The Lotus Coin

February 12, 2009
Lang-li, the crazy, homeless one, wandered the raw roads of China. He owned not more than his hand-made robe, his splintering cane, with his useless, deformed leg. He hummed a soothing chant, one he'd memorized as a child in his village. His twisted, thin leg dragged in the dirt; it had no feeling, no pain.
'Old man,' came a rough voice from behind. Lang-li stopped hobbling, turned to face the man, and saw nothing, but sensed everything: the meandering road, the fresh scent of cherry blossoms in the autumn wind, and the man who stood not more than a few paces from him.
'Give me your belongings and be off!' Lang-li stared absently at the origin of the voice. 'Why?' he asked in turn.
'Well...' the man's voice dropped its tough overtone. 'If you fear for your life you will submit!' Lang-li smiled the slightest bit, 'I don't fear.'
The man retorted immediately. 'You fool! I will kill you and then take your possessions! It will save me that much more time!'
'Why didn't you do that, rather than ask me first?'
But Lang-li did not let the man finish. 'It is because you do not wish to take my life.'
'Silence!' Lang-li heard the man advance a step. In one fluid movement, Lang-li moved into a cross-legged sitting position. 'Crazy man! Defend yourself!' the man ordered; he was frustrated.
'I don't have anything to defend myself from. Now, come sit.' Lang-li motioned to his side.
'In the center of a road?'
'No, in the center of nature. It matters not where we speak.'
'Crazy man,' the man growled.
The brief sliding of dirt and a thud indicated that the man had taken a seat. Lang-li proffered some stale bits of rice cake from his robe. 'Rice cakes?'
'Fine.' the man muttered under his breath.
Lang-li broke a bit of a cake off, and he handed it to the man, who snatched it up.
'You obey from fear.' Lang-li stated.
'Fear of what?!'
'How should I know what frightens you into threatening a wise, old man? I can tell that you don't wish to be here.'
The man huffed an inaudible reply, and he bit off another piece of his cake. 'Stop judging me.'
'You do not understand the true meaning of abuse.' Lang-li stated. 'I can be your wisest friend.'
'You need prior knowledge to judge whether or not you're my wisest friend. Now quiet.'
'If you can grasp the true meaning of abuse, I, your worst criticizer, will become your wisest friend.'
The man huffed again. 'Old man, you speak in circles. You're a fool.'
'Then why do you sit there and talk with me?'
The man was silent. Lang-li allowed his subconscious to wander, picking up the soft rustle of leaves and the distant rush of a stream.
'I'm afraid I must be off,' Lang-li said after a few minutes. 'I must arrive at LÇš S' De before dusk. My daughter awaits.'
The man wasted no time getting up. 'I've not gained what I came for,' the man stated.
Lang-li was in the midst of getting balanced, when he heard the distinct grate of iron against sheath. 'Have you gained anything?' Lang-li asked.
'No. Nothing.' The man answered. Lang-li heard a very faint, almost inaudible, rasp of the sword again as the man put it away.
'Surely nothing is something; everything is nothing, and something is everything. So, you have gained something.'
'Old man, you may think yourself wise, but you are insane!'
'What will you gain if I am to die?' Lang-li asked again.
'Your belongings-'
'Which are precious few,' Lang-li interrupted. He began to walk away from the man. His cane rhythmically thumped against the road.
'Why don't you cower in fear, old man?' came the man's desperate cry from behind. Lang-li did not stop. Instead, he called over his shoulder: 'I told you. I do not fear because I cannot fear what I cannot see. I fear nothing. I waited for you to pierce my heart with a sword, but none came. I listened to you, and you, in turn, listened to me. Now go, work for what you seek rather than kill.' Lang-li made an imperceptible sleight sleight of hand, and he dropped a coin to the ground.
'Take that, buy food for yourself and for those who need to be fed.' The man rushed forward from behind Lang-li, threw himself on top of the lotus coin.
'Why would you bestow a gift and share your food with someone who threatened to kill you?'
'Because,' Lang-li called back as he crested a hill, 'you're no less human than I.'

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