“Shani, come on. I haven’t got time. You’ll be late to the class.”

I grabbed a brand-new notebook and then I ran a brush through my curly hair, but it still stuck out in all directions. I tucked my button-down uniform shirt into my pleated skirt and ran downstairs.

“Hurry,” Mommy said.

I followed my mother into the car.

“They are very strict about lateness, Shani. You don’t want to make a bad impression on the first day of class.”

I sighed. As soon as anyone asked me anything, the bad impression would come. How on earth was I supposed to understand a computer coding class. I flunked computers last year.

I didn’t fit in this kind of class, but Mommy wanted me to go.

“Now if any of it is confusing or too hard, don’t raise your hand. We have a tutor lined up and she’ll help you. Just try your best. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

I swallowed. This class was for computer geniuses and that was definitely not me.

We pulled up to the school building and my stomach sank. I saw groups of girls heading towards the building. They all looked crisp and confident.

No matter how many times I tucked in my shirt or brushed my hair, I would never come close to their sleek perfect looks.

“Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” I said.

“This is supposed to be fun. Where’s your smile? Good luck, Shani.” Mommy waited for me to open the car door.

I took a deep breath and headed towards the large gray building. There was a big welcome to Girls Who Code sign. If only Aviva was here with me. She would keep me company and do all the hard work.

I squared my shoulders and strode towards the door.

There were large signs with arrows pointing towards the auditorium. I stepped into the auditorium and glimpsed a row of girls seated in the front.

I took an end seat and tried to be inconspicuous. No one looked up. They were all facing the teacher, intently listening to every word. The teacher was a petite woman with a short, dark sheitel and large tortoise-shell glasses that gave her an owlish look. “You girls are a select group, so we can move quickly and cover lots of material. Girls, coding is a new, open world, and you’re going to advance beyond your wildest dreams.”

The auditorium was so big and echoey it reminded me of MetLife Stadium. This place was gigantic.

“This is a small group. Let’s go around and introduce ourselves and tell what you hope to gain from the course,” the teacher said.

I wanted to shrink away and disappear. Introducing myself to this group of geniuses, what would I say? I’m taking this class because my mother wants me to learn coding.

That’ll really sound dumb.

The teacher nodded towards a girl with a ponytail and glasses. “I’m Tikvah Harris, and I’ve always enjoyed problem-solving. I want to learn to code so I can create programs that help people.”

I’m Leah Ginzberg. I want to learn coding so that one day I can study computers and eventually get a good programming job.”

“Dalia Fried. I’ve always wanted to learn how to code. My older brother is a wiz at it.”

Lucky girl, I mused. You have an older brother who can help you, though she probably didn’t need help.

Suddenly, the teacher was looking at me.

“Shoshana Karmel,” I whispered. “I want to learn coding so I can… so I can code,” I stammered.

There was an awkward silence and then the teacher moved to the next girl. The girl sitting next to me turned to me and whispered. “Hi, I’m Penina Katz. I don’t know anything about computers either.”

“How did you know I don’t know anything about them?” I whispered back.

“I could tell. I’m just in this class ’cause – well it’s a long story. I don’t really know if I’ll finish it or not.”

A warm feeling spread through me. A friend. At least I wasn’t alone here anymore.

The teacher droned on about various coding strategies, and then she gave out a paper with problems and we broke into groups. I was with Penina. She looked at the problems for a few minutes and then she said. “So, tell me about yourself.”

“We’re supposed to be working on—”

“Do you think I know how to do this?”

“I don’t either,” I said.

“I’ll start. I’m Penina. I live right near this school, and I go to Beis Sarah. I have one older sister and I hate math, computers, and science.”

I giggled. “Me, too. Not the older sister. There’s just me.”

“So, why are you taking this? It’s hard to get in.”

“My mom. It means a lot to her if I take this course, so I’m trying to please her. She thinks if I take it, I’ll learn coding and then I’ll take off with it.”

“And what do you think?”

“I know I will never understand it. We had some coding lessons last year in computers. I failed everything. I didn’t understand it and honestly it just doesn’t interest me.”

Penina frowned. “See, if you are interested in something, then you work at it and you can be good at it. If you’re not interested, it’s really hard to work at it.”

I nodded.

“My favorite subject is history. I love reading history books and especially historical fiction,” she said.

“I like that. I also like to write. I, well… I’m not supposed to, but I write books and stories. I can’t help it.”

“What do you mean you’re not supposed to?”

Just then the teacher sauntered over to us. “How’s it going, you two? Any progress on the coding?”

My heart started pounding.

“We just started,” Penina said.

Penina lifted the paper with problems and started doing some calculations on it.

The teacher called everyone back together and each group was asked to share their results. Luckily, time ran out before it was our turn.

“I have to run to pick up my little cousin. I’ll call you to work on it. “ Penina took my number and dashed out the door.

“How was it?” Mom asked when she drove up to pick me up.

“It was good,” I said.

“I knew you’d like it.” Mom smiled.

I didn’t explain that I liked meeting Penina, not the coding class.

To be continued…

By Susie Garber