The Appointment in Samarra
W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
Death speaks: there was a merchant in Bagdad 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 market-place 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 market-place 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 Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
William Somerset Maugham, who was born on January 25, 1874, is an English novelist and one of the most popular writers of the 20th century. He was a trained physician but he never practiced medicine, turning instead to writing plays. He enjoyed extraordinary success writing drawing-room comedies for the London stage and then abandoned that genre to write more serious fiction which became even more popular than his plays. Maugham was a masterful craftsman and a sardonic observer of human behavior and had a flair for spinning fascinating, sophisticated yarns spiced with a keen, often epigrammatic wit.
His most memorable work, Of Human Bondage, is a semi autobiographical account of a crippled student's painful progress toward maturity.
• appointment: an arrangement for a meeting
• jostled: shoved roughly
• astonished: surprised
Fable: The fable is a very brief story. 'The Appointment in Samarra" is a fable which seems to be practically all skin and bones, that is, it contains little decoration. This is so because it is a fable and for a fable, everything leads directly to the moral or message, sometimes stated at the end of the story ("Moral: Haste makes waste/'), or not stated outright, but merely implied.