He wore a complex expression on his face, a pale face which looked candle-lit even in the middle of the day.
‘Please enter a credit. This is a coin operated service.’
He felt around in his pocket and pulled out a small coin, feeding it into the slot.
‘Thank you. What would you like to talk about today?’
‘I need some help,’ he said.
‘Please speak clearly into the mouth piece.’
He cleared his throat and tried again. ‘I need some help,’ he said and this time he spoke deliberately into the microphone which was angled a couple of inches from his mouth.
‘What kind of help do you need?’
‘Well, things aren’t going too well,’ he sighed, ‘I’ve started to feel down.’
‘As this is a mental health problem it will take longer than the allocated 10 minutes. Could you please add an extra credit.’
He mumbled and pulled out some fluff and the ragged ends of a tissue from his pocket. A couple of coins bounced and rolled onto the carpet. He fed them into the lipless mouth of the machine.
‘I’m sorry but the credits you are trying to use are no longer in circulation. If you would like to continue please use an internationally recognised credit.’
Amongst the tissues he spotted a useable coin and quickly fed it through the slot.
‘Thankyou. Please tell me more about your problem.’
He spoke quickly: ‘I’m being bullied at work, the new line manager makes us do the work of two and when I get home I haven’t got any energy. My heart feels like its racing all the time and I’ve started to cry at the slightest thing.’
‘If you wish to have a compassionate service please add another credit, otherwise please press continue.’
He pressed ‘continue’.
‘We will now show you a short presentation.’ The machine played a drug company advert, one he’d seen on television. It showed shining, smiling enamel and smooth Californian skin. ‘All you could ever want,’ rang the jingle, ‘for now and forever more.’
‘The presentation you have just watched is our recommended firstline treatment.’
‘How much are they?’ he mumbled.
‘A month’s course will be 15 credits.’
‘But I don’t have that kind of money.’
And with that the lights in the booth went out, replaced by an exit sign which glowed cruel and green over the door.
Outside he breathed deeply, it was getting late. The abrasion-red sky had begun to scab with clouds.
Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.
20 December 2021
21 September 2021