It was just another morning, and as usual, I took the metro. I found an empty seat somewhere, without looking around. The metro stations passed by while I was still dozing in a morning haze but after a while something started to disturb me. I opened my eyes and saw what it was: someone was staring at me.
It was a man, about fifty years old, with a rather calm and intelligent exterior. He was sitting in a chair opposite me and seemed nice enough but, still, he was staring at me in a most peculiar way. Only now, when he realized I was staring back at him, he leaned back and smiled in an assuring way.
“Don’t worry, I am a doctor,” he said. And then he took a piece of paper out of the pocket of his coat and showed me the certificate proving it.
That did little to reassure me, he saw, so he added quickly: “You seem to be perfectly healthy, except for a little lack of sleep and you worry too much. But apart from that you are fine.”
“What… What are you doing?” I stammered. Not very coherently, I admit, but the man seemed to understand me anyway. He was probably used to this.
“Like I said, I am a doctor. And this is my office.” He waved a hand around to indicate the metro train.
‘What… what?” I said. If people would judge my mental capacities by the way I speak, they would rate me not much higher than a chimpanzee.
He smiled. “I am a doctor without an office. Or, rather, with a very big office, which consists of the entire metro system of Barcelona. It’s much cheaper this way. I don´t have to pay the rent for a real office. I live in a very small apartment, which I share with three rose-sellers and an accordion player, so there is really no space to receive patients there either.”
“But… but…” I said.
“Look, it’s quite simple. Officially, I am retired. But, of course, I cannot live on just a small pension fund. Every morning, I step unto a metro line. I look at the people. And when someone looks tired or ill, I sit down and give them a consult. That’s my job. I am a doctor.”
“And… But… And do they pay you for that?”
“Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. I am not getting rich with it, but it’s better than staying at home, looking at the empty walls of my little flat and having to listen to the accordion player practicing. I earn just enough to pay my part of the rent and buy some bread. Some days, I can afford a glass of wine.”
“And do people never get angry?”
“No…” he said surprised. “Why would they? It’s almost for free.”
“Anyway,” he continued. “In most of the metros, there are one or two retired policemen. So if there were a problem, I am sure they would help me.”
I looked around me, seeing my fellow passengers with a different eye.
The doctor seemed to know what I was thinking about. (He seemed to be a pretty good doctor, as a matter of fact.) “Oh, there are plenty of people working here. There is a baker, over there… He doesn’t have a bakery anymore. He doesn’t even have an oven. But every day, he takes the metro and brings flour and a bottle of water and on request he will make the perfect dough for you. You will only have to take it home and heat it up. He only asks 20 cents for it.”
Not bad, I thought. In real bakeries, nowadays, the cheapest bread costs almost five euro.
“Then there is a solicitor. He works on a different line, in the Sarria and Pedralbes neighborhood. He gives legal advice for 10 cents an hour. He is doing rather well, actually. On that same line, there is a banker who gives investment advice. He is almost always wrong, but, people still trust him for some reason. They even pay him for it. Strange thing…” He shook his head in bewilderment.
We were both quiet for a while. I had had no idea. Apparently, there was an entire world going on underground. Then I asked: “And, there is nobody who… I don´t know… controls you?”
He laughed. “You mean, like a boss? Well, actually, there is one guy, mostly asleep somewhere in the back, who claims that he is our king. And, since he is a completely useless person, he is actually perfect for that. But apart from him…” He hesitated. “Some of us actually live here underground all the time. They never come up anymore. So, we thought, maybe we needed some underground government with elections and a parliament and all that…” He shrugged. “But then we realised that that would only destroy everything. We are happy with the way things are.”
Suddenly he stood up. “If you don´t mind, I have to get back to work. There are more patients.” And, after one more look at my face, he added: “Like I said: you need to sleep a bit more. And not worry so much. For the rest you are perfectly healthy.”
Then he walked away, looking for more patients.