In fiction household pets usually have names like Fluffy, Spotty, Fido, or Rover. This story is about an enormous black and tan tabby tomcat, who started out his life
as Timothy, and ended it as Manza. In between he had more than a dozen names in thirteen years, however, the process of change went something like this: Timothy was too pompous for our gaggle of
nieces and nephews, who changed it to Timbo. Which was too slangy for my mother, who changed it to Timmie, which later became Tim. Then Timza Cat (in effect “Tim is a cat”), which became Manza Cat
(“Man is a cat”, since he was a Tom, or man cat), which was finally shortened to Manza.
Funnily enough, although kids always seemed to love Manza, he in turn always hated kids. Manza had been born in a household where there were half a dozen kids, and
after coming to our house (where there was three adults plus my teenaged sister, Christine), it took him all of two days to decide that our house was better than his original home. So that when his
first owner, Charlene, came calling a week or so later, to the amazement of her kids Manza snubbed them.
To their surprise the tabby got halfway in through the cat-flap in the back door, took one look at the horde of kids standing with their arms outstretched to greet
him, and reversed back out the door. Not returning until two hours later after hearing the sound of their car driving away.
That became the norm with Manza from then on. He would disappear at the first sign of kids, to reappear a minute or two after their departure. Sometimes he would not
even get in through the cat-flap, but would hear the sound of young voices from outside and would go across to lie on top of the garage roof, or the carport by the side of the house, to wait,
sometimes for hours for them to depart. However, sometimes to Manza’s shock, Charlene and her brood would stay overnight with us. Then when he came in for his supper, Manza would be pounced upon by
a swarm of kids, squealing their delight as they wrapped their little arms around his big, furry body.
Apart from Charlene’s kids, another person who loved Manza was our young niece Bettina. Often we would be up in the lounge room talking or watching television, when we
would hear what sounded like a herd of wild horses galloping down the hallway.
Thinking that someone was out there filming the latest sequel to “The Man From SnowyRiver”, we’d go to investigate only to find that it was Manza hopping along down the corridor like a great jack rabbit, with Betty in hot
Usually she would corner him at the front door, then poor Manza would be almost cut into two as her little arms closed vice-like around his midriff, so that she could
half-carry, half-drag the long-suffering cat into the lounge room.
“Oh Betty, that cat is too heavy for you!” her mother would insist, as the little girl staggered into the room, almost strangling Manza since her arms had gradually
slipped down until they were around his neck.
“No he’s not!” would protest Betty, although her chubby, little face was almost beetroot red from the strain of carrying the tabby cat, which was at least as big as
her, and almost as heavy.
On one occasion Manza managed to stop himself being caught at the door by waiting until Betty almost had him, then putting his front paws onto her shoulders and
leaping as hard as he could with his hindquarters. He leapfrogged right over the little girl and galloped back down the hallway to flee out through the cat-flap in the back door.
Despite bonkinq headfirst into the front door with a noise like two coconuts clapping together, little Betty had soon reversed direction to race after him.
Manza would have got clean away, however, instead of heading for the carport and safety, the moment he was out through the cat-flap, the tomcat stopped to preen
himself, confident of his freedom, until to his amazement two plump little arms clamped around him and started to drag him back into the house.
“What in the world are you doing?” demanded Betty’s mother, seeing the little girl’s behind sticking up into the kitchen from the cat-flap?
“Getting Manza,” explained Betty as she reappeared through the cat-flap, dragging a struggling tomcat into the kitchen with her.
Poor Manza, he was so used to fleeing from people who were much too large to follow him through the cat-flap, that it had not occurred to him that if it is cat-sized,
it is also little girl-sized.
Yes, Betty loved Manza, and insisted that he was her cat not ours. “But he lives with us,” we’d insist. However, the little girl would remain adamant that she had
three pets: their own grey Persian tom named Henry (who their mother called “Henry the First through to Seventh!” although her kids, having never heard of Henry the Eighth, always looked at her as
though she was retarded when she said it), a large black mongrel dog named Boots, because of his white paws, and our moggy, Manza.
Although normally good with kids, despite hating them, even Manza had a limit to his tolerance and had been known to lash out at them at times.
One day a teary-eyed little Betty wandered into the lounge room to announce, “Your cat bit me.”
“I thought he was your cat?” asked Christine.
“Your cat!” insisted Betty, and for the next week or so Manza was relieved to find himself being ignored by the little girl. However, she soon forgave him and to
Manza’s dismay, he went back to being her cat.
Although Manza hated kids, he loved their toys and would enjoy himself immensely rolling tennis balls, marbles, and plastic toys of all persuasions around the floor
after the kids had gone home, leaving them behind. Our nephews often played ping pong on the kitchen table and if Manza was lucky he would find ping pong balls that they had lost under chairs or
behind furniture. Sometimes while they were playing a ball would be hit behind the refrigerator or the deep freeze, then the kids would steer Manza into the small aisle between the fridge and the
wall, then shoo him till he walked right around behind the refrigerator and reappeared out the other side, usually hitting the ping pong ball along in front of him. Though delighted at his find,
Manza was always dismayed when they took the ball off him and went back to their game. He would glare up at them from the floor, with a look as if to say, “Hey, who got it out of there,
Another of Manza’s favourite toys, when the kids were little, was their plastic rattles. When Bettina was born her mother would often leave her with us when she went
to work. Baby Betty had a metre-high bassinet, draped with all the usual accoutrements, including a string from which dangled a number of brightly coloured rattles. Although intended for the baby’s
amusement, more often than not it was Manza who played with the rattles.
Hearing the plastic toys whizzing round and round and the little girl gurgling with delight, mum would go in to investigate, only to find a big, striped tomcat sitting
in the bassinet, virtually on top of the baby, furiously swatting at the plastic toys with his front paws. There were six rattles in all, so it was a veritable juggling trick to keep them all in
motion at once. However, (to Betty’s obvious delight) with the reflexes of a cat, and both front paws swatting away in double-time, Manza was just able to accomplish the feat.
“Get off that baby, you big, furry idiot!” mum would shout, giving the tomcat a clip across the ears to chase him away. Much to the distress of young Bettina, who
would burst out into loud bawling at the game being so rudely interrupted.
A few minutes later, however, we would hear the rapid-fire ting-ting-ting-ting of half a dozen plastic rattles whirring round again as they were swatted, and realising
that a little girl’s hands were not that dextrous, we’d know that Manza was up to his tricks again.
Another of Manza’s favourite games also involved the use of his great agility, this time his ability to balance on the narrow rim of the bathtub like a
Manza would skip along the yellow, enamel ledge while Betty or one of her brothers bathed, happily slapping at the plastic boats and rubber ducks that floated
The kids enjoyed this game every bit as much as the tomcat and would happily push a boat across toward Manza, who would lean in toward the water as far as he dared, to
give a hefty swat with one of his front paws to send the boat skimming back toward the bather, who would then deflect it back toward the tabby, and so on.
At least that is how the game was usually played. However, one day little Betty decided to invent a new variation. This time she held the boat firmly in her pudgy
little hand and guided it across until it was almost within Manza’s reach, then pulled it away at the last second, so that the tomcat swatted at empty air, to his obvious dismay.
Betty did this half a dozen times to the mounting displeasure of Manza, who began to swish his long, striped tail from side to side, pacing back and forth along the
enamel ledge like a nervous father-to-be, as he followed the plastic tug boat, waiting for his chance to swat it.
Finally his impatience got the better of the tomcat and we heard a loud splash, followed by Betty clapping her hands together gleefully, and shouting, “Mummy! Mummy!
Manza’s taking a bath with me!”
Betty’s mother and grandmother were both considerably less delighted than the little girl, however, since the large tabby leapt out of the tub and raced down the
corridor toward the lounge room, splashing bath water all around the hall carpet, and across the couch, where he finally stopped to shake himself off, before starting to preen himself.
Although Manza hated living with kids, he almost ended up back with Charlene and her brood a couple of years after moving in with us. As already mentioned, like all
cats Manza was incredibly agile. His little body was so flexible that he had been known to sneak into the house at night when a window had been left open only a few centimetres.
On this occasion, however, it was a side window of Charlene’s Ford Fairlane that Manza eased his way through. So that he could sleep on top of the back seat of the
car, along with Snoopy and Koala dolls that already obscured Charlene’s vision out through the back windscreen of the car.
No one noticed the snoozing moggy until he started to purr in his sleep when they were halfway home to Hopper’s Crossing. Charlene’s husband, Donald, wanted to throw
the tomcat out into the street, to let him find his own way home. However, after much pleading and crying from their kids, Charlene turned the car round and chauffeured the spoilt moggy all the way
back to Footscray.
Apart from Charlene’s kids and our string of nieces and nephews, Manza also had to contend with the local kids. This included the Neighbourhood Gestapo, as we called
them: Ashley, Brian, Martin, Dennis, Sean, and Anthony, six brothers who lived in the house directly behind ours.
When we first moved into our house, the Gestapo had welcomed us by throwing everything from leftover roof tiles to fruit and raw eggs, to broken bottles over our back
fence. They also climbed all over the roof of our garage and outdoor workroom to toss garbage down into our yard.
Since Manza also climbed all over the rooftops it was only a matter of time before the large tabby came across them. The Gestapo terrified us and kept us from using
our own back yard, to the point where our mother even hung washing on strings suspended in the garage and workroom, to avoid them, or her, being splattered with refuse thrown from the roofs. So
understandably we were concerned for the tomcat’s welfare the first time that we saw him fraternising with the enemy.
To our surprise, however, whereas the Gestapo tormented every other cat or dog in the region, they treated Manza like royalty, sharing their lollies with him, and
stealing food from their own pets to give to him. When they had fish and chips for lunch, Manza got most of the fish, minus the batter, and most of the beef when they had hamburgers.
Naturally we were baffled by this strange display of kindness by six hooligans who normally dedicated their lives toward proving that Spencer Tracy did not know what
he was talking about when he said that there is no such thing as a bad boy. The only explanation that we could think of was that whereas they looked down on animals in general, they respected Manza
because in his own way the tomcat was every bit as big a larrikin as they were.
Like all cats Manza was extremely fussy about what he would eat, and would turn up his nose in disgust if anyone dared to put old chop or chicken bones onto his plate.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” he’d seem to say as he flicked up his tail, then headed for the cat door to stalk outside.
Nevertheless, if his supper was not up to the required standard, the tomcat was not above raiding the rubbish bin. In those days we had a plastic kitchen-tidy, and as
you may be aware such tidies have an average life span in perfect working order of about one month, before the pins connecting the lid snap, leaving you with an open-ended, lidless tidy stinking up
Since Manza was almost the size of a small terrier, he had no difficulty leaping up to hold onto the top of the tidy with his front paws to peer down at the rotting
goodies within, then pull out onto the kitchen floor anything of interest that he discovered.
“Gedaway from that bin, you good for nothing moggy!” my sister Irene would shout if she spotted him from the kitchen table.
“Could you possibly be speaking to me?” Manza would seem to be thinking, as he turned round to glare at Irene with his bright yellow-green eyes for a moment or two
before going back to his treasure hunt.
“Nanna! Nanna! Manza is rattin’ again! Manza is rattin’ again!” would shout out little Betty excitedly, if she caught him at the kitchen-tidy.
“Rattin’ indeed!” Manza would seem to say as he fixed his gaze on her. “Haven’t you ever heard of self-service takeaways?”
Of course if the slop dished up to Manza on his plate left too much to be desired and there were no tempting titbits in the kitchen-tidy, the tomcat could always go
out foraging for food. Never one for mousing (largely because there had never been any mice in the house), Manza was, however, a more than respectable bird-catcher.
One day mum was in the kitchen when she heard Manza’s raucous yowling at the back door and went across to let him in.
“Oh no you don’t!” she shrieked, kicking him away from the door, when she saw the tabby standing there with a broad “cheesy grin” on his face, as if to say, “Aren’t I
the clever one!” holding a large, green budgerigar in his jaws.
Of course the poor Budgie was dead, so Mum took it from him, placed it into the metal rubbish bin outside the back door, made certain the lid was firmly in place, then
shooed Manza away.
Ten minutes later, however, he was at the door again demanding to be let inside.
“Oh well, I suppose you can come in,” said mum, walking across from where she had been doing the ironing to open the door for him. “Just so long as you haven’t got a
dead budgie in your mouth.”
But of course he did!
“How in the...?” said mum, looking across to where the metal lid was still firmly in place on the bin.
Although not believing for a second that the tomcat could have taken the lid off the metal bin, retrieved the dead budgie, then put the lid on again, mum had no choice
but to open the bin and look.
“Well then where did you get that one from?” asked mum, seeing the first green bundle still lying on top of the rubbish.
This time Manza was more reluctant to give up his prize. “Come on fair’s fair, one for you and one for me!” he seemed to be thinking as mum chased him round and round
the back patio.
Finally she cornered him and the second budgie joined the first one in the bin.
This time, wisely mum decided to take Manza into the house with her. Which was just as well since an hour or so later there were loud shrieks from next door, followed
by a string of obscene language, as our neighbours discovered that their budgies were both missing. Amidst the obscenities were a number of none-too-subtle threats about what they would do to a
certain large, black and tan tabby tomcat, if he was ever silly enough to get within range of their meat grinder.
“Cat’s guts sausages, oh yuk!” said Christine, and Manza did not seem too pleased about the idea either.
As mentioned, in his youth Manza was incredibly agile. My brother David and I would play snooker out in the garage, and the tomcat would leap up onto the billiard
table from a standing start, to help us to knock the brightly coloured balls around. In his later life though, Manza’s joints became stiff and rheumatic, so that not only could he no longer leap up
onto the billiard table, but he even had difficulty leaping onto my bed -- perhaps half the height of the table.
Unable to do a standing leap anymore, he would take a run-up, spring with all of his might, then more often than not would land with his front paws and belly on the
end of the bed, and his back legs and behind dangling over the edge. Then, oh-so-slowly Manza would claw his way up onto the bed, to walk down to lie on top of my legs, which would soon start to go
numb from the weight of the tomcat cutting off their circulation.
© Copyright 2011
© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.