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The doctor-free life that could have been

She’d been that way many times before, walking along the dusty side street with its long arcing shadows and cutting underneath the railway bridge with its slow clattering trains. But it was the first time she’d ever seen the shop.

Someone had graffitied ‘love ghetto’ on the shutters and a decade-old flyer lay moulded and curled on the lamp post outside.

She stopped and peered through the window, unable to make anything out she squeezed open the door.

The shop smelt strongly of camping gas and all along its walls, in neat rows, one after the other, were boxes of VHS tape.

‘Have a look sister,’ came a voice, ‘take all the time you need.’ She hadn’t been in a shop like this for years. It reminded her of the video store from her childhood where she would spend what felt like hours choosing a film, browsing the endless videos, attracted by their covers, trying to imagine what the film inside would be like. 

She took one out and turned it over in her hand. ‘Like I said,’ came the voice, ‘Take your time. We have a viewing  booth out back as well.’

She swallowed hard. The cassette was all about her. It had her picture on the front and a brief description of her life on the back. She looked younger; younger but not happier. She pushed it back into the tight empty slot and took out another, again her photograph was on the front sleeve, this time her hair was different, she was smiling and she was wearing the bright yellow coat she’d once thought about buying.

‘They’re all about you sister,’ came the voice, ‘Each and every one of ‘em. Ever thought what would’ve happened if you’d bought that coat? Well now’s your chance to find out.’

The gas fire puttered away and in the gloom she traced a finger over the boxes. Her name was on every title. What she really wanted to know, what she’d always wanted to find out, was what would have happened if she’d made a different choice, if she’d decided not to make her parents happy and become a doctor, but if she’d decided on a different and perhaps braver and even truer life for herself.

‘Take this one,’ came the voice. He sat in a dark corner of the shop and handed her a cassette, a black-umbrella shadow obscuring the top half of his face. She disappeared into the viewing room at the back of the shop and drew the curtain around her.

After a while she stepped outside, the air felt cool to her and the noise of distant traffic had muffled down to a comforting hum. She’d lost track of time and it had grown dark, but she didn’t care, she just didn’t care anymore. The evening’s sunlight had finally been cut free. 

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Edinburgh