In Nigeria, one of the most vital domestic resources you have is your house geckos. These are pink lizards about the length of your little finger with huge eyes and translucent skin that you can see shadows of their organs through.
Charming little devils, the house geckos — called ‘chit-chats’ for the calls they make — are the answer to the bug infestations common to the tropics. Once the sun goes down, out come the chit-chats and they have this incredible ability to run up walls and across ceilings as fast — if not faster — than they can across the floor.
Anyhoo, at the bungalow we had a bar that had a light on either end and one long flourescent tube across the top. These lights attracted all manner of bugs.
One cheeky little fellow had claimed the bar as his hunting ground and had been adopted by the multitude of ex-patriates more-or-less semi-permanently camped out at our house. Each evening when he woke up, he’d stroll up into one of the lamps to break his fast, then he’d crawl down to the base of the lamp and look at whoever was at the bar with his throat pulsing gently.
Whomever was at the bar would then offer him a drink, normally by dipping your finger into your glass then holding it out to him, but it was perfectly acceptable for the more skittish types to dunk a bit of popcorn or piece of pretzel into the drink and then lay the alcohol-soaked goodie on the lamp base for him to imbibe.
Once he had satisfied his thirst, he would lick his lips, blink at you, then climb off the lamp, meander across the bar top and up into the other lamp to begin the serious work of reducing the number of bugs present.
Now, this doesn’t sound like much, until you understand that when the chit-chat is slightly shorter than your pinkie finger, this makes him considerably shorter than the common Nigerian house roach. Watching the nightly battles twixt the big, armored roaches and the small, quick geckos, everyone tended to agree that geckoes were: “Stout little chaps. Scrappy.”
One evening, the chit-chat who had adopted the bar had fought an hour-long hit-and-run battle against a horned beetle who was twice his size, leading one sloshed Brit to declare that the little lizard was obviously an Army gecko, and thus had earned the name, “the Major”.
Now, what Dad was doing in Nigeria was grinding ‘mud’. ‘Mud’ being the chemicals necessary to the proper function of an oil well, and Dad was one of the few suppliers, this led to buyers being invited to the house for supper.
One evening, one of these buyers was sitting at the bar with about four of the Usual Suspects, running his mouth about the country.
It was readily apparent that he did not like Africa, and was heavily involved with bitching about everything to do with Africa, while waving a whiskey-and-soda, when the Major ambled down out of the lamp and waited patiently for his wee dram.
To our absolute and complete horror, The Buyer took one look at the little lizard, snarled, “And how can you stand having lizards running all over the place!”, cocked his middle finger behind his thumb and firmly thumped the Major off his lamp, causing the chit-chat to arc gracefully across the walking area behind the bar, slam against the mirror and drop out of sight.
Everyone stared in disbelief at The Buyer as he wiped his finger on his shirt with every indication of disgust.
Mom took off for the kitchen with murder in her eye, Dad followed to prevent the tactical application of frying pans and/or rat poison, and everyone else just kind of gave The Buyer the old Hairy Eyeball, which (being thick as a brick) he never noticed.
Anyhoo, Dad gets Mom out of the kitchen, minus any implements of personal destruction, and the evening carries on, until one of The Usual Suspects leans back in a stretch and freezes.
The expression on his face was unusual enough that everyone at the bar (except the Buyer who was pouring a refill) immediately looks up.
Gliding smoothly across the ceiling was the Major. He paused and deliberately let go with three of his four legs until he was hanging by one foot, and made some calculations.
DZ. No go.
The Major clamped all four sets of toes back on the ceiling and moved left about six inches, then pulled three sets loose again.
The Major popped the last set of digits loose and, graceful as a leaf, HALO’d into The Buyers fresh whiskey-and-soda. Not wanting to see our gecko get swallowed by an overly-obnoxious fat guy, I opened my mouth to mention to the oblivious idiot that he ought to get another drink when Dad waved a finger at me: “Son, mind your manners. The grown-ups are talking.”
This had never been been an issue before, so I said, “Dad…”
The Buyer waved his drink at me, not noticing the small pink lizard holding firmly onto the far side of the glass. Dad held up a finger in gentle reproof.
Raising his glass in salute to Paternal Wisdom, The Buyer then moved the glass to his lips, thus allowing the Major to clamp all four mitts (plus tail) on the idiots nose before firmly attaching his jaws to the afore-mentioned proboscis.
Having an ambush sprung upon you from the depths of your drink by an enraged gecko must be awfully hard on the old nervous system, because The Buyer promptly sprang to his full and complete height, wheezing like a bellows, staring cross-eyed at this inch-and-three-quarters-length reptile who is attempting to Death Roll his nose right off his face — and passed out.
Mom gently detached the Major from the Snout and replaced him on his lamp, where the little lizard furiously bobbed his head, throat pulsing madly, for a good five minutes before stomping pugnaciously back up into his lamp.
One of the Usual Suspects blinked owlishly at Mom. “Commando brigade. Sneaky blighters. Getcha when you isn’t looking.” The rest nodded in alcohol-fueled affirmation, then raised their glasses to the honour of the Major.
The Buyer was revived and ushered firmly into a cab back to his bungalow.
That little lizard was still whacking bugs when we left there. I hope the folks who moved in after us valued him as much as we did.