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Peter Sharov‘s sleep was uneasy that night. He woke up at dawn, went out onto the veranda, and looked at the starry sky. Towards the dark end of the horizon, many stars, which had so far stood high in the sky, had leveled. It was quiet around, in the way it usually is, just before dawn, but that silence was short.
In the early morning of April, the inhabitants of Batak were jingling again with the white copper pots along the narrow streets, heading for water. Some men riding their mules were hurrying to the fields to plough them.
Petar Sharov with his family were also getting ready to go to work. He fed the oxen, tightened the plough. His wife, Todora, laid the table and invited her elder children Ivancho and Iglika,
„Sit at the table, work is waiting for us!”
Then she nursed her younger child, Angelcho. From the room downstairs, the voices of Grandpa Ivan and Grandma Iglika could be heard.
The family of Sharovs had just sat down at the table when they heard gunshots. They looked out the window and what to see - there were red fezes in the lower corner of the village. Several houses and barns were blazing. From all over the village, people began to run chaotically in all directions. Some fled to the forest in panic. Children‘s cry and screams of women were heard. A large crowd of peasants were running in the lower corner of the village towards the church.
Petar Sharov, a confirmed rebel, grabbed the rifle and went out. He went down where the rebels were, but was killed on spot by a Turkish bullet. The children Ivancho and Iglika ran out frightened. They joined another group of children from the village and fled to the nearby forest.
Todora grabbed her three months old child, Angelcho, from his cradle. She was running as fast as she could along the street. When she saw that the Turks were crossing her way, she bent down and left the child on the ground. She began to run harder. So she reached the crossroads of the village of Rakitovo. There a Turk caught her up, picked up his rifle and fired into her. A spurt of blood flowed from her head. She fell silent down on the road.
The Turk-killer turned into the street from where the bride came, and nearly trampled over the infant in the middle of the road. He bent down, took the child, pulled a large knife from his waist-band and cut the skin of baby’s head in the sign of a cross. The baby screamed loudly. The Turk threw it down the chasm.
Grandfather Ivan and grandmother Iglika had gone out into the yard and were moaning and making cross signs terrified. Three Turks, armed with yatagans and guns, pushed the gate and entered the courtyard. One of them at one powerful scoop cut off the grandfather‘s Ivan head. Granny Iglika was frightened and started screaming and stretched out her two arms as if to stop him. She swung to her. The two of them fell dead in the yard almost at the same time.
Then the Turks came in and began to plunder. They took the livestock out of the cattle-shed. The one who slashed the old pople opened the door of the barn, grabbed an armful of straw, and carried it to the lower room. He set the straw on fire, took some of it with flame, and returned to the barn. , The Sarovs’ house and barn got the fire at the same time.
On the fifth day of assaulting Batak, the old Atanass descended from the Batak’s huts to see what had survived the fire. As he was walking along the road to the burning houses, he heard that something was bleating like a kid. She noticed that there was something black in the blackberry bushes next to the abyss and that it was starting to cry from time to time.
The old Atanas stepped into the abyss and reached in the blackberry bushes. He took out a baby-infant, his head cut into a cross, and the wound swollen and running sore. He took him to the hut where there were other people who had managed to escape from the village. There were also the elder brother and sister of the child taken out of the abyss. They said the baby was their brother, but they did not know what to do with him. There were old people who said,
“It is a sin in the eyes of God to let the child die!”
They made for him an ointment of sheep’s oil and pine resin, heated on fire. They began to daub Angelcho‘s wound with this medicine. They fed him whatever they could. Within a week or two the wound healed.
One day the old Rada from Bratsigovo came to Batak’s huts, too. She was related by marriage with the old Atanas. Her husband had perished as a rebel. He saw the baby and felt sorry for him. The old Rada took the baby in her arms. The old Atanas told her:
„It’s for you, Rado! Be happy with him!”
“Thanks God! Long live and good health for him!” replied the old Rada.
Ivancho and Iglika said goodbye to Angelcho. The old Rada put the child in a swing and took him to Bratsigovo.
In spring and summer, the old Rada went to work on the fields. She was digging up vineyards; she was going to reap the wheat. She would put the swing of her back and carry Angelchio in it. She had torn a linen old shirt for the child’s diapers. She often bathed him in the little tray and washed his clothes.
At the age of nine months Angelcho began to stand up and in the tenth month he started to walk. The old Rada was happy. She baked special small round bread for the occasion, lit a candle on it, incensed around it, and gave it away in the neighborhood for the child’s health.
Angelcho was three or four years old and started going with the pitcher for water. He used to meet the goats and play with the other children in the neighborhood.
One morning he asked the old Rada,
“Mum, why don’t I have a dad like the other kids!”
“Listen, son, your father was killed by the Turks and that’s why you don’t have one,” she said.
Angelcho did not ask anymore. Years were going in poverty and misery. The child was helping the old Rada at home - he would sweep the room, bring wood in. He would go to work with her to the fields and vineyards of the people. Another severe winter had passed, the spring came. Angelcho was now seven years old. People stopped looking for the old Rada to do work for them anymore. With the years she was becoming weaker. Decrepit people are useless even for themselves.
One Sunday morning she uttered words that she had hidden deeply in her heart.
“Listen, son, I’m not your real mother! Your mother and your father were from Batak... There the Turks killed them, and a cross was cit on your head. They, bastards, threw you in the abyss near your house.
Angelcho was listening silently. The child’s head could not understand everything that he had heard from the old Rada’s mouth. Tears were running down his cheeks. She put her hand on Angelcho’s shoulder and told him,
“Your people found you there and brought you up to the huts. From there, the Lord had ordered me to take you. I brought you up in good will. You see I’m old now and people no longer want me to do work for them... I cannot feed two throats anymore. You need to look for your bread somewhere else...”
Angelcho took the bag in which Grandma Rada had put a piece of black bread and salty curd cheese. He took the torn rug and walked out. All his friends with their mothers and fathers gathered together to send him off. Some of the neighbours searched their belts. They gave him a coin and wished him good luck. The child put the coins in the pocket of his coat. He shook hands with his friends; they hugged as if they parted forever. The old Rada kissed him, hugged him and started weeping.
Angelo went slowly to the east like someone unwanted. He passed the blue stones, and his heart twisted in grief and fear. He had not gone anywhere outside the village land, and now the road before him frightened him with the unknown ahead.
Angelicho was approaching Perushtitsa in the evening. In the meadows outside the village flocks of sheep were grazing, and large shepherd dogs were barking around them. As soon as they noticed him, they rushed to him. They cut off his pants, bit him, and took his rug. The shepherds heard the child’s cry. They called the dogs and ran to the homeless child, but it was too late.
Angelco was screaming terrified. They took him to the house of one of the shepherds. The bitten places they cleaned with some rakia and bandaged them. They stitched up the pants and the rug. By midnight Angelcello was crying and telling his unfortunate fate until the sleep beat him.
Early in the morning, they put the child into a wagon from Perushtitsa. The villigers from Perushtitsa were going to the market in Plovdiv. Once they reached the city, they showed him the Jewish quarter where he could start as an apprentice somewhere. When Angelo saw the Jews dressed in narrow trousers and speaking in another language, he immediately fled back. He took into a street. Travellers who were going to the villages beyond Maritza caught him up. They asked him,
“Where are you going, child?”
“I’m going to search for my bread!” he replied.
They wondered who was so crazy to take such an infant for work. They called him to go with them. Angelcho continued desperately along the road to the village of Stryama.
At that time, workers from the villages of Narechen and Sheytanovo worked in Stryama. They were hard-working people, led by master Ilia Topevichara. He had wandered for many years in Greek and Turkish lands. He had built nice two-floor houses with raised bay windows and picturesque ceilings. He had raised churches.
The builders were laying the fountation stones of a new house at the end of the village. Suddenly they left the trowels and stared at the road where an exhausted little boy, about seven years old, was hardly walking. He had a pouch on its shoulder and a colorful little rug put over it, the end of which was dragging on the road.
The boy approached them and Master Ilia asked him:
“Where are you going, boy?”
Angelcho paused, rubbing with his hands his eyes full of tears.
“I’m going, uncle, to make a living... I hope to find a job as a farmhand. Good people told me that I can find work in this village...”
“Where are you from, boy?” Topevichara asked him again.
“From Batak!” said the boy, bent his head forward and showed the mark with the cross sign on it. “The Turks,” he went on, “cut me here, and then the old Rada from Bratsigovo brought me up, but she is very old now, and I have to make my own living ...”
The boy’s words touched everyone. They turned to the master Iliya,
“Let’s take him with us!”
“Come here, boy, sit down to rest,” said Topevichara. “Do you want to become my child?”
The boy did not answer, only nodded his head. Iliya Topevichara took a coin, handed it to him, and asked him,
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Angel, Angel is my name,” he replied, embarrassed.Topevichara was a good man. Every day he gave a coin to the little Angel, though he could not even bring them water.
St Peter’s Day came. The builders went for a couple of days to their home villages - to visit their houses. Master Iliya took Angelcho with him, introduced him to his children.
They returned to Stryama again. Work was waiting for them.
They gave the child a small pitcher to water the mud. For this job, Master Iliya paid him two or three coins. He fed him from his bowl and washed his clothes.
On St Dimitar’s Day, when they returned to Narechen, Topevichara sent Angelcho to go to school with his children.
The years passed quickly - in summer he worked somewhere, in winter he went to school. Angel grew up, became an adult, got married.
If it was feast time, Angel Sharov would walk humbly into the church, lowering his head to bow to the icons, his cross sign emerging more clearly in the pale candlelight. The old women whispered to each other that the sign had been keeping and protecting him in the years.