The Blind Knife Sharpener
By Teri Saya
I love living here in Mexico. There are always sounds in our neighborhood to announce one thing or another. I especially like the “knife sharpener’s” whistle.....
A long, low fluting whistle waivers in the air. As it comes closer, you gather up your knives. A young boy with a backpack leads an old blind man by one arm. The old man clutches a cane with his other hand and leans on it as he limps down the street. The boy blows the whistle again, the note long and wailing, dropping an octave in the end. The tapping of the old man’s cane upon the hard surface can be heard between notes.
The neighbors begin to gather with their kitchen knives, garden clippers, axes, and scissors. The boy removes his pack and helps the old man to sit down on the curb. The pack is opened, and the boy brings out a thick cloth bundle which he unrolls and lays across the old man’s legs. Two large whetting stones, each with a different grit, are placed on the cloth. The boy places a can of oil on one side and a pile of rags on the other. The old man touches each item of his trade, then reaches out, and the boy carefully places the first customer’s knife in his hand.
The neighbors watch and gossip quietly amongst themselves while with swift, skilled movements, on each oiled stone, the blind man sharpens the blade to a razor’s edge, wipes the knife with a rag and passes it back to the boy handle first.
No one speaks to the blind man while he sharpens their knives. There seems to be an understood reverence to his skill, age, and blindness. Even the boy, his apprentice, only speaks when needed and in a near whisper. He asks one of the neighbors for a glass of water, and when it appears, he taps the old man on the shoulder, and hands him the glass. The old man drains the glass thirstily and hands it back to the boy, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. With a nod, he begins again honing the blade.
There is only speculation amongst the neighbors as to how the man became blind or how old he may be. They assume the boy is his grandson. However, they all are grateful for his skill.
The boy and the blind man continue this ritual of passing and sharpening until all the utensils on this street are sharp and gleaming. Money is exchanged, the neighbors disperse, and the boy carefully packs away the tools. Then, he removes the cloth from the old man’s lap, shakes it out, rolls it up and puts it in the backpack. He helps the old man to his feet and hands him his cane. He gently takes his elbow, and the boy and the blind man continue down the street. The beautiful, haunting whistle and the tap, tap, tap of the old man’s cane float in the air, calling for the next group of customers.