“Teacher, you are okay?” Li asks me, creasing his forehead and pointing to his chest. Poor kid: right in the middle of his tutorial, I've had a coughing fit. I coughed through part of the first class, my coffee break, and now Li's tutorial.
“I'm fine,” I wheeze, a Kleenex pressed to my mouth. “Don't worry—the doctor says I'm not infectious.” I lapse into another coughing fit. “I just—cough—have a tendency—cough, cough—to cough.”
Li doesn't understand tendency, so I have him look this up in the dictionary. This frees up some more time for me to cough some more.
Li's expression gets even more serious. “You must be careful! When you go home, you must rest.”
I laugh at this. I have another class to teach after this one, plus a long commute, and when I get home, the housework will be all mine.
“When I go home, I must do laundry and cook dinner,” I say. “My husband has a cold too, and his is a lot worse than mine.”
Li's eyes open wide and he shakes his head. “No, no—you must not housework!” he says. “That is very bad for women with cough!”
Much as I'd like to agree with anything that gets me out of housework, I have to question this. “Isn't it bad for anybody with a cough?” I say. “Woman or man?”
He shakes his head. “Especially bad for woman.”
This intrigues me. “Who told you that?”
“My mother,” Li says, his eyes wide and innocent. “She often cough.” He does a good impression of somebody with a bad cough and points to his chest, putting on a pained expression. “So I know that many kind of work bad for woman with cough.”
Thinking that Li's mother could well have a serious illness, I pull out the dictionary again. But after we've gone through asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and tuberculosis, Li shakes his head firmly. “No—my mother just cough, not disease.”
“So what kind of housework is bad for, um, women with a cough?” I ask.
Li frowns, considering this. “Clean floor. Also shop—very bad to carry heavy thing if cough.”
“What about cooking?”
“Very bad.” He furrows his brow. “Also wash clothes.”
“Cleaning the toilet?”
He blinks. “Yes, that is bad too.”
I'm really beginning to enjoy this conversation. I enjoy it even more when Li proudly tells me that he can cook, mop floors, shop for dinner, and do the laundry, that indeed he has become quite skilled at all of these in order to save his mother from the pain of chores that are Unsuitable for a Woman with a Cough. I really want to meet Li's mother. Li may be a bit naïve, but he's not a dumb kid, not by any stretch of the imagination. He studies diligently, is capable of critical thinking, and is almost always the first person in class to answer some of the harder questions. However his mother has worked her magic I have no idea, but I take my hat off to her.
“Take care yourself, teacher,” Li tells me, pushing his chair back and gathering up his books. “Do not housework! Then your cough stop.”
I tell him that I will leave the housework for the weekend. “Thank your mother for me, okay?” I say. “Tell her your teacher says good job.”
Li looks puzzled, but he nods.
I watch thoughtfully as Li exits the classroom, his arms full of books that I know he is going to study.
I am seriously considering introducing Li to one of my daughters.