Doctor Doctor's Name
Health centres are never very healthy places at the best of times, but Percy was dreading going to this one. He already had an awful cold.
It was near Christmas on a dark evening when he went there and checked in, still wearing his best pin-striped suit.
A wall of fetid steam condensed on his spectacles as he walked towards Patty at reception to an orchestra of coughs, sneezes and kids' screams. He didn't know how doctors coped with this all day.
Patty was always there, never took a day off, was never ill and always welcomed him with the same warm, friendly greeting, as he put his hand on her in the same place each time.
“Good afternoon, Patty. Nice to see you again.”
“Good evening, Percy. Nice to see you again. Your appointment with Doctor Doctor's Name has been registered. Waiting time is approximately fill in minutes, but may vary. Please familiarize yourself with the patient information screens while you are waiting,” came a slick young saleswoman's voice at him.
He'd heard Patty countless times before: she was everywhere. She told him which button to press every time he dialled customer services, no matter which company it was.
Patty stood for Personal Automated Telepathic Terminal for You. Only her voice was human, of course, the rest of her having retired at the age of twenty-five. He longed to see her. He had no idea what she looked like, just a picture he had constructed.
Two tiny circles of clear yellow light were beginning to dissolve away the haze by expanding now, enabling him to at least see something through the condensation till he blew his nose and his spectacles steamed up again. It was like a stinking hot sauna in there, an incubator for germs, but as soon as he tried to open a window, several complained and it wouldn't open any way, he found, as he nearly fell over someone blowing his nose, to get to it.
Settling for a chair, he noticed when the mist began to clear that there was none unoccupied. He stumbled round for a while before deciding to stand beside Patty.
A man in rags came shuffling up to him.
“Got any spare change?” he asked Percy.
Percy said no and the beggar began importuning others in the waiting room, before disappearing into a side corridor somewhere, but before long, another swarthy beggar attired in scruffy trainers, track suit bottoms and a dirty nylon anorak and white cap came shuffling towards him out of the blue and asked him for change.
“No, I haven't, alright?” Percy barked at him.
“Alright, mate. Don't talk to me like that!” the second beggar shouted back at him, but instead of shuffling off to bother someone else, he disappeared into the corridor where the doctors' surgeries were.
Thinking he must soon get ejected, Percy was surprised when after a while, he failed to appear.
Percy went out for a smoke, making a point of displaying the white daffodil in the button hole of his pin-striped jacket by pulling it open and coughing as he passed the dishevelled people in the waiting room.
Through the orange street light shining dimly through the fog drifted a bevelled man in a long overcoat, coming out of the surgery. Muttering to himself just as he passed, he half-turned, then said gruffly, “It's your turn”, before walking back into the fog still muttering.
Percy was taken by surprise. He was glad to be out of the cold, as he brushed the damp off his thick black hair which was only round the sides.
He waded through the pattering, phlegmatic coughs, then heard over the loud speaker: “Percy Nobody for Doctor Doctor's Name: room 17.” They clearly hadn't programmed Patty right. They'd just left her default placeholders for people's names, Percy thought, shaking his head as he strode down the corridor, glancing hard at all the doors.
Room 17 was near the end. The door was closed. He knocked politely, as he always thought it courteous to do, even though the doctor should be expecting him. Here would be a civilized person to communicate with him at least.
Receiving no answer, he decided to go in any way.
His anticipatory look changed to one of horror when he saw sitting at the desk before him the scruffy beggar he'd first refused change to.
“Where's the doctor?” he asked, stopping in his tracks.
In silent toothless grimy reply, the beggar smirked stupidly and pointed at himself.
Outside in the waiting room, Patty announced another Mr. Nobody to see Doctor Doctor's Name.
One of the beggars shuffled forward. His appointment too was in room 17.
He shuffled towards it, coughing and opened the door, walking in. He couldn't see too well, but just as he found a chair and was about to sit down on it, he noticed the doctor was wearing a smart pin-striped suit with a white daffodil in the button hole.
You're at the bottom!