At first a slight movement, a quick dart. Something shifts the stillness between the stationary objects – the open shower door, the rotary crank on the window frame, the bath mat, a pail, a toilet. A trick of the eye? I turn to face the corner from where it originates – the corner below the shower door where the soft, white bath mat settled, one edge conspicuously rolled under, creating a hollow cave if you happen to be wandering around in miniature on the bathroom tiles. I stand still and observe; after a minute I reason using only my visual sense that all is as it should be. Without straightening the mat, without unfurling and standing back, I leave the room.
With the world outside carrying on with hysterical fashion my attention soon sweeps away with it – awareness of macroeconomics and commerce and the slowing down of life – yet the steady increase of angst, the withdrawal into a self-imposed, virtually contrived world, out of touch with one’s self in the natural world. We get swept away without firm footing, like a flood pulling us away from the solid silt of the river banks. As a result, I get confused about little tricks of the eye, things I may have seen, but didn’t, what’s real and what’s not, fake news, real news, memes and posturing.
Later that evening, I catch another movement, this one dead-on which no trick could fool and no fool could discount. I recognize it as something I’ve seen outside everywhere in their natural habitat, scurrying through tall reeds and palms and up and down the lanai screens waiting for insects: little geckos. This one here, he scurries back under the rolled-under edge of the bath mat. Both of us experience the flight or fight syndrome – he definitely took flight and in a second was under the mat. I jumped, erupting a strange, visceral sound from my lungs, and stood my ground. We were obviously both thinking territory.
I stand surveying my options. I have few. The door is behind me, and the window opposite positions itself several feet above the floor, where windows should be. For now, I back out slowly, making a plan of action. Whatever that thing is probably wants to leave just as much as I do.
And yet we are told to we have to hunker down where we currently find ourselves. I’ve read articles about people stranded in the most unlikely places: in youth hostels in the Pyrenees, mud huts in a New Mexico Airbnb, with the in-laws in a Brooklyn flat over a bar whose jukebox is quiet for the first time in memory. I’m living with a gecko in my bathroom. I’m in Covid Lockdown with a gecko.
People live surrounded by animals all the time. Coyotes roam our city streets at night. Bears climb fences and see what’s been thrown out for dinner. Raccoons scurry along our rafters and mice find home in crawl spaces. I’ve seen an iguana hanging out on a tree branch outside my bedroom window, peering in the window at me. I’ve crossed paths with snakes, whose dark bodies slither across patio flagstones into the ferns. I’ve heard a cacophony of birds, waterfowl and monkeys hoot and holler across dense mangrove and cypress tree groves. It’s the life among us.
And yet for some reason, like the inquisitive iguana, they must wonder about life inside. What’s it like in there? He and his brothers, sisters, and a vast array of cousins, I can only assume, dare each other to enter through a front door left ajar for a minute while groceries are brought in, or through a back door while another cup of coffee is retrieved. Or for the ones playing it a little bit more safe and undetected: at night, through the millimeter crack in a window screen. They’re everywhere, these little geckoes: scurrying and hopping along sidewalks, through the blades of grass, sliding under rocks, crevices, under bathroom mats.
As creatures of place, we settle “down” – staking grounds, building foundations from the bottom up, rooted to a current place. Even nomads pitch a tent, driving those stakes into the earth. We claim it to be ours, shove off the animals. I think of these things while I contemplate sharing my space. This lockdown can get pretty philosophical, after all.
I forget about him temporarily when the world once again seeps into my space through the tv and Internet, drawing my attention outside of my space. It wants me in physical lock down, this world against nature, yet desires me to lament it by feeding me horror stories of loneliness, unemployment, and death. This is your punishment! It screams at me, you are unable to contain a disease through your short sighted, myopic egocentric needs of connecting with life and people! Then I’m back in the bathroom, and remember my gecko and his crafty art of survival. Yes, there he is, just as shocked to see me as I am him. Another quick hybrid shriek-gasp comes out of me and a spine curling sensation travels from my bare feet on the cool tile to my head, which in its super ability to decipher senses and translate them to a learned behavior triggers adrenaline and yep – fear. Except this is a bathroom, and I kind of need it. I can’t run away or forfeit the room over to a gecko in a peace agreement.
Like a lot of people now in lockdown, we learn new things about ourselves. We learn about our partners in ways we haven’t before. We learn about ways of life that were slowly becoming obsolete and now resurrected – the family time: conversation, cooking, spending hours in bed memorizing contours and shapes, sounds and colors we hadn’t noticed before in either ourselves or our mates. We learn about patterns and random nonorders, we listen to what drives us mad, we counsel on what makes us sad, we accept the making of the universe just because, for no reason at all, maybe for our awe and to keep us humble. Geckos are just being geckos. I figure the little guy will get hungry, and if I leave the door open, and the front door as well, it will smell its way out to freedom. I might be inviting in a bunch of his cousins to a party, but I need to give this one a chance to live. Yet this life preserver is of no avail. The diplomacy must continue.
Within a week of exercising good will towards each other, we begin to catch each other’s eyes. I stop gasping, and he stops scurrying. I keep the corner of the bath mat curled. Who doesn’t need his own little corner? We begin to share the space in the bathroom – it’s mine when I enter; it’s his when I exit. Once we vied for shower space when I must have violated our mutually agreed upon times. I opened the shower door, turned on the water – a fine, rain shower type of spray wet and then warmed the speckled brown tile. When conditions were comfortable, I walked on in, tilted my head down to let the water run through my hair, and noticed the little gecko in a corner, camouflaged in speckled brown and white, waiting for his daily hydration and probably waxing nostalgia for the Floridian rainy season. There was nothing I could do at that point except to share. I was drenched and accepting. I closed my eyes against the stream of water running down my head, and when I opened them again, mister gecko was gone. Where would he go? Camouflaged as well as he was, there was no sign of him anywhere. Down the drain? Behind the wire shampoo holder?
After sharing intimate shower space we no longer became a threat to one another. A week turns into two. At some point at the end of week two I was thinking about what we learn during life in lock down. Perhaps from hearing the drone of a “Cooking: What’s in Your Pantry?” show from a background tv, I begin to wonder how mister gecko survives on water alone until it dawns on me that he must be getting his nutrition from sources other than little crumbs I might be inadvertently leaving behind in my occupied areas. This revelation gives me a whole new pause. Indeed, if what I think is keeping this little guy alive is actually keeping him alive, he has now become my ally. A revered and sacred guest. A partner in keeping the home fires safe from vermin. I let him stay.
One day in the third week he no longer scurries into his cave when I enter. I no longer startle. “Good morning,” I say, and I’m sure he winks. He’s the soft brown color of the tiles, and I wonder if he misses being green. “We’ve become quite a team, you and I, haven’t we?” I’m not sure what I mean by that, but it’s nice talking to a life form in this lockdown. I look again and wonder if he’s even alive. I leave him be and exit.
When I return later that day, he’s not where I left him. It’s around now that I start thinking maybe this guy is seriously hungry. And doesn’t he want company? Doesn’t he miss socialization? Although his company taught me a lot, like softening my reptilian fears, sharing space with an unwelcome guest, respecting each other’s differences and skin colors, I acknowledge he’s under no quarantine – he’s just in a quandary as to how to best go home. It’s seriously time for an intervention plan to get him back to real gecko living. It may be that he doesn’t quite know how to get himself out of a jam on his own. And we’ve all been there before.
Since I now have his trust somewhat, I figure it may not be so hard to capture him without risk of his losing a limb, which would easily set me back a few weeks on my reptilian acceptance spectrum. I visualize the plan. I select the props. It’s time to go home, buddy.
I return with the escape gear: a large tupperware container and a rectangular stiff cardboard side of a box. I thought this would prove more successful than the broom idea, sweeping him in the general direction of the door. I grab the side of the bath mat opposite his cave, and gently lift and unfurl it. Out he creeps, showing off his predatory prowess on stalking a little bug whose hideout was just revealed. I hold the tupperware container over him, then let it fall around him. Suddenly, he becomes more alert. He notices something happening. I notice all limbs intact. I slide the cardboard underneath, tilt it, place the bottom of it securely on the palm of one hand and the other on top of the tupperware, and walk out of the bathroom, holding the transport firmly in place. The front door is in open ready position. Once outside, I reverse the capture moves to reveal the wide open free world beyond. He slides away into the green of shrubbery, into the wet of humid air, back to his cousins and his wild life.
I return inside. I acknowledge a new sense of awareness about tolerance and space sharing as people all over the world are doing. Then I pick up the swiffer, the bottle of pine sol, and get to work.