stories

The Last of the Smokers - Chapter 2 (all)

Then the National Tobacco Company was set on fire, and when the company was eventually forced into bankruptcy the Dark Age for smokers r eally arrived. Each night, parties of Anti-Smoking League members roamed the streets wearing pointed white masks and carrying torches above their heads, setting fire to the few tobacco stores that remained. I was still making the most of my privileges as a popular author by getting my edito rs to buy cigarettes for me, and so I continued smoking without much int erruption.

"Never mind about my fee," I would say. "Pay me in cigarettes, or else I'm not writing a thing."

My poor editors had to scurry around the whole country in order to supply me with cigarettes that were still sold secretly at some country stores or smuggled into the country and sold on the black market.

There were others like me. The idiots in the press continued to run special features on famous people who were still smoking. Each report listed the names of one hundred people who like me had publicly announced their intention to continue smoking. 'Which of these stubborn people will become the last of the smokers?' Although I was hiding out at my home, now even I was in constant danger. Stones were hurled through the windows and arsonists set fire to the wall and hedges around my house. Graffiti in various colours was sprayed on the wall and no matter how many times I repainted it, the slogans reappeared.

>

"Smoker's House" "Nicotine Death" "Owner not True Japanese"

The abusive letters and crank-calls increased, and most of them now contained direct threats. Unable to live with me any longer, my wife took my son and moved to her parents' home.

Each day the newspapers ran columns asking, "Who will be the last of the smokers?" They even had experts trying to predict the result, as the list of names printed became shorter and shorter. The pressure on smokers escalated as quickly as the complaints against discrimination decreased. One day, I tried calling the Association for the Protection of Human Rights. The man I spoke to was utterly lost for an answer and made no effort to be polite.

"Why are you complaining? What we have been trying to do is protect the anti-smokers."

"But the smokers are the minority now."

"Smokers were always the minority. Our organization defends the interests of the majority."

"Oh, really? So you always side with the majority, then?"

"Of course we do. Don't be so stupid."

There was nothing for it but to protect myself. No bill had yet been passed outlawing smoking, but in protest at this, the lynching of smokers grew hopelessly frenzied. I strung up barbed wire around my house, ran an electric current through it at night, and armed myself with a re-powered pistol and a Japanese sword. That day, Kusakabe, a painter who lived in a town nearby, called me. He had once enjoyed smoking a pipe, but as he was no longer able to get hold of any tobacco he was making do with ordinary rolled cigarettes. He had become a frequent subject of media reports now that he was one of the twenty or so smokers who remained.

"Things are really terrible, aren't they?" he said. "I've heard that there is going to be an attack some time soon. The press and the TV people are going to stir up the Anti-Smoking League and get them to set fire to our houses, then film the whole event for the news."

"Jesus!" I said. "If they get my house first, can I escape to your place?"

"Sure, and I'll do the same. If they come here first I'll drive over to your house. Then we could drive to Tokyo. I have a safehouse there, and friends who can help us. Since it looks as though we're going to be together to the end, we might as well smoke ourselves to a magnificent death in the capital."

> "Agreed. We'll die in glory so that textbooks in the future will say "Even in death, they did not let their cigarettes slip from their lips."

We laughed together. But it was hardly a laughing matter. One evening just two months later, Kusakabe drove to my house. His clothes were covered in burn marks. He parked his car in the garage, a refurbished storehouse which was part of the main building. "They got me," he said.
"and they're coming here next. We'd better get out of here quickly."

"Just a moment," I said, closing the garage door. "I'll load up all the cigarettes I have."

"Thanks. I brought a few myself."

As we were loading the cigarettes into the trunk of the car, there was a sudden commotion around the house, and the glass window on the veranda shattered.

"Here they come!" I switched to warrior mode. "Shall we take a f ew out as we go?"

"Yes, let's do that. I'm ready for them!"

From the dining room facing the garden we could see a man caught on the barbed wire over the fence at the back. He was crackling away, his body split open. I heated up the pot of oil I had prepared beforehand, handed my pistol to Kusakabe, and picked up my sword. There was a noise in the toilet. When I burst in, a man had smashed the window and was trying to climb in. He must have jumped across from the roof of the next house. I slashed off both his arms at the elbow.

".............."

Without a sound he disappeared onto the other side.

About a dozen people had cut through the barbed wire and burst into the garden. They began trying to wrench open all the windows and shutters, and so after consulting with Kusakabe, I carried the pot up to the first floor, and from the balcony I threw the boiling oil out over the whole garden. The howling of those who were burned was Kusakabe's sign to start shooting. They wailed and shrieked in terror....

Clearly they had not expected us to be so prepared for them. Carrying away their injured, for the moment they withdrew. But the doorway had been set alight, and smoke was starting to fill the house.

"Such warm consideration for a smoke-loving home," said Kusakabe, in a fit of coughing. "But I'd rather not burn to death. Let's get out of here."

"The garage door is very flimsy," I said as we climbed into the car, sensing that there were people on the street outside. "Just drive straight through it."

Kusakabe's car was a Mercedes Benz, as tough as a tank. My son had been using my car as his own, and had driven it with my wife when they moved to her parents' house.

The Mercedes set off, crashed through the garage door and flew onto the street. Without slowing down we turned and headed for the main road. We had run over several of the cameramen and reporters gathered lik e garbage in front of the house, but we weren't too bothered about that.

"Well, that was pretty exciting!" Kusakabe laughed as we drove away.

When I think about it now, we did very well to get to Tokyo with all those roadblocks on the highways. After all, the fires at our houses would certainly have been broadcast on TV and radio, and both the A.S.L. and the police were after us. We drove all night and arrived at Tokyo in the morning.

Kusakabe's secret safehouse was in the basement of a magnificent apartment in Roppongi. About twenty people from all over the country whose houses had also been burned to the ground were gathered there. It was a luxury club of which Kusakabe had been a founding investor. The owner was also one of those present. Here we pledged our solidarity and resistance to the enemy. We worshipped the god of tobacco and prayed for victory in our struggle. Of course the god of tobacco has no physical form, so we worshipped by smoking huge numbers of cigarettes, with the Lucky Strike red circle as the symbol on our flag.

A description of how our struggle developed over the following week would be far too tedious to relate in detail here. Briefly, it would be fair to say that we fought relatively well. Our enemies were not only the Anti-Smoking League and the police and Self Defence Forces, who had by now become nothing more than agents of the League, but also the World Health Organisation and the Red Cross who were supported by the common sense of the whole world - these were the fiends we were fighting against. In the face of this, the only support we could hope for would be from gangsters running secret tobacco sales. Asking for help from those sorts of characters would have been against the noble spirit of smokers.

Our comrades fell one by one until there were only the two of us left. Finally, after being chased to the top of the National Diet Building, we sat smoking all the cigarettes that we had left, when Kusakabe asked "You and I experienced all the horrors of the War, but as the world grew more and more affluent, laws and restrictions multiplied, discrimination increased, and somehow we lost our freedom. Why did this happen? Does it mean that humans actually enjoy this sort of thing?"

"I suppose it does," I answered. "It seems that the only way to stop them is to wage war."

At that moment, Kusakabe was hit in the head by a canister of tear gas fired from one of the helicopters above. He fell silently to his death. The swarming crowd on the ground below, many of them drinking sak as if they were at a flower-viewing afternoon, gave a loud cry, then jeered in unison:

"Only one left! Only one left!"

A very long two hours later I was still clinging to the top of the Diet, which was quite a feat by my standards. I didn't mind using up all my strength, since I knew that I was going to die whatever happened.

Suddenly it seemed that the ground below had become completely silent. The helicopters had vanished. Someone was speaking through a microphone, and I could faintly hear the words:

".....would be the result. By then it will be too late for regrets. This would be a great loss. He is now a valuable artefact of the Smoking Age. He should be designated as a precious natural asset and a Nati onal Human Treasure. He must be preserved. We implore you. We repeat: This is the Society for the Protection of Smokers...."

I shuddered. No way was I going to be protected. That would only be a new sort of abuse. Everyone knows that whenever people start trying to protect animals the species immediately becomes extinct. They are exhibited to have their photographs taken, they are given injections, put in isolation, their bodies are messed about with and their sperm collected. In the end, they just wither away and die. As if that weren't enough, they are then stuffed and put on display. I wasn't going to die like that. Quickly, I decided to jump.

But it was already too late. A safety net had been secured on the ground below. From the distant sky, two helicopters with a net spread between them slowly descended and moved towards me.

Andrew RANKIN

Graduate student in Department of Literature, Tokyo University.