December 31, 2001

# 002

NO, IT WAS NOT ALI BABBA's CAVE, I am not Alladin and the cave was not large enough to hold forty thieves. And it was not filled with gold and precious stones. On the other hand, there were not those traps you see in the movies and I was not wearing Harrison "Indiana Jones" Ford's hat. There was a man laying there, with his head resting on a kind of metal box the size of a computer CPU, if I can use that to give you the idea. Well, it was not really a man, but what was left of him. It was more than just an skeleton, because for some strange reason the skin was still on his face and he was dressed.

When I saw that body, it reminded me the bodies I saw in the Palermo catacombs (yes, you can find some links about it doing a search in The man was dressed like a nineteen century soldier and I could not see many details of his trousers, because of the dust and the limited light of my flashlight. Notwithstanding, I could see a piece of paper on his body, near what had been his right hand. It seemed to be a letter he wrote before he died and it was written in Arabic. When I tried to touch it, I felt the paper would turn into dust, so I decided to take a picture of it and read it latter.

On the opposite side of the cave I saw four big leather bags. They were just pig skins sewed in a way you could carry things in them. My guess is that they used those to transport things on camels. And they had really transported a lot of stuff in those I saw there! The bags were full of art objects, so different in shape and colors that I could not tell their origin. They seemed to be Indian art, perhaps. Or even Afghan. Following my journalist instincts, I did not touch them, but took pictures. Not many, because those things were not intriguing me as much as the metal box under the soldier's skull. So I went after it.

To pull a metal box from under a hundred or so year old skeleton is an easy task. The difficult part of it is to keep the body whole. An archeologist would had cried if he saw the mess I did in that potentially historical site! The first thing that happened, and I should had expected it, was to see the skull rolling away from the body, as if the man had reminded to go look for something and forgot the rest of him behind. Do you want to know if I was afraid? Of being alone in a dark cave with a skeleton in there, a war out there and a skull rolling like crazy? Of course I was! I almost had to borrow the guy's pants to leave that cave clean!

Now I had a beheaded skeleton on one side, a head with big hollow eyes staring at me on the other side, and the metal box waiting for me to open it. Which was not an easy task. It had not a locker or something like that, but they had put some kind of material to seal it. I can't tell whether it was wax, vegetal resin or some kind of mortar. The truth is that years of dry season (Afghanistan had not seem rain for the last three years!) turned that into a thing I could take of with the help of a knife.

You guessed it! The man had a knife attached to his belt and before you could spell Osama-Bin-Laden, I had the knife. And a body that was now in three parts, because there was a kind of emptiness where that man's belly should be. Had him starved unto death? May be. Boy, that body was really falling apart! To take a belt from him without breaking his body in two would had been as impossible as undressing the Statue of Liberty! But now I had a knife and was able to open the CPU size metal box. No, I did not find a hard drive or a mother board inside it. But I found a book.

I carefully took it out from the metal box. Contrary to the letter the man had on his body, the book was in very good condition, as if people had taken good care of it along the years. Which were not few, by what it looked like. From visiting museums around the world I could tell I had something of great value in my hands. I didn't look inside the leather bags, under the objects I could see on the top, to see if there were any jewelry, gold or precious things, but the way things were disposed in the cave -- the bags at one side and the soldier alone with the metal box on the other -- were telling me that, if there was a treasure in that cave, it was that book. I was so astonished that the flashlight fell from my mouth and instantly turned off. I had to find it in the darkness before I could take a good look in that book.