The meaning of being cool

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“Mamma” shouted Johny from across the field, “Hurry, I think that I have got hurt.” A thin, middle-aged lady dressed in white, frilly clothes rushed to the spot where her six-year-old son lay, in the middle of the garden. She gingerly examined his grazed knee. The little boy screamed louder. “There, there Johny,” she said, “Try to be a brave boy. It’s only a little cut. Come try to get up and I will bandage your knee. Come along, hurry up,” and saying this she put her hand forward.

The little boy clutched her hand tightly and was slowly lead inside the house. However his courage ran out the moment he reached his bed and he cried without restraint. “Johny, stop crying,” pleaded his mother. “Martha, get me the first aid kit quickly. Your little brother is hurt. Hurry along.”

A pretty, teenaged girl appeared in the doorway. “What is the matter mother? Why is he shouting his head off? What has happened?” she asked, her voice laced with sarcasm. “Martha, didn’t you hear? Your brother is hurt. He fell down while playing. Now could you please fetch me my kit without asking any further questions.” Martha knew that tone of command well. She grudgingly found the kit and brought it to her mother.

“There” exclaimed their mother, when the bandaging was done. “It will soon get better.” Johny’s persistent cries had subsided for the time being into a soft moan. He looked sadly at his bandaged knee. He heard his mother instruct Martha to remain by his bedside, he heard the clock chime one, he heard the birds twitter in the garden and then he fell asleep.

Johny woke up to find his sister sitting in a corner of the room with a bored expression on her face. She was flipping through the pages of a fashion magazine. He didn’t like her indifferent attitude. He started wailing again, only this time louder than ever. Martha looked up sharply from where she sat. “Johny what is the matter? It’s only a little cut for goodness sake. You are such a baby. Yes that’s what you are-a little cranky baby. Oh my God you are so…. Uncool.”

Johny looked up surprised at his sister. He hated her tone of command. He stopped his crying and wiped his eyes, “I am not a baby,” he screamed. “I am not cranky and I am not uncool, whatever that is.” Martha looked at him jeeringly-“You don’t even know the meaning of uncool, you are such a loser Johny.” “As if you do,” he taunted. “You know what, I think that you don’t know the meaning of the word yourself. You are just fond of using it.”

Martha flushed a hot shade of red. “I do know the meaning,” she screeched, her anger rising by the minute. “It means…uh it means…” she desperately tried to think of a word but her mind seemed to go blank. “Yeah what does it mean?” repeated Johny now thoroughly enjoying this tirade with his older sibling.

It means…, and this time it was Martha’s turn to burst into tears. She ran out and didn’t stop running until she reached the safety of her own room. This was too much for her to bear. How could her younger brother get the better of an argument? How could he accuse her in this horrible manner? Of course she knew the meaning of the word….she just couldn’t express it well enough. Yes that must be it…. she couldn’t explain its precise meaning well enough. She dragged the old dictionary down from her cupboard and flipped through the pages, until her eyes fell on the word cool. She read the meaning out slowly to herself-“of or at a fairly low temperature.” No that couldn’t be the right meaning she thought. It definitely wasn’t used in this sense at school.

Suddenly her eye, fell on the other meaning of the word. She read it out aloud-” fashionably attractive or impressive.” She smiled a little, her eyes sparkled bright. So that was it. That was the true meaning of cool. She closed the dictionary and respectfully put it back in place. Then she decided to go and confront Johny. But she stopped in her resolution midway. It would do no good she thought. Johny would not be satisfied with a mere two words. He would definitely demand further explanation. Well if he did, then she would give it to him. The corners of her mouth tugged into a smile as an idea rooted itself in her brain.

The next morning, Martha dressed herself hurriedly for school. Johny lay in bed still with a sour expression on his face. He believed himself to be too sick to go to school but his mother would not listen to his excuses. Martha looked at his face for a moment to detect any signs of derision, but she soon realized that Johny at any rate had forgotten all about their ‘cool’ argument. But she still had to prove her point.

Martha hurried to school that day in a way she had not done for a long time. The first person she encountered at school was her friend Pam. Her question replaced her greeting-” Do you know the exact meaning of cool Pam?” Martha gasped. Pam looked surprised but nevertheless she forced herself to think. After some minutes of quiet introspection she replied-“It is an adjective used to describe a person who is good-looking, popular…. and…” she stared in space for a moment as if thinking hard-“someone who is enterprising, in fact it is used to describe a person who fits right in.”

“Fits right in” Martha repeated slowly, “Fit in where?” she queried? Pam looked confused- “umm, fit in with other people here, I guess. Oh, I don’t know. Cool is just cool, it doesn’t need to be defined. We all know who the cool people are, right?” Suddenly Martha didn’t feel quite so confident about that.

Thus to clear all her doubts once and for all, Martha next decided to approach her boyfriend Robert. “Well cool can have relative meanings,” explained Robert. “Relative meanings,” repeated Martha as if demanding clarification. “Yes relative meanings. Cool may mean totally different things to different people. To me for instance, it signifies people who are good company, who know how to dress properly, basically people who know how to carry themselves in public and are socially acceptable,”

“So people who are not socially acceptable are uncool,” questioned Martha now growing more confused with every passing minute. “As I said Martha, cool can have relative meanings. I just gave you my definition of being cool,” said Robert in an exasperated tone. Martha sighed. Maybe Johny was not such a loser after all.

Martha really didn’t know which door to knock on next. She was immensely dissatisfied with all the ‘relative’ definitions that she had received. A full two hours of contemplation told her to go ask the person whom she ranked at the top of her own personal ‘cool’ scale. So she accordingly went to whom she thought was the most popular girl at school-Brenda.

“Well cool means me,” explained Brenda after some thinking. “Look at me, I am pretty, I am smart, I am popular and everybody likes me…well the cool people do anyway.” Martha looked at her in disbelief. “You call that a definition Brenda?”

“If you really want a definition Martha, I can define uncool to you in a very conventional way,” said Brenda with a haughty toss of her head. Then not waiting for an answer she calmly continued-“Uncool is a synonym for a social outcast or a pariah. Someone whom nobody wants to associate with or be seen in public with,” Brenda’s eyes gleamed-“because such people are losers. They are ugly and fat, they have a horrible sense of dressing and,” she paused as if for effect ” they even try to act cool.”

“What?” cried Martha who wanted to keep the cool category distinct from the uncool. “Yes,” continued Brenda as if uninterrupted-“Some make fools out of themselves trying to act in the cool way. Take Warren for example…yuck, what a super loser.”

Martha’s head throbbed. She knew Warren. He was a very nice person and a close friend. Hot tears sprang up in her eyes but she would not let them flow. She looked Brenda in the eye. “Well Brenda, the fact that Warren may be ‘uncool’ to people like you doesn’t change him one bit. He was, is and always will be a wonderful person…too wonderful perhaps for ‘cool’ people like you to realize his worth.”

Brenda couldn’t believe her ears. She stood dumbfounded and silently watched the retreating figure of the other girl.

When Martha got back home, she was sad and despondent. Unshed tears still lingered in her eyes. She just had to talk to someone right then and there. She ran to the garden to find her mother and found her sitting in the usual position. She hugged her hard and slowly but surely told her everything. At last she raised her head a little to meet her mother’s eye. She saw her smile.

“Mother why do you smile so?” she asked puzzled.

“Because I am glad at what happened today,” was the earnest reply. “You learnt a lot today Martha. You learnt what most people are not fortunate enough to learn at your age. You learnt to value human beings for what they really are worth and not for what they appear to be worth. Do you understand me darling?” “Yes mother,” replied Martha, the cloud of confusion finally clearing away from her features. “Then dear, I think that you are a very cool person yourself.” Martha smiled happily.

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