Mihovil was in the garden picking figs off the tree, grading their level of ripeness, and carefully wrapping each one in a piece of tissue paper before setting them in a box.
He had been studying at his books for hours, so it was a blessed relief to do some outside work.
“Hi, Mum,” he called out when he heard Severina’s key in the door.
“Hello, darling.” She went to him, and he turned his cheek to her, allowing her to kiss it.
“I have something for you,” she said as she went to pour them a cold drink.
Their house was small and simple, but kept immaculately. Severina had sewn cushion covers out of the material used for traditional Croatian national costumes, the bright geometric patterns in yellow, navy blue, orange and pink providing a startling colour palette against the white walls.
She brought out home-made lemonade in a big jug clinking with ice. It was hot work up the ladder in the tree.
“Come down.” A broad smile lit up her face.
Mihovil downed the refreshing drink in one gulp, sweat trickling down his back, and saw her push an envelope in his direction.
“Take a look inside.”
There was a bundle of notes. His eyes widened.
“I don’t understand.”
“Makso gave it to me for you.”
“Why?” Mihovil asked, confused.
“He said you are nearly grown up, so you should be paid for your services. He was pleased with the dinner you helped cook.”
Mihovil counted the crisp new notes. He couldn’t believe how much there was. Up until now, he had helped his parents without thinking of payment, simply because they both worked so hard.
He’d only ever wanted to do something to thank them for paying for his books and extra tutoring. Makso had given him a few kunas here and there, but nothing like this.
“Surely he didn’t mean to put this much in. It is unlike Makso to be so generous.”
“I think he made a lot of money last night. The guests were buying many things and it helped that Mel was there. A couple of the men were flirting with her, drinking too much and digging deep in their pockets. They cannot resist trying to impress a young woman. She is very pretty, don’t you think?”
Mihovil was always so busy, either involved in his studies or helping his parents, he hardly had time to look at women or girls. Besides, why would they ever look at him with his birthmark when they had all the other boys chasing them?
One or two had shown an interest, but he was convinced they just felt sorry for him and he couldn’t bear that.
“What will you do with the money?” Severina sat and opened one of the dark purple figs, handing half to Mihovil.
They sat and crunched the sweet intoxicating flesh and seeds. There was nothing like fruit fresh off the tree.
Mihovil knew exactly what he would do. He had a brochure up in his bedroom which was so well thumbed it was falling apart.