I tried to absorb the satisfaction dripping from her expression as she took a long pull of poison from her cigarette. At that moment, I needed a conviction to allay the sting of irony that had been brought upon me, so I hired her for the job. She had a lot of nerve enjoying herself in front of me, while here I was, my nose running like a marathoner in training without a tissue to catch it. I knew the connection was silly at best, but I played out the absurdity, if only for a laugh that might get me through the wanting.

In Japan if you want to improve your corporate image and cajole the common people into eating your food or buying your electronics, you hand out tissues on the street. The rather incessant and persistent nature of this practice had initially lead me to believe that there was something I had missed about the biology of Japanese people; perhaps the Japanese nose ran farther than the average white man’s, or maybe they were more susceptible to colds. While I was certain that the answer to this mystery would be revealed in time, it wasn’t my main concern.

I raced around the streets frantically looking for one of the corporate charity representatives, expecting a parade of them to ambush me as they had so many times before. Surely they would sense that the potential holiday cash in my pocket might only need some soft tissue paper to loosen their grip from the comforts of my warm wallet. I strolled aimless and desperate across the cold city streets, void of tissue people; they were nowhere to be found.

After having wasted an embarrassing amount of my lunch break, I had entertained the idea of blowing a snot rocket under the guise of pretending to sneeze against the corner of a building. This—to me—seemed like the only solution to a problem with no apparent relief, but I feared that a lack of acting ability might result in my becoming a target for hardcore nationalists, who hated foreigners to begin with.

I surrendered to the more childish antidote for a runny nose: my jacket sleeve. It was dark and rugged enough to wear a thin line of painted mucus without drawing much attention. Here my acting ability shined; pretending to cough, I buried my nose in the elbow of my sleeve and keeled over, as if to shield a healthy society from a dangerous plague. Success. Mission accomplished.

As my lunch break time dwindled, I hurried to my usual courtyard bench outside the mayor’s office to steal some valuable wifi minutes before I had to report back to the office. While waiting for the crosswalk sign to change, I thought about all the desperate Japanese that also searched for tissues that day in a barren city, betrayed and disappointed. I thought about how corporate Japan had missed out on valuable public relations. I thought about how silly tissues were. I thought about how important tissues were. I thought about how that stupid girl needed tissues more than cigarettes.

As the light signaled me to a haven of free internet browsing, I imagined some time in the future when tissues would become abundant again; I was going to take enough from those corporate representatives to service the whole city, and I was never going to shop at their store, ever.