When Lei Tongxing became paralyzed at the age of 36, over two decades ago, his wife, Xue Guilan, did not desert him but decided to single-handedly sustain the family.
Four years ago, she found a road-sweeping job to which Lei accompanied her daily, rain or shine. A photograph of the couple at work was recently uploaded onto an online forum, where netizens lauded the couple for exuding "pure love".
Sichuan News Network and Chengdu Economic Daily visited the duo at Jiajiang County in Leshan, spotting 59-year-old Lei in a cap, sweeping the rubbish at the side of the road. His wife was busy at work sweeping the pavement, donning her yellow work vest.
Unrelenting support for recovery
Lei's paralysis is the result of an accident that occurred in the winter of 1988, when he was helping out with a construction of a house. The collapse of a prefabricated structure broke his spine in three places, fractured his right calf, and caused damage to his hipbone.
His hospitalization lasted slightly more than a month, during which time Xue visited him daily with homemade meals. She commuted from home by foot for a few hours each day, while still taking care of the children and their crops.
When Lei was discharged, he was bedridden and unable to turn himself over. He could not relieve his bowels on his own. After a year, he managed to get off the bed with the help of crutches.
Xue recalled that her husband's temper worsened after the accident. He tied himself to the bedpost and demanded divorce several times, only to be refused by Xue firmly.
Pressing on together
In 2007, Lei finally obtained a second-level disability pass, making him eligible to receive a free wheelchair from the county's administration. In the same year, Xue found a contract job for cleaning the 1-km Xietancun Erduan Lu for RMB550 monthly.
Xue makes sure Lei is well at home before she leaves the house to clean the streets before the routine check by her superiors at 8am. On rainy days, fallen leaves get stuck to the ground and she scrapes them off one by one. It takes a toll on her back, but she is persistent.
"We spend a few hundred yuan on Lei's medication every month," she said.
Feeling heavily indebted to his wife, Lei tries to reduce her burden wherever possible.
Undeterred by disability
"Not long after I started to clean the streets, he insisted on joining me. I couldn't stop him," Xue said, showing a rare smile.
She takes four hours to clean the streets alone, but just two to three hours with her husband's help. Besides saving some time, Lei gets to be occupied and benefits from the physical activity.
The reporter noticed that Lei's broom is much longer. He custom-made it so that he can cover a larger surface area.
Hopeful of the future
At 5am every morning, the couple leaves home for Xue's first work shift. At 9am, Xue does a shift on her own. At 2pm, Lei joins her sometimes. He lights a leaf cigarette after he is done with each part of the road.
In total, Xue earns about RMB800 monthly. In addition to the harvest from their homegrown crops and the government's annual aid, the family is not facing any financial difficulty.
"Actually I have one more wish and that is for a new wheelchair, so that it's more convenient for me to sweep the streets with my wife," Lei said, explaining that he has been using the same wheelchair for two years and has repaired it countless times but has been unable to find some spare parts.