You walk past them at lunchtimes and at smoko, you see them sheltering under eaves in foul weather, you see them in their outcast clusters, you see them and you avert your gaze for fear your concern will offend.
They are many, these persons of all ages, members of an underclass. If they were to unite as voters they’d overthrow governments. If they were to become radicalised we’d tremble in our beds. But no, they do nought to us and all to themselves. These human persons harvest leaves and dry them and chop the dried leaves finely then wrap the product in a cylinder of paper. Carefully, accurately, with practised fingers, they burn the leaves, then hungrily, deeply inhale.
Alone in the animal kingdom these sentient creatures do not flee from smoke.
I see them, I see my friends, who meet my gaze and smile in confession – and I am sorry to see – in embarrassment.
A long time ago my father in law was dismayed when advised by his tobacconist (yes, he saw a specialist, no mere candy vendor) that Chesterfields would no longer be imported to Australia. The tobacconist asked: ‘How many do you smoke a day?’
My father in law told him.
The tobacconist responded: ‘You are a very special customer; we’ll make sure you stay supplied.’
The very special customer became too breathless to read a bedtime story to his grandchildren. Soon he developed a cough. Suspecting cancer he stopped smoking.
Not long after, the very special customer died of his disease and my children lost their very special grandfather.
Manufacturer Phillip Morris continues to accommodate its special customers. My friends huddle and shelter while I shudder. And I direct my superannuation to alternative investments.