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Stray Comma

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Nana sits down at her desk at 9:00 am. The financial statements for the new client that she printed out the night before are piled on her desk. She pulls her pot of pens forward. There are three pens. Orange for items to questions, green for items to be pulled for the report and blue for general notes. She picks up the blue pen and gets to work.

“Are you coming for lunch, Nana?” a voice pulls her from the world of numbers.

She looks up. It is the intern who recently joined the team.

Nana pulls out a smoothie from the small fridge under her desk and holds it up, “I wanted to try to get a third pass on these statements before the meeting at two.”

“Can I get you anything?” asks the intern.

“I’m good,” Nana responds returning to the papers.

She glances over the papers for Q3. She has already highlighted a number of errors, mainly regarding tax calculations. She often finds that in-house accountants tend to make optimistic tax calculations. Human optimism was not a rubric for assessment that she had learnt at accounting school, but she never failed to see its fingerprints.

Turning to Q4, as her eyes pass over the numbers, Nana feels unease in her stomach. Q4 was the company’s best month according to the statements. The numbers were huge but generally correct. Her earlier reviews had caught a couple of points that she wanted to question, but there was something else that she could not quite pin down. She needs to clear her mind.

Nana gets up and takes the elevator to the fortieth floor. As it climbs up and then descends back down to the twenty-third floor where her team sits, the cloud of numbers in her mind shifts and jumps. She can see the statement in her mind’s eye. Between the thirtieth and the twenty-ninth floor, going down, she sees it. The comma. A stray comma, where there should have been a decimal point. It would not have necessarily led to mistaken calculations and was probably an error in communication between two colleagues, perhaps across international borders, but she had caught it. The cloud of numbers was in order. The unease in her stomach was gone. The elevator doors opened. Floor twenty-three.

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