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Leaves of the Autumn -- in Memory of Yang Dan

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Leaves of the Autumn
-- in Memory of Yang Dan
By Zhang Renjie
English translation by Angel Heart
Standing in front of little Yang Dan’s tomb,
my thoughts are wandering. I don’t know
what I should think, or should I? In front of
me is a small pile of dirt, as if I saw her bluish
face again. “Uncle Zhang, help me!” she’s
Autumn of 2005, it was getting cold in Beijing. The leaves started tuning yellow.
I love the colorful autumn of Beijing.
In this beautiful season, I got to know two girls and their Mom sitting on the sidewalk.
There were not many people on the street, only a few yellow leaves were dropping in
front of them.
Getting close, I saw the little girl sleeping peacefully in Mom’s arms as if the noisy street
had nothing to do with her at all.
The bigger girl was laying next to Mom. In front of them was a can used for begging.
The girl saw my camera, staring at it while her Mom was motionless. Looking at the girl,
I found her face was quite bluish. So I asked her Mom if she needed food or clothing.
She told me, her daughter was sick. “Why don’t you take her to the hospital?” I asked,
“We don’t have money.” she said, sadly. She told me they hoped begging might get them
some money to see the doctor. For this reason, I entered their life.
The another reason I got involved is my curiosity. I was repeatedly told by a restaurant
owner nearby: “Don’t help them, they just want your money and they live in a nice hotel.”
With a big question mark in my mind, I got to know the man of the “house”.
His name is Yang Ruchai, 31 years old. He had two daughters. The elder one is Yang
Dan, 7 years old. The younger one is Zhou Hua, just turned one year old. The family is
from Henan province. In Beijing, he worked at a junk yard to support the family.
On his back is his elder daughter, Yang Dan. She had congenital heart disease. They
came to Beijing, hoping to make some money to pay for her surgery. Her condition had
become worse. It was even difficult for her to walk.
This was their “home” in Beijing. Winter’s footstep is already at the door. I started to
worry how the two girls would withstand the cold staying in this “home”.
I also started to question what the restaurant owner said about them. In order to verify
that this is their “hotel” in Beijing, I started to become their neighbor. In doing so,
Yang Dan had become a good friend of mine.
It was getting cold everyday. Sometimes the unbearable coldness made Yang Dan cry,
then her father would hold her hand to walk around to warm her up. They walked
very slowly, if not, she would be out of breath. Her heart disease had become terminal,
Mr. Yang told me sadly.
I had been with the family for a while. Since I had taken many pictures of them. So
Yang Dan’s Mom asked me to take a family picture for them. Here is it. She asked
me if I’m a journalist. I lied to her, saying I was simply looking for a job in Beijing.
Each day passed by quickly for Yang Dan’s family. And everyday was the same routine.
Every morning, Yang Dan’s Dad took them to the street, then he went to the junk yard.
At dusk, he picked them up and returned to their living place.
The windy and cold days of Beijing’s winter came. Yang Dan was a shy girl. She only
told me once that she felt so cold. All I could do was to wrap my blanket around her.
I gave my blanket to Yang Dan and had to say goodbye to the two month of neighboring
with Yang Dan’s family. I still went back to visit them and took them to a small
restaurant nearby.
At beginning they hesitated because they were afraid that the restaurant owner wouldn’t
let them in. Yang Dan was very shy. She did not eat much when there were other
customers around. The only time she had a good meal was when we were the only
customers at the restaurant.
After dinner, Yang Dan went home on her Dad’s back. I saw Mr. Yang sweating after
they got “home”. Yang Dan’s Mom told me, Mr. Yang is not quite good in health.
It was November already. November is quite cold in Beijing. On sunny days, Yang Dan’s
Mom was happy because the sunshine would warm up their blankets.
When I was trying to raise money to pay for Yang Dan’s surgery, many times I almost
gave up. I contacted a few charities, none gave me definite answer. At one dinner table,
I told Yang Dan I would save her life. Now I simply could not face her, could not see
her eyes after so many fruitless attempts.
This can was recovered from the junk yard by Yang Dan’s Dad. Every time I saw this
near empty begging can, I was in deep sadness.
Days had gone by at constant speed. There is no much difference in in Yang Dan’s life
compared with two month ago. The only difference now was she had a new friend.
After two month of close interaction with them, I felt I was more than a friend, I am part
of the family. I chatted often with her parents. At that time, Yang Dan simply sit there,
Listening without a sound. Her sister was less shy, she would step in front of me,
calling me “Uncle Zhang”.
I got a promotion balloon from a nearby McDonald. I gave it to Yang Dan. She
only played with it for a few minutes, then passed it to her sister. It certainly became
the little one’s treasure.
At this very morning, she had heart failure suddenly. Her whole body was trembling.
Every breath was a huge struggle. At the moment she had most difficulty to breath, she
said to me: “Uncle Zhang, help me!”.
While she was struggling for her life, her parents were in panic. Her father was helplessly
speechless and her Mom was weeping. Her sister was looking at her curiously, wondering
what went wrong.
I took a towel from her Mom, trying to wipe sweat on her face. The water was so dirty. I
asked her Mom to get fresh water. She said the water was collected from rain, there’s no
more since it hadn’t rained for a while.
Next morning, Yang Dan was much better. I was so happy. Her sister was smiling to
Her Mom told me Yang Dan had had more heart failure lately, and Yang Dan wanted to take
the train going home. “We’ll be going home soon. My baby is also due soon.” her Mom
Winter is not raining season in Beijing. That why the water supply was short for Yang
Dan’s family. Look at the dirt accumulated on her sister’s face.
One warmer day, Yang Dan handed me some changes, asking me to take her to see the
doctor. I didn’t know what to say to her. I was waiting for the response from a
philanthropist who gave a speech at Peking University one month ago.
Cardiology 2
One month ago, I saw a poster at Peking University. A philanthropist who is the president
of a Hong Kong based fashion company would be giving a speech at the University, talking
about charity. “Here is hope for Yang Dan!” I almost went fainted by the excitement. After
the speech, I bowed three times to him in front of the audience, asking him to help Yang Dan.
I felt Yang Dan was smiling to me when I was bowing to him.
Today, at lobby of the hospital, I made the 5th call to a senior manager working for the
president. “Stop calling me no more” he told me. That sent me into total despair.
From the hospital, I learned the Yang Dan had Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD). The
surgery to correct VSD costs $2,500 which has to be paid in advance. (Comment by
Angel Heart: VSD is the easiest congenital heart condition to treat. She would have been
a completely normal child after the surgery.) I offered myself as the deposit. I was laughed
at for this proposal. In deeper despair, I went back to Yang Dan.
There were more volunteers joined me to help Yang Dan. Some brought new clothing
for her. She would try hard to smile when she put on a new piece of clothing.
I finally convinced Yang Dan’s Dad to take the family back to Henan. I told him I would
take care of the money issue for Yang Dan’s surgery. This bike was their only property in
Beijing. It was given to them by a foreign student. They would take it with them.
On November 28, 2005, I took Yang Dan and her family to the train station. They would
take No. 1487 departing at 7:02am.
Yang Dan looked so happy. Her Mom told me, she was so happy that they were going
At the time to say goodbye, Yang Dan said to me in low voice: “I’ll be waiting for your
help at home.” She was so serious. Looking at her bluish face, I promised to her that I
would go her home to take her back to Beijing to have treatment. Tears went down her
cheek as I was making my promise.
The train departed on time. As the train was moving faster and faster, I suddenly felt I need
to say something to Yang Dan but didn’t know what to say. I stood there, watching the train
Finally, I had a charity willing to help Yang Dan. Joyfully, I called Yang Dan’s grandpa’s
home on December 23, 2005. I informed the good news and told them to take Yang Dan
to Beijing to have surgery. While I was talking, strangely, I heard only silence from
the other end of the line. Then I was told Yang Dan passed away last night. At the last minute
of her life, she was still calling Uncle Zhang to help her.
I was devastated by death of Yang Dan. For many days, I wandered around where she lived
in Beijing and got drunk. In the drunkenness, I always heard her voice: “Uncle Zhang,
help me!”
Chinese New Year of 2006, I visited Yang Dan’s family. This is Yang Dan’s grandma. I also
learned that the family now have a new baby boy.
Next morning, I saw Yang Dan’s father. He looked more slim than before. I handed him
pictures of Yang Dan. He was weeping while looking at those pictures.
I don’t know why I was visiting them again. I tried many times to erase the name Yang
Dan from my memory. I even wanted to delete all her pictures. But her Dad called me,
wanted to keep them for memory.
Her Mom did not say anything when she saw me. She looked quite sad. Yang Dan’s Dad
did not show her the pictures for the understandable reason.
The only furniture in the room was this stove.
The meal was porridge and brown sugar, nothing more.
Watching her mother, Yang Dan’s little sister wanted to eat. Mr. Yang told me, she’s
been asking a lot where her elder sister is.
When I left, Yang Dan’s sister waved goodbye to me, saying unclearly: “Uncle Zhang is
finally here to help my sister.”
My last stop was Yang Dan’s tomb. It is very small and partially covered with snow.
Standing in front of her tomb, my thoughts were wandering. I didn’t know what I should
think, or should I? In front of me was a small pile of dirt, as if I saw her bluish face again.
“Uncle Zhang, help me!” she’s weeping.
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