By Jackie Leavitt
I had a weird unsettlement in my stomach as our car circled the blocks in La Paz, Mexico. We slowed down to a stop, and I slid out of the front passenger seat to find an ATM and made my way back toward my hotel, while my friends continued in the other direction. The roads were dark, except for the continuous stream of traffic moving past me, and the light from street lamps and restaurants serving dinner. As I walked down the block, a portly yellow lab ran uninhibited down the sidewalk without an owner.
He bounded toward and past me, his tongue lolling in his mouth, and then made a small circle to run back the direction he came. As he trotted close by me, I was tempted to reach out my hand for a friendly pat — in the United States, I would have fawned over him. But my two months in Colombia last year had taught me that street dogs are dangerous, even though Mexican pups seemed friendly enough. The new weariness with canines and fear of an attack prevented me from calling out to this spry, middle-aged lab as he ran happily down the sidewalk.
It was as if he were free for the first time, tasting the air with his dangling tongue. Like his tail, his head wagged from side to side, sniffing and catching sight of all the exciting things moving around him. He bounded down the sidewalk, away from me, and then dodged in-between the parked cars toward the two lanes of one-way traffic.
There was a brief moment when I looked at the dog and the oncoming car, sure that the lab would skirt away at the last moment, his tongue still waving fearlessly as he skipped back toward the safety of the sidewalk. But he didn’t. He took a few more bounds forward, and the vehicle rolled a few more feet onward without breaking. And then the driver’s-side tire went up and over the yellow dog, which fell to his right side underneath the car.
I didn’t see the tire move over the lab, but I saw him submit to the pavement. I heard the thud as they made contact. I heard the crunch as the car’s momentum carried it over its hurdle. I didn’t see because I held my hands over my eyes, unthinkingly willing the reality to not occur.
When I pulled my hands away, I saw the lab lying there. Where did the car go? It hadn’t stuck around. The dog stayed curled up, facing away from traffic, unmoving.
I stepped slowly toward it, like in a dream, not fully comprehending what I had witnessed. I moved into the lane of oncoming traffic, pointing at the vehicles to drive on the other side of the road. A young Mexican man, perhaps 30-years-old with his long hair pulled back in a bun, also slowly made his way toward the lab from his spot standing near a restaurant. He bent over the dog, then slid his hands underneath the head and back legs. The pup let out a low, soft yelp as the man eased his arms under the hefty weight, awkwardly half lifting him enough to get his balance, then stood up with both arms squarely underneath the body.
As the man raised him, the dog’s head fell with gravity. His nose brushed the pavement, leaving behind a small pool of blood, bright red even in the dimness of dusk. As the man walked past me off the road, I saw that blood also coated the lab’s mouth, strangely small and clamped closed. And the man silently carried him down the nearby alley, pushed in the door to the back of the restaurant with his foot, and brought him inside.
I still stood in the side of the traffic lane, my hands pressed to the side of my head. Except for the dog’s small whimper and the hum of continuing traffic, everything and everyone had been silent. I stayed there for a few moments, looking at the blood in the road being rolled over by more tires, then walked to the sidewalk and back toward my hotel.