My Egyptian Dentist
I remember those little details of our first meeting so clearly.
The way he stood over our little group, a mix of misfit travellers and local Egyptians. I remember first taking in his tall, lean body, long, wild hair and straight, perfectly white teeth and thinking he was the most beautiful human I had ever seen.
That first night we spoke little, but the facts I learnt through the group conversation remained important details I stored away.
He was a dentist. Graduating at only 23, he was the youngest in his class by multiple years. His English was perfect with only a hint of an Egyptian accent and the occasional “wallah” thrown into his sentences giving his nationality away. He split his time between Dahab, the magical hippie Egyptian town I was currently in, and Cairo, the capital, where his family lived. And he was leaving back to Cario in two days, as was I.
“We can go together,” I said when I found out this last fact, my assertiveness probably helped by the three beers I had just consumed and my poor alcohol tolerance.
“Sure,” he said, smiling and again displaying those perfect teeth.
I ran into him the next afternoon. Having just bought a new shirt, I showed him and asked what he thought.
“I like it,” he told me, “but it’s missing something. It needs an Egyptian touch.”
“Fix it then,” I said. “Add an Egyptian touch.”
So he came with paints and a toothbrush (“Walla, what dentist doesn’t carry a spare toothbrush?”) and, using the end of the brush, painted my name in Arabic on my back. With his arm lightly resting on my lower back, he made slow and delicate strokes as we discussed everything from our personal lives to religion, politics and our thoughts and differences on our respective home countries.
The painting session sealed our bond and we spent the next 24 hours inseparable. A casual observer would assume we were already a well-defined couple, despite only having met the night before. As we boarded the night bus to Cairo together, he asked me if I would like to spend my last day in Cairo with him and his family. I accepted immediately.
An uneventful 10-hour night bus later, we arrived dirty and tired at his parents’ doorstep. Despite receiving no prior warning from him of our arrival and the language barrier between us, they embraced me warmly. His mother immediately started making a feast of falafel, foul and fresh salads to welcome us. As his family and I ate together, I sat quietly, not wanting to intrude while they all talked in rapid Arabic, catching up on the past three months of his absence. Receptive to my shyness, he put his hand on my knee and gave me his signature smile before switching between Arabic and English to translate, ensuring I felt included.
When the day was over and it became time for my flight back to Australia, he insisted on accompanying me to the airport and walking me right to the entrance. As we said our goodbyes, he pulled me close and kissed me on the mouth: a move that surprised me, as we were in plain sight of multiple people, including security, and public displays of affection such as kissing are not only frowned upon in Egypt – they’re technically also illegal.
“Our time was short, but I’m very glad to have met you.”
With that, he turned and left me to go through security alone to continue onto my next destination.
It wasn’t until two months after this encounter when our messaging had already died out and our communication was limited to liking each other’s Instagram photos that I received a Facebook message request from a girl enquiring how I knew him. I instinctively knew before she had even typed the words out the reason she was asking. Turns out my beautiful, Egyptian dentist was actually someone else’s beautiful Egyptian dentist, and actually had issues with infidelity.
Discovering my travel romance was not nearly as romantic as originally thought does put a bit of a damper on the whole story. However, I choose to look on the positive side. Yes, maybe my dentist was full of shit and my travel fling was not as special as I wanted to believe, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get anything from this experience. Our paths crossing provided me with many benefits. I enjoyed a brief yet intense connection with someone, better insight into the lives of Egyptians and, most importantly, my teeth brushing technique has drastically improved thanks to his professional advice. So for that, I thank you, my lying, cheating, Egyptian dentist.
Cover by Roxanne Desgagnés