“Was my mother a film actress?” Sabina asked her grandfather, just to get him talking. They were in his tiny apartment, which was at the back of the house and had its own separate entrance. Gheorghe told her the story of Maria being spotted on the bus by a film director and how she’d quit her medical training to be in one of his movies. “It was very much against my wishes,” he said, placing a cup of hot chocolate and some biscuits on the table. His hands were thin and ropy, but strong for his age. Sabina had noticed that if she wasn’t feeling well and Gheorghe put a hand on her forehead, whatever was ailing her went away. “I have another question, Pappy,” she said. Then she hung her head and murmured, “Sometimes people say my father was someone else, not Cornel Danciu.”
There was a silence. When she looked up, Gheorghe was studying her out of dark, troubled eyes. “Your mother had boyfriends before your father,” he said finally. “One of them was well-known, highly placed. At the time, your mother was estranged from the family, busy with her acting career and running kind of wild. When she became pregnant and married Cornel, there were rumors that the child was from the other guy. I frankly don’t know whether this is true or not.” He reached out and took her hand, holding it tenderly between his palms. “I choose to believe Cornel is your father and so should you. He loves you as his own and that’s all that’s important.”
He refused to say more than that. Sabina knew her grandfather never lied, that he was a wise old man who gave advice to the many visitors who came to see him in his apartment. She liked to be with him in there, a sitting room that smelled of delicious herbs and spices and had lots of books. It was the most peaceful place she knew, but she was always being told not to bother her grandfather and that she couldn’t just go in there when she wanted. Of course she defied those orders, slipping round to the back of the house and knocking on Gheorghe’s door when no one was looking. He had certain things in his apartment that fascinated her — for instance, an old book full of drawings of body parts and strange beings.