I stood at the reception desk, looking out for familiar faces, when a gorgeous lady probably in her forties, sashayed towards me. Around me, hearts and hopes broke and a collective groan rippled. I quickly wore my spectacles. It was Mira Clair and she was royalty here.
"So, tell me about your first time?" she dictated. If it was anyone else, I would have walked away from the blatant rudeness. But Mira oozed charm that every harsh word coming from her could be overlooked and forgiven.
"You don't want to know… Just plain and boring like me. I am sure you have had an interesting first time. Why else would you organize these conventions which are by the by, fantastic?"
"Ah, everybody wants to know my story but is hesitant about theirs. That is not fair, is it? Mr...?"
"Able Matthew, Ma'am,"
"My guess is this is probably your second convention and you do not have friends with similar interests."
"You are spot on…," I brought my hands to my mouth in disbelief, "I look out of place. Don't I?"
"You look awkward, but that is not why I think you are new. You said we are keen on our hobby because our first time was interesting. That is untrue and you are the example. So, Able Matthew, how was your first time."
She was going to walk away if I hesitated for another second so began recounting, "I was seven years old. I was waiting for that day. All my classmates had gone through it, but not me. Then one day, I bite into an apple and my tooth comes out… no warning. No foreplay. And I look at my little tooth with a bit of gum and blood and I pocketed it. And I pocketed every tooth after that."
Mira stood smiling at me, "The same story as many others, I must say. But, it doesn't matter. Now I am obligated to tell my first time."
"Yes, you are, Ma'am,"
"I fell from the swing at my parent's home when I was four. Fell on my face and my three central incisors came right out. For three years all my photos had me with a void in my mouth. It was a painful first time."
Mira departed after some idle chit chat and I entered the crowds looking for more stories.
"I am more interested in dentures and dental models than the teeth that came from my mouth. I can't stand even a little bit of blood," said Gene Martini. We started talking when I bumped into him, causing his suitcase of fake teeth to fall. Thankfully, none of them were damaged. If they were, I don't think Gene would have been just as amicable.
"What about the ones from other people? All washed and tidied up. Professor Lena Azeez collects ancient teeth and," I lowered my voice and continued, "some celebrity teeth as well or so I have heard. I look forward to hearing her today and of course, see her collection. She has teeth of other hominins before Homo sapiens."
"Um… not my cup of tea. Not Lena or her collection. I think she is great and a vessel of teeth related knowledge. But I like my teeth, porcelain and bloodless."
"Most of the tooth collectors I know, collect teeth because they want to immortalize their childhood. Every tooth had a story. The pain. The pride when they pulled out their first teeth. A kind dentist. A dentist everyone hated. Then some went on to collect the teeth of others hoping to tell their stories." I was surprised that Gene did not have a single one of his teeth in his collection. In fact, he had thrown them away.
"I could say that I collect to maintain a legacy. Both my parents lost most of their teeth by forty. So did their parents. Well, Grandma Mildew was a chain smoker so she was without teeth by twenty-eight. They all had to wear dentures most of their lives—"
"Did you bury them without their teeth? Most people don't like that." The thought of Gene's family's toothless mouths disturbed me.
"No. No… I assure you, they all looked pretty at their funerals and in their graves except for their decomposing bodies." I was relieved to hear that. Gene continued, "I have been wearing dentures since I was fifty and I am seventy now. You would have never guessed."
I was taken aback that Gene was seventy. "Sorry, I was staring into your mouth." Gene was not offended and he was glad to come close to me to display his magnificent dentures.
"Able, if you ever need one. You come to me. I know the best people, " said Gene while taking a step back.
"I hope that day doesn't come too soon. But when the day comes, I will hold you up on that offer."
"It is time for Professor Lena's talk. We should hurry if we want seats."
The Professor's talk was illuminating. Gene and I were exploring the exhibits of the Professor's collection when we saw her interacting with other enthusiasts. Gene, who has been a regular at the convention knew her quite well. So, he pulled me and together we waded through the crowd. Professor Lena was glad to see Gene and the friends began to talk amongst themselves. Though I was not a part of the conversation, I was content to listen in. I was not forgotten for long for Gene introduced us.
The Professor shook my hand and said, "Out with it, Able. I know you have a question and I think I know what it is. Still, why don't you ask anyway?"
I blushed but did not want to skip the opportunity. "Professor, is it true that you have the teeth of Mussolini?"
I was prepared to ask her the long list of alleged 'famous' teeth, she was supposed to possess. But she stopped me from asking anymore.
"It is no and no. Most of my collections even the one's I never display, belong to individuals long ago. I brought them from my excavation sites and a few were bought from auctions. The rest belongs to generations of my family. I even have a family tree based on teeth.
I was disappointed, but I did not want to appear so in front of Gene and the Professor. "A man once showed me a premolar of Ernest Hemingway that his grandfather broke in a bar fight."
"Maybe. Maybe not. Hemingway drank a lot. But there is countless fraud going around us because everyone an enthusiast or not wants to see celebrity teeth. Some collectors do exclusively amass famous teeth, but they usually get some DNA evidence if possible. Like a week ago, I was approached by-I should say an inexperienced and idiotic- con artist. She was selling what she claimed to be Anastasia's incisors—"
"Anastasia like the Russian Princess Anastasia?" asked Gene.
"The very same. Do I look like a fool? Because that young lady let me send the teeth to the lab. They weren't a match with the DNA of anyone from the Tsar's family."
"She stole teeth to con you."
"She did. I don't like the idea of trading in celebrity teeth. They are mostly stolen from graves or in mortuaries without the permission of their relatives. That is disrespectful," said the Professor.
"But you do collect the teeth of ancient men and women. Sometimes from their graves too—"
"And you, Sir, would prefer if we don't seek ancient civilizations and live in ignorance. I chose to enlighten our societies and I will keep on doing that. Now, will you please excuse me," said Professor Lena. She had walked away but we were left under the questioning eyes of the people around us.
"I am sorry, Gene. I did not mean to offend her."
"Forget it. Lena is good at criticizing people, but can't take any for her own good," said Gene.
Gene had to meet a friend so I bade him goodbye, but we promised to keep in touch. Lena and her outburst were forgotten as soon as I talked to more people. My favorite was little Anne. She was twelve years old and this was her third convention. She took my hand and led me to every stall and exhibit while her parents kept a watchful eye. The best thing about her was that she disliked Professor Lena with great vigor.
"She is angry all the time. During my first convention, I had many questions and she told me I asked too many questions for a kid. I was sad and I cried in my room. Mum and Dad don't know. I am afraid they will not let me go to the next convention," said Anne with gusto.
"But you came back last year too," I said in a baby-talk manner. She narrowed her eyes at me but did not dwell too long on my indiscretion.
"Yeah, I did and I was going to ask her fewer questions. But she ducked when she saw me and was nowhere to be found afterward," said Anne.
"It seems like you have a magic spell that could vanish Lena. That could come in handy for me. She has been giving me the eye since I pissed her off,"
"I could protect you, Mr. Matthew,"
"Thanks, Anne. I have a question for you. There aren't many kids here, and if they wanted to, I don't think their parents would have agreed. How did you convince your parents to come to this unusual convention?"
"Why wouldn't they? I am a good student with decent manners. They couldn't punish me and they always come everywhere with me,"
"So, you are saying if I had decent grades, my mother would not have thought that my hobby was weird…"
"I think so,"
"And she wouldn't have thrown my teeth away,"
"Oh, she did not," Anne looked mortified.
"She did. She took me to a psychologist too. The only good thing that came out of it was that the psychologist said it was a hobby for some people. She still thinks it's an odd hobby to practice,"
"I would have screamed day and night if my Mum threw my teeth away," declared Anne, arms folded.
"You were just saying you had excellent manners," I playfully ruffled her hair, "Actually, the teeth weren't lost altogether. When my mother went to sleep, I rummaged the trash and found each one of them,"
"So, it was a happy ending," said Anne.
We walk into a hall exhibiting animal teeth. We had already passed through this section so, we did not bother looking around. I wanted to know more about this young collector.
"Do you have a favorite tooth, Anne?" I asked.
"My lower cuspid. It was stubborn and I had to be patient with it. Rocked it for a week before it came out. Dad wanted to take me to the dentist. I wasn't going to a dentist to pluck my teeth. I never had. I will only visit a dentist if I get a cavity. Mum tells me that is going to happen soon if I ate too many sweets," said Anne. I thought Anne was excited to see a dentist probably to nail them with her questions.
The crowd cleared and my eyes met with Professor Lena's. She hesitated for a moment, then walked towards me with determination. I was determined not to talk to her so I pointed Anne to the professor, "Anne, Professor Lena wants to talk to you, I think."
Anne enthusiastically waved at Lena and ran to her. I did not see which way Lena went, but I did not see her for the rest of the day. Anne definitely had magic.
It was a day well spent and I looked forward to the next year. I might stay clear of Lena in the future. But I did get to meet some interesting folks. I was not separated from Anne until late that night. Her parents offered me a ride to the city. In their car, Anne and I told each other the stories of every fallen tooth.