"The Asari," Marissa answered Omo softly, "are a brave people."
Bobby held up a hand for silence. As Marissa scanned the crowd, she spotted Bobbys father, Chief Femi Okari, his face grim beneath his broad fedora, his eyes slits of disapproval and resentment. But he seemed an island to himself, alone amid the collective admiration of his son, the pride of the Asari. As the cries for Bobby receded into a deep silence, her husband stood taller, his slight form radiating an energy that suffused his proud bearing and made him seem larger than he was, less vulnerable than the flawed and troubled man Marissa knew him to be. As he began speaking, even his voice - deep yet lilting - belied any hint of frailty.
"Haah Ama," he began in Asari, then translated the phrase into English, Luandias colonial tongue: "Community, I greet you."
Mens and womens voices answered with cries of varied timbres. Then Bobby turned, pointing to the giant flame that lit the dark behind him. "This," he called out, "is the bastard child of a rapacious oil company and a corrupt and brutal autocracy. Together, PetroGlobal Luandia and the Karama regime have polluted our streams, killed our fish, denuded our land. Now they are taking all that is left - the oil beneath our feet."
"Yes," a chorus of voices called out.
Bobbys voice rose above the din. "For years we have suffered. But now, at last, we demand an end to their tyranny. We insist on our rightful share of oil monies for schools, roads, clinics, clean water to drink. The United Nations itself has recognized our oppression. And yet the government and PGL pretend to be deaf and dumb.
"When I sent them the Asari Manifesto five months ago, demanding our rights, they did not answer." Bobbys deep voice became slow and somber. "And six weeks ago, when the people of Lana gathered to protest an oil spill, our government sent Col onel Okimbo and his soldiers to kill eighty- two Asari of both sexes and all ages; rape women and girls; amputate the limbs of men and boys; and burn their village to the ground."
Marissa knew the stories, all too well. So did the villagers: their lowered voices receded into silence, the only sound the deep roar of flaring oil. In the light from the giant orange flame, a shadow crossed Omos face, and she gripped Marissas hand more tightly. "Tonight," Bobby said in the same low voice, "we are out in force, three hundred thousand strong, calling for an end to this exploitation in every village in Asariland. Even for General Karama, that is too many villages to raze, too many people to kill."
Calls of approval rose from the Asari. But Marissas voice caught in her throat: in Luandia her husbands words were sedition, and surely somewhere among his listeners was an agent of the state security services, armed with a tape recorder.
Bobbys face glistened with sweat. "And yet the government and PGL are already committing genocide against the Asari people. When we cannot farm or fish or drink our water - that is genocide. When more Asari are dying than are born, and those who survive their infancy can find no work - that is genocide. When we are riddled with diseases but have no electricity for hospitals - that is genocide.
"That is what oil has done to the Asari - the same oil that runs the factories, heats the homes, and fills the gas tanks of the Americans, the Europe ans, and our new exploiters, the Chinese." Bobby stared out at the crowd, moving his gaze from side to side, as though to seal their bond. "In Luandia, oil blackens everything it touches. It fouls the hands of the ruling class that misappropriates its profits. It stains the ambitions of the young, who in their desperation will pick up a gun, sabotage a pipeline, kidnap a foreigner to grab their pitiful share of the riches. It elevates the powerful, and drowns the weak. And it degrades the character of our people, unleashing greed, envy, dishonesty, and corruption. Oil is dirty - as dirty as the slave trade and the craven Luandians who helped the British sell our ancestors."
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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