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The Story of a Man Behind the ‘Mask’

Photo by Ace Esmeralda

Who in the world will get intimidated with a guard with no teeth? He stared at the broken dentures. It was broken and beyond repair. That damned chicharon.

The truth of the matter is that, his mouth hurts like doom with his new dentures. His gums are numb from the pain. He’d been wearing the blasted thing for only two weeks. But never mind pain, he told himself. The important thing is he looked good with it. The dentures add additional points to his otherwise perfectly ordinary appearance. And in his line of work, appearance is a big factor. Appearance that embodies “intimidation.”

A month ago, his old set of dentures broke while munching on cheap chicharon brought by his cousin Aljoy, a fellow guard stationed on the opposite side of the compound he was guarding himself. It was one o’clock in the morning and he was about to sleep when Aljoy, along with two other on-duty guards came to “visit.” On his cousin’s hand was a brown paper sack. Inside were two long-necked bottles of brandy and a large pack of cruelly crunchy chicharon.

“Manong Jun,” he said. “I brought your favorite ‘pampagising,’” to which he replied with a curt nod. The two other guards he recognized as those assigned in the Properties building. His outpost meanwhile was large and the adjacent room served as storage for old office junks. One side of which was covered with old rusty filing cabinets that had seen better days. On one corner was a stack of dusty monoblock chairs. He grabbed four from the stack and took it outside. Aljoy arranged the chairs around a card table and they all sat and shared the goodies.

During the night, an argument ensued between Aljoy and one of the guards. In spite of possessing weapons and wrapped in a drunken haze, the guards decided to settle the argument with a bare knuckle fistfight. A few minutes into the fray, his cousin, Aljoy was clearly on the losing end so he interfered. A stray punch caught him in the jaw, and he heard a snap, crackle, pop, inside his mouth. After the fight, as the two nursed their injured bodies and egos, he hungrily reached for the remaining chicharon in the greasy pack. He took it, chewed it, and then his dentures snapped in three pieces.

Everyone laughed while Aljoy commended him on his sudden “new look.”

He wasn’t laughing the day after. Staring at himself in the broken mirror, his wife nagging about bills and other trivial domestic issues, he realized he looked like a fool. He called in sick at work and went to see his uncle. His uncle lived in a broken-down house three bus-rides from where he lived. The ground floor is where his uncle lived, the second floor served as a makeshift office where his uncle did his very important work: forging school records for students.

Surprised at his unannounced visit, the suspicious uncle immediately asked if he visited to borrow some money. He told his uncle no, embellishing the reply with   merely wanting to catch up. The uncle’s suspicion allayed, the two got on with a nice chat about relatives from the province, Manny’s fight with Clottey, current trends in forging transcripts of records, and many other juicy bits. These they did with the aid of a lapad to spicen up the talks.

As soon as his uncle rose up to relive himself in the bathroom, he quickly climbed the steps to the second floor, and opened the big cabinet. He knew where his uncle kept it because he had showed it to him during his previous visit, which was three years ago. He hoped it was still there. Sliding out one of the drawers, the glass jar with a tight lid revealed itself. Swimming inside was his late aunt’s dentures.

He opened the jar, grabbed the wet dentures and put it in his jeans pocket. He placed the jar back, quickly closed the cabinet, and rushed downstairs just in time for him to hear the toilet flush and bathroom door squeak. He was flustered on the sofa when his uncle returned to the living room. He pretended to be drunk and told his uncle that he might as well go home before he passed out.

Outside, he entered a Jollibee outlet and went straight to the men’s room. He fished the dentures from his pocket and washed it in the sink. It was almost brand new. Come to think of it, he had never seen his late aunt wear it. Maybe the old girl just wore it for special occasions.

He wore the dentures and stared at himself in the mirror. It didn’t fit right. Of course it wouldn’t fit right. But he’d get used to it, he told himself. Like shoes that don’t fit right initially, and then do after quite some time. The body gets used to what it wears out.

All of that was two weeks ago. Now his gums are bleeding. Sores opening up left and right and his tongue caught some infection. And he’s also got blisters on the insides of his cheeks.  The dentures hurt like hell and after two weeks of wearing the damn thing, his mouth did what it’s supposed to do: reject the foreign body. His late aunt’s dentures. Kept by his uncle as some sort of sick memento to remember his wife by. And now the damned thing is resting in the bottom of a sewer somewhere near where he lives. After two weeks of agony, he finally gave up and just threw the damn thing away.

He supposed he must get new dentures. He supposed things like this happen. If only dentures were covered in their employee benefits. Alas, it is not. Guards like him must save a lot of money for this stuff. Dentures are really expensive.  He’ll just have to make do with this stupid gangster handkerchief his wife bought for him on his birthday.