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Ivan D. Hristov in PlovdivLit




Spring was coming. The white wind licked with its warm little tongues the snow along Kainadina and looked for the meadows with a yellow primrose. The rumbling of the full river was getting clearer and louder to Salih Aga’s Konak.

Salih Aga, the person in power and judge at Paschmakli, riding his white horse, whose bridle and harness turned silvery in the distance from the spring sun, came through the half-open gate of the Konak. Short and stocky, girdled with knives and pistols at his waist, he was sitting as riveted in the polished saddle of silver and velvet. Salih Aga came back from the river mills that he had been to visit that morning.

The horses hoofs were striking on the dry cobblestone of the courtyard, where several seymens were going up and down. Aga swiftly jumped to the ground and pushed the reins into the hands of the bilukbashi Strahin.

„Did you bring Makrelata?“ He asked dryly.

“We took him, Salih Aga. What an awful gyaur! We could hardly tie his hands together”, Strahin said through his teeth.

Salih Aga pulled out his amber rosary, turned it uneasily into his hand, and headed to the corner. There Hadji Ivan from Chetak was sitting. As soon as Salih Aga came in, he got up, lowered his head obediently, and made a low bow. Aga responded to the greeting and sat down on the sofa, covered with colourful fleecy rug next to the Hadji.

“What’s wrong? Are there rebelions again?”, Salih asked worried, filling his long pipe with tobacco.

He looked for the eyes of Hadji Ivan, who had stood up and smiled kindly.

“No, Salih Aga. The villigers from Tical have claims for a hill”, the Hadji said, “so, come to Chetak, call old men from both sides to settle this quarrel.”

“Is that it, Hadji Ivan? It’s a minor concern. I must think how to settle the other quarrels. Someone is going to fly down the ravine to feed the eagles!” He raised his hand and cried furiously, “ the rayah has become disobedient, but if the sheep starts kicking, it must bleed!”

Hadji Ivan gave a puzzled look at the Aga.

“Don’t you know, Hadji, what trouble has Makrel’s son of Chokmanovo made?”

“He kidnapped Rada - the promised one for Tenyu Kehaya.”

“Are you saying Rada, Salih Aga?... Rada’s face glows like a moon, and if somebody hangs you on her blond plaits, you will be grateful“, Hadji said with a sigh.

“And I will hang him! No, I will throw Manol into the ravine as an example to the others”, the Aga threatened.

The power-loving Salih Aga was seying the truth. He ruled the region following justice on his own; for the slightest offenses he used to throw the guilty ones in the ravine, and for the bigger, he hanged on the sour plum tree in the yard or shot down.

“I’m leaving, not to bother you, Salih Aga”, Hadji Ivan said, and got up.

“OK, Hadji, OK. And for that trouble I will go to Cetak to fix it,” Aga said after the leaving Hadji Ivan.

Salih Aga was alone. He was walking restlessly as he was smoking his pipe. His fat lip twitched nervously. Aga slapped his hands. One of the guards, a large and bearded Turk, ran into the room and stood obediently in front of him with a bent fez. Salih Aga shouted:

“Get me Manol Makrelata right away!”

After a while four seymens, led by the bilukbashi Strahin, led Manol into the room. The short Salih Aga seemed to diminish even more compared with the figure of the well-built Bulgarian. Manol Makrelata stepped in, looked up in the eyes of Salih Aga.

“Do you know whose son you are, Manol?” Aga asked.

“I know,” Manol replied sharply.

“Your father is a man of a home with honour ... Does he know what you have done?

“He’ll learn,” Manol interrupted him.

Salih Aga threw his head back and turned to Makrelata.

“Why did you kidnap Rada?”

Manol Makrelata took a breath and said in a calm voice:

“I did not kidnap her, she came with me.”

“You’re lying!” cried Aga. “Does a maid follow a man? Do you think that if your father is a friend of mine, I will let you spoil my ruling? For such damn things I throw in the ravine.

Salih Aga signaled with his hand. The seymens took Manol and went outside.

“Wait,” Salih Aga called after them. “Do you have to say something else?” he turned to Manol.

There was silence. Manol seemed to think of something.

“I will not say anything ... I am just asking you, Salih Aga, bring me the kaval. I will go with it to the meadow... After that, I will jump down the ravine alone.

Aga appreciated bravery. He ordered the kaval to be brought to him, to untie his hands and take him to the meadow next to the ravine. Let him sing and play. Salih Aga could wait for a little. Then he would go out and see how Manol’s body fly down and fall onto the jagged rocks.

Salih Aga entered the Konak and started walking grimly around the room. Where was his wife and the pretty Gulsya? His brows scowled, he smoked continually and wiped his sweaty neck. His red face darkened, and a vertical wrinkle between his tense eyebrows gave away his mental anxiety. He listened. Macarelata was singing. The song came clearly to the hearing of the Aga, filled with a wild and pleasant melody,

“Girl, white and black-eyed,

You have lit a blue flame

On my white heart,

but who will put it out

if you, girl, were promised to another one ...”


Salih Aga showed up at the window and gazed with delight at Manol in front of the terribly gaping ravine. He removed his kaval from time to time and sang with a honey voice. The spring wind blew his hair, rocking his shadow, and spreading the song.

The door opened slightly. His wife, shrouded in her yashmak, stood on the threshold. Salih Aga did not notice her. She approached him and pushed him slightly over the shoulder.

“Salih, can you hear, Salih?”

“What’s wrong?” he asked, lost in the song.

“I’ve listened to you all my life,” his wife continued, “listen to me once, too. Promise me that you will listen to me.”

“How can I promise you, not knowing what it is,” Aga said.

“It’s for something good, Salih, it’s for something very good” she begged quietly, standing behind him. “Give me your word!”

“I give you my word. Say now!”, He asked impatiently.

“Do you hear the song – it breaks hearts...”

“It breaks,” Aga interrupted, “because I will throw him into the ravine.”

“Can you kill such a lad,” his wife asked again. “It will be a sin. Forgive him, Salih. Let him go.”

“I don’t let such people go,”Aga said more softly.

“But you have already given me your word”, his wife did not yeild. “I do not know about Rada, but if I was a gyaur, I would follow him...” You will do a good thing, Aga!

“That’s it,” Aga asked smiling. “I’ll give him his life. His song and play turned into an offering.”

“Stay healthy, Salih Aga, long live! His wife started kissing his hands and jumped out happily.”

Salih Aga called Strahin and ordered him to let Manol Makrelata go. The bilukbashi obeyed the Aga’s order, and for the first time since he had been serving with his master, he could not understand him. He was embarrassed and confused...

Salih Aga looked for a long time at Manol walking away, until he lost sight of him.

Translated by Росица Шопска


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