It happened at Lanni and Harna’s new apartment, right after dinner, while we were all watching Hari’s Hapless Hugmups, a popular television comedy on Thorgelfaynese television. Because they had more guests than furniture, they brought a couple of suitcases in from the bedroom to serve as chairs, and I volunteered to sit on one. Right in the middle of the funniest part of the show, I leaned back in laughter and inadvertently sat on my jacket pocket.
There was a crunch. “Oh no!” I cried, pulling my jacket out from underneath myself.
Harna switched on a lamp (Thorgelfaynese generally watch television in the dark) and inquired what had happened.
“I broke my eyeglasses!” I replied in dismay. The lenses were fine, but the frame was broken in the worst possible place—right between the eyes. A number of the guests asked what eyeglasses are, since they had not yet seen me wear them. Up till now, I was the only one on the planet who wore glasses!
Everyone who needs vision correction here gets lens surgery, and it looks like that’s going to include me! It was quite a hassle convincing the provincial Ministry of Personal Vehicles to give me a driver’s license, since my unaided eyesight isn’t good enough. They simply could not believe that the eyeglasses would remain in place and that they would not injure me in an accident. I went to all that trouble to keep my glasses only because I am a little scared of surgery.
The next day, I went to the eye doctor, of course. He was very reassuring. Local anesthesia, routine procedure, nothing to it, you won’t feel a thing; I’ve heard it all before. The only thing that the doctor didn’t like was performing non-emergency surgery in the winter when there are no Hugmups in the hospital, but I couldn’t exactly spend the next five months in my apartment! As it turned out, the surgery was no problem at all. Local anesthesia, routine procedure, nothing to it, I didn’t feel a thing! I thought the doctor was chatting with me to soothe my nerves before the operation, but just as I thought we were going to get started, it was over!
But during the procedure, I remarked to the doctor, “I guess this means I will lose my membership in the smallest minority group on Homeland!”
“Really? And what might that be?” the doctor replied in a distracted tone—he was in the process of removing my left lens and replacing it, but I didn’t know it at the time.
“First of all, I am one of only two Humans on the planet; and second, I am—or was—the only person to wear eyeglasses!” I started to count them off on my fingers, but the doctor made me lay my arms back down at my sides.
“Crude, but effective,” he said, turning the two parts of my eyeglasses over in his hands before tossing them into a wastebasket. “But what do you mean by ‘minority group’?”
Maybe my Thorgelfaynese is not as good as I had thought. I never heard the term for ‘minority group’ so I just made up a phrase. What I said, literally translated, was ‘population subset.’ I explained that a population subset is a group of people who are socially distinct because they share certain characteristics which are not universal to the entire population.
“Sounds like double-talk to me,” the doctor mused, waving instruments around studiously.
It did sound like double-talk, I thought. I tried to clarify the concept: Most often, a population subset has an impaired ability to avail itself of all social possibilities because of its distinctive traits, I explained. Somehow it still didn’t come out right.
The doctor stopped his work momentarily. I couldn’t see a thing at this point, but I imagined that he rested his hands on his thighs as he sat on that wheeled stool.
“I am sorry, but I don’t follow your thoughts at all!” he apologized.
“For example,” I continued, “there are a number of people in Fjarn who speak Thorgelfaynese as a native language; is this not correct?”
“It is,” he agreed.
“Then Thorgelfaynese-speaking Fjarnians are a subset of the Fjarnian population!” I said triumphantly.
“I still don’t understand,” the doctor insisted, “What difference does mathematics make to social life?”
Finally I resorted to illustrations from Earth. I talked about Blacks in the United States, Bretons in France, Jews in Russia, Sikhs in India, Wolofs in Liberia, Tamils in Ceylon, and the Welsh in Britain. I explained how some population subsets face severe adversity, whereas others have only minor problems. Eventually he got my point, and I was relieved. I really could not have gone much further once I had explained about Mohawks in New York!
“Now I understand you,” he said. “But no nation on Homeland has what you call ‘population subsets’ except in the mathematical sense.”
I started to say something, but the doctor continued elaborating on his point. Reflecting over the past few months, I realized that my skin color has no affect whatsoever on my life in our beloved duchy, even though I am one of the only two white covenanters of Thorgelfayne. Everyone else is quite black. I slowly realized that the whole concept of a disadvantaged minority group is as alien on Homeland as a blizzard in Tahiti.
“So you see,” the doctor concluded, “as you explain it, Thorgelfayne could be viewed as having no population subsets, one population subset, or twenty-five million subsets. But there are no other possibilities.”
Oh well, I thought, guess I won’t be starting any liberation movements!