Nobody could figure out where the sardines were coming from. They just kept appearing, as if an evil sorcerer were at work.
I was living in a house with a group of people, and we shared a communal pantry. A lot of people came and went in that house, and it wasn't always clear who bought what.
One day, a great stash of sardines appeared in the food closet; there were about 20 cans of them. Nobody claimed responsibility for having bought them, and it was strange to see so many. I shrugged my shoulders along with everyone else.
So a couple of cans of the fish were sampled by several people. My friend Gene was the first. His nose wrinkled as he opened the can; he had a doubtful look on his face as he peered at the contents, but he cautiously tried a bite.
"These sardines are spoiled!" he pronounced, and he just left the remainder on the table for someone else to deal with.
Another person tried opening a new can, with much the same results. It soon became clear that none of the cans were any better; the fish was unpalatable. So the several opened cans got discarded; a stinking mess in the garbage can.
But in the pantry, there remained the large and mysterious stacks of unopened cans. About 20 of them sat around on the shelf for a few weeks. In spite of all the hungry mouths around that house, no one had anything further to do with those sardines.
The question eventually arose of what to do with the stacks of cans; nobody seemed to own them and certainly no one wanted them. I hate to see food get wasted, but we finally agreed that they would just have to be thrown out. This was done with little fanfare, and the mystery was soon forgotten.
But a few days later, what a commotion ensued when an even greater mountain of cans of the same dismal stuff appeared back in the cabinet! Everyone became greatly excited, and questions were flying back and forth.
"Who is bringing this stuff? Was it a friend of yours?"
"Is it a well-wisher, or an evil doer?"
"Can we just waste this food?"
"Even the cat won't eat it. I tried giving him some."
Without much more discussion, the pile of cans went out in the garbage a second time; this time I watched it go. I even saw when the garbage truck came and picked it up. As I watched the truck trundling off, I was grinning a secret smile that nobody noticed.
Several days after this, the mystery took on sinister proportions, when, incredibly, there was a third appearance of Manna from Hell in our food pantry; the biggest pile of cans so far: about 50 of them.
This was truly a profound study in human perplexity. The people were buzzing around like a hive of stirred-up bees.
"They're here again! This is incredibly strange!"
"This is freaking me out."
"We should start locking the front door."
The only problem this time was, as hard as I tried, I couldn't keep a straight face. I was cracking up, and suddenly all eyes were on me.
"Solomon, what do you know about this?!"
The high drama was completely spoiled; I had cracked under the pressure. Yes, I was the culprit;
I myself had been the unwilling recipient of a "gift" of several cases of very old sardines, which had been purchased by a traveling friend from a cannery several years previously. As the aging fish were becoming inedible, she had begged me to take it all, in hopes I would find some use for it.
Well, I told her I'd see what I could do.