On a street corner near a rotisserie, a thin, unkempt man named Thomas munched on a slice of bread he bought from the bakery next door. He held the crusty bread in the smoke from the roasted beef so that it tasted as if he had dipped it in the tangy au jus of the succulent meat. Thomas enjoyed his slice so much; he bought a whole loaf of
bread that he also held in the smoke. He devoured the entire loaf.
“What are you doing?” The rotisserie owner, Luther, asked Thomas as he passed by his front door. “I saw you in my back alley.”
“I flavored my bread with the rotisserie smoke,” Thomas said.
“I own the rotisserie. You owe me for the smoke from the meats,” Luther said as he wiped his hands on his stained white apron.
“I don’t owe you anything. How can you sell smoke? Besides, the smoke was rising into the air and was wasted anyway,” Thomas said.
“I didn’t intend for my smoke to flavor your bread. If you don’t pay me, I’m going to knock your teeth out,” Luther said. Thomas raised his walking stick in defense. The men yelled at each other even louder and people gathered to watch the fight. Luther saw the Justice of the Peace in the crowd as he approached the two men.
“What’s going on over here?” The Justice of the Peace asked.
Luther got an idea.
“Are you willing to have the good justice here settle our dispute?” Luther asked Thomas.
“Yes, by all means,” Thomas said.
The justice listened to each man’s story.
“Give me a coin,” the justice said to Thomas.
“Here you are sir,” Thomas said as he pulled the coin from his pocket. The justice took the coin and placed it on his shoulder, as though he were testing the coin’s weight. Then he tapped the coin on the palm of his left hand, as though he were testing if the coin was counterfeit. Then he placed the coin in front of his right eye, as though he were seeing if the coin was properly engraved.
The crowd remained silent. They expected a decision in favor of the rotisserie owner.
Finally, the justice tapped the coin on a table several times. He cleared his throat and faced the crowd.
“This court rules that Thomas, who has eaten his bread held in the smoke from the roast, must pay Luther with the sound of his money. And the court further directs that each man return to his business without costs and for just cause,” the justice declared and returned the coin to Thomas.
Luther was angry. He looked at Thomas. “Stay out of my alley,” Luther growled.
“You don’t own the alley either. It’s pubic property. You can’t block me from it,” Thomas said.
Luther growled even louder and stomped back through his shop’s front door.
“Oh, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” Thomas said as he walked down the sidewalk, humming a tune and tapping his stick.
Adapted by Martina Kranz from "Theft of a Smell" by Francois Rabelais
Francois Rabelais c. 1494 – 9 April 1553
Francois Rabelais was a French Renaissance writer, doctor, monk, and Greek scholar. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, and grotesque, bawdy jokes and songs. He is considered one of the great writers of world literature and among the creators of modern European writing. His literary movement was Renaissance Humanism. He authored the comedic masterpiece Gargantua and Pentagruel. The four novels in this book exploited popular legends, farces and romances as well as classical and Italian material. "Theft of a Smell" is taken from A Harvest of World Folk Lore