A Parable

The Theft of Smell

(A version by Marilyn Kinsella)

Once there was a man who had no job, no home, no family and very little money. He survived on the good will of his fellow villagers who gave him bits of food. As he walked along the cobblestone roads, he often stopped next to the bakery. Such delicious smells wafted from the open window and into his welcoming nose. On Mondays, he smelled homemade apple pie, on Tuesdays, he smelled sweet doughnuts, on Wednesdays, he smelled yummy meat pies, on Thursdays, he smelled cinnamon cookies, on Fridays, he smelled rich, chocolate cake, and on Saturdays, he smelled the delicious aroma of baking breads. 

"Ahh," he said to himself after taking a whiff, "I may have no money, but at least I can enjoy the delicious banquet of aromas." And he closed his eyes and dreamed of eating a royal feast. 

One day, while he was taking in the scent of baked bread, the baker came out and saw the man enjoying the aromas of his labours. "What are you doing out here? I thought I smelled a rat! You are stealing my scents." 

"What!" cried the poor man, "stealing your scents...makes no sense!"

"We shall see about that," said the baker. "Police, police, come and arrest this man!"

Unfortunately, the poor man was hauled off to jail, where he awaited his trial.

When the day, came to meet the judge, the police came and took him by handcuffs to the court. The judge looked down over his wire-rimmed glasses at the two men. "What have we here?"

The baker, still angry, started shouting, "This man, this bum...has been stealing from me!"

"I see," said the judge, "and just what has he been taking from you?"

"Everyday this man comes and stands outside my bakery. He never buys anything and yet, he enjoys my baked goods."

"That is terrible," said the judge, "you mean that he steals your food!"

"Not exactly, your honour," said the baker, "in fact, he never even sets foot in the bakery."

"Then, I don't understand how it is that he is stealing?"

"Well, he smells the aromas of my cooking without paying for them."

"Oh, now I see," said the judge. "He enjoys the scent without paying a single cent!"

"That is correct, your honour."

The judge looked at the homeless man and said in a stern voice, "Is this true? You have been accused of the theft of smell. What do have to say for yourself?"

"Your Honour," the homeless man began, "it is true. I do stand outside the bakery. The smells that come from the bakery make me forget my miserable life and, for just a few seconds, I can dream that I am feasting on fine food. I did not know that what I did was wrong."

"I see," said the judge, “but ignorance of the law is no excuse."

The baker nodded and smiled at the judge's wise words.

The judge looked at the baker and said, "To recompense you for this theft, I want this thief to go home and get every bit of money he has and bring it to the court early tomorrow morning." The homeless man was distraught. It was the last of his money, but he did as the judge asked, and returned the next morning with a bag filled with assorted coins.

 The judge took the bag and said to the baker, "Now, come close." The baker smugly approached the bench.

The judge took the bag and shook it vigorously, "Do you hear that?"

"Yes," said the baker.

"Then, that sound is your payment for the theft of smell! And, since you wasted the court's time with such a ridiculous lawsuit, I hereby, declare that you make a baker's dozen of every thing pastry and donate the 13th baked good to the food pantry. That way other poor people cannot only enjoy the aroma, but the taste of your fine ware.