Dr. Su Jinsan ran a clinic in the British concession in Tianjin during the early 1910s. He was believed to be the best orthopedic surgeon of the city. Even foreign horse racers whose limbs were broken would come to see him.
He was a tall man in his 50s with slim but strong fingers, bright eyes, rosy lips, white teeth, and a dark shiny goatee on his chin. He spoke in a clear and loud voice that resonated from his diaphragm and chest and could be heard from a far distance. If given proper training, he could have become a Peking Opera star as good as Jin Shaoshan.
He acted with calm, swift precision in his surgical procedures, and could easily pinpoint a patient’s problem by touching the patient’s wounded area. Those with fractures or sprains who came to see him could expect to be fixed up with medicated ointment or casts and splints without feeling any pain. If they had to make a second visit, they would most likely be coming to express gratitude to the doctor.
A man of competence often has a cranky temper. Dr. Su was no exception. One cranky rule that he had was that all patients, regardless of relatives or total strangers, or rich or poor people, must first put seven silver dollars on his counter before asking to see him. Otherwise he would provide no services whatsoever. If you asked him why, he would not respond.
Because of that, some people accused him of caring about nothing but money and nicknamed him Seven Dollar Su, which was meant to belittle him by saying he was worth no more than seven silver dollars. Since then, people either called him Seven Dollar Su behind his back or Dr. Su to his face, and as a result, his real name Su Jinsan passed into oblivion.
Dr. Su was fervent about mahjong. One day, two of his mahjong buddies came to play a game with him. Because the game involved four players, they called over Dr. Hua who was a dentist working in the same block.
Just as they were getting excited with the game, Zhang Si the rickshaw man rushed into the clinic. He leaned against the door with his right hand holding his left elbow and sweat was dripping down his head to the neckline of his sleeveless shirt. He was obviously hurting from a badly broken arm. Typical of all rickshaw pullers who lived from hand to mouth, he had difficulty producing seven silver dollars needed for medical attention. He asked Dr. Su if he could pay him after getting treatment and he groaned with pain as he said that.
Dr. Su turned a deaf ear to him and focused fully on gaming, following the rules of the game fastidiously and letting his mood ebb and flow with the ups and downs of his luck.
Feeling sorry for the rickshaw man, one of the players tried to help Dr. Su realize the man's condition by pointing a finger outside, but the doctor refused to be distracted and didn’t budge from his cranky medical practice rule. In other words, he was living up to his nickname with zero compromise.
Claiming he needed to visit the restroom, Dr. Hua the dentist left the mahjong table, and walked out through the backyard before turning around to the front door where Zhang Si was standing. Next, he summoned Zhang to him and gave him seven silver dollars that he dug out of his chest pocket.
Before Zhang had a chance to give thanks, Dr. Hua had already returned to the mahjong table and continued with the game as if nothing had happened.
After a while, Zhang Si staggered into the clinic and piled up the seven silver dollars on the counter with a big noise.
Dr. Su responded immediately and Zhang Si soon found the doctor standing before his eyes ready to work. He rolled up his sleeves, put the patient’s arm on the counter and grabbed and pressed his bones. As the doctor pushed the arm up and down and pulled and stretched it left and right, Zhang Si tightened his shoulders, stiffened his neck, closed his eyes, and clenched his teeth, ready for some real pain. But before the patient felt any significant discomfort, Dr. Su had already declared the job done. He went on to dress the wounds with medicated ointment and put the cast and splints on the arm. He also gave Zhang a few packs of ground herbal medicine for pain relief and reinvigoration of blood circulation. When Zhang said he had no money for them, the doctor offered it for free and then returned to the mahjong table.
The players had a fair share of good luck that day. They couldn’t stop until it was getting dark and their stomachs began making noises.
Before saying goodbye to one another, Dr. Su reached out one of his lean hands and stopped Dr. Hua from leaving. He had some unfinished business with him. When the other two players were gone, he took seven dollars out of a pile of silver dollars in front of his seat and put them into Dr. Hua’s hands.
“Don’t take me for a heartless person!” he said to the astonished dentist, “I just have to stick to the rules I make!”
Impressed with what Dr. Su had said, Dr. Hua went home and thought about those words for the following three days but didn’t quite get what was meant. Still, he admired Dr. Su for who he was, what he said and did, and what he stood for.
Selected from Chinese Flash Fiction, compiled by China Flash Fiction Society, and published by New World Press.