From our cab we saw the road obscured by thick red clay, a quilt of receded floodwater washed from crop bare fields on either side. Every so often an abandoned possession poked up through the mud. A mobile phone long out of charge. Three cheap, rusted, pans. The frayed edge of a blanket hooked, flag like, on the splintered corner of a bed. Beyond the blockage we saw what was left of families gathered. They looked for limbs and faces in the surface. Clay hardened to brittle porcelain in the bake of the sun. There was no way for us to reach them.
During the night the potters came, breaking off the crust and digging down to the still moist clay underneath. In plastic buckets they carried away as much as tired shoulders could bear, each tying the razor sharp metal handles to thick rope draped around their necks. Rattan screens and rotting food were left proud of the clay as if the earth itself bristled at the potters’ touch.
Fingers still bleeding from moving rubble the potters shaped red clay into coil pots. They crushed grog for each vessel from smashed, fine china and computer monitors prised from branches of the few remaining trees. By the roadside they built kilns with breeze blocks. Until the morning they fed the fires with wall slats, plaster brushed off into ant hills of dirty white powder.
The next day the searchers came, each looking for one unblemished object. Such things were sparse. A single child’s building block. A cheap, plastic, biro with the ink dried to stone. A slightly tarnished butter knife. When found the searchers placed each in a red clay pot. No letters marked the uneven surface. There were no names to remember any more.