Love Letters to Earth

by Henry Quicke







The Two Sighs of God


In the beginning was a God with no voice.  Why, after all, would God need a voice when She is alone in the universe?  It took perhaps billions of years, say the Aap, but even God grew weary of occupying the universe by Herself.  She sat on a rock one day and sighed, the first noise She had ever made.  The noise surprised even Her.  And then the noise returned to Her in an echo from the Great Mountains at the far end of the universe and She was pleased.[1] 

After hearing the echo of Her first sigh, God entertained Herself with Her newfound voice by humming and singing, and before long She found that Her voice was so perfect it brought things into existence.  God sang, and the stars formed in the sky.  The moon and the sun appeared.  The animals sprang from the plants and the birds sprang from the animals.  She sang and created the Aap, the one creature who could sing back to Her.  And She was pleased.

Now the Aap keep singing, knowing that it is their first purpose on earth.  They sing when they are out by themselves, herding their goats or collecting berries.  They sing in pairs when they go off to the higher elevations for rarefied romantic interludes.  They sing as a village on special religious occasions throughout the year, their voices turned to the sky in prayer.

The Aap also have plenty of musical instruments to accompany their singing or to replace their singing when their voices grow tired.  They have at least five different kinds and sizes of drums, three stringed instruments, and eight kinds of flutes.  Some of them are made from the bones of long-dead Aap, who would consider it a great honor to continue making music after death.  The tooth flute makes its music by whistling through a set of human teeth.  The hip drum is formed by stretching an animal hide over two joined human pelvises.  You beat the hip drum with a radius and an ulna, the bones of a human forearm.

In each Aap household, there is a voice singing or an instrument playing all day and much of the night.  When an Aap reaches adolescence, he or she must leave home and serve three years in another home as a pala.  It is the pala’s duty to create suitable music for all family occasions.  Thus, a pala develops a repertoire of breakfast, lunch, and dinner music, cooking music, cleaning up music, waking up and going to sleep music, bathing music, etc.  A pala may accompany an individual family member on a long journey to visit relatives or on a short trip to relieve himself behind a rock.

During the three years of service, the young Aap is also allowed time alone to compose a love song for a future husband or wife.  Those with poor singing voices will compose this love song on a musical instrument.  Then, at the end of three years, the young Aap is set free to search for a mate.  Usually, he already has one picked out, probably one who is herself near the end of her stint as a pala.  He will go to her house and begin to sing his love song to her every night, and when she begins to sing her own love song in return, he knows that she will come to him soon.

There is a legend told about one pala with the most beautiful voice ever heard in the village.  The family he served was the luckiest in the village, they say, and the husband and wife and two small children lived in constant bliss, bobbing on waves of the pala’s gentle voice.

At the end of three years, the pala, as desirable as he was, did not marry right away.  He had fallen in love with a deaf girl who cared nothing for him or his beautiful voice.  Night after night, he sang outside her window, knowing that she could not hear him, but knowing, too, that it was all he had, since by looks alone he was no better than average.  Night after night, the village heard him, and they held each other and cried for him.  The deaf girl must have known he was there beneath her window, but she didn’t grant him even a single look.

Then, one night, the tormented young singer had guard duty in the village, which meant that he had to stay up all night and make sure the Aaps’ musical prayers never ceased.  For the Aaps, it is the worst blasphemy for the music to ever fall silent, which is why, at any time of night, there are at least two Aaps working in shifts to perpetuate the melody of Aap life.

The young man was paired with an older drummer that night, and they played the early morning shift in the last hours before sunrise.  At some point, the drummer was silenced when he was attacked and killed suddenly by a snow leopard.  The sweet-voiced singer, tired and in a half-asleep trance from too many sleepless nights, apparently did not notice the silence of the other half of his duo across the village.  His voice grew weaker and weaker, until the final note fell to his chest.  There was deathly silence, and no prayers floating up to God’s ears.

The village apoli, a sort of musical director, was the first to notice the silence that morning before the sun rose.  The apoli ran out of her house and sang loudly and quickly, as if to make up for the silence, and ran to the post of the drummer, where she found nothing but a few drops of blood.  Then she ran to the post of the singer, whom she shook violently awake, all the while singing as loud as she could.  The two exchanged horrified looks, and the singer knew instantly what he had done.  He stood up and left the village, the apoli’s voice following him up into the mountains.  He wept as he walked, his sobs the only sound he could hear after a while.  He climbed directly to the edge of a tall, east-facing cliff just as the sun was creeping over the horizon.  There he clutched his chest and leapt into the abyss, his final sweet-voiced shout resonating in the canyon, surviving him.  The village heard it, all except the deaf girl, and they sat up in their beds, clutched their own chests, and cried.

God heard it, too, and that was the only other time in the history of the universe that She sighed.



[1] Sometimes the echo of this sigh can be heard still, like distant music, when one camps alone in the mountains and the wind is calm and every living thing holds its breath simultaneously.