Mar 20

The appointment in Samarra

Once there was a wealthy merchant in Baghdad who had a servant that he liked very much. This servant came to him one day pale and trembling, and the merchant said, “Whatever is the matter?”

“Master,” said the servant, “I saw Death in the market today, and he pointed at me. I am sure that my time has come, but I think I can outrun him. He seems a bit rickety. Please, master, give me a fine horse and the money to go to Samarra tonight, and maybe I can evade Death. I beg you, for the sake of all I have ever done for you.”

The merchant said, “Of course. Take my best horse,” and he outfitted the servant with fine clothes and food besides. He saw the servant off from the gates of Baghdad. Then, as he was returning through the city, he ran into Death at the market.

“My good fellow,” said the merchant sternly, “why did you point at my servant this morning? You scared him.”

“Oh,” said Death contritely, “I’m quite sorry. I didn’t mean to point at him — I was simply confused, and I was trying to make sure that I still see straight with these old eyes. It’s just that I was surprised to run into your servant here today, for I have an appointment in Samarra with him tonight.”

* * *

There are a zillion retellings of The Appointment. It’s an old Middle Eastern tale, retold as one of the The Thousand Nights And A Night, and it may be even older than that frame. I recently read a modern fantasy version that made me want to share the original.