I asked about his father.
He exhaled smoke. “What about him? I’ve never met him. He could be anyone.” He stroked my hand. “How does a pretty little thing like you live in Rubinkowo and I’ve never met you?”
“I’ve always been there.”
“Maybe you weren’t always this pretty.” He touched my face. Then he scrunched up one side of his face. “Or maybe you used to look like this.”
“Maybe it’s because you are so old. Do you know my brother, Paweł? Paweł Dąbrowski?”
He pulled out another cigarette. “The name is familiar.”
“Maybe Rubinkowo isn’t as small as it feels. Where did you go to school?”
“School is very important to you isn’t it? I’ll bet you are sorry right now to be out with me instead of sitting home studying for exams.”
“I like being out with you.”
“I like being out with you too. Let me get you home before it gets too late. I’ll bet your babcia is waiting for you.”
“If you know Babcia lives with us, then you must know Paweł.”
“As you said, Rubinkowo is small. I even met your mother once.”
It took me a moment to understand what he had said. The words were simple, but no one ever spoke about her. Not Papa. Not Babcia. Not Paweł except when I made him. I barely remembered her. How could Jacek?
“What do you know about my mother?” I couldn’t catch my breath as I stood over him.
“Whoa little spitfire. I only know she was arrested.”
“Do people talk about it—about her?” Gossip seeps through walls and out windows into the courtyard.
“People will talk about anything that isn’t themselves. She was with some guy—we called him Tadeusz—after a meeting.”
“Nothing. Like I said, I only met her once.”
“What was she doing there?”
“I really don’t know. I was there to pick up a message and leave. End of story.”
I couldn’t stay there in that room with the lingering image of Mama.
He grabbed my arm. “You can stay.”
“Jacek, people are watching us here, now. You bring up my mother, then you offer nothing but insinuation.”
“Please. I’m sorry. Thank you. I’m sorry.” I left him sitting there. I wanted to see him again. It wasn’t his fault everyone knew everything about my life. That I knew nothing.