The Human Body

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Authors: Paolo Giordano
soldiers have no water. For six days the helicopters haven’t flown over the area because of the haze. Any longer and the soldiers will be forced to eat K rations. Fortunately, the meteorological situation has improved in the past few hours, the sky is once again a blazing blue and the guys from Charlie are grouped on the flat open space in front of the base, waiting for an airdrop.
    The helicopter appears in the notch between the hill and the mountain, silent and tiny as an insect. The guys’ eyes, all shielded by reflective lenses, turn toward the little black dot, but no one takes a step forward or unfolds his crossed arms. The aircraft descends and they can now make out the incorporeal circles described by the whirling rotor blades. No matter how many times you’ve seen a C-130 approach with its rear cargo hatch open, no matter how many bone-stiffening hours you’ve spent traveling in it, you can’t help thinking how much it resembles a bird with its ass wide open.
    The pallets are dropped in rapid succession; the cords of the parachutes—about a dozen in all—grow taut in the air and the white nylon canopies bloom against the cobalt sky. The aircraft makes a turn and disappears in a few seconds. The parachuted containers dangle in the air like abnormal jellyfish. Something goes wrong, though. A burst of wind slams into a parachute, which tilts over and nudges the cord of the one beside it, as if looking for company. It wraps itself around it and the beleaguered cord in turn goes into a spin. The spiral they form picks up speed, and the cords get snarled up all the way to the top, strangling the canopies. The Siamese parachutes knock into two of the ones below them, and together they form a tangled knot.
    The soldiers hold their breath, some instinctively cover their face with their hands, while the cargo containers, intertwined and now lacking air support, plummet to the ground in free fall, the unprecedented speed dragging the heavy load down.
    The crash raises a cloud of dust that takes several seconds to clear. The guys aren’t sure what to do. They step forward a few at a time, their keffiyehs pressed against their noses.
    â€œWhat a fucking mess,” Torsu says.
    â€œAll because of those air force dickheads,” Simoncelli says.
    They surround the crater carved out by the cargo pallets.
    Food, that’s what was in them. About a hundred boxes of canned tomatoes have exploded, spraying red liquid all around, but there are also crushed packages of frozen turkey meat—pinkish shreds scattered in the sand, shimmering in the sun—canned mashed potatoes, and milk streaming out of plastic containers in several places.
    Di Salvo picks up a handful of crumbled cookies. “Breakfast anyone? You can even dunk the cookies in the milk.”
    â€œWhat a fucking mess,” Torsu says again.
    â€œYeah, a big fucking mess,” Mitrano repeats.
    The pool of milk spreads around the pile, skims the soldiers’ boots, and mingles with the tomato purée. The birds of prey, which have already started wheeling about in ever tighter circles, mistake it for an inviting puddle of blood. The parched soil quenches its thirst by quickly soaking up the red liquid; it stays dark for a few seconds, then forgets it was ever moist.
    Very little of the meat supply is salvageable. The slices of turkey recovered from the dust are barely enough for a quarter of the men and the cooks refuse to cut them into smaller pieces because they’d end up with children’s portions. What with delays and glitches, the soldiers haven’t eaten meat in over a week, and when they see trays of pasta with vegetable oil again, a riot almost breaks out in the mess hall. To calm things down (and because he himself has a great desire for steak), Colonel Ballesio agrees to the first breach of regulations, authorizing an expedition of two vehicles to go to the village bazaar and buy meat from the

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