There was a motorcycle dealer in San Francisco who sent his service department manager to a wholesaler’s warehouse to buy some parts and in a little while the manager came back, white and trembling, and said, “Boss, just now when I was queuing at the spares counter 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 fastest motorcycle, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Los Angeles and there, in such a huge city, Death will not find me.”

The dealer lent him his motorcycle, and his manager mounted it, and he twisted the throttle and as fast as the bike could go, he went. Then the dealer went down to the wholesaler’s and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threating gesture to my service department manager 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 San Francisco, for I have an appointment with him later today when he crashes a motorcycle in Los Angeles.”

(This is an updated version of an ancient Babylonian tale which was originally retold by W. Somerset Maugham in 1933. He called it “The Appointment in Samarra”. I came across it recently, and with my 74th birthday only a few weeks away, I thought it might make a strangely apposite little contribution.)

(Photo: QAGOMA)


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