From time to time, whenever the chief judge who governed the village and gave judgments in the court was absent, the role was given to the Mulla Nasreddin Hodja. It was under just such circumstances that, one day, an unusual and difficult case was presented to the court. A local innkeeper brought suit against a poor young man in these terms:
“He has lingered outside my restaurant, Hodja, and thus has stolen from me.”
“And what has he stolen?” inquired the Hodja.
“The aroma of my good food,” replied the innkeeper. “Unwilling to pay for the food itself, he has lingered around the door of my kitchen daily and availed himself of what was not his, the delightful fragrance from my fine cooking. Thus, I work and slave, and this scoundrel takes advantage of my labours and will not pay.”
“Is this true, young man?” the Hodja demanded.
“It is, Hodja. I am a beggar, scarcely able to pay for my lodging and food. I live on scraps, which I beg wherever I can. But the wonderful smells from the inn I could not resist, and so daily I hang about the kitchen and imbibe those odors, and thus imagine that I am eating those very delicacies.”
“And have you any money on you now?” asked the Hodja.
“Only a few coppers, Mulla,” was the reply.
“Hand them over,” demanded the Hodja.
As the beggar passed his last coins to the Hodja, the innkeeper smiled with satisfaction sensing that the time for compensation was seconds away. The Hodja placed the coins in a bag.
The Hodja then turned to the innkeeper and said, “Innkeeper, close your eyes, and listen well to my judgment.”
Puzzled, the innkeeper did so. And then, with his eyes tightly shut, he heard the coins being jingled in the Hodja’s hand.
“Do you hear, innkeeper?” asked the Hodja.
“I hear, wise one,” replied the innkeeper.
“Good! The sound of the coins has paid for the smell of the food,” replied the Hodja, as he returned the coins to the poor man.
Please see Parable: Watermelons and Walnuts for a brief profile of Hodja.