There I was. 5:10 pm on a blustery Wednesday in November. Sitting on a bench in a plaza in the center of Bilbao, holding a child’s tooth in my hand, reflecting on the choices I had made.
Okay, it isn’t as dark as it sounds. I recently worked as an English teacher at a secondary school in Llodio, a pueblo in Spain. I lived in Bilbao, the capital of Pais Vasco (Basque Country), where I also worked as a live-in au pair for a Basque family. My days as an au pair were always a surprise. The schedule of activities stayed the same, but there was something new every day. Sometimes I played Antarctica explorers, sometimes I played with fake boogers. So I couldn’t be too surprised that “held a child’s tooth in public” was something I did that day.
A sunbeam lighting up Bilbao and the Nervion river. View from the top of the century-old funicular in Bilbao.
When looking after children, of course one hopes to impart wisdom, educate, and inspire. But at the end of the day, you’re really just hoping they don’t hurt themselves. So when Xabier came up to me with blood gushing from his mouth, I was horrified.
"Oh god he’s going to die. I’ve killed Xabier. Who left me in charge of children?? How in the world did he manage to hurt himself? He was literally just standing there doing nothing!”
I asked what happened and Xabier, with one hand in his mouth, said “My tooth fell out, I don’t know where it is.”
"Okay, he didn’t break himself. Seven-year-olds lose teeth like nobody’s business. Sigh of relief. But where the hell is the tooth? Did he swallow it? Is that dangerous? Either he swallowed it, or it’s on the ground."
Xabier had been playing with some of his schoolmates in the plaza. Their school uniform consists of black loafers, knee-high grey socks, pleated grey shorts, a white button-up shirt, a navy blue jacket with their school’s seal on the breast pocket, and a clip-on striped tie. They are adorable and dapper all at once. Suddenly I was joined by a pack of seven- and eight-year-old boys, wearing tiny matching suits and shouting to each other in Spanish, all of us hunting the ground for a human tooth.
Plaza Moyua, the scene of the crime. Also where the kids caught their school bus every day.
There was one more place his tooth could be: stuck in the apple that Xabier was eating for his merienda (late-afternoon snack). We were victorious. He handed his tooth to me, and since I hadn’t brought my purse that day, I was forced to just awkwardly hold it in my hand while they played a little longer.
Later that night, I walked into Xabier’s room to find the giftshe set out for the Tooth Fairy. This is when I learned that in Spain, the Tooth Fairy is actually a Rat. His name is El Ratoncito Pérez. He looks something like this:
El Ratoncito Pérez with his bounty
Xabier left cheese, water, and a finger-skateboard for El Ratoncito Pérez to cruise around on. We went to the kitchen for dinner, and in the morning a necklace sat where the skateboard had been. Shred on, Ratoncito Pérez. Shred on.