I am one of those people who have gone through life looking at things with their two front teeth. Buck teeth. That’s my signature. A pair of buck teeth which seem to be pushing their way forward the older I get. Each of them wants to see. And be seen – they are shoving at each other for attention and for a better peek. One on top of the other. Theirs is an odd and everlasting relationship defined by rivalry, affection and brotherly idiocy. They hate as much as they love each other. Like twins in the womb.
I’ve never minded my teeth. It’s one of those features the ordinary girl would take as a flaw. As an artist, this is material.
But three weeks ago Wednesday, something bizarre happened: the tooth on the right chipped a good one, dropped out of my mouth and landed in the middle of my laptop. A large chunk, poop.
I wasn’t surprised though.
My dentist as a kid (God bless you, Professor Lesan. He’s a Governor now.) thought I needed braces. But I figure my folks took one look at me and decided I was too cool for braces. I had plenty going on already, an easy target for jokes – I had big eyes. I was shorter than all my siblings. And rounder. With a round head. My arms were too long, so long that in some of my primo pics I looked like a gorilla. Hehhe. Piling braces on top of all of this eccentricity would be too heavy for my young soul.
So the buck teeth remained. They grew bolder as I grew older. But I matured early to realize the Universe gives us each atleast something we can be proud of. I have a dazzling smile. Yeah. When I smile, the whole world smiles back at me. There are some chicks who smile and the world runs for cover. Others speak and people stare back speechless. Women with beautiful asses but are loose langaz. It gave mamas with strange personalities beautiful brains. Airheads are the life of the party, the ones who spin captivating tales. That’s how this Universe works. A flip to your every broken penny.
The only time I’d get self-conscious is when someone takes my profile photo when I’m mid-conversation. Because I end up looking like Wesley Kibyegon. Do you know who Wesley Kibyegon is? Wesley Kibyegon is the guy who embodies everything native about kalez: that sharp wide forehead, skin stretched thin across it, a hairline which strains lazy away from your eyebrows and teeth that can’t take their place behind your mouth.
I have to audit them: “Hebu I see those pics of me.” Scroll. “Delete that one.” Scroll. “Delete.” “Delete.” Scroll. “No, that one can stay. And that one too.” Scroll. “Delete. Delete all the others.”
My dentist as a young corporate (the sizzling Doctor Nizra. Let me tell you a quick storo: I sent my boy there for some routine scaling and polishing, told him she was worth his time. And in the evening when I asked him how the visit went, he said fine. But he couldn’t look me straight in the eye when he said it. So I asked him, “You have a crush on her, don’t you?”
He laughed. A high-pitched unnecessarily long laugh. It had no humour behind it, just plain embarrassment. “Wee bana,” he said. Then I saw his teeth. Those teeth with perfect perfect denture. She had done a swell job on them. “Chill,” I said with a naughty smile, “I also have a crush on her….”) she told me that I really ought to get them fixed. Based on the rate they are jutting out, I won’t be able to shut my mouth by the time I’m 40. Plus they’re so weak. She recommended some cosmetic procedure which involved shortening and reshaping them, losing their buckness and strengthening them with a new face.
“Cool,” I said. “How much would it cost?”
She mentioned a figure.
I recoiled in horror.
“Is that for one tooth or for both?”
“That’s for one,” she said calmly. “You need to get them both done.”
Aii, kwani I’m placing a government bond? I recoiled further. My front teeth were out by this time, eager to see what the fuss was all about. The woman barely blinked back.
I told her I would be back some day. Wacha I push them for a few more years, I said. We left, me and my two front teeth walked out hopeful that we would take each other to the grave as we were.
But life happened – I quit my corporate job, layabout for a few months then became a freelance writer. Sounds rogue, eh? It isn’t – the flipside about being a freelance is that you are on your own. You only eat as much as you work. As much as you are paid when you write. And you forget about such things as dental cover.
So while I was giving life to my sentences, I was writing the life out of myself. I was falling apart as I built stories up. I will die after I have created my greatest work, won’t I? I wonder if it’s the same for God – did He breathe His last when He breathed life into us?
Now my tooth chipped and fell out of my mouth. Sprawled out on my laptop as if it were lounging on a deck chair. It looked strange there. Unwanted. Misplaced. Unconcerned. Damning.
I had pushed myself far enough. I needed to see a dentist. I have a pal who left his bank job to become ka-hustler. He once told me that he and his health have reached an agreement – that it shall not fuck up with him and neither he with it. So I called him up. He told me yes, he knows somebody who could fix it within my means. And he’s a pro, he assured me.
Let me now tell you the difference between my old uptown dentist and my new downtown dentist.
My uptown dentist: She’s located off Valley Road. There is her. The stylish and graceful dentist, the one me and my boy have a crush on. Then there are four chicks in the dental room with her. I am not counting the three receptionists. One of whom, I would learn later, ran some scheme which involved off income-statement accounting. Smart woman. We wait at the reception reading recent editions of Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and GQ.
My Grace works from her throne, some fancy stool that springs up and down when she sits. Its neck is electric blue. It matches the contemporary furniture in the rest of her office.
There’s a chick standing behind me. Her work is to dab the sweat off my forehead during the procedure and straighten the plastic goggles on my face. Sometimes – because she is trying very hard to be helpful and relevant – she will scream to me the instructions the dentist has whispered. Just to make sure I get them clear: SHE HAS SAID YOU STAY STILL. SHE HAS SAID YOU STOP SWALLOWING. SHE HAS SAID YOU STOP BREATHING. SHE HAS SAID WE HAVE FINISHED.
There’s another chick to my left. Her jobo is to hold the suction and bring me a tumbler of water. And – because she also needs to justify her salo – she will straighten the bib around my neck every five minutes.
Then there’s the chick who brings the dentist her tools. A timid mousey woman who stands at my feet with her hands behind her back.
Every one of these chicks wears a starched and pressed uniform in white and blue. Stiff as matrons.
There is some large-ass flat screen above me. My Grace will swivel it to show me my x-ray of where my tooth hurts.
You will pay for all of these goodies. No matter how unnecessary or necessary they are. You will pay for them.
Now let’s travel across town. Let’s get our shoes dusty and shed off some of that uptown braggadocio. Let’s cross streets and roundabouts and across Uhuru Highway to my low-end back-street dentist in the dregs of Pangani.
Location is a bit dinghy. You take the jav from Old Nation Roundabout. Get off at one of the new feeder roads then take a left to the building. He’s on the ground floor. You can’t miss it. A sign-board hangs above his door. It’s written ‘Dentist’. How fun.
It’s a walk-in kinda dentist. Like a lodgo, you don’t make reservations or appointments you walk in. I find six chaps waiting and I take my place. I carried my novel to wait with me, Stories we could tell by Tony Parsons.
His dental assistant is also his receptionist. A lissom chick wearing red lipstick and baggy pants. Her staff blouse is tied in a little knot which sits right above her belly button. She looks like she walked out of the set of one of TLC’s videos. She’s a sexy vixen alright. Until she opens her mouth to call out my name an hour later.
“Frorens? Frorens Betti?”
Hehee. I raise my hand then follow her into the dentist’s office. He’s standing over the sink washing his hands. The dentist. A character straight out of the Muppet Show. Hehhe. Chuta. He’s tall with spiky hair. Round eyes behind rounder glasses. Straight lines for lips. A short-sleeved beige shirt tucked into corduroy pants. Wrapping all this colourless ensemble is a pair of Reeboks. He doesn’t speak much. And when he does, it’s through gritted teeth. As if he’s mad at you. He walks in slow soft steps, with a slight stoop – I would later learn that he’s steps out of his office sporadically to catch a smoke.
The furniture, heavens. How do I describe it? When Nyayo House disposed their furniture and computers from the early ‘90s, most of it landed in this office.
We sit at his desk. I have to lean in cause I can’t quite get him through his gritted teeth.
No fancy flat screens or x-rays – he pokes around my chipped tooth then tells me what he needs to do.
“Cool,” I say. “How much?”
He mentions a figure.
He mentions the figure again.
“Is that for one tooth or for both?”
“Both,” he says listlessly.
I am now leaning in so close our glasses are almost touching.
“So let me get this straight – all the work, all the grinding and straightening and the new face will take that? For both teeth, for all the work? For both visits?”
“Yes,” he says.
Jesus. I don’t know what to say, man, except for one thing: how the hell do you make any money around here? What sort of business are you running? Do you know how much your colleague across town charges?
“Can we start?” he says.
I settle into his dentist chair, it struggles to support my weight. He stands to my right. No one holds the suction for me, he asks me to hold it myself. The most his vixen assistant does is to place the bib around my neck. It’s full of yellowed holes – it looks like drops of Jik spilt on it and corroded the poor fabric into threads. It barely covers. No goggles. To be fair though, that acrid smell of all things dental is the same here as it is uptown.
Then we began the excruciating two hours of erasing this edge of my personality – I sweated, I napped, I cried, I winced, I bled. I got my face and jeans streaked with pieces of my grinded teeth. I got my jaws sunk into a horse-shoe mould. He sawed and grinded and shaped and reshaped.
Sometimes he would walk out of the room unannounced and leave me there alone, the door open. Still holding my suction. I knew he’d gone to take a smoke cause I’d smell the nicotine off his fingers when he returned.
The outcome was messy. And silly – it’s like pieces of chewed bubble gum had been stuck to my jaws. I look like a donkey. Jeez. My teeth are shorter. But thicker. An extra layer of… something. Still uneven. I ran my tongue over them and they felt foreign.
“Those are temporary,” he said, as if sensing my displeasure from the across the room. “Don’t worry about how they look. We’ll fix the permanent ones next time.”
I’m in between dentist visits now. I have smiled more in the past weeks than most people smile through their teens. I have to smile cause it’s easier, less tiring than keeping my mouth shut over them. I am still zoobing at stuff though. Sorry, my teeth are still zoobing.
And even as I write this, I can still feel them staring as I type one word after the other.