Inflation according to the tooth fairy

2009-08-17 00:00

“MIA got R100 from the tooth fairy for her front tooth,” number three* tells me, checking again for any loose ones.

She what? One hundred rand?

Number three’s eyes are gleaming. She has no idea really about money; what to do with it or why it’s valuable. She likes playing with it, tucking it into one of 15 purses that she appears to mysteriously own. Taking it out, counting it, trying to remember which of the big five is on which note. Now news of R100 for a lost tooth has created a new idea of her own physical intrinsic worth.

“If a tooth equals R100, I wonder what else I can auction off?” is what the gleam in her eyes appears to be saying. Or it could just be me, projecting all my worst capitalist fears on to her.

She knows that she must want money. She knows that in some oblique way it is “good and necessary” and the more the better. She doesn’t want anything in particular. She just wants to have the cash because she has imbibed a sense of its cruel allure in her six years on Earth.

I understand her immature excitement about money. When I was at primary school I needed a new blazer. Blazers in those days cost R100 and my parents had to save up to buy one because I remember being tucked into my old ill-fitting blazer — with lots of wrist showing — for quite a long time. I knew that blazers were R100 because one day there was R100 in R10 notes neatly piled on the window sill in the kitchen, with a dusty ornament on top of them. My palms became all sweaty.

One hundred rand. I wanted it. I took it. I hid it. I had no idea what I wanted it for, no dreams of what I could do with it, no thoughts of where it came from, or what it was meant for.

After a few days of watching my mother’s growing hysteria about the missing money, I started feeling revolting, caught as I was between my dishonesty — which really hadn’t seemed so bad at the time of the theft, perhaps because money has a really loud mouth and drowns out all little voices of reason — and my mother’s despair. My stomach churned.

One night my mother came into my bedroom, sat on my bed and asked very quietly if perhaps I had taken the money, and told me what it was intended for. I managed not to throw up, but resolutely shook my head.

The next day, I put the money back on the windowsill and put the ornament back on top of it. My mother never said anything. So gracious. I think she knew I’d already run the gamut of sickening self-correction.

The tooth mouse (it was a mouse in my day) used to leave me coins which I don’t think added up to much more than R1. I’m not planning to offer R1 per milk tooth now; I do have some understanding of inflation. But R100? Hayibo, China. That’s a bit over the top if you ask me.

What is the top though? I was thinking in the R5 to R10 range per tooth. When number two lost his teeth four years ago, that seemed about the price of a tooth. Should I be making inflationary calculations?

Number three’s teeth are solidly, stubbornly planted so I have some time to decide.

But however much the tooth fairy leaves, she’ll leave it in coins. More really seems like more when there’s lots of bits, rather than just one note whose value is, at best, ethereal in the mind of a six-year-old.

— Parent

* My family is numbered in the order of their appearance in my life.

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