In the waiting room, reading. Listening, sort of, to the French news on the television. I had arrived ten minutes early, the first patient, but it was now twenty minutes past nine. The Iranian dental assistant had come in just before the hour, clicking her usual high heels on the floor, and then the surgeon himself, greeting me warmly and taking the book out of my hand --what are we reading today? Saramago. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. Is it good? -- before disappearing into the inner reaches of the office. At twenty past, Manon, the receptionist, looked up at me, bird-like, over her high counter. I'm sorry it's so late, she said, in her French-accented English that I find so endearing. But your crown is stuck in traffic. I laughed. I've already called the delivery person twice, she went on, he's trying his best to get here. It shouldn't be much longer.
It's fine, I said, glancing again at my watch, I'm enjoying my book. I had reached an important point -- where Ricardo lays his hand on the arm of Lydia, the hotel chambermaid, for several moments too long, and she leaves the room, the teacups on the breakfast tray trembling along with her hands -- when the office door opened and a young man came in, carrying two small white cardboard boxes. Each had type on its sides, inscribed along a curve with a tooth at each end: "We Deliver Smiles."
My appointment began and proceeded smoothly; we laughed and talked as usual in-between ratchetings and filings and tap tap taps on the red film that showed what needed to be adjusted in my bite to accommodate the new tooth. There was a CD playing in the background: first Mozart, then Arabic music, the faintly African rhythms. What is this? I finally asked, when the reedy nasal sound of a Turkish ney broke into a woman's voice in full aria-flight, and I couldn't keep from laughing. He asked the assistant to turn the volume up and laughed too; we both sang snatches along with the singer. It's an obscure disk from France, he said. Some crazy guy who's combined Mozart with middle eastern and African music, but it somehow works. It does something different to your brain - you know, if music is supposed to free our minds to imagine places and scenes, this takes me somewhere entirely new. I feel like I'm in... a souk somewhere. While with western music I'm often bored, I love it but I've heard it so much, it's predictable. And your brain is used to it so it doesn't take you anywhere, I said. That's why I like performing contemporary music, I have to think harder.
We spoke of his daughter, who I'd met recently, she's torn between the violin and chemistry; and about books, and politics; I told him about our recent trip to the U.S. He told me he'd hurt his back at the gym, overdoing it. Listen he said, laughing again --the Requiem with Arabic drumming - fou fou fou. Then at one point I said --I've started painting again. Good for you! he said. How does it feel? It feels good, I said, shrugging. It's different than before. I have no idea now exactly what I want to be doing or where I'm going with it, but that's OK. I'm experimenting. Enjoying it.
It doesn't matter, he said, nodding, and pressing the glued crown into its final destination with his thumb. At this point it's the journey and the process that are more important than the result. He paused, and then grinned. We know that, he added, widening his eyes behind his round glasses, because now we're mature.