Anne died suddenly in her sleep last night. With one phone call, she
was taken away to Harrier’s Funeral House. Her body, that is.
I finally got up enough nerve to enter her small cottage scenting of herbs
and blooms. In a stack beside her desk, were four leather-bound books I had
never seen before. Curious now, I leafed through one. I could immediately
see that Anne had written it—I recognized her graceful calligraphic scroll, a
resonance of her personality.
I opened to the first page. There was a note—to me, as though she had
known when was to be the moment of her earthly leaving-taking.
“Lauren, my dear, do not be concerned at my
departure. Know only that you are precious
to me and to the universe around you.
Here are some dabbings about my life.
After you finish reading them, please burn
them. The world does not need them—
there are far too many words and too
little love. Keep the garden vibrant as only
your care shall do.
This was a mystery; she had called herself ‘Angelica’, a name quite
foreign to me.
With that, I began to read.
I’ll never know what possessed my mother to steal two of my father’s
lions that night.
Perhaps it was simply that she had a strong sense of history and she
needed to celebrate a remarkable time in a remarkable way. For it was
indeed a most noteworthy time in the world’s history, that autumn of 1918,
when the Great War finally ended. Everywhere in a delirium of celebration,
people were dancing in the streets.
I like to imagine my mother’s lustrous eyes lingering upon the
boisterousness and joy erupting all around her. And perhaps as she watched,
a simple request for happiness might have entered her heart: she could begin
the journey towards her own personal happiness by divorcing my father.
Divorce, at that time in the world, was unthinkable, but not to us because we
are Rom, or, to the rest of the world, we are Gypsies. Gypsies are unlike all
other people in so many ways, and this is just another. For when a wife tells
her husband she is divorcing him, their divorce becomes immediate and
No, it was not really Mother’s divorce that was so unusual; it was
leaving my Father that was so extraordinary. Nothing but death separates
the Rom from one another, and Father was the only other Rom we knew on
the American continent. It is a fact that the Rom very rarely associate with
anyone else but the Rom, and this is the reason why you know nothing about
us. In fact, we Rom group every other culture and race into one word—
gadje. Everyone else, whether their skin color be black, red, yellow or
white, whether they be from Somalia or Canada, is a gadje. To us, the Rom,
we consider all others to be that different from us, and…that separate. But
yet, here we were, three Gypsy women, alone and adrift within the gadje’s
It surprised me, and probably surprised my ordinarily submissive
Mother the measures to which she was willing to go to create some
happiness for herself. That is why I shall always partially attribute her
drastic actions to the post-war turbulence that had swallowed us within it.
And this is why my story is beginning with that great and terrible war’s
But I must not discount, nor underestimate, my mother’s own quality of
determination, for while she was about the business of leaving my father,
she also decided to leave the whole Eastern portion of the American
continent behind, taking with her only me, her daughter, and her mother,
Lena, a powerful Rom sorceress.
Somehow, secretly, she had also managed to steal Chieftain and
Princess, two of Father’s very large and very wild lions. Though she had
told Father they were divorced, she didn’t tell him we were also leaving him
and the Circus of Cairo, where we had all been living and working for over
three years. Nor did she inform him that she was stealing his two lions as
well as his daughter. So that night, in a flash, she left her husband, and I left
my father, as it would turn out, forever. I write this now, as an old crone,
nearing the end of my life, but at the time, I was but a young girl, trying to
make as much sense of what I saw as best I could.
So this is how my mother, my Grandmother Lena and I came to be
traveling to the end of the west....to the continent's very edge.
- 1 -
The railroad car we entered was almost empty. Only one gadjo man
was there, reading a daily journal. Mother and I crowded into one seat,
while Grandmother Lena winked mischievously at us before plopping down
on the banquette across from the gadjo man.
Politely, the man lowered his paper to nod a greeting to whoever had
elected to join him in his journey, but was stopped dead in the middle of his
gesture by the strange apparition who now sat across from him.
You see, Grandmother Lena had never changed her gypsy wardrobe to
accommodate America and its ways, much less its somberly clad people.
She continued to dress in layers and layers of colorful full skirts, arranged in
ragged tiers. Grandmother Lena also insisted on displaying all of her wealth
upon her, and jangled merrily with gold coin while she walked. Her long
gray hair was tucked beneath the traditional Gypsy scarf and she used no
rouge to embellish a face deeply furrowed by wind and sun. From her
labors, her hands were hard like chunks of wood. The man hurriedly raised
his paper to isolate himself against this odd and intruding woman. However,
he would soon see in his own time and his own way that a newspaper would
be too flimsy to keep Grandmother Lena’s intent away from him. The gadjo
man had selected the only bench with a facing bench in the whole car, and
Grandmother Lena had obviously decided she wanted it for us and our
The train began its slow shuffle out of the station, and I divided my
attention between watching the ugly scorched railroad yard move away from
me and Grandmother’s antics to move the gadjo man. She began to lightly
massage her hand. Briefly, the man looked at her from behind his
newspaper. Too bad for him; Grandmother Lena now knew she had his
attention. Slowly, she increased her scratching to include her arms and legs.
Soon she began to examine more indecent places on her body, implying a
certainty of vermin. The man looked up again, appalled at her activities, and
fled to another car. Mother and I quickly moved to take his place.
Mother and Grandmother began a conversation so quietly; even my
curious ears could not hear their thoughts. I knew not to interrupt and
crossed to the facing bench to occupy myself with a solitary exploration of
America from my window. But the night lacked its moon, and as much as I
tried, I couldn’t see much. A few bumps and valleys passed, invisible and
nameless and thus not mine. I was surprised by my sentiment; it was
certainly gadje. Obviously, I had spent too many hours with my gadjo
friend Randolph who would study his many atlases and maps as we
journeyed through new and foreign places in our circus wagons.
“Clinton”, he’d announce proudly, pointing to his map. “Yes, that
must be where we are. Clinton, New Jersey.”
I would repeat the meaningless syllables, with some mirth. How
ridiculous, I had thought, this gadje sensibility of attempting to claim land
with names. To me, naming by the gadje was so often a presumption, an
attempt to encircle something so they could better believe someone had the
right to own it. But now, this night of lion stealing, I realized that I had
succumbed to the same gadje sensibility I had mocked, and had probably
done so long ago. Like sand, the foreign sensibility had blown into my
brain crevices, and all too soon, a whole philosophy had presented itself.
Now as I gazed out at the unknown land from my window, I too longed for
maps with names to decrease the bigness and the strangeness of the world
around me. Moreover, I also wanted Randolph to be next to me, his familiar
voice calling out the names of small towns. I missed Randolph immensely
already; we had left so suddenly, I had not even known it had been the time
to tell him goodbye.
Here and there, a few lights designating houses and villages glided by
too quickly due to the rush of the train. Just as abruptly night would resume,
as if it were jealous that the continuity of its darkness had been interrupted.
It was then I realized my window had a mysterious capability to reveal
many different worlds. To visit another world, all I had to do was shift the
focus of my eyes. To peer about, my window was better than any crystal
I switched the focus of my eyes from the dark night outside to somberly
regard my own reflection in the train’s glass window. I knew it would seem
to Mother and Grandmother Lena as if I still watched the fleeting landscape.
I studied my eyes to see if I looked like a criminal, masked and ashamed?
No, I decided, with some relief, I still looked the same even though I had
now become a lion thief.
I shifted my eyes once more and found a third world; my window had
become an excellent mirror with which to spy on Grandmother Lena and
Mother. I watched to see if their faces would finally relax and reveal to me
the truth of what was really transpiring. I already knew the faces and
actions of my mother and Grandmother Lena could hide big secrets, but our
departure had been a very large secret indeed. This night just like any other
night, I had gone to bed early, and now that very same night, here I was a
lion thief, ‘on the lam’, speeding to California. It felt very American to
know such an expression, ‘on the lam’. I had learned it from a dime novel I
borrowed from Randolph about a notorious outlaw, Jesse James. That’s
where I learned about the existence of ‘Wanted Posters’ in post offices, too.
I knew there were few accidents in the way in which life meanders, and it
was certainly no accident that I had just finished reading about the James
Gang, so I was more educated about how to accomplish a successful
getaway. Which was what I decided we were doing.
“Do you think Father will offer a reward for our capture?” I asked in
Romani, our language, so no gadje could understand us. I tried to convert
the tremor in my voice to bravado but I knew Mother heard it anyway when
she encircled me within her strong, brown arms and gave me a kiss.
“You’ll see, your father won’t even care that we’re gone,” she assured
me, “because I followed the breaking-love spell exactly. While your father
snored, I used a dagger cast of an ancient iron to lop off a lock of his hair.
Though my heart pounded very loudly with my fright, his eyelids didn’t
even flutter.” Grandmother Lena snorted contemptuously before
interrupting with her opinion.
“I knew Antonio would never wake after drinking that much brandy.”
Mother nodded, and continued.
“Then, at the exact timing of the newest of new moons, I burnt his lock
of hair, knowing by the next new moon, as I had invoked, your father and I
would become separate. So here we are, here.” My face must have looked
skeptical, for Mother rushed on with more of her reasoning. “And besides,
remember, I only took his two least favorite lions, Chieftain and Princess.
He never could manage them and was about to send them away to a zoo.”
“But you know nothing about lions,” I protested.
“It is your mother who raised those lions from kittens,” chided
Grandmother Lena, “holding them as she did you as a baby to keep them
safe from harm. Living beings do not forget such times. Do not worry, your
father will never find us, Angelica. I have made sure we are encircled
within a great spell.”
But I could not stop my worrying. I wondered if robbing lions was a
crime comparable to robbing banks in America, punishable by death. The
Jesse James book still tugged at my mind.
“What will be our punishment, if we are caught,” I asked. My eyes felt
very large. I was ashamed that I was the only one afraid, but the panicked
feeling had dug deep within me, and had found my stomach.
“We have done no wrong, so nothing will happen to us. I even made
sure to return the lion wagon. Now, Angelica, why don’t you try to sleep?
It is late. Come lie down in my lap.” Mother made a pillow out of her
shawl, and I put my head on it. The baby lamb’s hair made it a soft nest to
comfort my smallness.
I closed my eyes, but only pretended to sleep. I knew I had to remain
alert. Only then would I be able to catch my destiny as it unraveled towards
the future. So I watched, and I watched.
But nothing occurred to reveal the direction of my future. Only the
events of my past emerged. They had been dammed up far too long and
were in a hurry to spill out of my heart into my head. We were not always
only three Rom in number or this alone.
For truly, the Rom always stay very close to one another. Only when
they die, do they become separated. And to my knowledge we were not yet
dead. And yet somehow, we had managed to become so very, very separate.
Excerpted from "The Gypsy's Song (Destiny's Consent)" by Laura Shepard Townsend. Copyright © 0 by Laura Shepard Townsend. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.