A short while back I went for a Chinese Take-away meal. I was served by a youngster aged between seven and eight years old. She tapped my order on to a computer screen which transmitted details to the kitchen staff, then calculated the cost of my order, which I paid, and very professionally counted out my change.
‘Please don’t read that paper’
I then began to read the newspaper which was lying on the counter, but the girl said ‘Please don’t read that paper’. I looked puzzled and she added, ‘Please, I don’t want you to read that paper’. Facing such strongly expressed feelings I decided not to read the paper and pushed it to one side.
She then began a conversation with me, speaking perfect English with no trace of an accent. She said that she and her family had come from China, but that her grandparents had remained there. She said that she missed her grandparents, but unfortunately she would never see them again as she was too afraid to return to China.
I thought, how terrible, what kind of world is it that a young child is too afraid to visit her grandparents. But I did not pursue this matter and the conversation died out.
I thought, perhaps I should have another attempt to read the newspaper, and I asked her would she really object to my reading it. She agreed, but said she would keep her back turned as I read it. It took me less than two minutes to read it, missing out the junk articles, sport and celebrity gossip. I told her I had finished reading it and she turned to me and said: ‘Well, what did you think of page seven?‘
Obviously, I had not read it that well so I quickly turned to page seven where there was a photograph of an unfortunate Chinese woman with a large growth on her forehead. The headline referred to a woman in China with a horn and there was a picture of a woman with a horn growing out of her forehead.
Now I understood
In a flash, everything made sense: the child’s resistance to me reading the newspaper, her fear of returning to China. It was nothing to do with politics or the state of the world. It was the fertile imagination of a child. She had assumed, having read the newspaper, that back in China there are people with horns, and to a child it was scary, like the demons and witches that exist in their imaginations. Although she was very articulate and bright, she was still a child and fears that we would never consider were very real to her.
I do hope she will one day return to China and re-unite with her grandparents.
Later I checked the story and discovered that the newspaper article referred to Zhang Ruifang, aged 101 (living in Linlou Village, Henan province, China), who had grown a cutaneous horn on her forehead, resembling what those who have examined her and her family call “Devil’s Horns.” Notably, this growth had expanded to reach a total of 6 centimeters in length. I believe she is growing another horn.
Cutaneous horns, also known by the Latin name cornu cutaneum, are unusual keratinous skin tumours with the appearance of horns, or sometimes of wood or coral. Formally, this is a clinical diagnosis for a “conical projection above the surface of the skin.” They are usually small and localized, but can, in very rare cases be much larger.
I understand that following publication of the story of her ‘horn’ Zhang Ruifang reported that she is very happy with the attention and many gifts she has received.