“How do you plead?”
“Guilty” said Maisie with a scowl in the dock. The whole court seemed to sigh in relief, as Maisie Perkins followed her appointed lawyer’s recommendation. The proceedings thereafter were short. First there was the evidence of the policeman, who claimed that Maisie had tried to strike him with her umbrella, followed by an eyewitness account of a passer by. He received a glare fit to kill! Then her lawyer rose and attempted to mitigate the offence. He had advised Maisie not to fight the charge but to plead guilty thus avoiding higher court costs and a larger fine.
She had reluctantly agreed to this plan, as she had a family at home, all nine of them. Her family comprised an assortment of stray cats and one dog, an aggressive goat and an almost bald galah.
The Magistrate considered the evidence and submissions and determined that Maisie was guilty of causing a nuisance in a public place and should be bound over for twelve months to keep the peace and to pay costs. Fortunately with the proceedings so brief the cost amounted to a mere $237.
Maisie bit her lip. “Have to live bread and scrape” she murmured, but no one noticed as the court was preparing for the next case.
She lived alone, had done for years. Nobody remembered her husband, and her children, if any, never visited her. She survived in a hovel at Mile End. The garden what there was of it was unkempt; the grass scorched by the sun, providing nesting places for the cats. The fence around the property was full of holes and this provided an essential feline expressway to escape the neighbours and aggressive dogs. The back door of the house, the only one in use had been patched with unpainted hardboard and now curled in protest away from its fasteners. The colour of what little paint was left on the building was indeterminate, and the grey rags at the windows excluded the outside world. Inside the house there was a considerable amount of clutter ranging from old bicycles to empty ice cream containers. Anything that could contain something did so as Maisie was a great hoarder. Her current passion was drink containers which could be redeemed for a few cents at the recycling depot. She was an enthusiastic collector and would be up early to feed the animals before she went out. She herself ate little; just a piece of stale bread cut up placed in a bowl and covered with milk. This she would slurp down between her gummy jaws spilling droplets of milk down her front as she talked to her animals. Her clothes, which were not much more than rags, generally came out of goodwill bins after dark. She also smelt, an acrid mix of curdled milk and unwashed dog.
She had her regular route to collect her empties as she called them, trawling the streets of Adelaide with a huge plasticised bag in which she would put both empties and an assortment of discarded food for the animal’s tea. As the city came alive, workers scurrying to work would barely notice Maisie and her haul. When she first started collecting she would keep the cans and bottles intact but soon realised that it was easier to squash them and this she did in the street, jumping on them to make them flat.
It was at the Railway Station she was involved in the incident. It was here that she had seen the youth being bailed up by the policeman all those weeks ago. The boy appeared quite distressed and hating bullying of any sort she had strode across to the scene and shouted.
“Leave him alone you mongrel, go and pick on someone your own size”
The policeman turned around in surprise and stared at the diminutive figure close to him.
“Off you go Granny, this has nothing to do with you”
Maisie looked at the boy’s frightened face and stood her ground.
With that he put his hand on Maisie’s shoulders and turned her round to steer her away. Maisie exploded and grabbed her brolly out of her bag and raised it up. The policeman with a look of surprise let go of the youth who disappeared quietly between some parked cars. By this time the second policeman from the patrol car jumped into action and Maisie was arrested for assault.
As Maisie left the court after arranging to pay the fine she set off for home. She hadn’t got far before she heard the sound of steps behind her. She was not a nervous type but did turn round to see the very youth that had been involved with the police the day she was arrested. He looked pale and unfed.
“I just wanted to thank you.” He said.
She eyed him up and down. “So you got away did you?”
He nodded in assent.
“You are going to cost me a few dollars you are my boy.”
She chuckled, grinning at him with her gummy grin.
“You’ve nowhere to stay have you? What a piece of flotsam you are, sleeping rough, by the look of it. How did you come to be on the streets?”
Before he could answer she went on.
“No, no, don’t tell me now. Let’s go home and have a cup of something.”
With that she started striding off down the road that led home. Crossing over West Terrace the spire of the church at Thebarton rose out of the green valley welcoming them to her haven that was almost untouched by the bustle of city life.
Maisie was happy again, she had another stray to look after.