"Shame," a man called out.
"Yes," Bobby answered. "But now it is not some colonial governor who rules us. It is a Luandian who has suspended our constitution, banned our political parties, jailed our leaders, and shut down our newspapers. Karamas police extort money from the innocent; his prisoners rot for years without a trial; his judges take bribes before pronouncing sentence. And he uses ill-gotten petrodollars to pay off the generals, bureaucrats, governors, and chiefs who help maintain his power, the better to siphon the billions he steals from us into American jets, Italian sports cars, and bank accounts in Switzerland."
No, Marissa thought - not at the sound of truth, but from fear of its consequences. For a moment, she shut her eyes, instinctively listening for alien sounds, perhaps a powerboat landing on the beach nearby, the first warning of an invader. Through the roar of flaring she heard a faint but familiar whir. "This must not be," Bobby was saying. "People are not made for states - states are made for people."
Marissa opened her eyes. From the sky behind her husband came a streak of light, blurred by the orange glow of the flare. Then the sound she heard merged with the silhouette of a helicopter, hovering above the palm trees with an arrhythmic thud, its beam aimed at the villagers, whose heads turned from Bobby to stare upward at the dark metallic bird. Marissa glimpsed a white circle painted on its side, framing the large black letters PGL.
On the platform, Bobby looked from the helicopter to his people, their connection to him severed by the fear stamped on their faces. Part of Marissa wished for Bobby to send them home.
Instead, his voice carried above the sounds of blades chopping air. He pointed to the intruder. "PGL, too," he cried out, "is our oppressor. It banished peace from our land from the day it laid its first pipeline, letting nothing stand in its way - not trees or farms or rivers, nor even beast or man."
As did the others, Marissa saw, Femi Okari looked from the helicopter to Bobby. "Why?" Bobby shouted. "Because we are Africans. Petro Global does not rape the land in the United States or Europe - only in Luandia. And now weve become its pawns in a ruthless competition among superpowers frightened that terrorists will cut off the flow of the oil from the Middle East, their lifeblood . . ."
As though in answer, the helicopter swooped down over the platform, the swirling blades drowning out Bobbys voice, its shaft of light impaling him like a lone figure in a passion play. Following the beam upward, Marissa could make out the fleshy face of a blond man gazing down from the chopper at Bobby Okari. And then, with a leisure that made its departure as ominous as its presence, the helicopter floated away until at last it became a shadow, vanishing in the half- light of an illuminated sky.
Only then did Bobby speak again, his voice softer but still resonant.
"Tonight, we demand that those whose lives depend on oil respect our lives and our lands. That the United States, PetroGlobal Oils home, require its subsidiary PGL to follow the high standard of human rights it professes to value and open its courts to our claims against it. That PGL renounce its pact with General Karama and his machinery of death and open its books so that we can see how much our government has stolen from us. That the Karama regime grant us the right to run our own affairs, and free elections where our ballots are counted, not burned."
With each demand, the crowd seemed more inspired, its outcry louder and more sustained. "The people of Lana," Bobby continued, "asked these things and were slaughtered for it. So now I tell Karama this.
"Tonight, throughout Asariland, Asari women are blocking the roads to PGLs oil facilities. And, a few moments ago, Asari men in boats seized the offshore oil platform that mars the serenity of our fishing waters." With the voice and manner of a prophet, Bobby pointed over the heads of his listeners. "Look, and you will see."
Excerpted from Eclipse by Richard North Patterson
Copyright @ 2009 by Richard North Patterson
Published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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