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
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
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
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
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.