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My own star

The moonless night was crisp and clear. Klaasjagtersberg shielded us from the glare of the city lights and we spent a good hour identifying one constellation after another, repeating the names of the stars we knew. Andiswa, a teacher, softly began telling her story.

When she was a child both her parents were addicted to alcohol and she and her younger sisters had to fend pretty much for themselves. On nights when she was most lonely and afraid, Andiswa continued, she would go outside and look for her own star in the sky, one she could always find. On warm nights it was always right overhead, about as high as you could look. Just looking at it gave her courage and reassured her that one day she would be safe and happy. But since she grew up she hadn’t found it again. “Can you help me find that star now, and tell me its name?” she asked.

It’s not difficult to make out the magnificent rectangle of the constellation of Orion and pick out its belt of three stars, Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak. Using them as pointers we found our way higher in the night sky, up to the right, and there a star shone with a brilliance that distinguished it from the rest. “That’s it!” she said softly.

“It’s called Sirius” I said.