Sting was bragging about her perfectly straight teeth and got me thinking (yet again) about my eji, or gap. Yup, I am one of those Nigerians who is blessed with a gap. My gap isn’t one of those sexy Madonna-esque ones either, the type that you catch a glimpse of then think “Oh, how cute, she’s got a little gap”. Oh no, mine is huge. Don’t believe me? Check it out:
When I was in elementary school, I didn’t really take special notice of my gap. It was there but it was no big deal. As I entered my teens, not surprisingly, my appearance and the look of every part of my body was suddenly an obsession. My gap got more scrutiny by me, and as I started babysitting younger kids, they would ask innocent yet upsetting questions like “Did your tooth fall out?” and “Are you missing a tooth?” which would be fine if I was also seven and still losing teeth, but was embarrassing when I was 12 or 13. I dreamed of braces, but they were far too expensive, and my mom repeated what every person whose gap has bothered them has probably heard: “Your gap is byootifoo (beautiful) and it’s a sign of royalty and prestige” (something like that). She also tried to get me to take pride in having a gap because family members had it too. To my mother’s credit, Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike have told me that gaps are sexy or something when I was self conscious about it, however, that doesn’t really stop you from wishing that you just had normal teeth.
My gap got bigger when one of my teeth that had grown in crookedly and was causing me trouble had to be pulled. Basically the hole caused by this tooth being gone led to some shuffling around and of course, the teeth on each side of my gap decided to move apart from each other. It got to a point where I didn’t want to smile if it meant showing my teeth. Of course when I told my mother that my gap was getting bigger, she denied it in that vehement way that (Naija) moms have (anything to make you feel better about yourself).
And then as often happens, real life intrudes, and you realize that there are worse things in this world than being born with a gap the size of a truck in your mouth. I finally became proud of my gap, and happy to share something in common with my maternal grandmother and my late uncle who I am said to be similar to. In my 20s I now smile widely when I feel like it, letting the gap show to all who care to see it.
I still think of one day getting braces, only now I think it would just be to close the gap a bit, but that’s probably just a waste of money. I can’t imagine my face without a gap, and a part of me suspects that the way my upper teeth are arranged, short of having extensive surgery I’d never close the gap anyway. But I’m ok with that. I’ll just keep smiling.