirs questions like: who is a friend or stanger and how should I treat his affairs? A so called stranger could turn out to be related to me in some way as time usually reveal. So ‘I-don’t-care’ attitute should be given a second thought

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