I GREW up in a town where people considered the tuko, or Tokay Gecko, as part of the family. A house was considered blessed if a tuko lived there. We respected the tuko not because it rid the house of pests. We respected the tuko the way we respected the objects of faith inside the house: with a mixed feeling of fear and awe toward something mysterious and powerful.

We had a least one tuko while I was growing up. The whole time he was with us, I can only count with my fingers the times I saw him in the flesh. When he chose to reveal himself, he only exposed part of his head, and only for a few seconds, but long enough for me to take a good look at his large, brown eyes. He would sneak out from a hole or a crack and quickly disappear when I tried to get close.

Most times, only his characteristic croaking told me he was in the house, hiding in some dark corner behind the wall or in the ceiling, or in the thick caimito and avocado trees outside. I had a feeling he was watching over the family, protecting us from harm.

Whenever there was trouble in the house, like when some little boy was being reprimanded for arriving home late from school, our tuko made his presence more felt by croaking a bit louder than he’d normally do. And mother would say, “See what you just did? Tuko is angry. He will jump on you now and tear your skin off.”

But I knew our tuko wouldn’t do such terrible thing to innocent boys like me.

Like most kids my age, I consulted the tuko about things that I found too personal to discuss with mother. I would sit still in the kitchen for hours, waiting for tuko to start making his series of croaks. Our dialogue would go like this: tuko – she loves me – tuko – she loves me not – tuko – she loves me – tuko – she loves me not…

When tuko fell silent on that last note, I knew I didn’t stand a chance with the girl I was having a crush on. Thanks, friend. Tomorrow, I want to know if I will get a perfect score in next week’s spelling exam.

In school, I and my friends shared endless tuko tales. Peter had ten geckos at home, Jerome had a hundred, Gregory had only one but it had bat wings. Jules had a tuko that spewed out fire like a dragon, and if anybody dared to top that, he would be forced to bring to school a tuko that could recite the alphabet better than any of us.

For some adult members in the neighborhood, the tuko occasionally provided tips on what combination would win in the next day’s illegal numbers game masiao. Just count the number of tuko croaks in a series and take it from there.

Mother had some parts of the house torn down to make way for renovation, just as I was outgrowing my fascination with our tuko. The trees around the house had to go, as well. I, too, had to leave to relocate in the city soon after.

I had long forgotten about my tuko when I read in the news that Tokay Gecko is being hunted now for its medicinal value. I didn’t know that when fried, tuko can cure athlete’s foot, boiled it can cure bad breath, steamed it can cure dandruff, grilled it whitens armpit skin.

Let’s ask the geckos if it is true that when eaten raw, they can also solve the country’s economic problems… Well? No, we don’t hear any croaking, which means we can now leave the geckos alone.

 

(SUN.STAR CEBU, AUG. 9, 2011)