The Last Luthier in the Philippines

After twenty minutes, my blood pressure and heartrate returned to normal. Blood pressure that is already very low, long strips of grey, the doctor warning me to take it easy on the diazepam; one number over another.
    My grandmother (maternal) smoked forty-a-day. She worked for my grandfather (paternal) as his clerical assistant, a profession that she had filled for most of her life, from her time for the British army in India to a pokey paper-stacked office in Gants Hill. One morning, when she was sixty-years-old, she was tasked with hand-delivering several pieces of important correspondence, cheques, invoices, to addresses around east London. As she hurried here & there, jumping on & off buses, rushing down roads streets avenues back alleys, nosing the A to Z, she realised that she had not smoked a single cigarette all morning. So, she thought, I shall give them up.
    Within two hours, the nicotine cravings had begun. I ignored them, insomuch as I chew my fingernails off and tap my right foot at a rate of about 180 BPM.
    ‘I can’t believe none of you have noticed!’ She was visibly angry that none of her children, visiting on a Sunday after church, with her for dinner, had not noted her tobacco abstinence. O yeah, they all said, long drawn-out. ‘And you, you bloody bugger!’ she waved a knitting needle under the nose of her youngest son, my uncle—‘You live here and you don’t even notice I haven’t smoked in three days?!’ He lowered his eyes as his siblings poked fun at him.
    After eight hours, the carbon monoxide cleared and oxygen levels in my blood returned to normal. What was the difference? Yes, I wanted a cigarette, but I sensed no overwhelming craving.
    ‘It breaks my heart that you three smoke,’ my father said, my brothers and I. Us three. I ponder, I roll, I think, I do not know; those words got into me. Was he drunk? I ask myself. He is very sentimental when he is drunk – and that is likely where I get it from – but it remains something he would say sober or otherwise, such is my father. I do not know what it is to create something. He does. His words rang in me, ring in me. They were enough to sound again in my mind as I went to quit. You never want to be accused of break someone’s heart.
    After a day, coughing increases as tobacco’s muck is cleared from the lungs, but I never experienced that. The risk of developing coronary heart disease had already reduced; again, I had noticed nothing. It seemed premature; coronary heart disease was too quick to walk away. Put up a fight, you swine!
    Goddamn it, R—, I’d do all those activities […] however – smoking is not my cup of tea, sorry for my judgmental ways, (I can’t help it, I’ve tried) but I wanted to say thanks for the message anyway cus [sic] I am judgmental but polite and think I wouldve [sic] liked you a lot in real life :)
    After forty-eight hours, nicotine and cotinine had been eliminated from my body, my damaged nerve endings were starting to regrow, and my tastebuds had begun to regain their sensitivity. By this point, I wished to treat my tastebuds to coffee and cigarettes. Coffee and cigarettes; it was the only time I wished to smoke. That first coffee in the morning, the cappuccino I take at my desk, in my living room, the furniture all golden in sunlight, my cold sleepy stomach and minted lips blessed with milk & coffee; and all is right with the world when I light a cigarette and pull it deep and good. As long as I will not smoke, I will miss coffee and cigarettes.
    Further exchanges. A good woman is the best reason to do anything, I insisted, saying I would quit. She would not likely believe me. Often, in the silliest of moments, I am overcome with an idea that I can neither shake nor ignore. She did not ask me to switch my politics or stop listening to Ray Charles, she did not ask me to forgo coffee or red wine; she neither asked, suggested nor hinted that I stop smoking. It had been on my mind for a while. I told her I would quit and she did not believe me. I would prove to her I had quit, and if it went no further, then she would know she inspired me to stop smoking. That the idea was in my head, I could not sleep for thinking the wildest thoughts! I would quit. It was really very simple. My parents would love this complete stranger.
    After seventy-two hours, I started to suffer nausea and headaches. I could not stop perspiring either, but that may have been the Indian summer. I had been warned of depression and anxiety; I eat depression and anxiety for breakfast! Sleep was a fantasy. I could only dream of sleeping! For hours, I would lie in bed, my body sodden, limbs uncomfortable, spine twisted. This is the worst of it! I thought, like a sailor in the hold during a storm.
    ‘Where’s thePlayStation?’ my brothers and I walked into the living room where our cousin was laid outstretched on the sofa, emptying packets of Tic Tacs into his mouth over a pile of empty containers. He chewed noisily—‘Sold it.’ We asked him what he did that for. Needed money. What kind of person needs money more than a PlayStation? we asked each other. He was giving up smoking, too, but we did not care so much; we wanted the PlayStation. He opened another packet of Tic Tacs. He did not quit smoking.
    After one month, the risk of me suffering cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases will have decreased. I told my hairdresser that I did not care about the health benefits, as long as my gums stopped receding and I could smell my apartment again. The elegant older lady sat in the chair beside me told me that I should care about the health benefits and that I would, one day. ‘When it’s my time, it’s my time,’ I told her. ‘Right now, I just enjoy waking up and being able to smell my apartment, the wood and the plants and so on.’
    Smoking began in my second year of university, when I was only I and my me was no part of we. My aunt sent me a tenner during a particularly bad evening, I recalled a number in my phonebook of someone who could sell me some weed, and then tobacco from the cornershop that I recognised from a film. Every night was autumn or winter back then. I was an emperor penguin holding my self a couple of inches off the ice. I had no friends, no life, no enjoyment. I had not yet discovered the joy of writing. I got high, I drank whiskey and listened to music. I looked out of the window at the streetlight that burned a few yards away, and that was very comforting to me. I watched the automobiles going round the roundabout. I longed for friends and for love. I longed for love, for love! It was so lonely there; everything felt lonely. I pulled my trainers on and walked around night’s town, along the misty backstreets and moist kerbs. Then I just smoked because I just liked smoking.
    Between three and nine months later, the cilia in my lungs will be repaired. They may resume waving back & forth, uninhibited. Maybe I confuse them with flagella. Is it flagella that wave like a crowd?
    She is a violinist and a violin-maker, a luthier. I did not know such a job existed. So, I’m just off to the Philippines for just over two weeks, teaching people how to do violin repair and set up etc (1 luthier in the whole country!) so I shall be off grid for a while… just wanted to let you know why I’ve gone dark.
    A year later, my risk of heart disease will have decreased by almost fifty-percent.
    I have never met a luthier before. She showed me a video of her playing violin and her dog howling along in front of a poster of the Silver Surfer. I cannot think of a better reason to stop smoking. Her strong fingers vibrato’d in knuckled magnificence over the violin’s neck. She is a continent away now and has already changed my life in some small – yet to be spectacular – way. She will likely disappear; that is the real deadly habit.
    After a decade, the chance of me developing lung cancer has decreased to half of someone who did not quit smoking.
    The cinema I grew up in holds fond memories. That building has been vacant for almost two decades now, the same year I started smoking. It has not been difficult. Unlike wine, beer, garlic, coffee, vegetable oil and toothpaste, there is no tobacco in my apartment. Right now, I would like a cigarette. My fingers smothering and fidgeted, puckered and turning. If I could sleep, I would dream. But right now, I would like a cigarette. I would love a cigarette. I would take a cigarette out for dinner and order coffee. I would smoke the cigarette on our walk home.