Dark Eyes

by Peter Yan


The story is selected from the novel named The Accounts of Dingxi Orphanage, which consists of several individual stories, happed in an orphanage in Xingxi Prefecture in Gansu Province, during the Great Famine from 1959 to 1961.

The author:

Xiang Xianhui, born in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, in 1946, is the member of Chinese Writers Association, and lives in Tianjin. In 1965, in the Campaign of Going to Mountains Areas and Countryside, he was sent to Xiaoyuan Farm, Dingxi County, affiliated to Gansu Production and Construction Corp, from the Second Middle School of Lanzhou. In 1971, he began to study at the Mathematical Department of Gansu Normal University. After his graduation in 1975, he worked at Jiuquan Agricultural Reclamation Middle School belonged to Gansu Agriculture Reclamation Management Bureau. In 1981, he was transferred to Daqinghe Salt Works in Hebei Province. From 1988, he became a member of Tianjin Writers Association and engages in writing full time until now.

Part One

In the morning, more little children were taken to the ward. It was the head, Mr. Li who led some older kids to carry them. The Nurse, Shangguan Fang, complained: Where can I arrange them? You see, the beds are full.

All of them have got dysentery.

Are they changing stomach?

Yes, they are.

The nurse said nothing but moved the children in the wide bed, one by one, and squeezed them to make a room for a child, and then did the same again Until she arranged all the children. Mr. Li asked her:

Where is Dr. Lin?

He fell down in a faint last night. I injected glucose to him. Now he is sleeping in his room.

Really? Why I didnt know that? Havent I told you that you should report everything to me?

It happened before daybreak. I was too busy to report to you. He hasnt sleep for three days and nights. He is as thin as a lash.

Do you have any piece of paper?

Yes, its prescription paper.

Director Li wrote two lines of characters on the prescription of the hospital of Dingxi Prefecture and said: Give the slip of paper to Mr. Ma, and tell him that he must deal with that. From now on, Dr. Lin has the patients diet as the children patients.


All the children in the ward were patients, from infants to teenager. When these kids just arrived at the orphanage, most of them were too thin to sit up straight. After the meals, they sunned on the stages, with their heads dropping on the chests or leaning on their shoulders. When they were sitting, they couldnt help lying down. As a result, days later, their new clothes, which were made with new lining, new cotton and new shell fabric, were stained with earth and became dirty ones. Nobody could do anything about it because their bones had no strength to support their bodies.

The biggest problem was changing stomach.

During the Great Famine, they lost their parents, who died of starvation. Having nothing to eat, they could only pick up grain wheat in the thrashing floor, or eat grass seeds, buckwheat husk, or Gepeng (a kind of grass in the northeast of China), and their favorite was the soup made of the flour of elm bark. Coming into the orphanage, they were given steamed bread made from wheat, panada of beans, and noodle soup (made from course cereals) with pieces of potato. Their conditions would be improved. On the contrary, it caused dysentery, vomiting and papula on head, which was called changing stomach by the teachers, nurses and the children. Since their stomach had been used to grass, their stomachs and intestines didnt adapt the real food. Therefore, the orphanage had to establish a ward, and invited the most authoritative pediatrician in the prefecture hospital, to work for a long time.

? Morning was the busiest time in the ward the children had to shit, pee and wash faces. Some of them deposited blood and pus on the bed, without knowing. Shangguan Fang and a few older girls, who were chosen from the orphans to help her, worked hurriedly for more than two hours helping the small children urinate or shit by holding their legs apart, changing the cotton padded mattress, cleaning the quilts being busy as bees.

Aunt Shangguan, Xiuxiu shat again. Cried a girl named Huang Lingzhen.

As she had shat, you clean it, Ok! Why did you cry to me? said Shangguan Fang, when she was helping a child urinate.

She vomited too!

As she vomited, you clean it. Didnt you clean? said Shangguan Fang with unsatisfied mood.

You look at it by yourself!

Huang Lingzhens perseverance stimulated Shangguan Fangs mind which would have been disturbed by the hard work. So she put the child who just urinated down and stumped, along with the aisle between the two wide beds and cried impatiently:

Whats the matter? Whats the matter?

In her arms, there was a little girl, about 2 to 3, whose legs were apart by Huang Lingzhen. In the bed pan on the ground, there was some blood and pus.

You look at the side of the pillow. said Huang Lingzhen.

There was a huge pool of blood.

That is vomited by her. Huang Lingzhen said continuously.

Shangguan Fang realized that the condition was serious, so she cried out loudly to a girl who was cleaning face for a child:

Gaiwa, you invite Dr. Lin as quick as possible

Dr. Lin pushed the door and came in without knowing by others, when Shangguan was speaking.

What happened?

You look at the child quickly. She was just bought her by Mr. Li, and she vomits and has diarrhea. And she vomits blood!

Dr. Lin, whose name was Lin Baoxin, was from Fujian, graduated from Shanghai Medical University, near thirty years old. In 1955, he came to Dingxi Prefecture to support the construction of the northeast of China. He examined the little girl quickly and said:

Quick! Give her transfusion!

Dr. Lin prescribed and Shangguan Fang gave the girl injection. Soon the transfusion completed.

This was a big house, as a warehouse. Cross the house there were two wide beds, between which there was an aisle, above which, horizontally, there was a long iron ware for hanging the dropping bottles.

It was the beginning of the winter in 1960. In the summer, famine began to spread from Tongwei County rapidly, to every county in Dingxi Prefecture, and then to Pingliang and Tianshui Prefectures, at last the whole Gansu Province. The leaders of Xingxi Prefectural Party Committee made an instruction to enlarge the orphanage to accept more children, because the civil affairs bureau of each county was lack the ability to take in so many orphans. Therefore, many of them from Dingxi and Longxi Counties were sent there. The older kids lived in the second department of the orphanage - a new one located at the courtyard of the lecturer mission of the Prefectural Party Committee, while the younger ones were still lived in the old place the Materials Bureau of the prefecture and two private courtyards.

Setting in a warehouse of the Materials Bureau, the ward admitted fifty to sixty children patients, who were taken care of by one doctor, one nurse and some selected older girds as assistances.

??After transfusions for the patients, Shangguan Fang ordered the girls to clean faces for the kids, and she sat the bed watching the little girl.


??She had seen her, whose name was Xiuxiu. Two days ago, when she passed through the courtyard, she saw that some girls recovered from changing stomach playing hopscotch, while this girl sat on the stage, watching them because she was too weak to stand up. However, she was eager to seek publicity. So she crawled from the stage to the place where there were more people.


Now she was lying on the bed quietly without any spirit, and her face was as while as a piece of white paper. But only her twinkling big dark eyes were impressing. And cyan glittered on the skin of her newly shaved head. For prevention of typhoid, which had plagued twice in the institution, every newcomers head should be thoroughly shaved, because there were full of lace in their hair. After the shaving, they were sent to have a bath in the common bathing pool, and then changed the new clothes, and their old ones were burn at spot.


There was a long scar from her nose bridge to the left face.

The little girls eyes were blanking, and looking at the dropping bottle hung on the iron ware, and then Shangguan Fang. She had found the anxiety and doubt of the little girl, because no child had the experience of transfusion; when seeing such a huge bottle was hung above her head, she felt both strange and scared. For eliminating her doubt, she said to her:

Xiuer, this is best medicine. You will be well tomorrow. Other children havent been used such a good medicine. Only you enjoy it.

Xiuxius head, which was on the pillow, nodded, and her big eyes twinkled. The eyes were extremely large and the eyeballs were deep dark, and with double-fold eyelids. Her thinness set off the folds on her eyelids clearly and the long and thick eyelash.


Part Two

Xiuer, where are you from?

Im from Longxi.

How did you come here?

By a donkey.

How able a girl you are? You are just two or three-years old. How dare you to ride a donkey? For speaking more, Shangguan Fang asked her deliberately.

No, it isnt I ride donkey, but I sat in the basket. There were two baskets on both sides of the donkey: one for me and another for bro.

Where is your brother? Whats his name?

Bro died. When we arrived at the orphanage, and Uncle Xing unloaded the basket, he found him breathless. Uncle Li let Uncle Xing take him back.

She would have found a topic to transfer her anxiety. Unexpectedly, it caused such a grave one. Being afraid that Xiuxiu was sad, she transferred the topic:

Do you want me to help you shit or urinate?

I want, but I bear it.

Can you bear?

I try hard. I dont want to trouble you too much.

If you need, tell me. I am not afraid of troubles.

Aunty, you are very kind.

?Then several kids wanted to shit or urinate, she could only leave, to take care of them. That day, Xiuxiu deposited for more than dozen times, but blood or plus, and she vomited blood twice. At the dusk, Dr. Lin said that it was the key time for the little girl; and if she would continue to vomit, they would send her to hospital.

?That night, she was still depositing, but the times got less five to six times, and no longer vomited. Next morning, when Dr. Lin made the round of the ward, he prescribed transfusion for her and said: Go on the transfusion. However, during the next days, her dysentery couldnt stop. Then, more children suffered from dysentery were admitted to the ward. And there was no room for them. Therefore, Dr. Lin decided to send a dozen of children whose condition was inflexible, to the prefecture hospital. It was the older boys who carried the children to the hospital with a handcart, which could carry two or three of sick children. Worrying about the boys carelessness might cause that the children would be hurt, every time, Shangguan Fang accompanied them.

Arranging for the little patients carried by the last handcart, when Shangguan Fang was going to leave, Xiuxiu cried out:

Aunty, you dont go!

Whats the matter? She went to her and asked.

I am scared.

What are you afraid of?

Xiuxiu said nothing.

?The nurse understood that a child was always of a feared state of mind when he or she was changed into a strange environment. So she sat beside her to accompany for a while, and had a talk with her:

Xiuer, tell me, how did you get the scar on your face?

My aunty cut me on my face. Xiuxiu whispered.

She was surprised and asked:

Your aunt cut you? Why?

When daddy died, mommy gave each of my bro and me a bowl of fried beans respectively. Mommy said: each of you had a bowl, and you should eat them one by one slowly; and shouldnt fight. And she told us she would go out to find food for us. As soon as mommy left, my aunty came in with a kitchen knife in her hand. She asked for my beans. I didnt. She cut me and rubbed both the beans and the bowl, also bros.

Didnt your mom come back?


Then, who took care of you?

My brother and I waited mommy for three days. But she didnt come. Then bro and I couldnt stand up for hungry. The team leader came to our house, and sent bro and me to the kindergarten. The doctor in the commune smeared medicine for me.

Since the establishment of the Dingxi Prefecture Orphanage, Shangguan Fang came to the hospital if there were any patients, she took them there; if there wasnt, she would visit them, or took them back, or fetch medicine. Every day, she reported the conditions of the patients, the list of the number and names of the death to Director Li.

She specially loved deadly for Xiuxiu. Every day, when she came to the hospital, she would visit her and had a talk with her to comfort her. ?

It was the third day of Xiuxius admission. When Xiuxiu entered the ward of pediatrics, a nurse had told her that Xiuxiu was incurable. She had the psychological preparation, since the opening of the orphanage, death occurred very commonly. And she dealt with them by her hands. Although these children had not symptoms, they died, because they were too weak their lives went to the end. Even six meals per day, valuable refreshments, milk powder could not covert their destiny. And occasionally, several children suffered from dysentery died on the same day. This is the reason why the orphanage sent the children in worst condition to the hospital, for fear that the kids saw the death of their fellows, so as the influence would be less to them. And the hospital would bury them. That day, as usual, she visited the sick kids one by one. When in Xiuxius turn, she sat beside her for a longer while. She felt rotten, because she liked the pretty girl very much. She was only three years old, depositing blood and pus. She must be very pain in her abdomen. But she kept silent, and endured the pain quietly, with her eyes opening wide. She knew that the girl was dying, but she had no ability to stop it. That day, Xiuxiu seemed to be reluctant to part with her. When she sat on the bed, Xiuxiu stretching her one hand from the quilt slowly and said:

Aunty, touch my hand, please!

She grasped the small hand as a thin branch. It was as heated by hot water. Xiuxiu didnt say any word but glared at her with her eyes opening wide. Shangguan Fang said nothing too because her heart was filled with pain, and could not find a word to comfort her. Being not hardhearted enough to see the girls eyes, she transferred her eyesight to the girls head on which the newly growing hair glowed blue light, and said:

Xiuer, when your hair grows longer, I will comb two brush buttocks for you.

Xiuxiu still kept silent, but looked at her with her eyes opening wide.

Then, Shangguan Fang was leaving, and she stood up and released Xiuxius hand and said that Xiuer, she would visit you tomorrow. However, Xiuxiu grasped a finger of hers and said:

Aunty, I saw mommy coming out for the bed. She comes to visit me. I have saved five and six steamed bread of wheat for them.

Shangguan Fang was started, and she looked at the table on the opposite. Really, there were two steamed bread of wheat there. She asked:

Xiuer, where is your mom?

She is there, just under the bed said Xiuxiu.

And her finger that was beside the pillow pointed it. Shangguan Fang looked at the direction that she pointed. There was no bed, but new brushed white wall with lime a really white wall.


Next day, when she came to the hospital again, the nurse told her that Xiuxiu had died. And she told her that on Xiuxies death, she was so painful that her eyes opened roundly. After her death, her eyes were still round without closing. Shangguan Fang asked her to open the door of the mortuary for her to look at her body. The nurse denied her absolutely:

You shouldnt! You shouldnt!

?I will, I want to look at her; I want to have a look! Shangguan Fang cried, as she wiped her tears, she said:

Give me the key!

No, I wont give you the key. I wont! You cant have a look, really! The child couldnt close her eyes. When I saw her, I couldnt endure. So I cant let you see her! said the nurse toughly.

After the words, the nurse entered a room and plugged the door inside. However Shangguan Fang knocked at the door, there was no answer. She could only went back to the orphanage with whimpering, and reported this to the head.

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