El afilador [The Sharpener]

I’m hanging the laundry out to dry at my parents’ home in Buenos Aires and I hear the familiar harmonica tune tee-dee- deee tee-dee-deeeee. I rush out the door but it’s too late, the sharpener has cycled past. A young couple sees me gesturing and yells “The lady in green is calling you!”

afilador 2

The afilador cycles back to my house. I give him a couple of blunt knives and scissors. We start chatting, or rather, I ask him questions while he works. He tells me that he learned the trade from his grandfather. There’s more to sharpening blunt blades than meets the eye; there’s a different technique for each cutting instrument.

A whetting stone is fixed between the handlebars of his bicycle. When the bike is stationary it rests on a kickstand and the afilador sits on the bike and cycles. The movement of the wheels makes the whetting stone rotate so that he can sharpen blades.

The afilador -let’s call him Daniel-works as a school janitor from Monday to Friday and plies his trade at weekends. He’s also a war veteran. A warrior and keeper of a dying trade.

afilador 1