A tooth fairy's gap year.
|Tusk Crunch hefted his backpack and studied the departures board. He had allowed time to check his baggage, go through customs and browse the shops. Not that he had pennies to spare, university life had eaten into his reserves. Graduation from Molar U had been the best day of his life. Now he was off on a year's exploration of foreign climes. But his wing had been delayed.
The irony of a Tooth Fairy departing on a 'Gap' Year was not lost on him. He had worked hard and had completed his work projects almost perfectly. A flush crept up the back of his neck when he remembered his first assignment. Slip into Gilly's bedroom, take the tooth in the little box on the bedside table, leave a coin and slip away. Job done. No one had told him about grandmas staying overnight. Or about dentures.
Three hours later he was astride a Bat Wing 777, tightening his seat belt and listening to the safety instructions. Emergency exits were via the neck or the tail. Tusk noted the way to the neck. Exiting by the tail would have to be the direst of the dire. Bat Wings were notorious for their rearward ejections in stressful moments.
India. A whole sub continent of extremes. Poverty and wealth. Stinks and perfumes. Spices that burned his throat and made a ring of fire on exit. He loved New Delhi but not Delhi Belly. The Taj Mahal was breath taking but the toothless beggars made him cry. Why couldn't the Tooth Reclamation Service recycle the collections?
Travelling to Mongolia challenging and his Gnaw Guide was unhelpful. An Albatross Neckliner across the Bay of Bengal dropped him near Chittagong. He had a moment of panic when he thought that his parachute wasn't going to open, then another when his backpack zipped past at terminal velocity. Then its chute opened and he had marker to land on. He was picked up by the local police and spent the night in a rat infested jail until he paid landing fees. Fed up, he skipped a tour of the city and caught the first of a series of Vulture Pinions of increasing decrepitude to Tsomog.
Mongolia. He and the only other passenger disembarked on what passed for a road. They watched the elderly Vulture Pinion waddle around to face the dust-laden wind and with much weary panting scrabble down the road and heave itself skyward.
'Gander Fissbonk.' After a moment, Tusk realised that the dark stranger was introducing himself.
'Tusk Crunch.' Foolishly, he held out his hand to have its bones grated together by a hairy paw with more digits than he could count.
'There's a tea shop this-a-way.' Although Gander was always short of money, he saved Tusk's chops. He taught Tusk to hang on between the ears of a fierce pony, whooping loudly. They rode a nomad's goat, sleeping in a yurt's felt folds and Tusk learned to love fermented mare's milk.
They parted company after a long, cold ride in the back of a truck. Ulaanbaatar, he was astonished to find, had a modern flight centre, a terminal for long haul wings. It was expensive but he managed to get an Eagle Goldstar to Paris, with a twenty four hour stop-over in Istanbul. He never did remember much of the first leg, his oxygen mask did not fit and he developed hypoxia, landing with a splitting headache. He was too ill to visit Hagia Sophia and spent the next flight wrapped in a blanket, sleeping.
Paris. The flight port is in the aptly named Parc de Saint-Cloud. Gander had not been shy about spending his pennies and he was low on funds. He bummed a night or two in the flight centre but had to cut loose and head for the sights. The Eiffel Tower was tall. The Sein was turgid and clogged with boats. Montemartre was touristy bohemian. Tusk was tired, hungry and felt as if he had the daddy of all hangovers.
'Excusez moi.' The brown, woodland mouse only came up to his knee. 'Peut être vous êtes un Toose Furree?' Tusk indicated that he was, indeed, a fully qualified Tooth Fairy. 'Bon! I have ze problem.' The brown mouse went on to explain that she was Une Petite Souris, who, by night, would creep into a child's room. 'I am to collect the dent du lait. How you say? Ze teeth of milk?'
'Baby teeth.' Tusk supplied. She was his Parisian equivalent. 'You have a problem?'
'Oui.' La Petite Souris looked rather ashamed. 'I have been ze naughty girl. I am having les enfants.' She patted her belly. 'Alors I cannot collect ze tooses.' She fluttered her eyelashes. 'Wizout ze tooses, I have no money. Mes enfants, zay starve.' Thusly, he became Monsieur Tusk, Tooth Fairy de Paris. Mademoiselle Maxine kept him busy from dusk to dawn. He kept all his earnings, apart from board and lodging. And, of course, les taxes, les frais and les autres divers. Whatever that was. It left him just enough for a glass of merlot.
By autumn he was as thin as a rake and Maxine was expecting again. It was time to move on. He took the metro and was back in Parc Saint-Cloud hoping that he could buy a cheap wing flight before Maxine raised a storm over the loss of her secret stash of money 'pour les autres'.
A hop across the channel by Carrier Gull, landing on Southend Beach and the smell of home. Fish and chips. Warm beer. Hot doughnuts cooked in stale oil. It was only a short bus ride home.
His mum nearly fainted when he walked through the door. His little brother had grown even taller but that did not stop his bearhug. His dad frowned and told him it was time he settled down and got a job. Then thumped him on the shoulder.
'Missed you, son.' He growled. 'Fancy a pint?'
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