Broken Windchimes

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

I first heard non-Pané music in an alley behind an auditorium in Lhelomika. Lhelomika, the arts capitol of Djapé, made me nervous. The last two times I had performed there, I shivered as I hit each note—not with cold, but with fear.

That afternoon, I walked outside the auditorium, trying to calm myself. From a nearby building, I heard a raspy male voice—a deep unaltered adult male voice—attempting to sing a melody. Some instruments I could not identify provided a music bed behind the voice.

The instruments were more harmonious than the voice, even though they did not hit pure tones. But the voice held me. It sang of a wonderful world, one that had beauty in its simple existence.

Strangely, the harshness of the voice, its lack of tone and musicality, provided a contrast to the lyrics so profound that it accented them.

I stood outside the building, listening as the song played, knowing that this was human music and it was forbidden to me. If Gibson, my manager, caught me, he would chastise me. Male sopranos who performed as long as I had—some twenty years now—were rare, a commodity worth millions.

Each day that I survived in my rarified position as performer—a living windchime, as the Pané called us—was a victory. I knew my time was limited.

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