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One of my pet peeves 0

Dear Bradshaw,

Gianluca was my first student of the day. As the secretary was escorting him into my cubicle, he coughed into his hand and then held it out for me to shake. Though it was against my better judgment, I shook it, asking how he was.

“No well,” he said. “I have terribile… how you say, influenza?

“The flu?” I asked. “Really? You have the flu?”

“Flu mean influenza?

I nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “I am flu. No well.”

If I were telling you this story in person, Shaw, I’d leave a long pause here and stare at you with arched eyebrows and wrinkled forehead. Coming to school with the flu and shaking my hand is one of my pet peeves. A car alarm blaring at three o’clock in the morning would be music to my ears in comparison.

I’m not talking about colds. I can tolerate colds, even though I think students with any kind of contagious illness (no matter how minor) should stay at home. But the flu is another matter, especially when you plant it into your fist and then hand it over on a silver platter, and most especially four days before New Year’s Eve. The flu is no friend of mine, Shaw, and I have no intention of ever celebrating New Year’s with it.

So there I was with a contaminated hand. I could feel the germs settling into the creases of my palm and crawling between my fingers as we sat at opposite sides of the desk and I began my usual spiel whenever such things happen.

“Are you taking any medication?” I asked. “Antibiotics?”

“No yet. After lesson I go home to sleep.”

“Are you sure it’s the flu and not a cold? What are your symptoms?”

As Gianluca answered, I reached into my bag under the desk to grab my bottle of hand sanitizer. After squeezing a generous amount into my hands, I rubbed them together under the table. When that was done, I scooted my chair backward against the wall.

Usually, I’d have asked Gianluca to give me his vocabulary book so I could quiz him on new words. Instead, I told him to open the book himself and to make sentences using two or three words at a time.

Next, while we were reviewing his homework, he reached for my pen. He wanted to correct a mistake I’d pointed out but I snatched up the pen first and then pretended to write in his course book.

“I’m sorry,” I said, feigning ignorance. “Do you need a pen?”

“No, no,” he said. “I have,” and then he pulled one out of his backpack.

Throughout the lesson, Gianluca coughed, wiped his nose, and cleared his throat, as I leaned further and further back in my chair. When he left at the end of the hour, despite the freezing cold, I opened the window to circulate as much air as possible before my next student arrived.

What’s next, Shaw? That’s what I want to know. If people can be so careless about infecting you with the flu, what else will they do? Next week I’ll be writing you about the waiter who spat into the spaghetti I was twisting around my fork. In a month I’ll be telling you about the lady on the metro who asked me for the time and then sneezed in my face as I opened my mouth to answer.

The next time one of my students comes to the lesson sick and tries to shake my hand, I’m going to spit into their spaghetti and then sneeze in their open mouth. That ought to teach them, and if it doesn’t, well then, what’s next?

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