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The gumboil

He looked in the mirror and again saw his deformed face; the left jaw as if the bone in it had melted

When he went to bed he felt an ache in his left jaw. Funny, he thought. Perhaps the little one banged his head on it this morning. But, though it took him a while to admit it, he already knew that feeling.

The first time he was 17, and his girlfriend had missed her period. That was when it happened for the first time, a pinch in his stomach, a sleepless night, and the next morning, the lower left side of his jaw blown up to twice its size. His mother took him to the dentist, bought a pack of antibiotics. Then the telephone rang. He said that he would answer it in the kitchen, and picked it up to hear a single word: OK. For real? he asked. She replied: Of course, are you stupid or what? At that very moment the swelling began to go down. Even so, he went on taking the course of antibiotics, as an act of reconciliation with his jaw, with his luck.

The second time was when he was 31. The child is coming out poorly, said the midwife. It's very small, coming out hind-first, caught in the cord -- no time for a Caesarian -- we're going to try an extraction. Can I go in? No. They told him nothing until his wife was there in the room, and the baby installed in an incubator on the fifth floor. Sorry, said the nurse who came to find him, we've had a crazy night and we forgot about you. There were no complications, your son just has to fatten up a little, but he's strong, normal, in three or four days you can take him home, your wife is all right and... What have you got on your face? When he looked in the mirror, again he saw his deformed face, the left jaw as if the bone in it had melted. They gave him a pack of antibiotics, which he took with the same discipline, born of his desire for the baby to survive.

The first time he was 17, and his girlfriend had missed her period

Now the son is 14, plays rugby, is almost as tall as his father, and seems to eat steaks in pairs. Not much of a student, true, the kind who scrapes through their exams, but unaffected by the gumboil that kept his father awake all night. Look, Paco, on Monday morning, first thing, come to my office, we have to talk about the company restructuring... On Friday he thought nothing of it. The restructuring had been in the air for months, and all the bets were that it wouldn't hit him. Everyone knew which departments worked well and which not. He was in one of the most profitable, and got on well with the management. But on Saturday, at lunch, he began to notice that pinch in his stomach, which didn't want to digest any of the baked beans he liked so much. What is it, Paco? His wife asked. Nothing, he said, must be what I had for breakfast. Why should he tell her about it? He just ate nothing, and woke up the next morning so hungry that he went ahead and ate anyway. That night his jaw began to hurt.

My God -- what's wrong with your jaw? His wife said it first. Dad, you look like a monster from Star Wars, said his elder son. No, his daughter said giggling, you're uglier than that... Who told me to have three children? he wondered to himself, glad of the little one's silence. Listen, Paloma. Have we got any antibiotics? Before leaving the house he took the first one, and crossed his fingers hoping that the rest of the pills might prove as useless as they had been before.

That day, at lunch, the swelling was already going down. He almost regretted this, because it annoyed him that his body took it so gratefully that, instead of firing him, they had only cut his salary by 10 percent.