I’m in the middle of the one of my online English classes on an especially humid evening in Bali. It’ll be a long night – eight back-to-back classes, and I’m only on number three.
My student, Sonia, a sweet, precocious eight-year-old Chinese girl, is carefully reading a passage. I note the pronunciation errors she makes for correction later.
She is about three quarters of the way through the passage when a deafening groan comes out of the rafters above.
Sonia stops reading and looks up at me through her webcam.
“Teacher?” she asks me.
“Yes, Sonia?” I keep my voice as steady as possible, as if it’s perfectly normal for a deranged monster to be angrily groaning from my ceiling.
She hesitates, pondering whether the question will offend her teacher.
“Do you have a cow?” she asks.
“A cow?” I’m taken aback by the question, but I guess that the low growl, heard through her speaker, could sound something like a sad cow giving birth.
“Uh… no, Sonia, I don’t.” I apologize for the noise, and encourage her to keep reading, as the low guttural sound has now faded.
We are almost done our class. I have just given Sonia her well-deserved five gold stars and am wrapping up the lesson.
“Sonia, you did a great job today! Don’t forget to-”
The angry groans had stopped, but now the insane creature is emitting a shrieking scream that seems to shake my whole room.
“GE-CKO!!!!” the creature yells indignantly from the rooftop.
“Ok, Sonia, thank you, goodbye!” I end the class abruptly, exiting the classroom before the crazed animal deafens any more innocent Chinese children.
I am now sweating profusely. I do have a mute button on my headset, but I won’t be able to mute out the sound of constant animal shrieks for thirty minutes.
The rest of my classes are less eventful, with only the occasional groan here and there.
I find out later that the new occupant of my rooftop is a gecko, a small, highly vocal lizard named for its call, which at times sounds exactly like the word “gecko”.
I decide to call my new roommate Sammie. I never once saw Sammie, but I also never doubted his continued presence in my room. I would come home from the gym and find my bed littered with small, hard brown balls. I first thought they were bits of old dried food, as I had a tendency to bring late-night snacks into my room and eat them shamelessly in bed.
But upon closer inspection, I realized that the brown balls were in fact hardened gecko turds! Every other day, I would find new turds on my blanket, and I would have to clear this fecal minefield before accidentally sitting on them.
And the shrieks continued, usually during my evening classes, but sometimes in the middle of the night as well.
I wake up from a perfect, deep sleep one night around 3 am. Semi-conscious, I was rudely wrested from my slumber by an insistent “GE-CKO!” The call gets louder and more terrifying with each repetition.
Rubbing my eyes, I try to see where the offending racket is coming from, but I can’t see anything in the pitch-black darkness of my room. My hands fumble around on the night table beside me until they find the lacrosse ball that I use to work out the muscle knots in my shoulders. Still not fully awake, I launch the ball above me, in the rough direction of the sound. I hear a whoosh of air as the ball flies up, and then nothing…
A second later, something hits me hard in the face. I groan, realizing in my sleepy state what just happened.
I hold my left cheekbone with one hand, wondering if I should go to the bathroom and see if there’s a bruise. Or maybe I should just go back to sleep and-
“SHUT UP, Sammie!!!” I growl.
I pull the blanket over my head, hoping that it will drown out the sound of Sammie’s taunts from above.
Over time, I become accustomed to the habits and behaviour of my reptile resident. I dutifully flick off Sammie’s droppings when I get home each evening. I hit the mute button on my headset as soon as I hear Sammie warming up for his night-time song during my classes. I now find myself barely waking during his usual early-morning screech sessions.
I even come to appreciate Sammie in some way. After sunset, I can barely walk the ten feet from my room to the outdoor shared kitchen in my villa without being attacked by a horde of vicious mosquitoes. But my room, which is made from bamboo and wooden slats and has an open-air bathroom, is surprisingly mosquito-free. I’d like to think that Sammie plays some role in keeping out the mosquitoes, as well as any other bloodthirsty or annoying critters that might otherwise venture into my room.
I haven’t seen or heard Sammie in a few weeks. I scan my bed each day for the usual scattering of gecko turds, but I find none. I wait in sweaty anticipation for his high-pitched mating call or his warm-up groans during my classes, my finger ready on the mute button of my headset, but I hear nothing.
I often wonder where he’s gone – if he’s migrated onto better, more mosquito-filled pastures, or if he’s died.
I imagine a heroic death for my disruptive gecko friend. Maybe, from his rooftop perch, he saw a mosquito about to bite me while I was sleeping. He leapt down to catch the carnivorous insect before it attacked, and fell to his untimely death below. I pretend Sammie is still somewhere up above, watching over me and keeping me safe from harm.
I’m almost finished my class with David, an advanced twelve-year-old student who loves speaking English. We’re discussing the impact humans have on their environment and what we can do to lessen this impact.
“Um… let me think about it,” David says carefully.
“What about recycling?”
“That’s a great example, David. Do you recycle?”
“Of course I do!” he answers proudly.
“Good! What are some things you can-”
The earsplitting shriek from above cuts me off mid-question.
I’ve missed you, Sammie. Welcome back, old friend…
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