The Dead Are Bound to Promises Too
flash fiction by Testimony Odey
We are pleased to present this flash fiction by Testimony Odey as the first story in our Teen Voices series.
“Well, what I find very interesting is...” he began, and I sank into my chair, exhaling quietly and turning my attention to the empty fields outside. This was the third time my father would give me a five-hour speech on the importance of not associating too intimately with men who were not from my tribe. What baffled me most was the fact that he was not from my mother’s tribe, and I wondered how he would have ever got the opportunity to marry her if her parents had the same tribalistic mentality he did. Sometimes, all I wanted to do was stand up, push him in the chest and tell him that I wasn’t a child anymore. Just because I had no job, and I had to live under his roof did not mean that I had to listen to his every word. I mean, I did not mind cleaning the house, cooking, and helping sell foodstuff in the shop, but it was too much for him to tell me who and who not to hang out with, based on their tribe.
“Yoruba men are flirts. Yoruba demons, all of them. You can never find a loyal one,” he said.
“You’re not even listening to me, are you? I spend my precious time trying to help you find the right guy, and all you do is ignore me.”
I rolled my eyes, wanting to sink into the soft cushion all over again and disappear into thin air. “I don’t mean to ignore you, but you have to know people individually to judge them.”
My eyes took in his big flat nose, and wide eyes. I tried to keep the words in my mouth but they flowed like a river that could not be constrained. “You’re not a Yoruba man, yet you never stayed faithful to my mother,” I whispered, hoping he did not hear. My mouth formed a thin line, and for a minute, I wanted to shake him and tell him that I knew what was best for me. I pretended not to see the frown on his large face, pretended not to taste the heated tension in the room, and pretended not to know that his patience was running out. “When I take your advice, and marry my tribal man, and there are problems in the marriage, you won’t be the one suffering them. You’ve lived your life, you made your choice to spend the rest of your life with my mother, not that you kept your marriage vows anyway. You must have thought I was too little to see, or know what you were doing...but I still remember the faces of the strange women you snuck into our house at midnight, the way you hit my mother when she questioned your mysterious behaviors, the way you vehemently denied what you knew you were doing,” I laughed, but only to stop tears from spilling down my eyes. “My mother died a broken woman because of you. You have no right to tell me how to find a man that will love me. If I looked at your behavior, I would marry no man from your tribe.”
My fingers shook as I fought the urge to grab something and shatter it on the wall. Sadness had a way of melting into anger in my heart. Suddenly, the room felt suffocating and I stood, finally facing my father face-to-face. We were never going to agree on some things. All I wanted was for my opinion to be respected. He said nothing as I took a walk outside, and my body went rigid when he followed me. I wanted a place where I would not be stuck with him, and I placed my palms on my forehead, sighing.
“You just disrespected me,” he said. When I said nothing for a long time, he repeated his words.
“Then, the truth has become disrespect. Look,” I turned to him, “I don’t want to argue with you. I just want to make friends with the stars in the sky, catch my breath and figure my life out. Please, leave me alone.”
After staring at me for what seemed to be eternity, he left. Relief flooded my heart and soul. Stretching my hands towards the sky, I imagined I was a bird, reaching for the moon. Sometimes, I could look at the big wide sky and pretend like everything was going to be alright.
I wanted to weave my name into the glorious peace in the sky. My mind was as troubled as ever, and the only thing I craved was peace. I remembered mother, with her dark skin like burnt bronze and perfectly proportioned, full lips. Sometimes, if I closed my eyes and took a breath in, I could feel her soft plump arms around my head, as she hugged me. The day she had made up her mind that she was going to take my father’s nonsense no more, I was happy for her, even though I was only fourteen. That Saturday morning, my father had hit her and broken her head. After treating the bleeding, she packed her bags and hugged me, tears in her eyes.
“I’ll come back for you. I swear, I will,” she whispered, and I clung tight to the stretchy top she wore that day.
“Promise?” I asked, my voice shaky.
“Promise,” she said. She kissed my forehead and squeezed my hands.
I waved energetically as she left. The next day, a strange number called my father to tell him that a bus carrying passengers had just had an accident, and there had been no survivors. The call was on loud speaker, and I almost died when I heard those words. I blamed my father’s ill treatment towards her, I blamed fate, I blamed God. Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed with grief, I like to imagine that my mother will come back for me, just as she promised, just as she swore.
Testimony Odey, also known as Temidayo Testimony Omali Odey, is a 17-year-old Nigerian writer, poet, artist, and gender equality advocate. Her first novel, Uloma, was awarded 1st Runner-up of the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (Prose Category, 2021) and her second novel, Feathered, won 1st place for the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (2022) and is currently under publication. She is the winner of the African Teen Writers Prize 2022 for her short story “My Juicy Life.”
Her short stories, articles, and poems have appeared in/are forthcoming from many anthologies, websites, and magazines such as Brittle Paper, Tilted House Review, Calabash Journal, the anthology Notes on Love and Other Stories, and elsewhere. Her short story won Bronze for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition (2021), and her poem was a finalist of the 1st Intercontinental Poetry Anthology: Voice of Peace (Africa Edition) 2021. Her flash fiction story, “The Murderer’s Issue,” was longlisted for the ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Globe Soup Flash Fiction Contest, and her short horror story “Your Future” was added to the Horror Short Stories Podcast.
She's the creator of writerglow.mystrikingly.com, a website meant to help writers solve their writing challenges and become the best version of their creative selves. She enjoys writing, making videos for her YouTube channel, singing, and escaping into invisible worlds through reading.
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