I grunted in pain as I thrust the fork into the ground with my whole body weight behind it. My hands and arms tingled with the impact as I hit a solid object hidden in the earth. I heard the crump of something breaking. I had been enjoying myself, digging holes for the pergola that I wanted to put in my garden. Since I was a boy I had been keen on gardening. My parents were enthusiastic gardeners and their love of the soil and growing things had rubbed off on me. I wanted to try my hand at growing some climbing plants and had now dug several deep holes.
I had only been in my home for six months. It was a small house in which my parents had invested for the duration of my university years. I had spent some of that time planning what I would do with the garden, in between my studies and the all-important socializing with my friends. The thought of being able to invite people here on a warm, English summer’s evening to sit under the pergola and the dappled shade of a vine, heavy with ripening bunches of grapes, was a pleasant one and so the work was gratifying. I even had a picture in my mind of dispensing my own home made wine in years to come…
I had almost reached the full depth of the hole I needed for this post, but now I had hit something solid enough to make me drop the fork and shake my hands to restore feeling in them. Before I broke whatever it was again, I bent down to clear the earth away and remove the object.
Scraping the loosened soil away from the obstruction, my fingers touched a solid, rough surface. I could see something that looked like a piece of pottery. Taking a bit more care now, I continued to remove the soil, until the top of the object was visible. It was a clay jar. I knew that people often turned up treasures in one form or another in this ancient university town, so I fetched a brush and a small trowel. My archaeological friends would have been proud of me. I brushed and scraped, digging around the edge of the jar. It had been broken, probably only moments ago when I hit it with the fork. But that seemed to be the only damage. I was determined to get it free of the hard earth without breaking it again. I did not think it was the sort of container which would be full of gold coins, but I took care as I released it and, using both hands, lifted it from the earth where it had been concealed.
I took it to the house to examine later and as I did so, my phone rang. I left the jar, which was still covered in earth, on the doorstep and answered the call, thinking it was perhaps friends wanting me to join them in some social gathering. However it was actually an old friend of my mother’s. They had been close when they were young, and I was named after him, but I had not seen very much of him as I grew up. Benjamin had always been there, though, in the background, and had brought us gifts when he came to visit. He would be in town the next day for doctors’ appointments and needed a place to stay. I had some plans for the next evening, but felt I could not refuse him. I supposed one night would not make a great difference to my social standing which was well established. My mother had mentioned to him that I had a spare room and so I offered it to him for the night. I knew Benjamin was pleasant company and looked forward to seeing him. We agreed on the time he would arrive and I returned to my digging, determined to finish the holes for the pergola’s supporting posts by the end of the day.
It was almost dark when I made my way to the house again. I needed something to drink, a shower, and a meal, in that order. I had forgotten about the jar. As I reached inside the doorway to turn on the kitchen light I knocked the jar with my foot. It wobbled on the step and I made a lunge for it before it rolled away. But it brushed against the door frame and the neck, already damaged by the fork earlier, smashed and fell to the ground. I scooped the remaining part of the jar up and took it inside where I put it on the table and then went back to gather the pieces that lay broken on the concrete path. In the bright light of the kitchen I examined all the pieces for the first time.
The jar was long and cylindrical, and had a broad neck, slightly indented at the top. It was well made and strong and it was obvious from the raw edges of the break that all the damage had been done by my hands. Until I found it, it had been intact. But the blow with the fork and the damage caused by the doorframe had shattered the top of the jar as well as the clay seal that had kept the contents safe and dry.
It was only now that I could see the jar contained rolls of parchment crammed together inside. I did not dare to touch them, afraid that they might disintegrate. My mind was racing. What were they? What had I found? What should I do with them?
Then I remembered. Benjamin. He would know what to do with my find. I did not know much about him, but I did know that he had had an academic career at the university for many years. In his late seventies now, he had retired to a village twenty miles or so away. He would be able to steer me in the right direction at least.
I found a box and placed the jar and all the broken pieces inside, surrounding them with crumpled newspaper for protection. I made a space in my bedroom cupboard and put the box away. I never knew who would visit me, day or night, and I did not want a raucous bunch of my friends messing around with this find. I had a strong feeling that it would be a good idea to protect it. As I suspected, a group of my friends arrived late that evening and stayed until just before dawn, talking, drinking coffee, eating whatever they could find in my tiny kitchen. When I climbed into bed at last I fell asleep straight away, and only woke when my alarm went off to remind me of my mid-morning lecture.
So I ran. I grabbed coffee – all that was left to have – and made it to my lecture with seconds to spare. I knew that Benjamin would be arriving mid-afternoon when his medical tests would be over, so I made sure that I was home just before he arrived. I did not want to leave him standing in my front garden – not when my mother would be phoning later to see how he was! I managed to leave the university in time to pick up some basic groceries for our supper and be home before Benjamin was due to arrive. I was still putting the supplies away in the kitchen when the doorbell rang.