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A bedtime teaching

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A Bedtime Teaching
“The Appointment in Samarra”

 

I spent a lot of time at the movie theater while growing up. My mother loved horror films and when my sisters and I were little girls we went along with her. She took us to see them all, from Psycho with Janet Leigh to The Birds with Tippi Hedren to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane with Bette Davis. Those films evoked enough terror to last a lifetime and then to top off our fright nights our mother could be kind of spooky herself. She delighted in telling us her favorite bedtime story in which the speaker is Death, and which underscores the inescapability of life’s final appearance:

 

The Appointment in Samarra

 There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now lend me your horse and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.” The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”  “That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

(As retold by W. Somerset Maugham 1933)

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