I don't even notice that I stopped. Thoughts in my head are as dusty and desperate as the trees. How did I end up here, many miles away from the cool, familiar St. Paul? What hope do I have now to ever see my loved ones or, at least, exchange a word with them?
Something wet and cold touches my hand. I reel sideways, my heart thundering wildly in my throat. A dog that stuck his nose in my hand also got startled. It jumps away, but as I call it, slinks back, tail between it's legs. Poor little beast has, probably, nobody to take care of it! I pet a small shaggy head. The dog offers me his paw and as I take it, licks my hand with a warm dry tongue.
I find a store, which was my reason to venture out of an air conditioned apartment. The dog stays outside, anxiously whimpering and keeping his eyes trained on the door. Without consciously making a decision to keep him, I pick up a bag of Alpo and a couple of bowls for food and water for my new pet.
The apartment manager is outside when we come back. She smiles at the dog tiredly and ruffles his fur, but tells me that I have to soon find him another home. "No pets allowed, dear!"
The nights are bad. I can't sleep and prowl the worn carpet in a tiny living room. Am I praying or just going mad? How am I to survive this intolerable separation from everything and everyone that I love? The dog watches me from a mat that I laid for him in the corner of the room. His head is on the front paws, the tail thumps the floor from time to time and the eyebrows go up and down in quiet empathy with my grief.
When I finally go to sleep, I pat the bed next to me and he jumps on and snuggles close.
The next day I have a visitor. The federal marshal in his civvies comes to check on whether I obey the rules of the program. He sits at a Formica table and automatically pets my dog, who is rolling his eyes in a fervent adoration for this new friend. We go through a familiar checklist. I try to beg the marshal to pass a letter to my family but he, obviously, puts on a harsh air for my own sake. He promises me that after the trial where I will be a witness, things might go back to where they were before. At least, my family will be told where to write to me. He reminds me to be careful and work on my new identity and leaves. I sob on the floor and the dog yips and licks the tears off my face.