Bling-bling teeth

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‘Mia got R100 from the tooth fairy for her front tooth,’ Number 3 tells me, checking again for any loosies.

You wot? A hundred bucks?

Number 3’s eyes are gleaming. She has no idea really about money, what to do with it, why it’s valuable. She likes playing with it, tucking it into one of 15 purses she appears to mysteriously own. Taking it out, counting it, trying to remember which of the big 5 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 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. Just wants to have the cash, because she has imbibed a sense of its cruel allure in her 6 years on earth.

I do 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 blazers were R100 because one day there was R100 in tenners neatly piled on the window sill in the kitchen, with a dusty ornament on top of it. My palms went all sweaty.

R100. 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 seem 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 and sat on my bed and asked, very quietly, whether 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 a hundred bucks? Hayibo, China. That’s a bit over the top if you ask me.

What is the top though? I was thinking in the 5-to-10-rand range per tooth. When Number 2 was losing his teeth 4 years ago, that seemed about the price of a tooth. Should I be making inflationary calculations?

Number 3’s tooth 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 6-year old.

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

What’s the tooth fairy willing to give at your house?

Read more by Karin Schimke
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