Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Hard and Soft (04/23/09)
TITLE: Hearing Voices
By Fiona Dorothy Stevenson
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Approaching his desk, Robin produced a sheaf of papers. “Mr. Gray, would you mind looking at these figures, please? There seems to be some discrepancy in the allotment of last month’s costings.”
Mr. Gray reached for the papers and ran his eye down the lists. After a moment or two he looked up. “Robin, where is the discrepancy?”
Robin pointed vaguely to a section of the paper and lowered his voice. “It’s in the costs of the sugar production at…”
Mr. Gray could not hear the finish of his sentence. His fingers strayed to the hearing aid, increasing the volume. His eyes continued to follow Robin’s pointing finger, which wandered aimlessly across the columns of facts and figures. Bert came across to the desk.
“Robin,” he interrupted them. “Have you seen…”
His voice too faded away. Mr. Gray’s fingers readjusted the volume of the hearing aid. His eyes continued to search for Robin’s discrepancy. Allan joined the group. “What seems to be the problem here?” he asked.
Robin answered with a wink. “There seems to be something odd about the costing…” His voice faded to almost a whisper. Mr. Gray began to look harried. Back went his forefinger to the device in his ear. He still could not see anything in the lists of figures to warrant Robin’s query.
The door opened and the accountant walked in. He looked flustered and his normally loud voice was louder than usual. “Robin, have you seen the costings for last months sugar production at Chipinga?”
Robin straightened guiltily. Allan and Bert retired to their desks. Mr. Gray looked pained, his fingers scrabbling desperately at his hearing aid. Mr. Barnes looked at the four with dawning comprehension. “My office, Robin. With the figures. NOW!” With this barked instruction he turned and left.
Robin, pink with embarrassment, thanked Mr. Gray-in normal tones-and picking up the papers followed Mr. Barnes from the room. Allan and Bert bent assiduously to their work. Mr. Gray looked from one to the other, making final adjustments to his hearing aid. He sighed, realizing that he had once again been set up. He returned his attention to the work on his desk.
Robin stood before Mr. Barnes desk, hands behind his back, a curl drooping on his forehead. He looked like a penitent schoolboy. Mr. Barnes knew better than to accept Robin’s apparent penitence at face value. He regarded to young man thoughtfully before he spoke.
“Sit down, Robin. You know that Mr. Gray has for many years been a very valued member of staff. He joined the company as a very junior accounts clerk-much like yourself.” He added emphasis to the clause. “He rose through the ranks to become secretary. He should now be retired, but last year his wife suffered a major stroke. The initial cost of her treatment and the ongoing cost of home care have sapped his financial resources to the point that he needs to continue earning a salary. His own illness and resultant disability have meant that the only position we could offer him is the one he currently holds. He has the grace and humility to have accepted responsibility for ensuring that the work you boys do is correct and accurate.”
His voice was hard and loud. Robin shuffled his feet miserably. This was not the first time Mr. Barnes had explained the position to him. Mr. Barnes spoke again. His voice was soft and tired. He looked down at his desk in dismissal of the young man.
“I will arrange your transfer, temporarily, to the factory at Chipinga. Walters is going on overseas leave. I trust that the time at the factory will enable you to reassess your own responsibility and value to the company. You may go.”
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