The Red Tent
Part Three, Chapter 3
Benia delivers the box to Nakht-re’s house the following day as promised, but Dinah is occupied with Re-mose at the time and cannot see him. She does not send word to him afterward, and Meryt becomes angry that she lets go of a good man who clearly cares for her. Dinah continues to attend to births with Meryt but grows restless with her life. Re-nefer soon dies in her sleep. The following season, Nakht-re also dies, and the house is given to a new scribe. Dinah decides that her time there is over, and she prepares to leave. Meryt has been offered a place in her son’s home in the Valley of the Kings, where Bernia has moved, and she asks Dinah to join her. After much discussion, they decide to move together.
Dinah sends for a scribe to write a letter to Re-mose informing him of her plans. Dinah and Meryt go to the river to collect reeds for delivering babies in their new village; then she packs up all of her belongings in Benia’s box. After a day’s journey they reach their new town, which feels ugly and crowded to Dinah. Meryt’s son Menna leads them to his house and Dinah meets the other son, Hori. The family reunion is happy, and Dinah sits in the corner, watching them and remembering her own family. Days later, as she carries a water jug to the fountain, she comes across a pregnant woman who is close to giving birth and offers to assist with the birth. Dinah and Meryt help her give birth to a healthy boy. Word of Dinah and Meryt’s skill spreads, and soon after the two women are busy delivering babies throughout town.
After several months, a letter arrives from Re-mose. He has returned to Thebes and works for a vizier named Zafenat Paneh-ah. Soon after Dinah receives this news, Benia shows up at her doorstep. He reaches out to her with his hand, she takes it, and they smile at each other. Dinah brings Benia into the house and introduces him to Meryt’s family. Meryt tells her to go with him, telling her that she will bring her things to his house in the morning. Dinah goes with Benia, surprised at how simple it seems. They walk to his house at the end of the settlement, and he shows her the furniture he has made for her. He gives her a beautiful ebony box he has carved and tells her that by taking it she will become his wife.
Dinah and Benia eat a simple meal together. Though Dinah feels shy around him, he leads her to his bedroom after the meal and they lie together. He is gentle, and they find pleasure in each other’s arms. Dinah grows to love him quickly and delights in having her own house. He tells her the story of his life, but she cannot bring herself to share her troubled history. Eventually she admits only that her husband was murdered. While they hope to have children together, as time passes she does not conceive. Dinah takes comfort in Meryt’s granddaughter Kiya, who comes over to play at their house often.
After sharing her story with Werenro and finally addressing her grief, Dinah starts to move on with her life. Though she has spent her entire adult life living in the garden of Nakht-re’s home, barely venturing off the property, she realizes that to keep living she must start over. Meryt’s assistance proves vital, providing the comforts of a ready-made family in their new home in the Valley of the Kings. At first the love and boisterousness of Meryt’s sons and grandchildren makes Dinah homesick for the family she has lost, but eventually she begins to recognize that she must let her memories remain memories and accept the present as it comes to her. She develops a close relationship with Meryt’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter Kiya. She immediately begins offering her services as a midwife in town, and she and Meryt become renowned for their skills. Both women are accepted wholeheartedly into the community, and Dinah begins to feel that it is almost the home she has been looking for.
Benia reenters Dinah’s life and marries her, returning her to the position of the cherished wife and allowing her to come to terms with her memories of Shalem. The rapid pace of Benia’s proposal and Dinah’s acceptance is reminiscent of her rapid courtship and marriage to Shalem. As with Shalem, she also feels an immediate physical connection to Benia, and they grow close very quickly. Though Benia tells her his history, including both the good and the bad, she cannot bring herself to share the story of her tragedy, and she mentions only that she had a husband. As she explains to us, “I told him as much of my truth as I could.” When Benia hears that she lost a husband, he responds by petting her hair and gently and succinctly comforting her. Dinah takes great comfort in Benia’s understated sympathy. After living with bottled up feelings for so many years, Dinah became frustrated that she could not grieve her losses with Re-nefer, the one woman that had suffered as much as she had. As a result of this, Dinah thought she would never get to feel the compassion she deserved. Benia’s sympathy helps her to feel understood and provides her with everything she felt she had been denied.
Dinah asserts control over her life by making and keeping a home with Benia. She agreed to become Benia’s wife, because she could see that he possessed kindness and compassion, but she is nonetheless surprised as how much she delights in being a wife and making their home. She notes the simple sweetness in choosing where to place a chair or what to plant in the garden. Dinah relishes creating her own order, and she cheerfully hums to herself as she performs her household duties. Up to this point, the tragedy at Shechem and her subsequent life in Egypt have defined her adult life. As an adult, she has never exerted any control over her existence. As a child, she was at the mercy of her brothers and her father, while in Egypt she was at the mercy of Re-nefer and her own self-imposed exile. She could make no independent decisions or take any action on her own behalf. She comes to Benia on her own terms and shares with him a home that he designed for both of them, which gives her contentment and a sense of control over her destiny.
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