Because as hard as it is to win by fighting, it’s impossible to win by doing nothing.
And this is the kind of thing an arbitrageur is buying and selling. He’s not carrying bananas from Mr. Full to Mrs. Hungry—he’s buying and selling bets on insurance policies on promises of imaginary gold. And this is what he calls an honest day’s work.
It wasn’t that he didn’t love his parents. He did. They were good people. They loved him in their way. But they lived in a bubble of unreality, a bubble called Orange County, where they still had rows of neat identical houses and neat identical lives, while around them everything was collapsing.
And he’d found happiness and work, and he’d found a truth, too: the world wasn’t built on rock, but rather on sand, and it would shift forever.
Yasmin shrank back, but she took a deep breath and looked into the General’s terrible eyes. “What’s so wrong with kindness, Mala? What’s so terrible about surviving without harming other people?”
Mala’s lip curled up in a snarl of pure disgust. “Don’t you know by now, Yasmin? Haven’t you figured it out yet? Look around us!” She waved her water can wildly, nearly clubbing an old woman who was inching past, bearing her own water cans. “Look around! You know that there are people all over the world who have fine cars and fine meals, servants and maids? There are people all over the world who have toilets, Yasmin, and running water, and who get to each have their own bedroom with a fine bed to sleep in! Do you think those people are going to give up their fine beds and their fine houses and cars for you? And if they don’t give it up, where will it come from? How many beds and cars are there? Are there enough for all of us? In this world, Yasmin, there just isn’t enough. That means that there are going to be winners and losers, just like in any game, and you get to decide if you want to be a winner or a loser.”
Yasmin mumbled something under her breath.
“What?” Mala shouted at her. “What are you saying, girl? Speak up so I can hear you!”
“I don’t think it’s like that. I think we can be kind to other people and that they will be kind to us. I think that we can stick together, like a team, like the army, and we can all work together to make the world a better place.”
Mala laughed, but it sounded forced, and Yasmin thought she saw tears starting in her friend’s eyes. “You know what happens when you act like that, Yasmin? They find a way to destroy you. To force you to become an animal. Because they’re animals. They want to win, and if you offer them your hand, they’ll slice off your fingers. You have to be an animal to survive.”
Pressing buttons and playing make-believe describes several important sectors of the economy, not least the entire financial industry. What is banking, if not pressing buttons and asking everyone to make believe that the outcomes have value?”
“There’s thousands more like her,” Jie said. “It’s a sickness, like gambling. It comes from not understanding numbers. They all win their little math medals, but they don’t believe in the numbers.
“They want to unite Chinese workers,” Jie said, nodding sagely.
“No!” He surprised himself with his vehemence. “Uniting Chinese workers would be useless. With gold farming, the work can just move to Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, India—anywhere workers aren’t organized. It’s the same with all work now—your job can move in no time at all to anywhere you can build a factory and dock a container ship. There’s no such thing as ‘Chinese’ workers anymore. Just workers!
One thing Matthew had learned in prison was the importance of not getting carried along by other people’s scripts. A forceful person could do that: write a script, spin it out for you, put you in a role, and before you knew it, you were smuggling sealed packages from one part of the prison to another. Once someone else was writing the script, you were all but helpless.
“Tank!” she squealed. “How fantastic to hear from you again. It’s been ages since you came on my show! Tell me, Tank, what’s on your mind today?”
“Justice,” Lu/Tank said. Matthew found himself laughing quietly, and he ducked his head so as not to draw attention. “Justice for working people. We come to Guangdong province because they say that we will be rich. But when we get here, we have bad working conditions, bad pay, and everything is stacked against us. No one can get real papers to live here, so we all buy fakes, and the police know they can stop us at any time and put us in jail or send us away because we don’t have real documents. Our bosses know it, so they lock us in, or beat us, or steal our pay. I have been here for five years now, and I see how it works: the rich get richer, the poor get used up and sent back to the village, ruined. The corrupt government runs on bribes, not justice, and any attempt by working people to organize for a better deal is met with violence and war. The corrupt businessmen buy corrupt policemen who work for corrupt government.
“I’ve had enough! It’s time for working people to organize— one of us is nothing. Together, we can’t be stopped. China’s revolutions have come and gone, and still the few are rich and the many are poor. It’s time for a worldwide revolution: workers in China, India, America— all over— have to fight together. We will use the internet because we are better at the internet than our bosses are. The internet is shaped like a worker’s organization: chaotic, spread out, without a few leaders making all the decisions. We know how to interface with it. Our bosses only understand the internet when they can make it shaped like them, forcing all our clicks through a few bottlenecks that they can own and control. We can’t be controlled. We can’t be stopped. We will win!”
Jiandi laughed into the mic, a throaty, sexy sound. “Oh, Tank! So serious! You make us all feel like silly children with your talk!
“But he’s right, sisters, you know he is. We worry about our little problems, our bosses trying to screw us or cheat us, police chasing us, our networks infected and spied on, but we never ask why, what’s the system for?” She drew in a deep breath. “We never ask what we can do.”
The foreman picked himself up off the floor, no expression at all on his face, a terrible blankness, and Ruiling felt his first inkling of fear. Something about how the man held himself as he stood, not anything like the stance in the martial arts games he’d played in the village. Something altogether more serious. Ruiling heard a high whining noise and realized it was coming from his own throat.
He lowered his hands slightly, extended one in a friendly, palm up way. “Come on now,” he said. “Let’s be adults about this.”
And that’s when the foreman reached under the shoulder of his ill-fitting, rumpled, dandruff-speckled suit-jacket and pulled out a cheap little pistol, pointed it at Ruiling, and shot him square in the forehead.
Even before Ruiling hit the ground, one eye open, the other shut, the boys around him began to roar. The foreman had one second to register the sound of a hundred voices rising in anger before the boys boiled over, clambering over one another to reach him. Too late, he tried to tighten his finger on the trigger of the gun he’d carried ever since leaving Fujian province all those years before. By then, three boys had fastened themselves to his arm and forced it down so that the gun was aiming into the meat of his old thigh, and the .22 slug he squeezed off drilled itself into the big femur before flattening on the shattered bone, spreading out like a lead coin.
When he opened his mouth to scream, fingers found their way into his cheeks, viciously tearing at them even as other hands twined themselves in his hair, fastened themselves to his feet and his arms, even yanked at his ears. Someone punched him hard in the balls, twice, and he couldn’t breathe around the hands in his mouth, couldn’t scream as he tumbled down. The gun was wrenched from his hand at the same instant that two fists drilled into his eyes, and then it was dark and painful and infinite, a moment that stretched off into his unconsciousness and then into— annihilation.
Mala said, “We should call you General Gandhiji.”
“It’d be an honor, but I couldn’t live up to Gandhi. He was a great man.”
Ashok said, “Gandhi admitted to beating his wife. He was a great man, but not a saint.” He swallowed. “No one mentions that Gandhi had all that violence inside him. I think it makes him better, because it means that his way wasn’t just some natural instinct he was born with. It was something he battled for, in his own mind, every day.” He looked down at the top of Mala’s head, startled for a moment to realize that she was shorter than him. He had a tendency to think of her as towering, larger than life.
Mala looked up at him and it seemed that her dark eyes were glowing in the hot, steamy air, staring out from under her long lashes. “Controlling yourself is overrated,” she said. “There’s plenty to be said for letting go.”