stories

The Last of The Smoker - Chapter 1 - page 1

As I sit on the roof of the National Diet Building, under attack by tear-gas fired from Defence Force helicopters circling above, I am smoking my last cigarettes. One of my comrades, a painter called Kusakabe, has just fallen tumbling down to the ground below, making me the last remaining smoker in the whole world. My image, lit up against the night-time sky by searchlights on the ground, is probably being broadcast nation-wide by the TV cameras on those helicopters buzzing around me. I have three packs of cigarettes left, and my death will not be complete until I have smoked the lot. After smoking two or three at the same time, my head is spinning and my vision is beginning to blur. It is probably just a matter of time before I too fall to the ground.

It is roughly fifteen years since the no-smoking movement got under way, and only six or seven years since the pressure on smokers started to become really intense. Naturally I never dreamed that in such a short space of time I would become the last smoker on earth. The circumstances which have brought this about may already have been in place. I was a fairly well known writer, spending so much time at home on my work that I had little opportunity to see or hear for myself how the world was changing. What was more, I hardly ever bothered to read the newspapers since I can't stand the unremitting dullness of journalists' prose. I lived out in one of the provincial towns but my editors usually came to my house when they needed to see me, and as I had little involvement with the literary world there was no need for me to travel to Tokyo. Of course, I knew about the Smoke-Haters Movement, because critical articles supporting and refuting it were appearing in magazines and elsewhere. I also knew that the tone of the debate between the two sides had become hysterical and that there had been an abrupt surge of support for the movement, whereupon all hostile articles had suddenly disappeared.

As long as I remained at home I could go about my business unaffected by any of this. A heavy smoker since my teens, I continued to smoke almost constantly - no one ever warned me or complained. My wife and son said nothing about my smoking. They probably understood that the consumption of huge quantities of cigarettes was an essential condition for the large production of work needed to maintain my income as a popular writer. If I had been working for some sort of company then things would have been different, as it had soon become impossible for employees who smoked to earn promotion.

One day, two editors of a magazine for young people visited my house to commission a story from me. When I greeted them in the reception room, one of the two, a woman in her late twenties, handed me her business card at the top of which was printed in large type: