When the fabric of society is tissue

Holding out a calloused, trembling hand, an elderly lady readies three packets of tissue paper, hopeful that a kind soul would take a few moments off their busy schedule to spare some loose change.

“Tissue… three for $1,” she calls out, baring the gap in her smile as she beckons passers-by. She waits patiently, leaving her spot only occasionally to visit the washroom.

A piece of two-ply tissue paper, neatly folded and smelling faintly of jasmine, rudely disarrayed from its perfectly immaculate arrangement by a pair of rough hands, lifted to the mouth to rid the oil stains, then crushed, wrinkled beyond repair and thrown into the rubbish bin without a second thought.

A second thought would make a real difference to many to the peddlers.

Most of them, hair greying at the temples, a slight limp in their gaits as they roam the streets selling packets of tissues to earn a living. They were once a good-looking “two-ply tissue”, until they did the inevitable – they grew old and creased.

For many of them, the fabric of society is — tissue.

Who are the peddlers? They come from many walks of life, converging on the value of an ephemeral product.

Here’s a stirring account of a day in the lives of two tissue peddlers:

But then there are the ethical questions.

Often, the packet of tissue paper takes on the appearance of a mere token, and the real industry taking place is akin to begging.

And like the first man in the video, sometimes the money they earn from the sympathy of others is spent on items that many of us may find superfluous.

But we cannot ignore the peddlers. They too, are flesh and blood whose better days are behind them — very likely, forever. Is there a better way to help them, so that their existence is less like the product they peddle?

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