Fall 2023 Issue

Gnashing, Gnawing-Oh!

It is morning in my bedroom. The wrens that have been chirping in the backyard trees have all fled away to look for food. The memorabilia and nostalgic fragrance of Lupita’s Loewe 001 perfume and now her absence, the throbbing and pulsation of my aching molars and jaw – all made me mad. I am horizontal in the bed, a bed that I feel is as wide as an ocean at this very moment. Lost in reverie, I am staring at the blurry white ceiling through the see-through grey mosquito net above. My eyes are welling. It is still dark inside but through the different eyelets and ventilators, I can tell that the sun has risen as the sun rays find their way through.  

It is now one week since Lupita left for good. I know she did not wish to leave in that manner, leaving me lonely in this cold world because she loved me so much. She loved me more than her parents, she even loved me more than God, I believe. In her womb was our three-month-old baby. Maybe a baby girl. Maybe a baby boy or even twins, I don’t know. Yet, fate denied me the chance of fatherhood since she is not here by my side, they are not here with me anymore because death gripped her with its claws and took her away.    

I sluggishly get out of bed. I roll the mosquito net onto its stands. While standing next to the headboard, I pick up one of the white pillows with rose flower decorations and pile it onto the other at the head of the bed, then I fold the duvet that keeps me warm during the cold nights before finding my way to the living room. 

I am confused, I do not know which chore to begin the day with. So I turn on the television and lounge on the couch. I don’t know which channel to watch but after scrolling through different channels on DSTV, I settle for Al-Jazeera. A Titan Submersible vehicle has imploded. Simulcast. Comcast: all show correspondents and Ocean Rescue Team sailing about in the swashing ocean, but the wreckage of the white submersible is settled somewhere in the deep dark zone of the ocean bed near the Titanic in an unsuccessful—out of the many successful—adventures of the 1912 wreckage. Meanwhile, the Russian-Ukrainian war is still on. The PMC Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has fallen out with Putin. Prigozhin has led a short-lived rebellion against the Russian government. I am watching all this news for the first time yet the whole world has watched it all already. 

The windows are still shut, and the front door is still locked too. There is a knock at the door. I get up from the couch and go to the door wearing a vest and pyjamas. I sweep aside the door curtain to see who is outside. Kaguta. He is the dairyman who brings milk to my house every morning. I open the lock and the hinges squeak as I push the door open. 

“Good morning, sir. I’m so sorry for waking you up so early.”

“Oh, Kaguta! There is no need to apologize. I wasn’t in the bed. I was actually watching TV in the living room. I hope that your morning is fine.”

“Sure, my morning is blissful.”

“Great! Now, Kaguta. I’ve thought for days about informing you to stop bringing milk to my house. See, you used to bring two litres a day when my wife was here and we’d consume it all in a day. Now I’m alone in the house and you bring just a litre that goes wasted.”

“I understand sir, sorry for your loss, and thank you very much for supporting my business for the past two years.” Kaguta delivers one litre of milk. We clasp hands and he leaves the compound. 

I am hungry, I need to dust and mop around the house then prepare breakfast. I open the window shutters and spread the windows. Enough fresh air and light get into the house. I go to the bathroom, warily brush my teeth and shower. When I have freshened up, I collect all the foodstuffs in the kitchen that I feel are very hard for my feeble teeth to gnaw and pack them in black polythene then take them to my neighbour’s house who always helps me sort foodstuffs. I am left with the soft ones that I feel my teeth can gnaw. I wash all the dirty utensils that are in the sink then arrange the strewn ones in order. 

I feel my teeth can munch boiled rice. I love boiled rice. So I strike a match and light up the cooking gas, place a saucepan on it to dry. I get a sachet of cooking oil and then wring so little but enough oil that can fry the ingredients in the saucepan. I add and boil the rice with all the necessary ingredients that I learnt from Lupita’s cooking recipes in the past until it is ready. I crack four eggs, stir up the albumen and the yolk in a bowl and fry it until a good aroma and flavour come out. I boil the milk too. 

Boiled rice, fried eggs and milk are ready. I do not go to the dining room, I decide to eat breakfast from the living room. I start eating while watching sports news on Ss. Blitz inattentively. My concentration is on my breakfast. My molars do not want any sort of gnashing or gnawing and drinking — especially hot or cold drinks from the freezer because of their sensitivity. I take a cup of milk and slurp from it then fork rice to my mouth. I try hard to munch because my stomach is empty. The upper molars gnash with the lower ones. An excruciating pain hits me. I get up very fast, holding my chin as my head pounds terribly. I can’t eat or drink again. What I had thought would not cause pain in my jaw gave me the most excruciating pain. For days, I have undergone this unbearable situation. I needed to see a dentist. 

The following day, it is morning at the renowned Fazol Dental Clinic. Two white tents that look like two enormous mushrooms stand in the compound. Patients who came earlier were seated on the benches under them. All faces looked miserable, their faces showed that toothaches are a serious social problem that makes patients appear antisocial at dental clinics. The dentists have not yet started attending to the patients. I find space on a bench and join an elderly woman on whose lap, a young girl, presumably her granddaughter, lays her head desperately.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.” We gloomily greet each other. I get out my Tecno Spark 10 Pro and start creating words by joining letters as I play Crossword Quest. 

All the clinic windows and doors are now being opened. A beardless young dentist dressed in white scrubs comes with a book to the tents and starts recording the names of the patients. He writes about eleven names before reaching me. 

“Good morning, what’s your name, sir?”

“Good morning, my name is Olugu Fredrick.”

“Are you here for a dental surgery or consultation?”

“I’m here for a consultation, sir.” He jots down my name and moves around writing other names as I desolately continue with my Crossword Quest.

He gets done with recording all the names and goes back. After a short while, patients are called out to go to the dental theatre for extractions and filling while others go for a consultation. The elderly woman is called out. She takes her granddaughter by the hand and leads the way to the theatre. I am called to the consultation room. I cancel the Crossword Quest on my phone and go.

“Mr. Olugu, you may be seated.”

“Thank you, sir”

“My name is Dr. Rehan, how best can we help you?”

“Doc, I can’t eat, drink anything hot or cold, gnash my teeth or gnaw a bone and my jaw aches terribly.”

“Do you have any decayed teeth?”

“No doc, I don’t have. I was involved in an accident.” Dr. Rehan becomes very attentive as I narrate my ordeal.

“That’s sad!” He exclaims as he rests his elbows on the wide table in front of him and cups his chin in his hands empathically.

“The taxi in which I was travelling together with my wife and other passengers lost control and turned over several times. I lost a premolar and others became loose.”

‘Sad, that’s really so sad. How about your wife and the other passengers?” We are interrupted and our attention is drawn to a young boy who comes out from the theatre crying. He had just undergone an extraction. He covers his mouth with both hands. His hands are bloodied. He passes in front of the consultation room as his father follows him from behind on their way home.

“How about your wife and the other passengers?” Dr. Rehan asks again.

“We lost her on the spot that very day. Some of the passengers including the driver died too on the spot while two others died in the hospital due to internal bleeding. But thanks to God, I and a young boy aboard survived though with some injuries.”

“Sorry for your loss, sir. Now let me examine your molars and jaw.” He pulls a tray that is on the table closer. A mouth mirror, sickle probes and floss are all in it. 

“Open your mouth widely.” I open my mouth and he begins to examine my dentition with a mouth mirror then puts it back. He picks a probe and then touches my enamel with it, one tooth at a time until my loose molars are touched. 

“Ouch! Doc, it’s hurting me, try to be cautious.” He stops and puts all the tools back in the tray. 

“I have examined all your teeth and jaw, and I must say that three ought to be extracted, and now if possible.”

“No, doc. I don’t wish to lose any more of my teeth again. They are no longer milk teeth that can sprout out again once extracted.”

“It’s going to be hard for you, sir,” he warns. There are excruciating and scary wails from the theatre that send chills down my spine. The young and the elderly are wailing in the same manner just like mothers and newborn babies in the labour ward.

‘Doc, it won’t be possible. I’m not ready for this today, maybe another day.”

“It’s fine.”

I am back at home. The miseries continue. I will not eat anything but only drink something that is neither hot nor cold but just warm. I bought yoghurt on my way back and that is what I will rely on for the rest of the day. I lounge on the couch and start watching the television while taking warm yoghurt. All the channels are boring but Nat Geo Wild will do for now. A woodpecker is pecking at the bark of a tree. Watching it peck at the tree bark causes my molars to throb and pulsate as it gives me a reflection of a sickle probe. I turn off the television and go to the bedroom for a nap.

Days pass by as I resort to local herbs that I have bought from Afro Root Herbal Clinic but they do not sedate my sensitive teeth in three days, so I decide to go back to Fazol Dental Clinic for extractions. Maybe that will relieve me. 

Inside the large Fazol Dental Theatre, it is a disorganized and bizarre setting in the eyes of a patient but very organized in a dentist’s. There are six dental chairs in a row. Patients lay their backs on them when being attended to. On the tables are dentistry tools; dental drills, scalers, burs, burnishers, floss, spoon excavators and scary forceps, all in trays. The two bins are full of discarded dental syringes. Patients are having their decayed teeth extracted, filled and root canal treated. Dentists dressed in scrubs are moving here and there like bees, doing what they are good at. One patient is moaning, another is wailing and the rest are bearing pains as dentists work on them. A patient who has just had her tooth filled and burnished departs. 

“Please sir, come and lay you back on this chair.” The only female dentist in the theatre tells me to replace her chair. 

“Okay, ma’am.”

“Please, give me that chit in your hand.” The chubby dentist pleasantly takes the chit from my hand and reads through Dr. Rehan’s writings that have extraction instructions and details of my payment. She does not give the chit back to me after reading but places it on the nearest table and smilingly tells me to open my mouth.

"Now open your mouth widely.” She unwraps a new syringe and administers anaesthetic sedation. My jaw is numb and heavy. She dumps the syringe into one of the bins then gets a suction device and removes saliva from my mouth. She begins to pull out my loose molars with extraction forceps. One. Two. Three. And finally, the painful teeth are removed. I sweep around my gum sockets with the tip of my tongue then spit bloody saliva into the blue saliva bucket below the dental chair. She gives me a piece of sundered cotton to press in my gum socket for a minute as she quickly prescribes a few drugs then hands the chit to me. I sheepishly depart from the theater squinting like a philander who has just come out from a woman’s house and seen by her neighbors. 

The one-month leave that I was given is over and I go back to my workplace. My colleagues with whom I work as an IT personnel at Royal World University are so pleased to have me back at work. The last time I was with them was when they had travelled to commiserate at the funeral in Pala, my ancestral home. 

Months later, I went to Wiki-Way Internet Cafe for technical maintenance. The CEO contracted me to fix their wavering network, troubleshoot and install and update software and hardware. It is cool inside. The fans are spinning and clients are busy with computers in front of them as I perform my task. When I am done, a plate of delicious chicken and hot milk is served to me. I crunch and drink with a big appetite. There are no pains in my jaw anymore. 

A dairyman comes in to supply milk and he is very excited to see me. 

“Greetings, Mr. Olugu.”

“Oh, it’s you, Kaguta. What a coincidence!”

“Yes sir, it’s me. It’s been a while since we last met at your home.”

“Surely it has. In fact, I’ve been wondering where in this world I’d ever find you again because I lost your contact.”

“Really? I’m happy that we’ve met again today.”

“Yeah, I actually wanted to inform you to start supplying milk to my house once again.”

“That’s good news. A litre as the last time?”

“Not only a litre but two.”

“I will be glad to serve you again, sir.”

“And I will be glad too if you start tomorrow.” Kaguta smiles like a traveller whose VISA application has just been approved and I smile back, his excitement insinuating that he is positive about what I have just told him as he continues with his dairy supply. 

Anyadwe Angel, a comely young woman whose glowing countenance, appealing body and cool temperament get me carried away, has just started at Wiki-Way. I had told her on the phone to meet me here after leaving her workplace so that we could go home together. I first met her when she was doing her ICT apprenticeship at Royal World University one year ago and now, we have been getting along passionately. 

Kisaparwot Gerald

Kisaparwot Gerald is a Ugandan teacher of English Language and Literature, who finds joy in writing poetry. Some of his poems can be read in his first book; The Ototong and Other Poems, which is published on Amazon. Gerald also hopes to launch a collection of short stories in the near future.

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