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The Rain Gypsy

S. A. Smith


“With one behind, you can’t sit on two horses.”

—Old Romani Proverb


Eli Evans, a young, contemporary  Romani traveling the backroads of Texas with his grandfather’s kumpaníya, has an epiphany in an abandoned field that has the potential to shatter the bonds of his traditional Gypsy life.

Ever a part of two worlds, he must choose which path to take: that of his own heart or that of his beloved family, who expect him to succeed his grandfather as leader.

Eli’s family is gifted with an ancient magical ability to invoke the rain, and the two parts of Eli’s life collide at the site of the latest Summoning—a small farming community desperate for life-sustaining rain. There he breaks one of his culture’s strongest taboos by falling in love with a non-Romani woman. When his lifelong nemesis shows up, hell-bent to destroy everything Eli holds dear, he must act to save those he loves and his own fragile dream.

Perfect for fans of a good underdog story, The Rain Gypsy is carefully researched and sensitively written. A heady mix of family drama, magic, sweet romance, and dark secrets, it will take you inside one of America’s most hidden cultures. 

This is the first book of a planned Rain Gypsy series.



Stirring a pot of thick beef stew on the camp stove in front of her tent, Analetta watched Eli meander through the campground to his much smaller one. Her deepest despair was that he didn’t have anyone to share his tent with. Despite his ragged jeans and faded rock-and-roll t-shirt, Eli looked regal, both graceful and gracious, and Analetta studied her son as she imagined a young woman would. Long and lean-muscled, he moved with the loose-limbed elegance of a ballet dancer. The summer sun had turned his smooth caramel-colored skin a shade darker and streaked his ash brown hair with bronze and gold. The heat of the day and the perspiration of hard work had coaxed his natural waves into soft curls that skimmed his collar.

He brushed the tangles away from his face, and the sun glinted off the small gold hoop in his right nostril. Analetta disapproved of the nose ring, but she supposed some shebaryás found it attractive. She knew they found his long-lashed, tip-tilted cinnamon eyes attractive. She continued to pull the giant wooden spoon through the stew in slow, easy circles and nodded to herself. Yes, she thought, my son comes in a good package. Even his gajé t-shirt and worn-out jeans can’t hide it.

She called out and waved the spoon to get his attention. “Eli! Son! The road has been long, and the day has been hard, but now we can rest. Eat with us tonight.” She motioned toward the pot. “Your favorite—gúlash—with lots of meat. Milyáko-manrró, too, and saviyácha for dessert.”

Eli’s stomach had been growling for the last hour, and the beef stew had been enough to get his interest. His mother’s fried cornbread and fruit-stuffed pastry rolls sealed the deal. He grinned and gave her a thumbs-up.

Analetta pointed the giant spoon at Eli to underscore her seriousness. “Be here by six-thirty. Change clothes before you come.”

What she meant was “look more traditional,” and Eli tried to remember if his good shirt and crimson neck scarf were clean.


Eli showed up at his parents’ tent in his best clothes ten minutes before the appointed time. An old Django Reinhardt album played on their vintage, battery-powered record player, and Eli’s father, Yaryk, had already claimed his place at the large, rectangular dinner table, where he alternately puffed on his pipe and tapped it in time to Django’s jazzy rendition of “After You’ve Gone.” Sitting square in the middle of a multi-colored faux Oriental rug that took up most of the floor space, the table was dressed up by a diaphanous, fringed orange cloth, and the flames of half a dozen candles danced and bowed and cast fanciful shadows on the shimmering fabric. Analetta had relegated the Coleman lanterns, the tent’s customary light source, to the corners, where they emitted enough light to add atmosphere but not much illumination.

Seeing how hard his mother had worked to create what he sardonically thought of as “the perfect Gypsy ambience,” Eli sighed and turned his attention to his father. Yaryk generally had a heavy five o’clock shadow by the end of the day, but he was clean shaven. Eli studied his father’s smooth cheeks and damp hair, his embroidered vest, and the canary-yellow dikló knotted loosely around his neck, and he realized Analetta had also laid the law down to her husband. Eli adjusted his own crimson dikló for courage, touched the charms on his leather-corded necklace for luck, nodded to his father, and took his time crossing the thick rug to kiss his mother. When Clopin  walked in five minutes later, freshly washed and in his best clothes, Eli knew for certain Analetta had more than a simple family meal planned. He fingered his charms again and sat at the table.

He’d barely taken two bites when Analetta started in. “I saw you talking to that Nico today. Such a joker he always was—laughing and pulling pranks. Yet here he is—married and with two gláti. Did he have any news of Zuzana? She’ll be at the wedding, you know, her and her husband, that Stevo.” She glanced at Eli’s shirt, then at the older men’s. “You could all use a new shirt for the abiyáv. That Kaslov bunch are so stuck up. Their noses are really in the air since that little rooster, that Luka, took over the kumpaníya. Anyway, Zuzana’s aunt, her Bibí Mirela, told me she’s doing well. Her in-laws are good to her, and she still wears those black feathers in her hair. She and that Stevo have three children now, and little Walther—didn’t he commit with you, Eli?—has a wife who’s ready to pop out a baby any day. I hope she has it in time to purify herself before the wedding. Can you believe it? Red-headed Layla, getting married. So many shabaré and shebaryá, so many abiyáva, so many gláti. It’s the way of the world, I guess.”

When she stopped talking to take a bite of food, Clopin spoke. “Did everyone get set up today? Any trouble? I worry about Tobar. He’s getting old and has no sons to help him, and his daughters are married into other kumpaniyi.”

“He’s fine, Grandpa.” Under his mother’s withering glare, Eli quickly switched to the Romani word. “I mean Pápio. Walther and I helped him set things up, and then he started carving whistles.”

Clopin continued to ask about specific members of the kumpaníya, where they’d camped, if they needed anything, if there’d been any disagreements he, as rom baró, should know about. Clopin had been all over the camp, shouting directions, giving advice, and pitching in wherever there was a need. Eli had seen him, had worked with him on several occasions, and he smiled his thanks across the table to the older man for providing a diversion. Checking first to make sure Analetta wasn’t watching, Clopin winked at him under a shaggy eyebrow, and the laugh lines around his eyes crinkled like a wadded-up road map.

Analetta spoke again. “We all get older. Things change. People change. We pull together. We help each other because it’s part of the Romani way, what we call Romaníya.”

Eli put his spoon down. The delicious gúlash tasted like old socks in his mouth. Analetta’s mention of the Romaníya meant she wouldn’t give up easily—Clopin’s attempt at diversion had been a total failure.

“So things change, but my grown son, my precious shabaró, he doesn’t change. All this talk of change, and he never changes.”

The men glanced at each other. Analetta had done all the talking about change, but no one pointed it out. Eli’s father had yet to utter more than a couple of sentences, and Eli wondered what he’d say when he finally joined the conversation.

Analetta wasn’t finished. “But the fact he never changes means more change for all of us.”

Eli stifled a groan as his mother warmed to her chosen topic for the evening.

“We all have responsibilities to each other,” she continued, “and to our kumpaníya, to other kumpaníyi, to the Romani way itself. So when is Eli going to take responsibility?” She pointed her finger at her father. “And you, our rom baró, our leader—my own father!humoring him, letting him go his own way—what is the gajé word?—enabling him!”

She turned to her husband. “And you, Yaryk, you have stood by and let it happen! Is our son slow in the head that he was nearly eighteen at his Choosing—and what kind of Rain Gypsy chooses dirt anyway?”

Eli’s jaw tightened, and he forced himself to breathe slowly, to not be caught up in his mother’s angry net.

Analetta didn’t notice. “Eighteen! An age when most men are married, with a gláta on the way! Eli is not a shav, not a little boy, but a grown man. Yet six years after his Choosing, he is still ‘not quite a man,’ as we say, bi-Romnyáko—unmarried and still dragging his feet. We all know Eli is destined to be the next leader, but if he doesn’t marry and take responsibility for a wife and family, no one will trust him to oversee the kumpaníya.

“All the familíyi, all the kumpaníyi will be at the abiyáv. We say it’s just a wedding—two people starting a life together—but it’s always been more. People come, people notice things, they talk, and they ask questions. When they ask me if we have planned a tumnimós for our son, what can I say? How can we hold an engagement ceremony with no engagement?” She narrowed her eyes at Eli. Perhaps she’d been wrong to look at him the way a young woman would. She spit out the words: “You’re not a pampurítsa, are you?”

Eli flushed and clutched his necklace to control his anger. “No, Mámo, I like girls.”

“Then choose one! Anyone would be glad to have you. There are more shey-lashyá, more virgins, than the one around your neck.”

As Analetta expounded on Eli’s unmarried state and the number of flesh-and-blood virgins available, Eli stared at the twisting candle flame in front of him and fingered the charms on the leather cord. There were four of them, all symbols of what the Rom called o Zodyáko. The largest, a quarter-sized disc of cast pewter, featured an intricate design of the twin fish of Pisces, one swimming upward and one downward. Rain Gypsies traditionally claimed one of the water signs as their own—the fish, the crab, or the scorpion—and Eli’s family had always chosen the fish. The twelve stars circling the outer edges of the medallion were interspersed with tiny drops of rain. Three smaller copper charms, Eli’s personal talismans, lay hidden under the pewter disc. These dime-sized circles were engraved with the earth signs: Virgo, the virgin Analetta referred to; Taurus the Bull, firmly grounded and stubborn; and Capricorn, the odd half-goat, half-fish creature. Eli had never verbalized it or even given it conscious thought, but the earthy delicacy of the virgin paired with the bull’s earth-bound strength represented his soul’s desire. The sea goat symbolized who he was: a man caught between two vastly different worlds.

Analetta finally stopped, and knowing he shouldn’t rise to his mother’s bait, Eli did anyway. “I wear the water sign, Mámo. I respect my culture and my heritage. I can’t help it if the earth calls to me. And regardless of tradition, I won’t have a marriage forced on me.”

Analetta threw her hands up. “Bah! Talking to you is useless!” She turned to her husband. “Say something! You’re his father!”

Yaryk collected his thoughts before he spoke. “It’s true, Analetta. Everything you said is true. But not all truth lies on the surface. The greater truth lies here,” he said, tapping his heart, “and that truth is greater than the truth we see. Eli holds his truth in his heart, and only he can decide when to reveal it.”

He reached across the table to grasp Eli’s shoulder. “I don’t know what you want, son, but you are the best of us. The rain comes to you like a lover, but there’s a sadness in you I don’t understand. You hide it well, but there are two parts to you, and the Romani life cannot fill both. I’m no old drabarní with a headscarf and a crystal ball, so I can’t see what the future holds, but this I do know: Yekh bul nashtí beshés pe duí grásta—with one behind, you can’t sit on two horses.”


“Smith invites us into the world of Romani travelers living in the Southern USA, opening our eyes to the lifestyle of a community rich in tradition, custom and ritual. Beautifully written, this contemporary novel is both a love story and a powerful insight into Romani culture. As an illustration of the tension between maintaining traditional values and conforming to life in the twenty-first century—a challenge that speaks to so many individuals, families, and communities—The Rain Gypsy has the rare quality of universal resonance. Storytelling at its best.”

—E. J. Harper, author of Lazarus Remembered


“In this debut novel, S. A. Smith surpasses the works of many established, renowned writers. I was hooked from the very first page. The Rain Gypsy teems with crisp, realistic dialogue, and the beautifully drawn characters, the taut storytelling, and the dazzling plot will leave you thirsty for more. There’s got to be a sequel.”

 — Ahmed Ismail, Independent Book Reviewer


"In her debut novel, S. A. Smith weaves her fascination of Romani people with the compassion of one who sees to the heart. Her story is a call to healing and hope in a world of persecuting prejudice. 'Now you are torn, but one day you’ll mend yourself. You must choose the right thread and the right fabric, or the mending will be for naught.' Smith’s words call for healing, for the skies to open and rain down new appreciation for those we deem different. Open the pages of The Rain Gypsy and immerse yourself into the tale of those who are branded by painful secrets. Find waiting there a tender story of a misunderstood people filled with passion.”

— Sharon Krasny, award-winning author of Iceman Awakens

S. A. Smith’s intelligent, heartwarming, and thoroughly accomplished debut novel should be on everyone’s must-read list.”

—Michaelene McElroy, author of The Last Supper Catering Company


“A tender story of a young man torn between two worlds: that of his Romani familíya and that of the gajé or non-Gypsies. Eli must choose whether to remain on his predestined path to becoming a wandering Rain Gypsy or chart his own course toward a settled family life. As the Romani saying goes, ’With one behind, you can’t sit on two horses.’ The Rain Gypsy is filled with fascinating Romani culture, rural Texas twang, and a deep love and respect for Mother Earth. Combined with lots of family drama, some suspense, a sweet romance, and a host of colorful characters, the result is an engaging and entertaining read.”

—Nina Little, author of Spirit Baby: Travels Through China on the Long Road to Motherhood


“The narration feels like floating along the river during the hot day, with the soft water soothing your  skin. The text itself is so round and smooth, like a river stone, that I was easily ‘watching’ everything in my imagination. Characters are created with precision and deep love. Rich in details, oh, that’s a rare gem.”

—Anna Sheremeteva, author of Dance It From Scratch

“I enjoyed the story very much. It’s unlike anything that I’ve read, and the moment I met Eli, I knew I liked him. I found Clopin very endearing and loved his involvement, his input and support, and even found myself waiting to see where he’d pop in next.”

—Lili Mahoney, author of the Barefoot Pastures Series