The Devils Light
In a West African village, Marissa Brand Okari watched her husband prepare to risk his life for the act of speaking out.
It was night. Hundreds of villagers, old and young, gathered in the center of town, their faces illuminated less by moonlight than by the huge orange flame that spewed out of the vertical stem thrusting from an oil pipeline. Torchlike, the stem backlit the line of palms behind the village, its thick residue of smoke blackening the air, its roar a constant ominous presence. Every day in the life of any villager under thirty, this terrible eruption - the flaring of gas from the oil extracted by PetroGlobal Luandia from beneath the deep- red clay - had never ceased, its searing, poisonous heat denuding trees, killing birds and animals, and turning the rainfall to acid, which corroded the roofs that sheltered the peoples thatched homes.
The "devils light," Bobby Okari called it. Now his people, the Asari, bore him on their shoulders to a rough- hewn platform at the center of the village, past the open- air school, its four poles holding up a canopy of wood and palm leaves; the white wooden Pentecostal church, where boisterous celebrants sang and prayed each Sunday morning; the marketplace, now dark for the night, where women peddled an ever- dwindling harvest of fish and fruit, the legacy of oil spills that fouled the oceans, creeks, and farmland.
To Marissas anxious eyes, her husband looked elated, as though the festive scene that typified Asari Day, the annual expression of Asari heritage and harmony, carried no undercurrent of fear. The young men around him, Bobbys core cadre of followers, held him higher, his burgundy African shirt resplendent, his reading glasses hanging from a gold chain around his neck. On this Asari Day, as ever, the villagers had gathered here at dawn for the singing, drumming, and dancing by groups of girls and women in bright dresses, their celebration pulsing from morning to night. But this Asari Day was different: at Bobby Okaris urging, in every village in Asariland, people had come together - three hundred thousand Asari in all - to protest the devastation caused by the partnership between PetroGlobal Luandia and the regime of General Savior Karama, which, in Bobbys pungent phrase, "drills and kills without remorse."
This village, Goro, was Bobbys ancestral home. His father, Femi Okari, was its chief; though Bobbys fame as a novelist, and then as a spokesman for his people, had taken him to many lands, he still kept a home here to maintain his tribal roots. On this day, Bobby and Marissa had driven here from their compound in Port George, and his followers sang or chanted or beat their sheepskin drums to announce his advent. Now, as the young men thrust him atop the platform, the throng pressed forward to hear him - some men in shirts and pants, others, mostly elders, in the traditional round cap and long robes; the women adorned in head scarves, earrings, and beads set off against bright blouses, the young womens dresses single- wrapped in contrast to the double wrapping of the matrons. As suitable for a married woman, Marissa, a matron at thirty- six despite her slim body and lineless skin, wore a double wrapping, in contrast to Omo, the fifteen- year- old girl whose hand she held and whose beautiful eyes shone with adoration for Bobby Okari.
"Maam," Omo said simply, "your husband is a great man."
Looking into the girls face, still so innocent, Marissa tried to quell the sense of danger she had felt ever since Bobby had conceived this, the first mass protest in the history of Asariland. In its place came a fleeting amazement at the choices that had brought her, an American of mixed race, to this life and this man; to this astonishing and deeply accursed country; and to the Asari, a mere half million people among Luandias two hundred and fifty ethnic groups and two hundred and fifty million citizens, whose perverse blessing was that beneath their land lay the richest oil reserves in one of the worlds most oil- rich regions, the Luandian Delta. Until Bobby Okari, the Asari had endured the consequences in silence, robbed of heart and hope. But now Bobby, through his eloquence and relentless work, had summoned a grassroots movement, offering the restless young a vision beyond that of the armed militia groups that hid in the swamps and creeks that made the delta a trackless maze. It was Bobbys strength - or blindness - that his belief in the movement he had summoned from nothing overcame his fear of an autocracy whose leader, General Karama, caused those who displeased him to die or disappear.
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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