Suddenly the figs Mihovil had eaten lay like a brick in his stomach.
The sanctuary of his family home was tainted with secrets and discord. His father’s tidy desk at which he’d always loved to sit felt uncomfortable.
He dragged himself up out of the seat. What should he do? What would a good, dutiful son, a responsible citizen of Croatia, a boy who wanted one day to be a lawyer, do?
Learning that his father and Makso were involved in loans and bad things the police would be interested in hit him hard. What’s more, it was all his fault.
Sweat trickled down Mihovil’s back; heat came in waves not from the summer air, but from his very core. His father had got into this mess to pay for his education. The irony was that if Mihovil ever made the great heights his father was aiming for, one sniff of this scandal and both their efforts would turn to dust.
Mihovil made his decision. He would confess everything to his mother.
Severina was honest, sensible and she loved his father. She would know how to handle this to make everything OK.
He would do the proper thing. His father must be eaten up with keeping his secret. Mihovil vowed to be strong for both parents.
He would break it to his mother gently so she didn’t panic. He chose some words, rehearsed his speech, then he was ready. Mihovil balled his fists and marched into the garden.
There was Severina lying on the sunbed under the shade of their tumbling orange bougainvillea. His grandmother had given them that plant on the day he was born. It was sturdy and productive, just like he tried to be.
A curve in the bark was shiny, where his mother was wont to stroke it as she passed by, saying it reminded her of the happiest day of her life – the day they had been granted the gift of a son.
Severina looked peaceful, a smile on her face no doubt reflecting her delight with the generous earnings she had handed Mihovil earlier from Makso.
You could see the face of the girl she had been in her teens. The girl in the photo over the fireplace in the lounge, gazing up at Mihovil’s father on their wedding day, happy fresh-faced eighteen-year-olds.
Mihovil went to speak but the words died on his lips. His news would devastate her. All he would do would take the burden of knowledge from his own shoulders and land it on hers. How cruel was that?
What a coward’s way out, not even to try to sort the problem before letting her know. That was not the way of a caring son.
The letter his father had drafted, the one he had been determined to show Severina, trembled in Mihovil’s hold.
Suddenly, she stirred, lifted her wrist to her forehead and yawned. Her eyes opened.
“Goodness, I went right off there. What is that paper, Mihovil?”
“Nothing.” He smiled his widest smile, tucking the paper swiftly in his pocket.
“Did you write your thank-you letter to Makso?”
“Y-yes, of course.”
The lie stuttered out like a curse. His throat was dry, as if full of dust.
“I am off to give it to him right now.” A second lie.
“You’re a good son,” she said. “I must get on and start the washing. It’s an excellent drying day. I might even make some new curtains. Our old ones are faded and I found some beautiful material very cheap in the market. Life can be so good, don’t you think?”
“Yes.” His voice rang hollow.
How his world had imploded; how he had changed in only a few minutes, and it was all down to evil. Evil spread like brown rot eating remorselessly through the bud of a white lily.
Makso had done something bad, and it had led to his father hiding secrets. Now he, Mihovil, had started lying to his mother.
The wrong must be righted. He must get help, but he couldn’t involve Severina. If he was to prove his manliness, he would protect his beloved mother.
Suddenly, he desperately needed the help of his friends, and of one friend in particular. He thought of a pair of thoughtful olive-green eyes and hair which fell like a waterfall over tanned shoulders.
He could confide in his friend Ildie. She’d know what to do.
“I’ll see you later.”
“All right, my son, be back in time for dinner.”
But Mihovil was gone. He had leaped on his bike and was pedalling off towards the square in Vodnjan.
* * * *