Cart of Teeth

June 14, 2008
By
There must have been hundreds of teeth. No thousands. Canines, wisdom teeth, front teeth, back teeth, snaggle tooths, rotten teeth, it was a true collection. They were all spread out across the top of the cart. Broken seashells thrown over a patch of pavement. The cart itself bore wrinkles identical to it's owner. Splintered and creaking, it rocked uncertainly with every gust of the humid Marrakesh air. The man sat near his cart wearing a worn straw hat. A simple hat that could be purchased at the same price as a day old croissant. He wore faded knock-off Nike track pants and an open cotton blouse. His beard was mandarin orange, freshly dyed with henna no doubt. His leathery skin rippled around the corner of his eyes and mouth, wisdom and suffering folded into each of those creases. He sat next to his cart as he did everyday since he was 14 years old, a man. It was his father's cart, the family business. He set up his office every day after A'ser prayer next to the baboosh cook (snails and broth) and 20 yards away from the snake charmer. He used the same set of tools as his father did too. The same set of rusty industrial sized pliers that his father bought off the French contractor who built the resort down in his old town down south. Those pliers had hugged thousands of teeth. It handle was blackened from age and rust caked the bottom of the handle. There was a stool too. A three legged stool that was placed in front of the doctor. The same stool his father had used. Thrown on the stool was an old dish rag stained with the pomegranate juice of the gums. The only new thing about the office. Every year i visited Marrakesh that man was there. He always wore the same and never moved nor changed. His beard did not grow or fade in color, his cart never changed, and most strikingly, his posture never changed. As old of a man he was, his spine seemed to be pulled upwards by a transparent fishing line. He knew me. I knew he had recognized me after the third visit to the main square. Of course, it helped that i was only one of the few fair skinned, light haired people that ventured to the back corners of the square but he knew me beyond that. He knew i was from America, he knew i visited every August, he knew i always ate Baboosh at stand number 27, he knew i had two sisters, he knew that i too spoke Arabic. I was 7 when i asked my mother why he had a cart of teeth. I asked why he used pliers and if it was sanitary. I asked whether his customers realized that it would hurt. I asked why people didn't go to the dentist instead and use the bubblegum fluoride rather than have your teeth pulled with pliers. She looked down at me and said, my daughter, that man has worked in this square for over 50 years. His father was a dentist and that is all he knows. These people don't know anesthesia. They don't know about fluoride or flossing. He is their doctor and this is how is had always been. I looked back at the man. He had a customer sitting on his stool. A woman in a plum DJellaba (robe) and beige scarf. She had a small vine like tattoo coming down her chin. On her lap was a little boy no older than 6 years of age. She was his grandmother. I remember that woman. Wisps of silvery hair fell out of her scarf, her hands were burgundy from henna, and her wrists jingled with gold bracelets. Her inheritance. She held her grandson as the doctor prepared his tools. He moved confidently and without thought. He wiped the pliers clean and dipped it in a clay jug of water. He placed the dish rag on the boy's lap and positioned himself. 30 seconds later, the boy held the rag up to his mouth and the woman payed the doctor. 3 Dirhams. The same amount of money needed to buy a kilo of tomatoes. I'm going back to Morocco this summer. I haven't been to Marrakesh in 4 years, but even if the man and his cart are not there, his son will be. And i will formally introduce my self and supply him with an American dish rag because new pliers would be an insult.





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