Today I’m mixing things up with an excerpt from historical fiction novel Scenes from a Life by Richard Abbott.
What journey would you make to encounter the meaning of a dream?
Makty-Rasut is a scribe in New Kingdom Egypt, fashioning tombs for the elite. He lives a comfortable but restless life, moving every few years further upstream along the river Nile. He is content to exercise his talent without examining his origins.
Then a series of vivid dreams, interpreted with the help of a senior priest, disrupts this pattern. To solve the riddle, he must go on a journey that will take him outside the Beloved Land and away from the life that he knows. His travels take him into the neighbouring province of Canaan, to a hill-country village called Kephrath, and to a way of life he has never considered.
Makty-Rasut bundled the headscarf that he had needed in the cool of the morning behind his head, closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall, rough but solid and secure behind him. Perhaps he would think better like that. But in fact he must have fallen asleep, because all at once the dream came to him.
It was a familiar dream. He had had similar ones several times before, each time with minor variations.
He was inside a darkened boat, somewhere below decks where the light of moon and stars would not reach. He was rocking in little waves, as though the boat was crossing gentle ripples as it drifted downstream. It was warm, and his body was cradled in a nest of soft fabric, dark and red all around him. The boat had eyes on the prow that watched out ahead, he knew, though he could not see them just now. The boat contained ample nourishment to satisfy him, though just now he did not need it. The boat had a wide beam that made her stable in the water. It was all deeply pleasant.
He looked down, still in the dream. He was wearing a pair of startlingly white sandals. The sandals were of a style and an extravagance that he would never think to wear in waking life, but here it was fine. More than fine: just right, in fact.
But then all at once the boat and the warmth, the eyes and the provisions were gone, and he was plunged in the cold water, tumbling in one of the River’s turbulent places. The current pushed him away. He could not reach the banks of the River, could not see them in the windy mist that clung to him. He felt coldness everywhere, coldness throughout his body, clinging at him, and his mouth was filling up with water. He was still wearing the sandals, and they made it just about possible to remain at the surface.
He woke all in a rush, pushing away the scarf that had now tangled itself around him. He sat there for a while to allow his racing heart to return to a normal beat, trying to root himself back in this world. His oil lamp had long since gone out. Finally he got up, felt for his bag of tools, and walked slowly along the corridor from memory with his left hand trailing along the wall to guide him. Looking out from the courtyard, east towards the River, he found that the sky was starting to fill with stars, like jewels adorning the clothing of night. There was a sharp scent of a nearby herb, clinging to a crevice in the rock. No-one else was anywhere near him.
How long had he been asleep? The air breathing down the hillside from his right, down from Meretseger’s peak, was cool against his skin. He held on to the upright timber of the doorframe and steadied himself. Eventually he walked home, offered a pinch of incense and a brief prayer at the little shrine to Seshat that he kept, pulled at some bread and dried fish without really tasting either, and finally settled himself on top of his bedroll, tossing his unwanted clothes into a corner. He lay there for a while alone in the dark, feeling dislocated, and finally fell asleep again.