More Harry

One night, when Harry was about 11 years old, he was awakened by a nightmare. He dreamt that he was crouching on a rooftop watching an air raid when one of the low flying German pilots streaking past turned his head and met his eyes. Harry watched but could not move as the Messerschmitt dipped one wing, banked in the air and came back towards him. The boy could see the pilot’s eyes smiling as he approached right at eye level, his thumb raised over the joystick. Harry’s feet were stuck fast to the spot. Just before the impending impact, Harry sat up in bed with a gasp.

The boy was unsettled by the dream and got up to fetch a drink of water from the kitchen. As he was standing over the sink, he heard noises coming from the street outside. Looking through the window, Harry saw a cart being slowly drawn by an old horse. The cart had a tarpaulin loosely drawn over a bulging load. After peering closely through the darkness for a minute or two, Harry could just make out that the cart was laden with lots of small, round loaves of Maltese bread. He watched for a few minutes as it turned into the college which belonged to the Jesuit friars and that had been converted into a hospital for sick and wounded British troops. Harry looked at the old clock chiming the time in the kitchen. It was 4am.

The next day at noon, Harry mentioned what he had seen the night before to his nannu as the latter was taking his lunch. Karmenu became very interested in this clandestine delivery.

“Let’s see if it happens again.”

The next night Karmenu slept fitfully as he woke early and listened for the old clock to chime 4am. He went to the kitchen and watched through the window. The cart with the crusty brown treasure went past once again. The grandfather concluded that this was a daily delivery to the hospital for British soldiers, carried out under the cover of darkness for security reasons. An open cart full of fresh bread through the streets of Birkirkara during the daytime would not have lasted long.

“We’ll see about this,” chuckled Karmenu. He smiled in anticipation of a new escapade.

For weeks after that, whenever bread was getting scarce at the little house, Karmenu would wake Harry up at around a quarter to four in the morning and send him out to tiptoe up to the back of the cart and surreptitiously lift off one of the round, crusty loaves. The old driver, peering straight ahead into the early morning light to see where he was going was never the wiser.

Eventually, inevitably, Maria found out what was happening and hit the roof.

“We have been eating bread stolen from the church! We will all burn in the fires of hell. God have mercy!”

“Oh, Maria, it’s not the church any more. It’s an English hospital.”

“Ah, good. Then it’s from the mouths of the sick that we are stealing. And from a consecrated place. Madonna!”

“Oh, get away! L-Ingliżi (the English) have plenty of bread to share with us.”

“They have less to share with you two thieves around!”

Once Maria knew where the extra bread was coming from she refused to eat it. Her strong religious beliefs meant that she would rather go hungry than swallow the sinful sustenance. She was certain that the two thieves would go straight to hell if they did not repent. Maria said special prayers for all their souls every morning and night. She was convinced that she had already condemned herself to years of purgatory after her death, at the very least, by unwittingly eating the holy contraband and never did forgive Karmenu. Hers was a cruel God.

Every time the old couple had a serious quarrel, for the rest of Karmenu’s life, the stolen loaves would come up at some stage in the argument, along with the presumed fact that Maria’s entry into heaven would be delayed after her death because of him.

Years later, after the war had ended and things on the island got back to near normal, a special delivery would be made to the college of Jesuit friars every year. A fresh, crusty, round loaf of traditional Maltese bread wrapped in paper would mysteriously appear on the doorstep of the college on a morning around Christmas time. The Jesuits were initially perplexed and asked around to find out who was making the annual deliveries, but to no avail. Eventually, they decided to suppress their curiosity and just accept the bread as providence.

Years went by and the war in Malta was now a horrible memory. The Germans had joined the Ottoman Turks in infamy as defeated enemies. For the second time, a great siege in Malta ended around the time of the feast of Our Lady of Victories on the 15th of August. For a second time that feast day was enshrined into Malta’s collective, celebratory spirit. Malta had played a significant role in the defeat of the Nazis through its essential contribution to a famous North African triumph. The campaign in North Africa was the first major victory by the Allies of WWII and one which seriously weakened the German war campaign while at the same time strengthening that of the Allies. Arguably, it was an important turning point and accelerated the ending of the war. [1]

Malta had also provided the planning headquarters for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July, 1943, which subsequently paved the way for the invasion and eventual capture of the entire Italian peninsula in September of that same year.[2]  

In the end, Karmenu died peacefully in his bed at a distinguished old age. Maria passed on very soon after. It was not until the old gravedigger’s wife had also died that the mysterious loaves stopped appearing every Christmas on the doorstep of the Jesuit College.


[1] https://bit.ly/2G4zdPU

[2] Holland, James (2004), Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940-43, London, Phoenix, p.170.

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