And of clay are we created
They discovered the girl’s head protruding from the mudpit, eyes wide open, calling soundlessly. She had a First Communion name, Azucena.
Lily. In that vast cemetery where the odor of death was already attracting vultures from far away, and where the weeping of orphans and wails of the injured filled the air, the little girl obstinately clinging to life became the symbol of the tragedy. The television cameras transmitted so often the unbearable image of the head budding like a black squash from the clay that there was no one who did not recognize her and know her name. And every time we saw her on the screen, right behind her was Rolf Carlé,2 who had gone there on assignment, never suspecting that he would find a fragment of his past, lost thirty years before. A First a subterranean3 sob rocked the cotton fields, curling them like waves of foam. Geologists had set up their seismographs4 weeks before and knew that the mountain had awakened again. For some time they had predicted that the heat of the eruption could detach the eternal ice from the slopes of the volcano, but no one heeded their warnings; they sounded like the tales of frightened old women. The towns in the valley went about their daily life, deaf to the moaning of the earth, until that fateful Wednesday night in November when a prolonged roar announced the end of the world, and walls of snow broke loose, rolling in an avalanche of clay, stones, and water that descended
on the villages and buried them beneath unfathomable meters of telluric5 vomit. B As soon as the survivors emerged from the paralysis of that first awful terror, they could see that houses, plazas, churches, white cotton plantations, dark coffee forests, cattle pastures—all had disappeared. Much later, after soldiers and volunteers had arrived to rescue the living and try to assess the magnitude of the cataclysm,6 it was calculated that beneath the mud lay more than twenty thousand human beings and an indefinite number of animals putrefying in a viscous soup.7 Forests and rivers had also been swept away, and there was nothing to be seen but an immense desert of mire.8 When the station called before dawn, Rolf Carlé and I were together. I crawled out of bed, dazed with sleep, and went to prepare coffee while he hurriedly dressed. He stuffed his gear in the green canvas backpack he always carried, and we said goodbye, as we had so many times before. I had no presentiments. I sat in the kitchen, sipping my coffee and planning the long hours without him, sure that he would be back the next day. A He was one of the first to reach the scene, because while other reporters were fighting their way to the edges of that morass9 in jeeps, bicycles, or on foot, each getting there however he could, Rolf Carlé had the advantage of the television helicopter, which flew him over the avalanche. We watched on our screens the footage captured by his assistant’s camera, in which he was up to his knees in muck, a microphone in his hand, in the midst of a bedlam10 of lost children, wounded survivors, corpses, and devastation. The story came to us in his calm voice.