Every week or two Chupa would travel to the Bugeja’s home in Maitland Street, Ħamrun, riding in a small wooden cart pulled by a miniature pony. He would pick up his favourite, Pupa, and one or more of her siblings and take them back to his farm in Naxxar for the day. At times he took up to four brothers and sisters in the cart with him. Children and parents alike looked forward to these visits for the largess that Nannu Chupa always lavished on his guests.
Pupa was amazed on her first visit at the opulence of the farm and farmhouse in Naxxar.
On arrival, the cart was driven up to a tall stone wall and through a set of two huge, wooden entrance doors into a short tunnel which then opened up into a large flagstone courtyard. Pupa looked up from the courtyard to see that it was surrounded on all sides by the high stone walls and windows of the sprawling farmhouse. Inside, the house was filled with heavy, dark furniture made from expensive timbers and decorated with inlays and carvings. Pupa had never seen a house so extravagantly well-furnished. Nor had she ever seen a dining table so long that it was matched with bespoke solid timber benches on both sides rather than chairs. Timber was such a rare and expensive commodity on the relatively denuded and ancient island nation of Malta that so much wooden furniture in one place made the young girl’s head spin.
Outside the house, the grounds were like a Garden of Eden to the poor girl from a town of concrete, stone and bitumen. Rows of fruit trees of every description, crop fields and vegetable plots overflowing with leafy produce stretched on and on into the distance. Even the barns and stables were many times larger than the flat that Pupa, her parents and ten siblings called home.
The visits to Nannu Chupa’s farm were like spending time on another planet for the young Bugeja children; an escape from their poverty, hunger and constant stress of life on the margins of survival. The children would be fed, play in the garden and forget their cares for the day. Sometimes they would be enlisted to help around the farm. They were taught how to feed livestock and harvest fruit and vegetables.
At the end of the day, before Nannu Chupa would take the children home or else give them bus fare for the trip back to Ħamrun, he would enter a room within the house that was otherwise permanently locked and return with a bag of farm produce for them to take back to their grateful parents. On one occasion, Pupa was allowed to accompany her family’s benefactor into the mysterious room to see him reveal an Aladdin’s Cave filled with boxes of fruit, grain, vegetables, eggs, cheeses, preserves, cured meats and a multitude of other edible treasures. Pupa stood at the entrance to the concealed cavern incredulous, mouth agape and mesmerised by the unimaginable cornucopia. She would not have believed that there was as much food in all of Ħamrun as she had seen there that day. Later, Pupa was sworn to secrecy by Nannu Chupa and promised that God would punish her and her family terribly if she ever uttered a word to anyone about what she had seen in that secret room.