Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Ignacio agreed that it had been a long and busy day for Fernando.

"Espera aquí. Voy a encontrar a tu maleta".

Zapato graciously told his friend to relax and he would locate his suitcase for him. He remembered that Maruxa had put it on the floor in a corner of the kitchen.

Entering the kitchen, he saw Aniceto meticulously cleaning the room after the late afternoon meal. Ignacio explained that their new guest was headed for bed. Aniceto smiled, with an understanding nod. He retrieved the satchel and handed it to Zapato.

"Dile que duerma bien. Mañana conoceré el chaval."

Aniceto asked Ignacio to wish Fernando a good night's sleep, and that he would meet the young man the next day.

Returning to the sitting room with the satchel, Ignacio found his friend sound asleep in his chair. He gently awakened Fernando and nudged him toward the stairway. Their room was on the third floor. When they entered, Gaitero was very impressed to see electric lightbulbs illuminating the room. While Havana certainly had availed itself of this modern invention, it was still largely limited to the homes and businesses of the wealthy. He gestured toward the light bulbs in the ceiling.

"Zapato, me siento como un rey! Parece mentira que nosotros podemos disfrutar un lujo como esto."

Fernando told Ignacio that he felt like a king...it was hard for him to believe that they were able to enjoy this luxury. Perhaps this was, indeed, "the promised land".

Zapato pointed at the bed nearer the window, indicating he had reserved it for Gaitero. The exhausted new arrival, with his clothes still on, practically fell onto the comfortable mattress. As he glanced toward the window, he could see the last vestiges of sunlight quickly disappearing. His first day in the USA was quickly coming to a close. He was soon in a deep slumber.

A wonderful combination of soft sunlight and the aroma of brewing coffee awoke Gaitero.

Outside his window there was an oak tree like the one outside of the dining room window. It made for a wonderful natural filter, buffering the effects of the rising sun. He was refreshed and ready for a day of exploration. In the bed across the room, Ignacio was still asleep and Fernando was careful not to disturb him. Still fully clothed, he entered the hallway and saw a man carrying an armful of white towels. He was older than Fernando and wore a black beret and wire-rim glasses. He turned toward the young Spaniard.

"Buenos días. Soy Aniceto Fernandez, y muy bienvenido! Estoy llevando estas toallas limpias al baño. Venga."

Aniceto, his new landlord, had warmly introduced himself and welcomed Fernando. He was replenishing the communal bathroom with fresh towels. He gestured to Gaitero to follow him.

After a wash, Fernando dressed and went downstairs. In typical Spanish fashion, breakfast was light....coffee with boiled milk, toasted bread, and some cheese and fruit. As he was finishing his meal, Zapato joined him. Refreshed, Fernando was anxious to learn more about what he might expect on Monday morning at the cigar factory. As his friend and mentor took his last swallow of coffee and rose from his chair, he pointed toward a doorway at the back of the main hall. Gaitero followed closely behind. Beyond the doorway, there was an enclosed outdoor area. Many men were gathered, sitting on long wooden benches in the bright morning sun. It was rather cool, and a large wood-burning fire provided just enough warmth for comfort.

Scattered amongst the men were several large stone carving wheels mounted vertically on what appeared to be a type of wooden wheelbarrow. A system of pulleys and a foot pedal provided the power that turned the stone wheel. Fernando immediately recognized them as portable Galician sharpening stones. These caught the attention of Fernando.

"Anda! Los afiladores gallegos!"

Fernando excitedly confirmed what they were.

Since the Middle Ages, Galicians, particularly those from the province of Ourense, were well-known for their blade-sharpening skills. Many sharpeners could be found in the Galician community in Cuba, but Gaitero hadn't expected to find something so iconically northern Spanish in Tampa.

As more men came out to enjoy the sun, several took their positions at the stone wheels. Maruxa appeared with many of her best knives from the kitchen. Placing them on a bench near the wheels, she collectively thanked the sharpeners with her usual smile. As the Galicians began pedaling, a calming whirring sound could be heard. Each man reached for a knife and deftly sharpened it, sparks flying about. Within minutes, each knife had been perfectly sharpened.

As conversation among the gathered men continued, some, including Ignacio, began reaching into small boxes or leather pouches. Fernando noticed that they were retrieving curious-looking knives. They were not large. Some had wooden handles designed for grasping with one hand. Others were merely pieces of metal with a sharp edge. These knives were curved, almost like a wide crescent moon. They began handing these to the Galician sharpeners, and the whirring and the sparks continued.

Fernando remained curious about these strange-looking knives.

--

This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020