- Parabolic Path
When the bullet passed through the girl’s head, entering at the base of her neck and exiting through her forehead, it pulled behind it a trail of gray matter into the broken cranium. It restored the fractured skull, stitching together the delicate, dark skin between the girl’s eyebrows. When the bullet encased itself in its shell and spun and rushed and sped into the muzzle of Sergeant Sofie Afridi’s Beretta at a rate of 1,100 meters per second, as the shell came to rest in the chamber of her sidearm and the force of the bullet sent a shock through her rigid, outstretched arms, Sofie knew she’d become a mother.
When she first saw the girl, blood smeared on her face and pooled on the suddenly wet earthen ground of a mud home in a small compound near the Khyber Pass, Sofie knew the girl would be born soon. She looked to the other soldiers in the room with her. Private Murphy. Specialist Granger. Sergeant Carter. One of these would be the girl’s father, she thought. There were other bodies in the room, too. Their pale, cold forms—dimly lit—cast small shadows on the ground where the dawn’s twilight had crept in through the west-facing windows. Sofie dusted her hands off and knelt beside the girl. She held two fingers to the girl’s carotid artery. She hoped for a pulse, for the first small beat. In some births, she knew, there could be a long, quiet period of a slow, weak pulse before the first painful and beautiful breath. For those born in war, and there were always so many born that way, birth involved a lot of blood. There was, of course, a variety of other and less violent ways to be born, but for those who had seen a war-birth, there was no arguing that it was one of nature’s most beautiful miracles. [End Page 72]
Sofie stood up, buttoning the chin strap of her helmet into place. She stretched out her arm, pointing to the other bodies in the room. She called out to her fellow soldiers, asking for a status report. The other soldiers—Private Granger and Specialist Murphy were closest to her—shook their heads, meaning no one was breathing, not yet anyway. Specialist Murphy stood, his legs spread wide and slightly bent, his weapon drawn, standing next to the body of an unborn soldier he and Granger had carried with them to this home. His nametape said Ramirez, so that’s what they would call him. Somewhere on this compound, Murphy knew Ramirez had a father or a mother waiting for him. Murphy had said so on the way to the compound, he just knew it, why else would he be lugging the body around with him?
Sofie looked back to the little girl on the ground, the wet blood all but gone, the last trails of it snaking its way across her face. She broke the holster strap on her sidearm, her weapon drawn and steady, waiting for the bullet which, a moment later, had ripped out of the girls head and traced its parabolic path into her gun.
The girl screamed. She scooted across the floor, hands behind her bent back, her heels digging into the ground and pulling her small self towards Sofie. The girl’s eyes were wide and her chest rose and fell in massive heaves. She wanted to holster her weapon, to kneel back down in the dirt to comfort the girl, her daughter, her first child, but she knew she couldn’t. The compound was ringing with the hollow bangs of bullets coming loose from the secret places where they had been lodged, waiting for this moment when the soldiers would come along to collect them. The bullets pried loose from mud walls and feather bedding, from bookcases and hand-crank-radios, from livestock and people alike, and once a soldier drew their weapon they kept it out until the last bullet tore through the air.
Nineteen rounds in all, that’s what she collected. She’d had to drop...