If you are a stray cat, Malta is the place to be. They don’t catch you and kill you like they do in so many other places. They’ll fix you up so you don’t have kids and then they’ll let you go. It’s not the best life, but the weather is usually quite nice and you can find shelter somewhere when it rains. People sometimes come and give you a pet, if you let them. Even getting a full meal isn’t too difficult. There aren’t many birds or mice, but there is the Maltese Cat Man to feed you.
I met Cat Man selling cat food on Tower Road in Sliema on my last trip in May this year (2005). He was standing in that strange driveway that doesn’t seem to go anywhere within walking distance of the Strand. He was early in the morning and a little chilly and he was wearing a gray suit jacket. Of medium height, slim build, and slightly long hair just beginning to turn gray, he handed me a plastic package. “Feed the cats?” he asked softly. I couldn’t resist and gave him a pound, or the equivalent of 3 dollars, and told him to keep the change. He offered me God’s blessings as I continued on my way.
I didn’t ask her name. I casually mentioned meeting Charlie, the man who works the front desk at the guest house where he was staying, and he said everyone knew him. He was not from Malta, but he probably came from England or the United States and had a flat 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 turning into a novel character and asked some shopkeepers about him. Charlie was right. Everyone seemed to know and like him. He was a lovable eccentric as the bird lady of Trafalgar Square. One man speculated that he was a wealthy heir to a family fortune in London and that he had come to Malta to stay away from people seeking money from him. The general consensus was that he lived off the change from the people who bought him food.
Several days later I was walking through the park in Tigne Point on my way to the Crown Point Hotel where I had an interview. The Cat Man was crouched by a park bench surrounded by what appeared to be fifty crying cats. He had a skinny percale on one shoulder and a hissing black Tom on the other, with dozens of people trying to get into his shopping bag or pushing to rub against his legs. Mick Jagger couldn’t have had a more loving fan base. I was touched. Even more so because many seemed to be malnourished. What amazed me was that some of the skinnier ones seemed more interested in being petted than eating. The shopping bag was finally emptied and Cat Man stood up and sat on the park bench. I watched him pick up an empty bowl and wondered if he would wait until they were done. For the first time he seemed to notice my presence and we exchanged greetings and I made my way to my date.
That was the last time I saw him. I sure look forward to meeting him again.