Double Checkmate

“Mum,” said the son last Thursday. “I’ve got double teeth.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Amma sit up interestedly, even as I shrank into myself. “Show it to Dad,” I said shortly. I was at the end of a nightmare week, and had another of the same waiting for me around the weekend, with four colleagues on leave.

“It’s his milk teeth,” said Amma. “The permanent ones have come, but the milk ones aren’t even shaking. You’ll have to take him to the dentist.” I ignored her. “You show it to Dad,” I repeated to the son.

The son and his teeth have had an exciting history, one in which I’ve always found myself playing a vital, if unwilling, role. He got his first milk tooth at three months. And he yanked off his first permanent tooth when he was barely 11 years old, crashing his skates into his mouth at school. It took me one emergency visit that lasted till 9 pm, an empty purse and four months of waiting in the dentist’s sitting room to get the tooth back on. It now sits in the son’s mouth resplendently black, flanked by yellow on either side, not even worth the toothpaste the son expends on it, except in sheer decorational value, which is also debatable.

“Disco lights,” his friends tease him, every time he opens his mouth. Amma frowned at them the other day, and caught hold of me soon after. “He needs to have that tooth capped.” “Well, he can wait,” I replied tartly. “I have neither time nor money at the moment. And it isn’t exactly what I’d call an emergency.”

Since then, the cap factor has entered our lives several times, but so far, I’ve held firm. Till now. Friday evening, Amma caught me again. “His teeth have to be extracted. And while you’re about it, he might as well get that cap.” “Amma,” I said emphatically. “Milk teeth can’t hang in there forever. So we’ll wait till they decide to leave.”

Amma was equally emphatic. “If we had brought up our children the way you guys treat that little boy, what would have happened to you? Do you remember how many times I have taken you to the dentist…” I switched off, but the splinter of guilt had struck deep. And it refused to be dislodged.

The husband was called in. “Those teeth have to be extracted,” he pronounced. “Yup, take him,” I barely looked up from my computer. “Not today,” said the son firmly, “I have a birthday party to attend.” The husband looked relieved. I softened. “Let’s do it together on Sunday.”

“Do you mind?” asked the son, arms akimbo. “I have a Science test on Monday.” “That’s your problem,” said the husband. “We are free on Sunday.” “But the doctor’s not,” Amma threw in the googly with great glee.

Monday morning, while I was rushing out of the bathroom and the husband was rushing in, I asked, “You’re fixing that appointment, aren’t you?” “Yes,” he replied, adding before I could exhale in relief, “but you’ll have to take him. I don’t have the time.” “What makes you think I’m sitting around free? I have a lunch appointment, two people coming to meet me, plus two pages to finalise.” “Well, I’m doing two jobs,” retorted the husband. “Looking after the house and editing my film. You don’t even come there to take a look…”

I stomped off to office in a fury, and it didn’t help that Amma looked accusingly at me as I passed within her line of vision. By noon, I was willing to do anything to stem the guilt flow. I rang up the husband. “Have you got an appointment?” “No, he’s not there right now. But I’ll get it done. And I’ll take him.” “No, I’ll come home early, I’ve cancelled the lunch.” “Don’t worry about it, I’ll take him.”

At 5 pm, I was in the husband’s office, dialling the doctor’s number. “He isn’t there yet,” the husband explained patiently. Just then, as I got through, he took the phone from me and got the appointment. At home, I climbed back into the car with them. “Are you coming with us?” asked the husband politely. “Well, yes, since I have come home early,” I offered.

At the clinic, two milk teeth safely in a paper bag, the dentist asked, “Next appointment on Wednesday?”

“Wednesday okay with you?” asked the husband solicitously. Bewildered, I nodded.

Later, he enquired casually, “You’ll be able to manage the visit on Wednesday, won’t you? After all, I did do this round.”

Well, what was the point of arguing? I had been checkmated yet again. And I thought it was only Amma who manipulated me.

First published in The Financial Express in August 2001


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