A Sense of Theft
A Folktale told around the World
a time a poor young woman named Zena lived opposite a baker's shop. Everyone
in the village loved Zena, for she was kind and generous. She had a marvelous
laugh and a beautiful voice, and in the evening when she sang, people would
gather around her windows to listen.
was terribly poor, and to pay for her tiny house and her food, she cleaned
peoples' homes and mended their clothes.
name was Mordecai. Everyone loved Mordecai's cakes and cookies, his breads
and his pies and his cakes. Mordecai seemed to have a special touch with baked
goods, but otherwise he was a terrible man. He was greedy and unpleasant, and
he never had a kind word to offer. And still
people flocked to the bakery because once they had tasted even one of Mordecai's
breads, they had to have more.
Mordecai seldom spoke, but Zena loved the smells that wafted out of the shop
across the street from her house. Every morning just before dawn, while Mordecai
was baking, Zena walked to her window and threw it wide open. She leaned out
and inhaled the mouth-watering scents.
delicious," she would sigh, "how I wish I could afford to buy Mordecai's breads
Zena could not afford such luxuries.
two women, Rachel and Sarah, were standing in the bakery waiting to purchase
fresh challahs for their Sabbath meal when suddenly Rachel burst out laughing.
so funny?" Mordecai asked grumpily.
"Oh I was
just thinking of poor, sweet Zena," Rachel said. "She says she doesn't
need to eat your cakes and pies."
not?" demanded Mordecai.
on the smells," Sophie said. "So she says.
Mordecai fumed. He was furious. "She feasts on the smell of my baked goods?
Why for that she'll have to pay!" and before Rachel or Sophie could say
another word, Mordecai tore off his apron and stormed out of the shop.
down the road.
directly to the courthouse and there he pushed past clerks and stormed into
the judge's chambers. "I have a case!" he said to the startled judge. "I
demand you call Zena to court. She owes me money. She's stolen from me."
he presented his case.
listened thoughtfully to Mordecai's tale. Then he sent the clerks to summon
Zena. "Tell her she must appear in court, and she must bring with her
all her money for the baker is charging her with theft of a smell."
clerk told Zena of the charges, she wept. All the women of the village gathered
around her to comfort her.
they said. "Utter nonsense. No one can steal a smell. The judge is mad
even to consider such a case."
And as word
spread through the village of the case of Mordecai against Zena, the arguments
began. Some said Mordecai was a greedy fool—surely the judge would see that,
whispered, "Zena has indeed stolen. She ought to pay if she is feasting
on the smells Mordecai makes."
was talking about the famous case of Mordecai the baker and Zena the thief
of smells, and on the day the judge was to announce his verdict, the whole
village gathered at the courthouse.
her bag of coins, Zena hurried up the courthouse steps and appeared before
the judge. "I have brought all my money just as you asked," she said
eyed her closely. "Zena, tell me this. Have you been smelling the baker's
cakes and pies and cookies and breads?"
her head. "I have. In the morning I open my windows and sniff all those
wonderful scents. They rise up and float out the baker's window and through
the air and into my window. And yes, I inhale."
this give you pleasure, Zena?" asked the judge.
Zena said. "I confess it does."
you said to others that sometimes you feel almost full when you inhale those
smells, Zena?" the judge went on.
have. I told Rachel that sometimes I feel as if I've eaten a whole loaf when
I smell that warm, buttery scent."
tell me, Zena, what's in that bag you are carrying?"
down at her bag. "Why this is all the money I have in the world. I've
brought it just as you demanded, sir."
fell quiet. The courtroom did too. It was so quiet and still in that room,
it seemed as if no one even breathed. Everyone knew the judge liked to think
in silence. Everyone knew he would need time to settle this most unusual case.
sound in that courtroom was the occasional tinkling of the coins in Zena's
last the judge stood. "I have reached a verdict, Zena. I find you guilty
as charged. You are guilty of stealing the baker's smells."
gasped, and a tear dropped from Zena's eye as the judge went on. "Now,
walk to your accuser, Zena."
to Mordecai and blushed with shame.
said the judge, "Zena, you will shake your bag."
honor? I don't understand."
voice boomed. "Shake the bag of coins. I order you!"
with fear, Zena began to shake her bag, and those coins began to clink and
rattle, and in the great silent courthouse, the echoes of those tinkling coins
filled the room.
turned to face Mordecai. "Baker, do you hear the sound of those coins
clinking and tinkling and rattling?"
do indeed," Mordecai said.
a lovely sound to you?" asked the judge.
indeed," he said as he imagined the feel of those coins in his hand.
said the judge. "The case is closed. Zena stole a smell and now she has
repaid you with the sound of her money. All's fair. Zena, you are free to go
home, with your coins."
The crowd applauded wildly, pleased to discover their judge was wise and fair.