Geckos

A feature of life in Vietnam, from the time I first arrived in 1962 until I escaped under fire in 1975, was geckos. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “gecko” as “a house-lizard, found in warmer regions of both hemispheres, remarkable for its peculiar cry and its power of climbing walls.” The name, “gecko,” originated as an imitation of the chirping sound the lizards make.

In Vietnam, geckos ranged in size from two to six inches. They were valuable for their consumption of insects which were a plague in the swampy regions. They were ubiquitous in Saigon, and every villa or building I ever lived or stayed or worked in there had as many as a half dozen on every interior wall. They were perfectly harmless to human beings, and we got so used to them that we forgot they were there. But sometimes at night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I’d hear their almost soundless skittering and occasional faint cries.

The only exception to the omnipresence of geckos that I recall is our office suite in the DAO building at Tan Son Nhat, on the northern perimeter of Saigon, in 1974 and 1975. I don’t remember seeing them there. Maybe I was by then so inured to their presence that I didn’t notice them. Or maybe for some reason they didn’t inhabit that building. Maybe some of the guys who were there with me can refresh my memory. If you can, please do.

The characters in Last of the Annamese are like me, so accustomed to the presence of geckos that they barely notice them. Geckos are mentioned in the text of the novel only three or four times. The only character who remarks on them is Tommy Riggs, a U.S. Marine captain, who arrives in Saigon to begin his tour toward the end of the book. They irritate him. Everybody else has forgotten they exist.

Any of my readers who were there remember them?

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