THE KNIFE GRINDER

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Every Thursday afternoon, the distinctive sound of a harmonica announced that the knife grinder was around. Antonio, the knife grinder who had reached 60 years of age, walked slowly, attentive and hopeful and, unlike some of his competitors in the trade, did not push a whole bicycle adapted as a grinding bench. His “shop” was quite simple: a metal stand attached to a grinding bench was driven by a bicycle wheel; and only one grinding wheel for knives, scissors or cuticle pliers. He charged seven reais for each sharpening task, but if a customer haggled over the price, he would charge five. He supported himself on weekly earnings and as he lived alone he had no need for more money.

Antonio’s customers were loyal. No wonder! Last April he completed forty years in the same trade! But lately, a person became one his best customers. It was Mr. Pedro Américo, a former millionaire, a regular spend-thrift bohemian who had become judicious and prudent.

His bohemian friends had obviously noticed the change and laid the blame on the business crisis. Some of them, especially those who lived under his wing, tried to approach their source of enjoyment. But Pedro Américo’s burly bodyguards, made it clear that their fountain had run dry for good, leaving no alternative other than searching for a new sponsor.

Francesca, Pedro Américo’s housekeeper asked why he made a point of personally handing the utensils to be sharpened; after all, she had always served as a bridge between heaven and the common people. At first, Pedro Américo shrugged as he found there was no need for a reason. That question, however, did not vanish as time went by. On the contrary, it began to bother him to such an extent that he had to interrupt what he was doing and try to find an answer.

And the answer finally came: as he himself had taken on the task of personally handing the objects for sharpening, his presence would give rise to a short chat, a remark on his favorite soccer team, a wish of a pleasant weekend. Well then, he would concluded magnanimously, all that was showing the knife grinder a little charity. And that was enough for him.

However, as the days went by the unrest Francesca had sparked with her questioning had poked him and kept on hammering at him, and making him angry at her who, in his eyes, was no longer a housekeeper but a scapegoat.

In any event, Mr. Pedro Américo only managed to mitigate his discomfort when he heard the sound of the knife grinder’s harmonica as he approached on Thursdays, the day Francesca had elected as her happiest weekday.

As his sulking would last for long days, Pedro Américo decided to seek professional advice. He thought of Dr. Castro, a psychologist who had been a respectable and loyal friend for a long time – and was no flatterer.

While having Pedro Américo as a patient and knowing him like the back of his hand, he should not ignore his medical records. It was no surprise, although it was blatantly obvious how Pedro Américo had lived until that moment; how he had inherited an enormous fortune and had relied on his intuition to choose highly competent professionals to manage it. He had always lived in pursuit of pleasure, leading an absolutely empty life, light-years distant from words as deserving or achieving.

The experienced psychologist noticed that his friend and patient was hiding something, an event or someone. All the same, he decided he should not probe any further in the first session, as Pedro America would not have enough courage to mention the knife-grinder.

Some weeks went by and the treatment continued, however Pedro Américo, as usual could only get some relief when he saw Antonio’s grinding wheel sharpening the knives and scissors that he would take to him.

As Pedro Américo’s problem came to a dead end, and he had no other way to carry on without mentioning the knife-grinder, Pedro Américo mustered up his courage to mention Antonio. And it could go on without saying that the psychologist raised his right eyebrow for a moment.

Using the skills and capabilities he had gathered in his many years of psychology, Dr. Castro relaxed and induced his patient to let go emotionally of his own self and speak his mind about that new character.

At first, the interaction was mild, but as the minutes ticked away, Pedro Américo could not help unveiling some distress. And that nuisance distinctly increased and ranged from a deep outrage to a miracle peacefulness.

Dr. Castro asked himself why a mere knife grinder had shaken the Pedro Américo’s world. And the paradoxical reason why he felt reassured in the knife grinder’s presence. He posed other questions, but all of them remained unanswered. And as the cathartic moment looked far away, the psychologist strongly recommended that his unbalanced friend paid attention to his dreams and jotted them down the moment he woke up. That would certainly help them to solve his problem.

As Pedro Américo did not know the first thing about psychology, he decided not to ignore that part of the treatment, and promised to himself that, he would write down as much as he could remember all the dreams he might have. AS he wished to have a light-hearted sleep, he had a lavish dinner, enjoyed his favorite cognac and cigar, had a soothing bath in his Jacuzzi and only went to bed after watching a soppy CATV movie.

He started having dreams, probably because he was induced by his psychologist. And as a predictable fact, he went to see the knife grinder. However, contrary to his expectation that it would be a mere repetition of real life, the Knife Grinder asked him to keep silent and watch what he was doing.

The millionaire woke up panting for breath and feeling exhausted... As he was taking a few minutes to recover himself he had an insight. The way he had led his life up to that moment was equivalent to those dull knives and scissors the knife-grinder sharpened. Thus, he saw the knife-grinder as the last resort to his redemption, under the illusory impression he would be able to make up for all his lost time.   

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Published at : 22-02-2017
Category : Short story