The brightest Nova

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To give something infinite value when you could measure its worth is a stupid idea, so I don’t hesitate to enlighten my sister of that fact.

‘Let’s not be stupid about this,’ I say around a mouthful of cheesecake, ‘we could be sitting on oil reserves big enough to change our lives forever.’

‘Unless it’s a bucket’s worth,’ she says.

‘Fine,’ I concede, rolling my eyes. ‘But it’s worth breaking ground and finding out.’

She smiles in that tolerant manner she has that reminds me so much of my father. He used to wear the same expression every time I went on about my “grand ideas”, as if having ambition was an alien notion. My sister takes after him a lot. It’s incomprehensible to me that she’d rather sit on a stretch of farmland, toiling her life away, when we could drill a hole in the ground and make all our dreams come true.

 ‘I need you to hear me out on this,’ I insist.

She shakes her head. ‘George,’ she gripes.

‘Nova,’ I mimic.

‘It’s a lot to think about,’ she says, ‘this is our home.’ She takes a seat beside me on the patio, a wine glass in one hand and a squirming grey cat in the other.

‘I know you love this place,’ I say. ‘I love it too. But that doesn’t mean we can’t move on to better things. I’m just thinking about our future.’

Nova nods slowly, but her eyes are fixed on the dense foliage beyond the grassy expanse giving way to a starry night. The stunning view is not doing me any favours.

‘Why do you suppose dad never sold this place?’ she asks.

I shrug. ‘Probably sentimental reasons? Him and ma moved here straight after getting married. Or maybe he just didn’t want to take the risk only to find that there wasn’t much to drill into after all.’

‘But you think different?’

‘I do. Do you think I’m wrong?’ I ask.

‘No,’ she says with a sigh. ‘I think it’s possible for father and son to believe in different principles and still be right. You each have your own justifications.’

I nod, glad that she is accepting of my perspective. ‘The only way to truly know how much is down there is to take the risk,’ I say.

‘And destroy the only home we’ve ever known in the process.’

‘We can build better homes. And probably still have plenty of money left over,’ I say.

‘And you figure some stranger’s evaluation will determine what this place is worth?’ she asks.

‘A qualified stranger, yes. Everything can be quantified, Nova.’

My sister makes a non-committal sound so I know she’s not sold on the idea yet.

‘And what do you suppose the oil will be used for?’ she wants to know.

I sigh as I think over all the possibilities. ‘So many things – fuel for vehicles, generating power and heating buildings. The sky’s the limit.’

‘The sky has reached its limit,’ she says quietly.

‘What do you mean?’

‘None of it sounds like something the sun can’t already do. You used to tell me that starlight is the greatest source of energy there is. Why aren’t we using that instead?’

‘The sun won’t make us rich,’ I point out.

Nova chuckles and brings the meowing cat close to her face. ‘I’ve thought about the future too,’ she says, ‘and more than anything, I just want the future to be there.’

I turn to her, perplexed. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I know it feels like just another tedious topic to most people but for me, climate change is the everyday crisis, George. Local farms, including our own, have suffered from erratic weather that’s affected our operations and harvest. I cannot promote industries that are endangering our way of life.’

Nova places the cat on the ground and leaves it to twine between her legs. Taking a sip of her wine, she nods at the studded sky. ‘For now, this is the only home we have,’ she says. ‘This planet is already the best lottery prize.’

 ‘Look, climate change is something entire governments struggle to deal with,’ I reason. ‘You cannot take on a global problem by yourself.’

‘Even the smallest of pebbles cause waves whose ripples are felt throughout.’

‘And I supposed you think any of these farmers would be as selfless if the opportunity was available to them?’

‘I’m not doing this for anyone else but myself,’ she says. ‘I want to live here, and I want my children and your children to be able to live here if they want to, and their children too. Money won’t buy us a new planet.’

‘You’re being ridiculous.’ My frustration with the whole conversation is apparent but Nova only smiles and continues admiring the starry expanse. Her nonchalance only adds to my aggravation so I stand up, ready to end the frustrating exchange.

‘George,’ she calls out before I bang through the door.

‘How about we believe that there’s both a lot of oil and a little bit of oil down there?’ she suggests.

‘And how does that solve anything?’

‘Well, if you believe there’s only a little bit of oil, then you can reason that it’s not worth losing our house and farm. If I believe that there’s a lot of oil, then I’d want it to stay underground where it will do the least damage. We just need to believe in the other person.’

I stare at her for a long moment, seeing that despite her convictions, she genuinely wants me to be okay with the decision. I can’t find it within myself to smile so I imagine a different conversation, perhaps in a parallel world, where my sister cares more about riches than she does about righteousness. I wonder fleetingly, because I know this is probably the kindest, brightest version of Nova there is. I wouldn't exchange her for another.

‘Goodnight, Nova,’ I say.

About the Author: 
Alboricah grew up on a farm in Limpopo, South Africa. She loves of art and writing. She is also passionate about climate action and clean energy, hence the decision to do a Masters in Sustainable Development through the Centre of Sustainability Transitions (CST) at Stellenbosch University.
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