By Horace Lu
A 14-year-old boy is the only pupil studying at a village school near Dandong (丹东) in Liaoning province. His surname is Feng, and he is HIV-positive. He has been suffering from discrimination by his fellow villagers, and was rejected by the local elementary school. However, in the elementary school set up specifically for him, he enjoys complete freedom from discrimination. This is because there are only two people in the school: Feng, who is 14 years old, and Wang Lijun, 63 years old who teaches Feng and plays with him.
Due to the lack of students, the local elementary school has now been combined with schools in other villages. Now, Feng is the only child studying in the village.
Feng’s father was a sailor. He earned 100,000 yuan (around 16,500 USD) in his first voyage. With this money, in 1992, he married a girl from another village, bought a new house and a color TV set, which was quite an event in the small village.
Shortly afterwards, he went out to see again. Only once every few months could he see the land. In 1996, he was found to be HIV positive by the customs.
Only 3 months later did the couple receive the diagnosis report, and later, Feng’s mother was diagnosed to be HIV positive too.
However, Feng’s parents regarded the whole thing as a mistake since they found nothing wrong with themselves except a fierce quarrel.
In November 1997, Feng came to the world, and he was HIV positive too.
“Don’t let him in anymore”
A provincial media outlet somehow reported the whole incident although the family never talked about it to anyone. The report revealed the family’s HIV status. And since then, Feng’s life began to change.
One girl once said to a TV journalist, “My mother doesn’t want me to play with him. She’s afraid that I would catch AIDS.”
Another villager told the local barber, “Don’t let him in anymore. He’ll ruin your business.”
When Feng first came to the local elementary school, many parents were not amused. “If he comes, I will send my kids somewhere else,” said one parents. Some parents even petitioned to the government to get Feng away.
The local authority once held a meeting, informing the parents that HIV cannot be transmitted via daily activities including sneezing and coughing.
“But what if that kid scratches his hand, my kid scratches his hand and that kid touches my kid’s hand?! Who will account for that?” one angry parent questioned during the meeting.
No one could answer.
“You are not sick.”
The village finally decided to spare one office from the government and used the 10 square meter room as a classroom. The elementary school with only one student then came into being.
Wang Lijun was the 5th person the village attempted to hire. The previous candidates had all declined the offer. Wang had seen some information about HIV/AIDS before and knew that it was not as horrible as others thought.
His wife objected to his decision at first, but later relented.
In this special elementary school, there are no test or exams. The school hours are only half a day. When Feng’s mother was still living, she would carry Feng to the classroom. In order not to meet any other children in the town, the school started the day later and ended earlier.
Still, one day, Feng said to Wang Lijun, “They all say that I am sick.”
“Who?” Wang asked.
“Don’t listen to them. They are talking nonsense. You are not sick,”Wang asserted.
Villagers say Feng is not only with AIDS but is also intellectually challenged. Feng is now 14 years old, but he is still learning courses of the 2nd grade of the elementary school. He once spent four months learning how to count from 1 to 100 and unlike his peers, he even cannot multiply numbers well now.
However, Wang says it is because Feng has lived in a much too enclosed environment.
“When kids are playing marbles, they are learning arithmetic because they have to count scores. But he has no one to play with!” Wang Lijun once said.
“I am not afraid”
3 years ago, Feng’s parents died. He is now being taken care of by an old lady called Han Yujun, one of his relatives. The local government pays her 60 RMB (around 9 USD) every day for the guardianship.
Han buys him food, clothes and even celebrates his birthday.
“If anyone attempts to hurt you, I will cut myself and pour my blood on his body!” Feng once told her.
Feng is also very nice to Wang Lijun. He always gives the biggest apple to his teacher.
Sometimes, when Feng sees other kids at the groceries, he will say to them, “Don’t worry. You will only be infected when both of us bleed and we put our wounds together. You won’t be infected even when we kiss!”
“Are you afraid of death then?” grown-ups will ask him at times, after hearing Feng’s words.
“No, I am not afraid.”
“Going to school today?”
Teenage rebellion can be seen in Feng’s body now. Sometimes, he would refuse to take the anti-HIV pills.
Sometimes, Wang Lijun would have the following conversation with his student as follows:
“Have you taken your pills today?”
“Don’t lie to me. It’s harming yourself.”
“Oh, I forgot to take my pills.”
Feng has started to smoke as well.
He has been outside the village. A few years ago, Wang Lijun took Feng to a city over 100km away and they played bumper cars together.
He has got a pet. One of his relatives once bought him a hedgedog, and Feng was very pleased with his new pet.
He has been gradually accepted by others. When people see him on his way to school, they would ask him, “Going to school today?”
He has a real friend, named Liu Libao, a boy from a near-by villager. They dance, play and even play video games.
But he has herpes as well, which means he has been an AIDS patient. HIV has damaged his immune system and those pills are getting less and less effective.
Wang Lijun and Han Yujun are also wondering who to take care of the kid after he turns 18. Han Yujun’s payment is sustained by the heritage left over by Feng’s parents, but the money will be drained in around 1 or 2 years. Without extra money, she won’t be able to raise Feng any more. The elementary school might be closed too . Most importantly, without any techniques or qualifications, it would be very difficult for him to live by himself.
Anyway, there are still 4 years to go before Feng steps into his adulthood, and no one knows what would happen in the next four years.