Extract from the story “Ghawdex” (Gozo)

After persuading the boy to tell her what had happened, Carmen scooped up the pre-schooler and rushed him over to the doctor’s house which thankfully, was nearby. Unfortunately, the doctor was not at home so Carmen explained what had happened to the well-spoken and always immaculately dressed doctor’s wife. She took pity on young Lewis and replied that she knew just what to do to help the groaning boy.

Lewis was terribly embarrassed to be laid out onto the dining room table by the two women, face down on his bloated stomach and with his pants pulled down around his ankles. But the pain stopped him from complaining and the promise of relief from his agony secured a high degree of cooperation.

Carmen was somewhat apprehensive as the rubber tube was lubricated, then carefully inserted and the warm water slowly poured down into it.

No one quite expected what happened next.

A few seconds after the warm water reached the end of the tube and disappeared into the boy’s anus, an almighty explosion of seeds, fruit, shit and who knew what else splattered all over the doctor’s wife and about half the room. Everything was sprayed with the vile sludge and stinking; the furniture, the curtains, the walls- everything. The offensive smelling material was dripping from the face, hair and half-closed eyes of the esteemed sinjura28, not to mention her expensive clothes. Both women looked at each other with expressions of absolute astonishment. Then they looked back at Lewis with an expression on their faces that seemed to ask, how did all of that fit into such a little boy?

Carmen was mortified and spent the rest of the day cleaning the dining room and apologising to the sinjura.

The mother spent the rest of that autumn avoiding the doctor’s wife. The sinjura surprised her husband by saying that she was not going to dispense advice to the locals any longer.

Harry came out of hiding after two days and received another beating.


Extract from the story “Ghawdex” (Gozo)

Carmen, the four boys and their sister packed their meagre belongings into small cardboard cartons and rode with them in an Austin 16 that Carmelo had hired for the journey. The family was very proud of their policeman-father and they bragged to neighbours and friends about the fact that he was one of only a few locals who had earned a driving licence. They drove north past the village of Mellieha to the very northern tip of Malta. Along with several other women and children, the family then embarked onto the small ferry that was to take them across the water on a half-hour journey to their new adventure and safe haven away from the misery of wartime bombings. Carmen and the children almost did not make it. 

Partway across the strait that separates the islands of Malta and Gozo, an enemy aircraft spotted their boat and made a dive towards them while firing a burst from its machine guns. Fortunately, the bullets missed the boat and sprayed into the sea, but the terrified women and children watched in panic as the plane circled and prepared for a second sortie. The aircraft had already begun another swoop when one quick thinking woman collected her thoughts and began furiously waving the boat’s white flag above the screaming crowd. Other women and children seeing this inspirational response frantically waved their handkerchiefs or items of clothing at the rapidly approaching airplane. The pilot did not fire again. 

Either the pilot had taken pity on the desperate waifs at the last minute and changed his mind or he had decided to save his ammunition for a more appropriate target. He dipped his wing, altered direction and flew off into the horizon, mercifully allowing the vastly relieved and cheering exodus to safely reach its final destination of Gozo’s Mgarr harbour. 

Gozo is a beautiful place. The smaller of the two inhabited islands that make up the nation of Malta is about half the size of its sister island and not as flat. Its gently rolling topography and mainly rural character gives it an idyllic ambiance that has been recognised over the ages. The island also has several, pretty little bays and sections of stunning rocky coastline. It is believed that Gozo is the inspiration behind Homer’s isle of Ogygia in the Odyssey.[1]It was in a cave on the isle of Ogygia that the nymph, Calypso, held Odysseus as her sexual companion for seven years. Like the main island, Gozo has a fascinating history including the stone remnants of an ancient megalithic society that is among the oldest, freestanding, human constructions in the world. Older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge, the Ġgantija temples[2]are a stone structure dedicated to a goddess of fertility constructed in the shape of a pregnant woman with a rather novel entrance. The temple is accessed through a passage representing the vagina. 

The view from the ancient citadel on top of a hill near the centre of the island shows most of Gozo in all its stunning glory. During the sixteenth century, its inhabitants were required to return to the citadel each evening and spend the night there, in order to prevent being abducted by Muslim corsairs. These measures were necessarily implemented after 1551, when the Turkish fleet attacked Gozo, captured the entire population of about 5,000 Christians and sold them off into slavery.[3]

[1]https://bit.ly/2sTonVO Athens Journal of Hist. Vol.3, Issue 1, 49-70.



Introduction to the ​story, ID-DAR BLA KERA(The House Without Rent)

Malta in 1942 was the most heavily bombed place on earth. Between March 20th and April 28th of that year, the Luftwaffe flew 11,819 sorties and dropped over 7,000 tons of bombs on Malta[1]. Between June 1940 and April 1944 there were 1,581 civilian deaths in Malta from a population of only 270,000. That meant that one person in every 171 was killed. There were also 3,780 people injured and 7,500 deaths from within the armed services.[2]

Air raids destroyed more than 5,000 dwellings and seriously damaged almost 10,000 others as well as destroying or seriously damaging 50 hospitals, 111 churches and many other buildings (around 30,000 buildings in all)[3]. This created a serious housing shortage that continued for a decade after the war finished and which significantly contributed to the mass migration of Maltese to all corners of the globe during the 1950s. The Maltese diaspora is a large one, especially in Australia, Canada, the USA and Britain. 

Many of the homes left standing were overcrowded with displaced relatives and friends. Maltese families during 1942 were reduced to living in air raid shelters or in ancient catacombs. The appalling underground living conditions, along with the starvation caused by the German and Italian blockade led to ubiquitous disease and death.

It was within this background that a family of 13 were offered exclusive use of a large house to live in, rent free, for six months. 

Dionisio and his wife, Lucia, their six girls and five boys were experiencing tough times since the breadwinner had lost his job at the hospital due to health issues. Dionisio and Lucia supplemented the family’s meagre and inadequate rations by administering injections to people in their homes, charging two shillings at a time. They had a good reputation for competent care and would also do some minor private nursing such as washing and redressing wounds, along with giving basic medical advice. Lucia was also a highly respected and popular midwife. The paltry income they received for their services however, did not stretch far enough with 11 children to feed and clothe. They struggled to pay expenses like the monthly rent on their small apartment in Ħamrun. The apartment was crowded, with the entire family sleeping in one of two bedrooms and in the living room, but it had to suffice as it was all they could afford. Lucia was a small but impressive woman with high cheekbones, fair hair and piercing blue eyes. Her short stature belied her commanding presence to the point where people would be surprised if they ever happened to noticed just how tiny she actually was. If strength of character was commensurate with physical size Lucia would have stood over six feet. As it were, this woman who had given birth to 14 children, 11 of whom had survived beyond infancy, was less than five feet tall. She had a wicked sense of humour and a sharp, alert mind. Lucia kept her children and husband on their toes at all times. Sometimes, she would lead them on and they became unable to tell whether she was joking or not until her high pitched squeal of laughter would give the game away.




Introduction to the story L-GĦARUSA* (The Fiancée)

Lucia was a little surprised at the newfound enthusiasm her 18-year-old daughter, Amalia, showed to hang out the washing to dry on their small balcony. It seemed that she was in such a hurry to take down one load of clothes and hang up the next lot that occasionally, the clothes from the preceding load had not yet dried completely. Strange, but Amalia always had a smile on her face when she returned and seemed to have lost her urgency, until her sisters finished washing the next load. 

The small apartment around the corner from the piazza in Ħamrun took up the middle layer of a narrow, three storey building that was sandwiched between other buildings of the same type and age. In fact, the entire street was crowded with apartment buildings with only small variations in appearance or colour. The whole working-class suburb of Ħamrun was made up of similar streets containing similar blocks of flats. It was not until you walked down to the piazza and onto the High Street that the view opened up and the ambiance changed appreciably. Nevertheless, people who lived in the apartments took pride in the appearance of their building and tried to differentiate their apartments with ornate, brass doorknockers or a splash of colour on the heavy, wooden, front doors. The women who lived in ground floor apartments could be seen each morning on their hands and knees with their scrubbing brushes and their buckets of soapy water that smelt of disinfectant, washing the front door step and patterned tile floor of the vestibule of their building. The women who lived in higher level apartments dutifully scrubbed their sections of the internal flight of stairs and landing. The women engaged in this zealous ritual every morning partly for self-gratification and partly for status, for it served not only as an important part of their identity as women, but also avoided the serious shame that would have befallen them from being gossiped about as being unclean or lazy. 

Amalia was an attractive young woman with deep, dark burgundy coloured hair that looked black until it was lit up by the intense Maltese sun. She had the “skin of milk and honey” that her female Phoenician ancestors were famous for and the high cheekbones of her mother. The narrow, scattered band of tiny brown freckles over her nose and the top of her cheeks suggested the influence of a fair-haired relation in the distant past, while her sensitive dark green eyes contributed to her arresting, shy smile. Amalia had a demure habit of tilting her head slightly whenever she smiled and glancing upwards, almost apologetically. Her calm, unpretentious nature both complemented and enhanced her natural beauty. All six of Lucia’s girls were pretty, but as the eldest Amalia had developed into something more. She was special to Lucia because after three infant deaths, Amalia was her first child to survive past the first few years of life. 

Amalia had been noticed by many of the local boys of Ħamrun. Her age, good looks and developing figure meant that her father, Dionisio, had to be particularly vigilant towards this daughter. He believed her to be immeasurably above the level of any local boy of their neighbourhood and he thought that her sweet nature made her vulnerable. His fierce reputation and persona had been enough to ward off the young men in the past, but lately Dionisio was feeling insecure about his eldest. 

Amalia was aware of being noticed. The trips to church and shopping were always crowded with siblings and parents, but the girl had noticed the boys looking at her and whispering to each other while smiling in a salacious way.

Amalia had also noticed a handsome boy of about her own age who lived in one of the apartments at the back of the building where she lived. He appeared to be different from the other boys in that he did not seem to go in for the staring, whispering and grinning, although she once caught him sneaking a peek at her during Mass. One sunny morning, Amalia was hanging out the washing when she saw the same handsome boy on one of the terraces that made up the maze of balconies to the rear of her family apartment. He smiled at her and waved. She smiled at him and waved back. The next day at washing time he was there again. Amalia and the boy exchanged smiles and waves once more. 

This behaviour continued for weeks until the couple felt a familiar ease with each other, even though they had never actually spoken. Over time, they managed to learn each other’s names and some other personal details from gossip with friends after Mass on Sundays. They also managed to exchange innocent little notes through willing accomplices. They eventually succeeded in chatting for a few minutes after mass on several occasions and were delighted by each other.

One day, the young man finally summoned up enough courage to actually knock at her family’s door. Earlier, he had waited for Dionisio to step out of the apartment and prayed that it would be Amalia who answered the door. 

*Pronounced “larh-ou-sa”.  

Introduction to the story, “Il-Pupa” (The Doll)

The pretty little girl was often seen sitting on the footpath below the window of a substantial two-storey townhouse in Fleur De Lys, a slightly more affluent neighbourhood than the crowded suburb of Ħamrun[1], where she lived. Clotilde was always sitting there quietly, cross-legged with her back leaning against the limestone wall of the house, between four and five on Tuesday afternoons. She was pleased that the piano was in the sitting room at the front of the residence and on the ground floor, directly facing the window to the narrow street outside. Her more affluent school friend would leave the window open so that Clotilde could overhear her weekly piano lesson. Clotilde loved to listen to the sound of the piano and desperately wished that her father could afford piano lessons for her. 

Clotilde Marija Laudina Bugeja[2]was almost 9 years old and unusual in that she was very fair skinned, had expressive blue eyes and was crowned with a massive dome of frizzy, auburn coloured hair. People theorised that somewhere in the past there must have entered some remnant of aristocratic DNA into her family genes for her to possess such flaxen features. There must have been a very fair ancestor somewhere along the line and very fair ancestors in Maltese history were almost always upper class. Maybe her features came from a member of the noble families of Spanish descent who ruled from the ancient capital, Mdina, during the fifteenth century. Or perhaps there was a member of the conquering army of Roger the Norman, descendants of the Vikings who freed Malta from the Saracens, in her family lineage. Maybe her rare colouring was the result of a nocturnal dalliance by one of the crusading Knights of Saint John, sons of the finest and wealthiest families of Europe who were based in Malta for over 250 years and who became the celebrated heroes of Christendom after defeating the advancing Ottoman Turks at the Great Siege of 1565. The Knights, or Kavallierias the Maltese called them, were sworn to celibacy but had a habit of escaping from their resident auberges through secret passageways by night in search of nefarious activities. The Knights would seek the sexual favours of local women who were the descendants of Phoenicians and described by the ancients as having skin “like milk and honey”. Their raison d’être, to protect Christian interests from the Muslim threat, had long become an anachronism during the final decades of their rule which was characterised by decadence, idleness and moral decay. 

If not a ruling noble, or a Norman, or a Knight of St. John, then perhaps Clotilde’s fair skin and blue eyes came from British infusion. Malta became a British colony in the year 1800 when Nelson, with the assistance of a Maltese uprising, booted out Napoleon’s military forces after their brief but unpopular two-year occupation. The new addition to the Empire was administered by British officials and public servants while it was their naval base in the Mediterranean for over 150 years.

But whatever the link with privilege or wealth in the past, in all practical sense, both advantages had well and truly disappeared from Clotilde’s family without a trace. The family was struggling during the terrible conditions in Malta during WWII. 

The unusual appearance of Clotilde, her happy eyes and the fact that she was the frailest of 11 children made her cherished around the neighbourhood and the favourite of her father, Dionisio.

Dionisio had heard about the visits of his daughter to Fleur De Lys on Tuesday afternoons and desperately wished he could afford to pay for piano lessons for her.

No one actually called the little girl Clotilde anymore. Her pretty and petite looks led family and affectionate locals alike to call her “Pupa”, the Maltese word for doll. Perhaps her nickname contributed to her passion for the toys she shared her name with, or perhaps it was just the usual desires of a young girl growing up in 1940’s Malta. Pupa would spend hours making miniature clothes out of scraps of cloth that were left over from her mother’s sewing and she would meticulously dress the small, crude, wooden figure that one of her older brothers had made for her as a birthday present. The little wooden present from her brother was the closest thing to a real doll she had ever had to play with.

[1]Pronounced “Hum-rune”.

[2]Pronounced “Boo-jay-ah”.

Extract from the story “Grapes”

The skinny boy with fair skin and high cheekbones had been christened Henry Joseph Grech but everyone called him Harry. It was not uncommon for Maltese parents to give their children English sounding names. The British had been the aristocrats and ruling colonialists on the island for almost one and a half centuries and they had immense influence over the locals, as well as their admiration. 

L-Ingliżi, as the British were called, had been ensconced in Malta ever since ousting the forces of Napoleon after their brief but infamous two-year stay. Napoleon had effortlessly ended the 250-year rule of the unpopular and decadent Knights of Saint John, humiliating their last Grand Master in the process. But Napoleon’s stealing of treasures from the church, especially silver plate that he had melted down to pay his soldiers, and his harsh rule led the Maltese to request British military intervention. Nelson drove the thieving French out in 1800 after Maltese insurgents had recaptured most of the island and driven the main French garrison behind the ancient fortifications of Valletta and the Three Cities. The English reneged on an agreement to hand the island back to the Knights and remained in some capacity for 179 years. Great Britain finally granted Malta independence in 1964, although it was not until 1974 that Malta became a republic for the first time in her illustrious history. The British military did not leave the island until 1979. 

Harry’s parents thought that English names carried more status or gravitas. The great leveller that children are, however, tended to deliberately reduce that gravitas by modifying the name to something more familiar and less formal. So, Henry became Harry, his youngest brother Winston became Willie and his oldest brother Edward became known as Eddie. Harry’s other brother Lewis was known as Lewie, whereas his sister Josephine was inexplicably nicknamed Jessie. 

Harry was a frail, pale and sickly child. In fact, he did not start walking until he was almost three years old. There was a time when Harry’s parents thought that he might not live through his early childhood. Many relatives and neighbours agreed. Infant mortality was high in Malta and the deprivations associated with the war did not help health matters.

Harry and his siblings were evacuated from his parents’ house in the port suburb of Marsa during the worst of the bombing in the spring of 1942 because their house was only 100 metres from an anti-aircraft battery. This made the immediate area a target for the German Luftwaffe that were terrorising Malta at the time. All five children were taken by their mother to live with relatives in the rural atmosphere and relative safety of Malta’s sister island, Gozo. Such emigration created a gap in Harry’s schooling and upon his return to Marsa towards the end of the war, Harry stood out in his old primary school because of his age. Being 14 years old in the fourth grade was very awkward for the self-conscious adolescent. Harry was not a tall child, but he still had trouble fitting his legs under the tiny, primary school desks. The final embarrassment and indignity came when his teacher sent Harry from class and told him not to return to school until he had shaved. He went home that day but never returned.

Understandably, Harry was not too keen on school during his limited schooldays. He was never to be seen with his sister, Jessie, and other local children sitting under the wrought iron lanterns of the piazza in Ħamrun of an evening, taking advantage of the strong light to do their homework. In fact, Harry did not have a very good attendance record at school during the day, either. Harry and his close friend, Leli, would sometimes get into mischief during self-gazetted holidays in the dying months of the war. 

The AXIS had successfully blockaded Malta in 1942 so that food was in very short supply and the population were existing on meagre rations. One time, the boys’ hunger drove Harry and Leli to hatch a daring plot to obtain food from the hospital ship anchored in the Grand Harbour. They decided to swim out to the converted ocean liner and climb up its long anchor chain. Once on deck, they would find the kitchen where meals were prepared and either steal or beg for food, depending on which opportunity presented itself. Amazingly, the barefooted boys made it up the long chain to the bough of the ship without being detected and silently crept along the deck sniffing for the kitchen. They got surprisingly close before they were spotted by the cook. Brandishing a large meat cleaver in his hand and waving it over his head, the cook immediately rushed after the two would-be pirates, yelling that the ship was in quarantine and something about typhoid still being on the island. Both boys were so terrified that they took their lives into their hands, jumped over the side railing and leaped off the ship into the water tens of metres below. 

Another time, Harry and Leli decided not to answer the call of the frequent air raid siren and move to the safety of the bomb shelters. Instead, the boys waited in excited anticipation for the inevitable siren to announce the next air raid then hid on the rooftop of an apartment building in Marsa, overlooking the Grand Harbour. There, they watched the military spectacle in living colour. Apart from the obvious threat of the bombs and flying shrapnel, this strategy was even more dangerous as it was the low-flying, German Messerschmitt that carried out the sorties. The Messerschmitt pilots were infamous on the island for strafing any sign of life with their machine guns, including children. 

It certainly was an awesome show for two young schoolboys. The planes flew in low formation as their bombs smashed the port infrastructure in a cacophony of smoke, flames and debris as the antiaircraft guns kept up a constant barrage. At times, the boys could even see the faces of the fearless German pilots through the glass cockpits as they flew low over the rooftops. 

All of a sudden, one of the higher-flying planes was hit by anti-aircraft flak. It soon became engulfed in thick smoke and was in steep descent when the pilot finally baled out. Unfortunately for the hapless German, his parachute was caught by the trailing tail of the aeroplane and the boys watched in awe as it dragged the pilot down to his death, punctuated by a fiery explosion when the aeroplane hit the ground. 

The boys also liked to play tricks on hapless adults during their days off from school, just for the fun of it. An example was the time Harry and Leli thoroughly annoyed a cranky old man who lived alone further down the road from where Harry lived. The boys had somehow acquired a long roll of fishing line and they decided to attach one end of the line to the old man’s brass doorknocker. They hid around the corner and tugged on the invisible line causing the doorknocker to announce the arrival of a non-existent guest. The cranky old man was bemused the first time this happened. Each time the doorknocker was pulled and the man opened the door to an empty flagstone, the angrier he became. Even when he stood by the front door and opened it as soon as he heard the knocking, the old man could not catch the nimble pranksters. The mutterings grew louder and by the time they became shouts of swear words and threats of bodily harm, the boys were in tears of laughter. Until the butt of their joke noticed the fishing line and followed it to their hiding place. 

One Sunday after Mass and after leaving church, Harry peered over the stone wall of the priest’s rectory.

“Leli, take a look at this. Do you see what I see?” 

“What do you mean? I can only see the back veranda of where the priests live.” 

“And what do you see growing around the veranda?” 

“Oh . . . yes!” 

Extract From the Latest Story- “Reunion and Salvation”

The war dragged on. It became even more miserable and even more desperate. In August 1942, Malta was down to only a week or two of remaining food supplies. People were starving and subsisting on one small meal a day. Regular bombing raids had reduced much of the built-up area around the Harbour and beyond to rubble and the NAZIS continued to torment the population with multiple daily air raids. It looked like they had no option but to capitulate and suffer a NAZI occupation, along with all the horrors they had heard about and learnt to associate with such a disaster. Surrender was imminent. Perhaps two weeks away, at most.

Then, one sunny Autumn morning, the girls heard a loud commotion outside in the street. People were shouting, laughing and singing. It was September 13th, two days before the feast of Santa Marija. Pupa and Christina went outside their building and out to the piazza of Ħamrun to see what all the commotion was about. It seemed that all the people of the entire suburb were outside of their homes and in the streets. People were crying and hugging one another as they rushed along the High Street towards the city of Valletta. The girls were swept along within the throng and moved down the street with the crowd. It was like a fantastic celebration the likes of which the girls had never seen. As they approached the stone bastions at Valletta, they saw a scene of mass hysteria with people standing on the ramparts cheering and waving. People were weeping with joy while waving flags.

The girls looked into the Grand Harbour to see three ships. They were the good ships Port Chalmers, Rochester Castle and Melbourne Star, three of the five surviving remnants of the convoy of food, medicines, ammunition and fuel codenamed “Operation Pedestal” but later renamed by the Maltese as the “Santa Marija Convoy.”  

Several previously attempted convoys and their precious cargoes destined for Malta lay on the bottom of the sea, intercepted by Axis fighter bombers and U-boats before they could reach Malta. In August 1942, the British decided to launch one last, desperate attempt to land a convoy of supplies to save Malta, and henceforth, the North African campaign of General Montgomery and the Allies. The convoy was ambitious and at the same time, audacious. It included 13 merchant ships and the fuel tanker Ohio, escorted by 44 warships, including two battle ships and three aircraft carriers.

Apart from the three merchant ships that sailed into the Grand Harbour on the 13th, the Brisbane Star, a fourth merchant ship, sailed in the next day. The day after that, the greatest prize of all, the tanker Ohio, limped into harbour half submerged from bomb damage. It was the 15th day of August- the Catholic fest day of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, known to the Maltese as Festa Santa Marija.

The surviving vessels of the convoy had miraculously navigated through a tremendous onslaught from the Luftwaffe and endured multiple submarine attacks to travel from the Allied naval base at Gibraltar the 2,120 kilometres across the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Grand Harbour, Malta. Some 53,000 tons of the original 85,000 tons of convoy supplies was at the bottom of the ocean along with nine of the merchant ships. The Ohio had 9,514 tons of fuel remaining from its original cargo of 13,000 tons.[1] One aircraft carrier, two light cruisers and one destroyer were sunk and over 500 men killed.[2] The supplies that did get through lasted until the end of 1942 and allowed the successful harassment of NAZI supply lines from Italy to Rommel in North Africa to continue while also facilitating the defence of the island.


During those miserable times for Christina, through the last stages of WWII, the only sibling that she felt showed her real compassion was her little sister, Pupa. Pupa was the one who welcomed her back into the family with open arms and the only one who seemed to understand how lonely and despairing she felt. On one particularly despondent occasion, Pupa went as far as to offer Christina some of her own meagre food rations in an attempt to stop her big sister crying.

The sisters almost died of typhoid while together in St. Luke’s hospital during the epidemic of 1942. They supported and encouraged each other from adjacent hospital beds with kind words and they built up a particularly strong bond.

Many years after the horrors of war were over, Christina married a very kind and gentle man who owned a small upholstering business in Ħamrun and who treated her like a queen. Cristina’s husband woke from sleep early each morning and would bring her breakfast in bed before he left for work each day. She was very happily married until a work-related disease involving toxic chemical use took her soulmate’s life too early. They had two children, a boy and a girl.

Pupa grew up to be a beautiful young woman, married a handsome man from Marsa and immigrated to Australia but the love between the two sisters never waned. Christina spoke to Pupa in Australia on the telephone every day in their later years. Their special bond remained rock solid for the remainder of their lives. The last time they saw each other Christina was aged 89 and Pupa was 84 years old. It was a sad and tearful final farewell at the Luqa airport departure lounge, Malta.

[1] https://bit.ly/2HOpbnM

[2] https://bit.ly/2HMKyps