If you are a stray cat, Malta is the place to be. They don’t trap you and kill you like they do in so many other places. They’ll fix you so you won’t have any children and then turn you loose. It’s not the greatest life, but the weather is usually pretty nice and you can find shelter somewhere when it rains. People sometimes come by and give you a pet, if you let them. Even getting a square meal isn’t too tough. There aren’t many birds or mice, but there’s the Cat Man of Malta to feed you.
I met the Cat Man selling cat food on Tower Road in Sliema on my last trip in May of this year (2005). He was standing in that strange driveway that doesn’t seem to go anywhere just a short distance away from the Strand. It was early morning and somewhat chilly and he was wearing a gray suit jacket. Of medium height, slight of build, and longish hair that is just starting to turn gray, he held out a plastic package toward me. “Feed the cats?” he asked in a gentle voice. I couldn’t resist and gave him a pound, or the equivalent of 3 dollars, and told him to keep the change. He offered God’s blessings as I continued on my way.
I didn’t ask his name. I casually mentioned the encounter to Charlie, the man who works the desk at the guesthouse where I was staying and he said that everyone knew him. He wasn’t from Malta, but probably came from England or the US and had a flat somewhere near the University. He didn’t seem to have a job except the route he had from Valletta to Paceville feeding cats.
I could feel him becoming a character in a novel and asked some shopkeepers about him. Charlie was right. Everyone did seem to know him and like him. He was a lovable eccentric like the bird woman of Trafalgar Square. One man speculated that he was a wealthy heir to a family fortune in London and had come to Malta to keep away from the people who were after his money. The general consensus was that he lived on the spare change from people who bought food from him.
Several days later I was walking by the park on Tigne Point on the way to the Crown Point Hotel where I had an interview. The Cat Man was crouching beside a park bench surrounded by what seemed to be fifty crying cats. He had a scrawny calico on one shoulder and a hissing black Tom on the other with scores of others trying to climb into his grocery bag, or jostling each other to rub against his legs. Mick Jagger couldn’t have had more loving fans. I was touched. The more so because so many seemed to be malnourished. What amazed me was that some of the scrawniest seemed more intent on being petted than on eating. The grocery bag was finally emptied and the Cat Man stood up and took a seat on the park bench. I watched him pick up an empty container and wondered if he waited around until they were all done. For the first time he seemed to notice my presence and we exchanged waves and I started on to my appointment.
That was the last time I saw him. I sure hope I’ll run into him again.