Unkept Promises

By Debbonnaire Kovacs

Solomon Nassim El-charif hung his head as he stood by his schoolteacher’s desk. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Harold. My project is practically finished. But my horse got sick, and I had to spend extra time with him. May I please bring it in tomorrow instead?” He looked up. Mrs. Harold gave him a searching look, but she agreed.

As he went to his seat, Solly felt unhappy inside. It was almost true. His horse had been sick. But if Mrs. Harold called his folks, she would learn that Sultan had only become ill last night. Solly’s project should already have been completed by then. As for being “practically finished,” the truth was, it was hardly begun. Solly would have to work very hard that evening to make his words to his teacher come true.

A voice whispered inside his head that words had to be true when you spoke them. They couldn’t be made true later. But Mrs. Harold would never know. Solly promised himself to do better next time. Then he distracted his conscience by helping a classmate practice his spelling words.

In the city where Solly had lived before, he had attended a larger school. When his family moved, he didn’t think he would like going to a small school. Solly had come in the middle of last year, and it had taken time for him to feel at home. But now he enjoyed having most of his friends in the same room with him, even if they were in different grades. And he liked helping the younger kids. At recess time, all eight grades played outside at once, so Solly could play kickball with everyone. He was almost as good as the biggest kids. So was Kenya, for that matter. Now he loved his school. But not his homework!

That afternoon, Solly went straight to his room without even visiting Sultan in his paddock. He was determined to get this science project done, even if he had to stay up all night.

He was soon so deeply involved in his work that he didn’t even hear the knock on his door until Mrs. Moore knocked again, loudly.

“Come in!”

The housekeeper had the cordless phone in her hand. “It’s Mike.”

“Oh, no! I forgot!” Solly took the phone.

“Hey, Solly, you promised we’d go to the Antique Car Exhibit today, remember? We’re late already.”

“Mike, I’m so sorry. I can’t go today. Something’s come up.”

“Aw, come on, Solly, that’s what you said last time!”

Solly felt terrible. “I know. I’m really, really sorry, but I have this science project that’s due tomorrow and I have so much work to do. Can’t we go next week?”

“No, the show’s over tomorrow.” Mike sounded disappointed. “I know it’s not easy to haul me around to different places. I wish I could go alone.”

Now Solly felt worse than ever. “No, Mike, it’s no trouble. I like going places with you! I wish I could go. Can Aunt Rose or your dad take you?”

“I guess, but you know more about cars than both of them put together, and it would be more fun. Oh, well, don’t worry about it.”

Solly thought fast. “Look, the show’s still on tomorrow, right? I absolutely, positively, cross my heart, promise we’ll go tomorrow. OK?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I promise,” Solly repeated.

Solly went back to his project, but he had a hard time concentrating. He tried to keep his promises. Sometimes things happened, that’s all.

It was nearly bedtime by the time Solly was finished. His project wasn’t done as well as he had planned. He wished he hadn’t put it off. As he went out to take care of his horse, he told himself once more that he would do better next time.

On the way back from the stable, he heard a strange noise and followed his ears until he came to the big tree on the edge of the Farmers’ property next door. Someone was up in the tree, crying!

Solly tipped his head and peered up through the leaves. It was getting dark. “Susannah? Is that you?”

There was a gulp and a sniff. “Yeah,” Susannah said in a husky voice.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“Can I come up?”

There was a pause. “I guess so.”

Solly climbed up the tree. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s no big deal. My birthday is next week, you know. My dad said he couldn’t come then, but he promised on his word of honor that he would come today instead to celebrate it early.”

“And he didn’t come?” Solly asked.

“I should have known better than to expect him,” Susannah said sadly. “He never keeps his promises.”

Solly felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. “I’m sorry,” he told her. “Sometimes it’s hard, though, you know? Didn’t you ever make a promise you couldn’t keep?”

Susannah blew her nose on a very wet tissue. “My mom says making promises and not keeping them is lying. I always try to keep my promises. Sure, sometimes I really can’t, but not very often. And when I can’t, I always ask the person to forgive me and try to make it up. If my dad almost always kept his promises, I would understand when sometimes something came up. But he doesn’t. I think he doesn’t love me.”

Solly didn’t know what to say. He thought about Mike, waiting for him to come and being disappointed, not once, but twice. He remembered the lies he had told Mrs. Harold that day and sighed. He told the whole sorry story to Susannah. “I think I need to ask Jesus to forgive me and help me do better. Maybe your dad doesn’t know how to do that, but I’m sure he loves you.”

Susannah sighed. “I suppose. I always pray for him.”

“I’ll pray too. And I guess I’d better talk to Mrs. Harold and Mike. Hey, do you want to go to the antique car show with Mike and me tomorrow?”

Susannah gave a startled laugh.

“I know it’s not much of a birthday present, and maybe you don’t even like cars,” Solly began.

“I’d love to go!” Susannah assured him. “I promise!”

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