It was the longest night of summer and Ivan found the stars strangely bright. He sneaked out from his bed to read Shakespeare under the light of a street gas lamp.
Ivan was the first in his family who learnt to read. He discovered faraway lands and forgotten times his parents couldn’t imagine. They only knew the world of ‘here and now’; while Ivan knew the world of ‘what if’.
“What are letters good for? We are miners, son. All the fancy ideas will break your heart one day,” Ivan’s father said. They didn’t discuss the matter ever again. But Ivan dreamt on. He woke up earlier and went to bed later than the others. The vicar’s son taught him in secret on Sundays, in exchange for the blackest, shiniest pieces of coal. He introduced Ivan to the labyrinth of mathematics, the alchemy of chemistry and the secrets of biology. They read the scandalous book of a man called Darwin who believed that an offspring can be better and stronger than its ancestors. His theories filled Ivan with hope. He might not be a prodigal son after all; he was just a natural product of evolution. He wished he could make his father see that.
One day the vicar’s son waited for him with a smile so wide his face was almost too small to contain it. He was holding a letter of a friend in a famous college inviting Ivan to meet him. He might have a scholarship for him, he wrote.
That very night the heart of Ivan’s father stopped beating. Maybe he had sensed his son’s treachery, maybe life had been too harsh on him. Ivan looked into his mother’s bottomless eyes and threw the letter on the dancing coal fire. He didn’t believe in evolution anymore.