Bethan Tries Normal

Escaping my parents turned out to be a more complex task than I expected. There were too many things that could go wrong, too many security checks in the outside world to stop a 12-year-old girl from leaving on her own.

I had to worry about money, too. Finding work would be only the first of my problems. How would I get paid unless a bank agreed to open an account for me? I am sure there must be some rule stopping 12-year old girls from getting a bank account. They would require at least a signature from my parents — and the whole point is sidestepping them. And even if I did manage to find work and get paid, there was the whole nightmare of looking for a place to live. How many landlords would rent to a 12-year-old girl, regardless of her income?

The plan needed fine-tuning. It would require a lot more effort than I thought.

Wouldn’t it be better to stay home? Even if they took away my computer? Even if they grounded me forever?

The only way to find out was to try that alternative. So, before they could ground me, I decided to ground myself. One whole day without programming. I wouldn’t even get near a computer, just to stay on the safe side.

I looked around at the other girls and boys at school and realised none of them wanted to become a programmer. None of them felt anxious about being away from a computer — they preferred their phones, anyway. Not a single one of them was devising a plan to run away from their parents to develop their digital selves. And it seemed to be working fine for them. Their smiles made me feel more confident about my decision. I could try being normal. If it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?

We were learning quadratic equations that day. Actually, we had learnt them the previous week. After that, the following classes were dedicated to solving one equation after another, so that we would all be able to do well on our tests. A repetitive task with predictable results. That was what computers were for. Why would we waste so much time learning how to manually do in minutes something that a machine can do in a split second? Wouldn’t it be better to learn why quadratic equations are useful and in what circumstances they could help us solve real problems? That way we could be the ones feeding equations to the computer, rather than trying to compete with them. I wanted to continue that train of thought, but that’s when I realised that a normal girl wouldn’t be thinking that. Eyes on the teacher, Bethan.

Mr Ledford wanted us to solve this equation:

x² + x -4 = 0

It couldn’t even be factored, so I had to use the quadratic formula. I knew the formula. Applying it would be a pointless mechanic task. Why did normal people put themselves through that? Maybe I wasn’t normal. Instead of trying to calculate an answer like my classmates, I left my pencil on my desk and started wondering about programs that solved quadratic equations. I was sure there were quite a few out there. You could download the program, plug in any quadratic equation and, as long as it was solvable, the program would give you the solutions. That much was straightforward. But how did they work? How would their code look like?

Before I could come up with anything, however, I heard Mr Ledford’s voice calling me.

“Bethan, you seem to be done with your calculations. Did you find an answer? Would you share it with the whole class?”

Uh-oh. What would a normal girl do?

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