He had been saving hard for over six months and believed he had at least another six to go. But with this windfall, his dream would come true.
“There is enough here to buy a racing bicycle I have wanted for ages. It has twelve gears and is as light as a feather. I can whizz into Pula on it, or Fazana, and it has larger wheels and an adult-sized frame. The other boys will be so jealous.”
He could see himself now, racing down the winding country roads and climbing hills with ease instead of having to feel his thighs ache with the effort of powering a bike which had seen too much service.
“Mother, would it be in order for me to write a thank-you note to Makso?”
“I don’t see why not. Your father has some good writing paper in his desk, so use that. You are a man of business now.”
She looked so proud that Mihovil glowed as he ran off to his father’s desk.
Ivan was not a learned man. He never read a book and he hardly wrote any letters. That was one of the reasons Mihovil was surprised to see shreds of writing paper in the bin.
Without thinking, he reached down and picked up the torn-up letter which was in his father’s handwriting. Ivan was bad at anything to do with words, and often asked Mihovil to read and write things for him.
Mihovil pieced the torn sheets together. As he read his father’s words, all his hopes and dreams, his happy joyous mood, collapsed in the space of a minute.
It is difficult for me to write this, so I ask you to show some compassion. I remember how we were good friends at school, though I fear everything has changed now.
Time can do strange things to a friendship, as can money. I want you to write off the loan you have given me. I have tried to pay it back, but I realise as I grow older that it will be impossible for me ever to be free of my obligation to you.
One day I know Mihovil will do very well, and I am truly grateful for your loan to pay for his education. But knowing I owe so much money is giving me sleepless nights every time you mention it.
Above all, I do not want to have to go to the police with what I know. If you write off the debt, I will forget what I know and never tell anyone.
The letter ended there. Clearly his father had not been sure how to end it, or perhaps he had thought better of sending it at all. One thing was certain, though – his father was horribly in debt to a ruthless man and it had been all down to Ivan paying for Mihovil’s tutoring.
Mihovil felt sick. What’s more, his father knew something the police would be interested in, but he was not telling.
The more Mihovil read the letter the more confused he became.
“Oh, my beloved papa,” he said as he held his head in his hands. “What have you got mixed up in?”