Andrea put a hand to her mouth suddenly and started coughing. “Ack,” she gasped, “I have… a piece of rice… trying to go down the wrong pipe.”

My children looked up from their Thai food and glanced around the restaurant, and I smiled at them reassuringly to let them know things were going to be okay.

But Clara did not seem content with this. She leaned towards her mother as if she were examining a strange object that had just washed up on the beach. “Hmm,” she hummed to herself curiously, “So, what exactly do you mean by ‘Wrong Pipe’?”

Her mother continued to cough and tried to wave Clara away.

But the little scientist was persistent. “Do you mean a pipe, like, your throat?”

Her mother nodded, still coughing into a balled-up fist.

Clara leaned closer, and her eyes grew larger.

“Wait, so, do you have more than one throat?”

Andrea nodded again and gagged the words, “Yes… you know… one for food and one for air.”

Clara leaned so far forward that she was nearly out of her chair now, telescoping her body to watch Andrea’s neck move up and down as she coughed, her eyes magnified to four times their original size. “Okay, but wait,” a hand went up to touch her own neck, “do I have more than one throat??”

“Yes, Clara,” her mother stopped coughing and gasped for air. “Yes… You put food in your mouth and you put air in your mouth and they go to two different places in your body. One goes to your lungs, the other to your stomach.”

The girl’s mouth fell open in shock and she slowly leaned back into her chair, as if she had just made some monumental discovery. A new species had been identified or she had just invented a new breakthrough in mouth and throat technology. She was contemplating all of the scientific ramifications of her discovery while looking dreamily up at the golden dragons decorating the ceiling tiles.

Then, as if her mind had just stumbled upon a new hypothesis, she suddenly bent forward again and narrowed her eyes and asked in a very hushed tone, “So, okay, does everyone have two throats?” her eyes darted sideways to look at the couple sitting at the next table over.

I stared at the little girl for a few moments before leaning in and whispering a response, “No Clara. Only humans have two throats. That’s one of the ways you can tell.” I left the interpretation of that statement up to her imagination.

She slowly nodded and frowned in understanding as she sat up straight in her chair and began stealing clandestine looks around the restaurant one last time. She eyed the couple at the next table again, then the man with the long green coat that was at the cash registers, and the friendly Thai man that was standing opposite him calculating his bill, then, finally, she turned her head sideways, and out the corner of one suspicious eye, she watched her little brother and sister as they poked at each other and made faces, one of them holding a pair of forks in her hand like chopsticks and the other bending down with his mouth open to eat the rice she was picking up with them.

Clara looked at me and pointed her eyebrows at them in a question.

I shrugged, honestly not knowing the answer.